Richmond High e-bike program preps students for emerging industry

Richmond High program preps students for emerging e-bike industry

Need an electric bike? Just call Richmond High students Sachneet Arora and Amritpal Singh. In just two hours, the juniors can log onto the Internet and procure all the parts necessary to make one, according to this story by the West Contra Costa Unified School District.

It’s not just an impressive skill — it’s also increasingly becoming an important one as cities across the nation, including Richmond, look to e-bikes as a viable solution to traffic congestion and emissions reductions.

For the last three years, Sachneet and Amritpal have participated in the Richmond High E-Bike Challenge, a fall program sponsored annually by Chevron Richmond that has students designing and building electric bikes with help from mentors. When Cortis Cooper, a retired Chevron Richmond employee, launched the program in 2012, his main focus was to offer a fun, hands-on activity for engineering students to learn from real-life engineers from the Richmond Refinery and graduate program at UC Berkeley.

Thanks to the emerging e-bike industry, the Richmond High program is now serving an even more practical purpose: preparing students for a new, emerging industry.

“I think any of these kids maybe right out of high school could potentially go in and work for these [e-bike] companies right way,” Cooper said. “They will have practical experience and some hands-on experience with the technology.”

The timing couldn’t be better. In 2016, four years after the Richmond High E-Bike Challenge started, the U.S. market for pedal-assisted bikes grew by at least 50 percent year-over-year, a figure that could actually be as high as 70 percent, according to a report by electric bike market consultants eCycleElectric.

This week, officials with the City of Richmond were set to meet with representatives of Gotcha Mobility to discuss launching an e-bike share system, including determining hub locations, according to Lori Reese-Brown, the City of Richmond’s Transportation Project Manager. Supported by funds from the Metropolitan Transportation Commission (MTC), Gotcha Mobility expects to launch 25 hubs with 250 e-bikes in late spring 2020.

Officials at Gotcha Mobility were encouraged to learn that a possible future workforce for its industry already operates in the city.

“We love hearing younger generations are interested in building e-bikes to help change the future,” Caroline Passe, Gotcha Mobility spokesperson, said about the Richmond High E-Bike Challenge. “The key to reducing single-occupant car trips is providing viable options and equitable access to e-mobility products, like these students are designing and building.”

As part of the E-Bike Challenge, which starts in September and culminates with a competition on the Richmond High track in November, each student team is provided $650 from Chevron Richmond to retrofit a standard bicycle with an electric bike kit. Using engineering design principles, they present plans they must justify to judges, order the needed parts and assemble their e-bike prior to the competition, which took place this year on Friday, Nov. 15.

Judges evaluate their e-bikes on real-world metrics such as speed, beauty, maneuverability and weight.

“We wanted to give these kids experience outside working with real engineers, to get some exposure to what the real world is like while they’re still in high school,” Cooper said.

Experience is, indeed, what they’re getting. Take Sachneet Arora and Amritpal Singh, who told WCCUSD that it took them three days during their freshman year to find all the parts needed to build their e-bike. In their sophomore year, that same process took them two days. This year, it took them just two hours.

Their strategy, according to WCCUSD, was to spend more on a quality battery and motor and less on the bike itself. Their decisions paid off — they won the overall competition last month. Their mentor, Chevron Richmond project manager Blaine Nickerson, said the pair “had it down” and didn’t need much mentoring this year.

“The growth of the kids has been really cool to see,” Nickerson told WCCUSD.

The Richmond E-Bike Challenge is one in a number of initiatives launched and funded by Chevron Richmond aiming to inspire and prepare students in STEM fields, or science, technology engineering and mathematics. Chevron also regularly sponsors a number of projects aimed at giving students practical, hands-on experience including ACS Project SEED internships, Junior Achievement of Northern California, Fab Lab Richmond and the Fuel Your School initiative.

“Our goal is to provide enriching programs, resources and experiences that both inspire and enable young people in our community to pursue STEM fields and to help prepare them for jobs of the future, including those at Chevron Richmond,” said Lily Rahnema, community engagement manager at Chevron Richmond.