Mechanical Engineering student designs and builds electric bicycle

Mar 22, 2021 | Engineering and Science, General News, Innovation, Research, Students

While some people met the early challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic by binging Netflix specials or catching up on sleep, Louisiana Tech University Mechanical Engineering junior Ben Grice used the spare time to design and build an electric mountain bike.

Ben and his bikeWhen the pandemic hit last spring, Grice was determined to create something during the time that he would have otherwise spent engaged in group activities. He used the onset of the virus and the limitations it placed on his ability to gather with his classmates, friends and family as an opportunity to learn a new skill: welding. By summer, his determination to master welding had led Grice to design and build a battery-powered bicycle.

“I wanted to learn something new, and the best way for me to do that was to build something,” he said of the project. “As I started welding, I knew that I wanted to weld different sized parts for a project, and within a few months, that project became an e-bike.”

Ben’s father, Randy, says that his son’s drive to own a dirt bike played a role in his determination to build the e-bike.

“Ben has liked to build and experiment since he was young,” he said. “The idea for his electric bicycle came about because he wanted a motorcycle. His mother and I told him ‘No’, and he decided that he would build one and make it electric instead. We are proud of his grit and determination to take an idea and turn it into something he enjoys.”

The 21-year-old mechanical engineer has applied his lifelong love of taking stuff apart and rebuilding it to multiple projects, including designing, building, and printing a $150 working prosthetic arm for a nine-year-old triathlete. As with the bike, Grice designed the prototype for the arm in SolidWorks, software that he became familiar with in Louisiana Tech’s Living with the Lab Engineering 120 series, printed parts using his 3-d printer, and assembled them to create a working product.

Dr. Timothy Reeves, mechanical engineering lecturer and mentor to Grice, says that the student’s success is due to an impressive amount of perseverance and talent.

“As Ben has been working on his electrified bike project over the past few months, he and I have had a number of conversations about various aspects of the project, such as gearing and basics of electric motors. He has demonstrated remarkable persistence on this project in two ways: First, he has not given up! He has constructed multiple prototypes leading up to the current version of his design, and he is still working on additional improvements. Second, he has been diligent in studying independently about the various components’ functionality, limitations, etc. The level of commitment and self-motivated effort he has shown on this project is truly outstanding. Given that fact, and an equally uncommon set of fabrication skills, one can understand why he has achieved this level of success on the project.”

Although the latest version of the dirt bike, which is in its third prototype, is fully functional, Grice plans to improve the design even more by adding guards above the tires, a kickstand, and a custom three-speed transmission. Once this project is done, he plans to work on a modified electric bicycle that his girlfriend can pedal at an accelerated rate so that she can keep up with him on rides through Ruston.