Worcester, Mass.
May 3, 1998

WPI bike is a winner

By Lynne Tolman

   Jon Fairbanks of Scituate brought his mountain bike to college in Worcester to get around campus, and to get away from academic stress by riding the trails in Boynton Park and the nearby Appalachian Mountain Club land. He didn't know he'd end up using it to get good grades.
   Fairbanks and three other WPI seniors majoring in mechanical engineering designed and built a full-suspension mountain bike for their yearlong senior project, a key piece of their academic portfolio.
   Their bike won first place among all the design projects at WPI, and second place in a regional contest of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
   Fairbanks' own Specialized Stumpjumper came into play during the build, before the group had all the parts for their creation. The students raided Fairbanks' bike for parts.
   Fairbanks, Keith Levesque of Nashua, N.H., Matt Morin of Holyoke and Chris Lambert of New Gloucester, Maine, all had their own bikes at school, but none has both front and rear suspension. Lambert came up with the project idea, and the biking buddies were immediately enthusiastic.
   They designed the bike on a computer, and shopped around for a bike manufacturer to weld the frame, the only part they couldn't do themselves at WPI. Christian Jones of Rhygin Cycles in Boston took the job and got them components at cost.
   The students machined the parts for the rear suspension, an original configuration separated from the drivetrain, Levesque explained, "so as the rear wheel travels, the chain doesn't change. And when you hit a big bump, the pedals don't move.''
   Most of the testing was done on computer. The fun part was the real-life riding, mostly on steps and curbs and speed bumps on campus. "It felt better than I expected,"' Levesque said. "The computer tells you what will work but you don't believe it until you try it."
   "It's stiffer'' than some off-the-shelf models, said Fairbanks, who is a Category 4 road racer with the Mass Bay Racing Association and won the B series in last year's New England cyclocross championships. "And no 'pogoing' -- the suspension, not the drivetrain, moves when you pedal hard, and the cranks don't move when you hit a bump."
   The students knew they were on to something hot, but still they were surprised that the project judges were so impressed. "There's so many complicated projects,'' Levesque said. "People are building plasma thrusters and stuff, things that go into space, and we built a bike."
   They hope to patent their rear suspension design and find a manufacturer for the bike, which they figure would sell for $2,500 to $3,000.
   Two other WPI cyclists, Carl Verner of Manchester, Vt., and Jay Krajewski of Manchester, Conn., designed and built a mountain bike suspension seatpost for their senior project. "You suspend the rider instead of the bike," Krajewski explained. "It keeps the seat parallel to the bike at all times, and counteracts the force of bumps."
   "At first it feels eerie,"' Verner said, "but after a few minutes it feels really natural and you forget it's there."'
   There are similar seatposts on the market, Krajewski said, but the students' internal elastomer is an original.
   A friendly rivalry has developed between the Seven Hills Wheelmen and the Charles River Wheelmen over national recognition for their summer centuries. In March, Outside magazine put CRW's Climb to the Clouds in a list of the country's best bike rides. And the June issue of Bicycling picks the Seven Hills club's King's Tour of the Quabbin as its Massachusetts selection among "50 Great Rides."
   Climb to the Clouds is July 19 and offers routes of 33, 45, 58, 75, 90 and 100 miles, starting from Bolton or Concord. The 58- and 100-mile loops go to the summit of Mount Wachusett. Contact Ken Hablow (781-647-0233).
   The Quabbin ride on June 13 has options of 62, 100 and 125 miles, starting from Rutland, with the long rides going around the reservoir and then some. Contact Rich Whalen (508-756-3148).
   Both events cost $5, and both centuries have more than 5,000 feet of climbing. Vote with your wheels.
   Meanwhile, MassBike (formerly the Bicycle Coalition of Massachusetts) plans to show off more great roads for cycling on a 360-mile bike tour July 19-25. Riders will start in Arlington and camp out at schools in Holden, Northfield, Northampton (two nights), Dudley and Taunton. Gear will be transported by truck.
   Cost is $375 for MassBike members, $395 for nonmembers, including meals. There's an optional century ride out of Northampton on July 22 for an extra $40-45. For details, contact MassBike (617 491-7433).
   Pennsylvania State University won the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference championship last weekend in Philadelphia and finished the season as the No. 1 Division I team in the conference. The University of New Hampshire ranked second. Those two teams and Yale, University of Massachusetts and the University of Pennsylvania qualified for the national championships May 16-17 in Greenville, S.C.
   TIP OF THE HELMET to the Minuteman Road Club for earning fourth place in its size category in the nationwide Club of the Year rankings by the U.S. Cycling Federation. Criteria included support for masters, juniors and women's racing; coaching and clinics; racing performance, and the number of races promoted. Minuteman, based at Frank's Spoke'n'Wheel in Framingham, helps run the Fitchburg Longsjo Classic in July and presents the Sterling Classic Road Race next Saturday.
   On the Sterling race course, the finish line has been moved closer to the Common -- at the top of the first rise on Meetinghouse Hill Road -- so the race should be more spectator-friendly than last year.

Lynne Tolman's bicycling column archives
Lynne Tolman's home page