Senior Design Students Build Custom Motorcycle

December 13, 2012 — Team poses with bikeNearly anyone can purchase a motorcycle and learn to ride, but to truly understand the engineering behind a motorcycle you have to build one.  Last year, a team of students from Drexel University’s Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics department decided to do just that. Their goal:  design a bike with a 100 cc engine capable of breaking 100 mph and compete at “The Ohio Mile”, a racing event organized by the East Coast Timing Association held this past September.

The idea to build the motorcycle was initially proposed by Ryan Miller, a Drexel alumnus and motorcycle enthusiast.  He saw a documentary about John Britten, a New Zealand mechanical engineer who designed and built several championship motorcycles in his garage and wondered if Drexel students were up to a similar challenge. He proposed the project to John Lacontora, an associate research professor of Mechanical Engineering and Mechanics and Senior Design students Erik Argueta, Bernard Callahan, Johann Schlager, David Sharp and Tyler Douglas agreed to undertake the project.

“’I’ve ridden motorcycles since I was ten years old, I started with a dirt bike.  I thought this project seemed pretty cool,” Tyler Douglas said.

The team’s project consisted of designing, fabricating and testing of a motorcycle capable of qualifying for the A-F-100 class. The team embarked on the project in September 2011 with the design of a custom frame. Throughout the year, each team member worked on designing and fabricating nine major systems on the bike ranging from the electrical system and drive system to the operator controls and aerodynamics. 

“The motorcycle land speed senior design project enables the students to ground what they learned over the course of their program and put it into practical application,”  said Lacontora.

Beginning in March, the team began the painstaking process of physically constructing the bike. They were able to complete most of the construction in about 6 weeks.

The project wasn’t without its share of setbacks.                

“We crashed on the first run. We wanted to test the bike with training wheels and it turned out to be a mistake. We removed the [training] wheels and realized we had a handling issue.  We designed three sets of handle bars before we got it right,” Douglas said.

Dubbed “The Flying Dragon”, the roughly 200 pound motorcycle features at 6’8 inch wheelbase and is powered by a 100 cubic-centimeter, two-stroke Kawasaki gasoline fueled engine.  In order to maximize the aerodynamics, the team’s design calls for the operator to ride in a nearly horizontal position with his head a perilous 32 inches off the ground.

A project this size definitely has its share of costs.  Friends and family of the students chipped in to help them reach their goal.  The team also received sponsorship from: Weisco, Hot Rods, AutoNation Direct, Cylinder Works, Environmental Techtronics and Innovative Motorcycle Research, who donated time on their dynamometer for the team to test their bike.

When the team arrived in Ohio for the competition on September 29th the bike still was not running properly.   After several onsite repairs, the team finally got to put their bike on the track for the first time. 

“There was this huge build up on hope,” Douglas said. “It was a phenomenal feeling to be on the track.  It was a full year’s worth of work for just a few seconds [of racing].”

Over the course of two days the team completed three runs down “The Ohio Mile.”  The Flying Dragon clocked in at 65 mph during its first run.  The team made further modifications and got up to 69 mph on their second run.  A few more tweaks to the engine the Flying Dragon clocked in at 82 mph on its final race.  Although the Drexel team did not reach their goal, they’re happy with the results and were glad that they could bring the next senior design team closer to breaking 100 mph

 “Most students will remember this experience over their lifetime and call upon both the technical and interpersonal aspects of the project,” Lacontora said.  “We’re really proud of this team, they worked hard and used all the resources available to efficiently and effectively to achieve the goals of the project,” he added. 

Lacontora and Miller plan to continue the project this year with a new team of students with the hope of breaking a record.