Penn State

Penn State student looks to replace car miles with e-bike miles

Nikhil Bharadwaj, Penn State senior majoring in energy engineering, shows the features of a bike converted to an electric bike as part of Project BYOB on Thursday.
Nikhil Bharadwaj, Penn State senior majoring in energy engineering, shows the features of a bike converted to an electric bike as part of Project BYOB on Thursday. adrey@centredaily.com

Nikhil Bharadwaj likes to explain it to people like this:

Imagine going to work every day in a 30-floor building with an elevator and a flight of stairs. Your office starts out somewhere on the third floor, then jumps up a couple of levels to lucky No. 13, and then before long you finally lock down that penthouse view right at the top of the mountain.

At what point do you stop taking the stairs?

If at face value that question seems to have little to nothing to do with one’s bicycle, well, then Bharadwaj and the rest of Project Bring Your Own Bike would like the opportunity to change your mind.

The electric bike conversion and consulting social enterprise aims to incorporate sustainability in the single person mobility sector while promoting a healthier lifestyle and reducing transportation costs by utilizing e-bike technology.

“I’ve made it my life’s mission to focus on solving climate change without bothering people,” Bharadwaj, a Penn State senior majoring in energy engineering, said.

I’ve made it my life’s mission to focus on solving climate change without bothering people.

Nikhil Bharadwaj

Case in point, Bharadwaj would like to make it clear that Project BYOB does not actually manufacture any of the parts or components necessary to convert a regular bicycle into an electric bike.

The members of the Penn State student-led group are more like consultants with a side hustle in advocacy.

Last summer, they worked with a client who regularly used a bicycle to make her morning commute. Taking into account the woman’s lifestyle and needs, Project BYOB was able to make recommendations on variables like battery size or motor speed and perform the conversion.

“When I last talked to her she said she’d been ditching her car a lot more,” Bharadwaj said.

Comments like that dovetail nicely with the group’s advocacy agenda. Project BYOB would like people to consider all of the shorter trips they make throughout the day that could be accomplished just as efficiently with an e-bike.

It’s going to get a population of people on bicycles moving that normally wouldn’t.

Erik Scott

Bharadwaj sees potential applications in food delivery or even something as simple as dropping the kids off at day care.

“We’re not trying to replace cars. We’re replacing car miles,” Bharadwaj said.

Joseph Cusumano, a professor of engineering science and mechanics at Penn State, estimates that his daily commute to campus would take close to 40 minutes on a regular, nonelectric bike.

I’m not going to do that,” Cusumano said.

His e-bike cuts that same 8.5 miles down to a much friendlier-sounding 20 minutes.

“On football weekends, I am so happy to be on my bike,” Cusumano said.

He met Bharadwaj in 2015 at a community meeting on clean energy.

Busy with projects of his own, Cusumano now serves in an advisory capacity to Project BYOB’s 10 to 12 student cohorts.

He suggested that the group develop an operational team that can accommodate clients on a tight timetable.

The team has partnered with The Bicycle Shop in State College to assist with the installations.

Owner Erik Scott said that the e-bike movement is growing by leaps and bounds, powered by seniors and other cyclists who could benefit from an electric assist.

“It’s going to get a population of people on bicycles moving that normally wouldn’t,” Scott said.

Frank Ready: 814-231-4620, @fjready

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