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Student engineers earn honors in hydraulic bicycle competition

Mechanical Engineering Technology seniors win second prize for hydraulic bike in fluid power contest

MET students ride hydraulic bike they built

A team of eight University of Cincinnati Mechanical Engineering Technology students designed and built a two-wheel hydraulic bicycle which won second place out of 15 participating universities in the Fluid Power Vehicle Competition. 

The competition challenges college engineering students to redesign a traditional bicycle using hydraulics as the power transmission. Each team is required to include an accumulator for storing energy, an electronic control system for the vehicle, and regeneration technology. The UC team also built the frame of their bicycle. 

The project served as the senior capstone project for the UC students, all of whom graduated in spring 2020. The team includes Nick Gusching, Andrew Brueneman, Jacob Epperson, Andrew Irwin, William Mason, Taylor McConnell, Ethan Salisbury, Nolan Schwaeble. Their adviser was Muthar Al-Ubaidi, professor of mechanical engineering technology in UC's College of Engineering and Applied Science. 

“This year’s design was the best I have seen since I’ve been the advisor for the project for the past five years,” Al-Ubaidi said.

Before the students even started their bicycle design, they knew they needed to learn more about fluid power.

“The biggest challenge at the beginning was simply learning how hydraulics worked. We spent around 20 hours just doing classroom learning from a professor at Cincinnati State before we started to work on our circuit. Once the circuit was designed, the next challenge was building the bicycle,” Gusching said.

Gusching, who served as team lead, estimates that the team spent between 15 and 25 hours per week throughout the school year working on the bicycle until the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted their work in mid-March. Determined to complete the project, Gusching and Epperson, who are roommates, volunteered to continue to work on the bike in the basement of their apartment building. To comply with Ohio’s stay-at-home order and social distancing measures, the rest of the team stayed connected and gave input through frequent video conferencing sessions.

Designing and constructing the hydraulic bicycle gave the students a chance to apply what they’ve learned throughout their undergraduate program. Gusching said the team worked extremely well together, even through the challenges presented by the pandemic, and he credits their advisor with walking the fine line between keeping them on track and giving them the freedom to discover solutions on their own. 

“This experience was exactly what I needed to prepare for projects in the workplace,” he said.

The final competition presentations took place virtually instead of an in-person event originally slated to be held in Colorado. Based on an initiative pioneered by Parker Hannifin Corporation, the competition is hosted by the National Fluid Power Association. 

“It was unfortunate that we were unable to go to Colorado to showcase our bicycle, but that does not take away from the pride we still have about completing a working bike,” Gusching said. 

Hydraulic bicycle built by UC students

A team of eight MET students created a bicycle powered by hydraulics. The senior capstone project earned them second place in the Fluid Power Vehicle Competition. Photo/Provided.