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Bicycles that Run on Hamburgers and Electricity

Dr. Rob Prins with electric bicycle

Dr. Rob Prins demonstrates how a regular bicycle may be converted to electric-assist with a simple electric battery and motor kit.

AFV Director Chris Bachmann discusses the potential for the immediate impact electric assist bicycles could have on the JMU campus.

Electric-assist bicycles may be the future of transportation around JMU’s campus.

A student-led team at JMU’s Alternative Fuel Vehicle lab has been hard at work transforming three bicycles once relegated to surplus storage into electric-assist vehicles.

The bicycles present an interesting opportunity for students who would rather not be stuck in traffic on their way to campus.

“Especially with JMU’s campus with all of the topography we have,” said Dr. Rob Prins, assistant professor of engineering. “You can pedal along the road just fine, don’t use the motor at all and then when you get to a hill and you’re starting to break a sweat and you don’t want to arrive at class all sweaty, you can hit the assist and it will pull you along.”

The AFV bicycles were transformed with the help of commercially available kits. To be transformed the bicycle must be outfitted with a motor, battery pack and controller.

One of the students wanted to go farther than building a bicycle for conversion to electrical power. ISAT major Ari Giller-Leinwohl looked at the amount of power that is required and how many calories a person needs to eat to account for the energy loss from riding the bike.

One bike has been outfitted with data acquisition, allowing the rider to look at how many amps and volts are required at any part if the ride, as well as a global positioning system that allows tracking of energy usage based on the topography of different areas of campus. The bicycles are being tested on routes around campus that are heavily trafficked by students.

The electric assist bicycles also serve as a great tool for students interested in learning about building alternative forms of transportation.

“I think it’s really important when you talk about electric vehicles, this is the bare bones essentials,” said Giller-Leinwohl. “So if you can understand this, it’s pretty much the same way an electric truck or drag racer works.”

Published November 2009