With help from classmates, Jose Cerventes said he tricked out an old bicycle to go 16 mph on flat ground without even pedaling.
“I feel like the wiring was the hardest part,” the Richmond High School sophomore said. “We got help with that.”
After three months of planning and building, about two dozen RHS students finally got the opportunity on May 2 to test out the impressively fast electric bicycles they built with help from Chevron Richmond employees and other volunteer mentors. They brought their bikes to the high school track for a friendly competition that tested the speed and maneuverability of the battery-powered two-wheelers.
The e-bike built by Cerventes’ team, named Circuit Pulse, took second place. But what mattered most in the competition was that the bicycles could move at all without a pedaling human: And boy could they.
The fastest bike, produced by first-place finisher Electric Oilers, topped out at 18 mph, said junior Jason Ajche, a member of the winning team. The Electric Oilers’ e-bike dominated the competition for a second straight year. A team called Wolf Haley placed third.
The competition wasn’t only about speed. The e-bike built by the team, Minute Men, might not have been the fastest but it was fitted with the smallest battery that could be “thrown on another bike in two minutes,” said Andrew Friedrich, one of Chevron Richmond refinery experts who helped guide the team.
The annual e-bike challenge was started three years ago by Cortis Cooper, a fellow at Chevron Energy Technology Co.
“The e-bikes provide a means to reach across the cultural and age gaps between RHS students and myself (a 60-something upper middle class white male) as well as the mentors, most of them engineering students at Cal,” Cooper said. “The e-bikes also serve as a cool way to teach students some of the really important soft-skills in engineering such as teamwork, trouble-shooting, project economics, presentation skills, and scheduling.”
This year’s program began mid-January. During the first month the teams, each containing about five students and a mentor, were asked to research e-bike options and submit three detailed alternatives. They then prepared a presentation justifying their preferred alternative, which was judged by a group of engineers. Parts were then ordered, mostly from Alibaba and eBay, and by late March students start assembling the technology, Cooper said.
“Most of the kids opt to bring in an old bike that’s often in pretty bad shape so there’s usually some adapting that must be done and invariably one or two of the bikes won’t work initially,” Cooper said. “In those cases, it’s always rewarding to see that worried look on a student’s face transform into a broad smile when we get that bike up and running.”
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