Morphing wheels for beginner bikers

A new type of bicycle may reduce the childhood dread that comes with learning to ride a two-wheeler.

NO FEAR. The rear wheels of this model three-wheeler pull together as the bike gains speed, making the tricycle a bicycle. Shim

Industrial designer Scott S. Shim of Purdue University in West Lafayette, Ind., and two undergraduate students recalled that new riders feel most tentative when they are moving slowly. “We wanted to create a brand-new experience for those kids when learning to ride a bike,” Shim says.

Shim and his students noticed that when riders manage to pick up speed, they tend to shift their weight forward. So, the team conceived of a bike design with a rear wheel that splits in two—yielding a tricycle—when the bike is moving slowly or not at all. When the bike gets going and the rider’s weight shifts forward, however, a spring mechanism in the wheel hub draws together the bottoms of the rear wheels. The team has made a quarter-size model.

At the end of April, Purdue announced that Shim and his students had won a bicycle-design contest sponsored by the Taiwanese government. Now, the team is negotiating with a major bike maker about transforming its idea into a product.

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