Engineering Students Address Teen's Disability With Bicycle Design

From: Public Affairs



Born with cerebral palsy, 16-year-old Ricky Forgey needs a cane for standing and walking. He must also think about the steps he takes for his muscles to respond properly.

Riding a bicycle may sound like an impossible task, but with the help of some sophomore engineering students at James Madison University, the high-school junior could be pedaling around his hometown of Bridgewater later this year.


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The engineering students recently presented Forgey with six prototypes of bicycles they designed for someone with limited mobility. Forgey has the spastic diplegic form of cerebral palsy, which mostly affects his legs. He recently tested each bicycle and provided feedback that will be used to create a final design.

While they help a member of the local community, the students are getting a good dose of real-world engineering experience, said Dr. Robert Nagel, an assistant professor of engineering. “We want the students to learn about interfacing and working with a customer and using the needs to inform the design process,” he said.

The students learned about Forgey by observing him workout with physical therapy students in Godwin Hall. Forgey works with graduate students in the kinesiology department twice a week to try and gain more control of his muscles. Greg Tidd (‘11, M) one of the graduate students working with Forgey, said he already noticed an improvement in Forgey’s strength and hopes the bike will increase Forgey’s fitness levels. “When we started, Ricky seemed very uncomfortable lifting weights, but now is able to keep a good pace while lifting and really gets a good workout in,” said Tidd.

Engineering student Richard Arena said he noticed that Forgey’s knees bumped into each other during the workouts so his team designed a recumbent-style bike that has plenty of open space for his legs. Several of the designs included ways to make adjustments as Forgey grows.


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This is the second year students in Engineering 231 (fall semester) and Engineering 232 (spring semester) have designed and built a bicycle for someone with cerebral palsy. The client last year was Dr. Tom Moran, an assistant professor of kinesiology at JMU. Moran received the final version of his bike this semester.

Moran also introduced Forgey to the class. Forgey has been a participant in the Overcoming Barriers Program started by Moran.

Nagel said his classes will continue to work with Moran to identify new clients. While the projects will be similar, there will be differences based on client needs, Nagel said.

Forgey will receive his finished bicycle after the modifications are made to the current prototypes and he chooses a design that he likes most.

Published May 13, 2011