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UC students design butt brake for service people with injuries

uc team sits at table outside

The UC butt brake team poses with Quality of Life Plus founder Jon Monett (head of table) and Quality of Life Plus Communications Manager Amber Humphrey (far left). Photo/Provided

Students at the University of Cincinnati are developing a special bike brake for service men and women who have been injured in the line of duty. Rather than using a traditional hand brake, these bikes use a “butt brake,” a brake lever system placed on the back of a bike seat. The butt brake is ideal for people who have lost feeling in their hands.

The project is a collaboration between UC students, Quality of Life Plus and the Adaptive Cycling Foundation. Amber Humphrey, communications manager at Quality of Life Plus – a nonprofit organization that uses innovative solutions to aid and improve the quality of life for people who have served the country – first introduced the project to UC’s senior design class at the beginning of the school year.

“I was really intrigued with this project because my family has many veterans in it,” said UC student Josh Baker (mechanical engineering ’19). “The service Quality of Life Plus provides for veterans really hit home for me.”

Baker is joined by four other mechanical engineering students, who are bringing their own skills and backgrounds to the project: Two students are avid cyclists, and one has experience working as a bike mechanic.

The five students are attempting to design the most efficient and replicable butt brake possible. The team will start by improving an initial butt brake design by Scotty Moro, founding director of the Adaptive Cycling Foundation.

The project demonstrates UC's commitment to making a difference through innovation as outlined in its strategic direction called Next Lives Here.

Moro’s design uses a cable braking and lever system. The brake mechanism is a paddle placed upright on the back of a bike seat. When the cyclists push their butts back, they trigger the cable system that actuates the front and rear brakes.

student works on bike

UC student Kyle Rickett disassembles the existing brake system from a bike to test the butt brake. Photo/Provided

But this design has its limitations. In its current state, Moro’s butt brake completely pulls on both the front and rear tires. The team is implementing an adjustable braking system that uses hydraulics rather than cables to apply an adjustable force to the front and back wheels.

“When you go around a bend or downhill, you don’t want equal amount of braking to both wheels, or you’ll go straight over the handlebars,” said Tim Jones, a student on the project.

The team is also designing a brake that is easily detachable. In the event of a fall, if the brake does not easily pop off, it may break.

And because the students understand the importance of accessibility and commercial viability, they are creating an adaptable design that is easily replicable, no matter the user or the bike.

“Bike posts come in hundreds of different sizes and shapes,” said Kyle Rickett, one of the team members. “Finding a way to make this brake adaptable enough to mount on any bike is important, but it’s going to be a challenge.”

The team is still early on in the design process for the project. Once they complete the design, they will create a prototype and, at the end of the semester, present their finished product to Quality of Life Plus.

If all goes well, they hope their butt brake can hit the road by summer, giving service people a comfortable and safe way to cycle. 

The following UC students are on the butt brake project:  Josh Baker, Brian Heldman, Tim Jones, Kyle Rickett and Davis Schulte. They are advised by UC professor Joni Torsella. 

Featured image at top: A cyclist rides a bike with a previosuly designed butt brake attached to the seat. Photo/Provided

Next Lives Here

The University of Cincinnati is classified as a Research 1 institution by the Carnegie Commission and is ranked in the National Science Foundation's Top-35 public research universities. UC's graduate students and faculty investigate problems and innovate solutions with real-world impact. Next Lives Here. Apply to UC online or get more information about undergraduate enrollment by calling (513) 556-1100. Learn more about UC's many undergraduate and graduate programs.