By Kathy Chouteau
The Richmond High students were so prepared for their bicycle competition afternoon, they barely had to pedal.
At the RHS track in late afternoon, students in the Richmond High Engineering Partnership Academy tested out electric-powered bicycles they built as part of the 6th Annual Chevron E-Bike Challenge. The event is a culmination of an engineering-learning initiative during the fall semester at Richmond High that pairs mentors with students to guide them through the process of designing and building e-bikes.
Nearly 30 students participated in the challenge sponsored annually by Chevron.
“The program is set up to teach [students] the four or five basic steps in engineering design,” said Cort Cooper, a retired Chevron employee who heads up the initiative. “One is to sit and brainstorm alternatives. The other is then to evaluate those alternatives and figure out which one you want to go forward with. The other is to go ahead and construct it, and then to test it, have it perform and see how it goes. So it takes them through all those steps.”
Participating students, spanning in academic year from freshmen to seniors, teamed up this fall and met with mentors once per week for about 12 weeks, according to Cooper. Students began by researching and submitting design proposals for their e-bikes. After their proposals were reviewed by engineers, parts were ordered and the e-bikes were constructed.
On Friday, the students vied in a series of e-bike competitions in the following categories: raw speed; braking; distance traveled; maneuverability; beauty; and weight. Students were also judged on team participation, design docs and cost to make their e-bikes.
The six student e-bike teams included ZOE, Jeet, Sticker Bomb, Phoenix, THICCC and Clout 9. Team ZOE won the overall competition and earned the honor of being engraved on the event trophy along with winners from past years.
Beaming from the sidelines were a crew of Chevron Richmond employees who volunteered both as mentors during the semester, as well as competition judges on Friday.
Along with skills in high-demand careers, the engineering process associated with building the e-bikes also has inherent life applications for students, Cooper said.
“The natural instinct of people when they’re presented with a problem is to try to jump to an immediate solution, but a good, careful designer actually steps back and looks at these various alternatives, evaluates them—and then in purposeful way—decides which way to go forward,” he said.
Yet another big takeaway for the students? They get to keep the e-bikes.