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Richmond High competes in E-Bike Challenge

on May 19, 2012

On Thursday afternoon at Richmond High School’s football stadium, the air was filled with cheers and applause as racers took their mark on the track field. But instead of relays, hurdles, and sprints, the racers were on electric bicycles they had built from scratch.

Technology students at Richmond High School’s Engineering Partnership Academy participated in the first annual E-Bike Challenge funded by Chevron Corp. The oil refining company donated $550 to each of the four teams consisting of five to six students to buy all the necessary equipment including electric motors, batteries, bicycles, and speedometers.

“Chevron and the Richmond High staff have been very supportive in helping make the E-Bike Challenge a reality,” said Academy program manager Aurelio Garcia. “This program is a great way to get more kids interested to learn about engineering.”

The E-Bike Challenge consisted of competitions including short and long-distance timed races to test the bikes’ speed, an obstacle course to judge maneuverability, a bike beauty contest, and a brake test. Mechanical engineers from the Richmond Chamber of Commerce, the East Bay Municipal Utility District and Chevron served on a panel of five judges for the event.

With the help of student mentors Andrea Sun and Shail Shah from UC Berkeley’s Engineering school and Chevron volunteer Cortis Cooper, the students were able to find affordable parts online from websites Amazon and craigslist. Beginning in February, students met with their mentors every Thursday after school to work on elements of design as a team and build the electronic bikes.

“The mentors were definitely helpful,” said engineering student Oxiris Elizondo, a junior who was part of “Alpha” team. “ We had fun hanging out and they gave us great advice on what to research when it came to selecting equipment.”

The Engineering Academy, a three-year program that includes 130 students over three grade levels, challenges students who are interested in pursuing careers in engineering and science with hands-on projects that reinforce understanding development processes.

Students are given practical experience in their math and physics classes; projects have ranged from egg drop competitions to building small plane gliders to test design and function. As seniors, students begin to learn about civil engineering as well as the design and construction of bridges. There are other academies with other specialties, such as information technology, at Richmond, John F. Kennedy, and El Cerrito high schools in the West Contra Costa School District.

The electronic bikes themselves featured a 450-watt chain drive motor attached to the rear wheel, and reserve battery packs and charger to keep the engine powered. A special mounted rack is attached to the back of each bicycle to hold the external batteries with a thumb throttle and gauge to monitor power attached to the right handlebar. The average e-bike weighed around 30 pounds and could reach speeds of up to 35 mph without constant pedaling.

The electronic bikes feature a chain drive motor, battery backs, and a thumb throttle to increase speed.

Many of the Richmond engineering students want to pursue the field in college, including junior Abhijeet Kumar, who was part of the winning team, “Icarus.” While he’s still undecided about where he’ll be attending college, Kumar said he wouldn’t mind studying mechanical engineering at UC Berkeley or the California Institute of Technology.

“Many of my family members are in the engineering field and I want to follow in their footsteps,” said Kumar. “I’m interested in design and this competition was an opportunity for me to expand on that.”

A minor mishap occurred during the brake test when two members of the Alpha team tried to use the front brakes on the bike after a 40-yard sprint and flipped violently over the handlebars. But no one was injured and both riders were wearing bike helmets to cushion the fall.

After the competition finished, the teams and spectators gathered in the engineering classroom for a pizza party. Small trophies were presented by Richmond High’s assistant principal to all the participants, while the top prize trophy went to Team Icarus, which was greeted with a large round of applause from their schoolmates, teachers, and judges. As for the electronic bikes, Cortis Cooper, a MetOcean specialist at Chevron, says they will be presented to “four outstanding students in the program.”



  1. Richmond Bpac on May 20, 2012 at 3:02 pm

    You go Mr. Garcia!! Great job!

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