While some students traverse campus on e-scooters and expensive mopeds, these Hokies rev up their homemade motorbikes and ride away in beautiful clouds of smoke.
“Relying on public transportation would only make me consistently later than I already was, so I thought, ‘Can I just put an engine on a bike? That would make sense, right?’” said Daniel Medina, a senior computer science major.
Medina is one of a handful of Virginia Tech students who have done exactly that. They decided to ditch conventional means of transportation and attach small engines to regular bicycles, turning heads while speeding around campus in a cloud of engine noise and general confusion. The liberty of creating something unique and exhilarating that solves a personal issue at Virginia Tech is a practice that reflects the shared heart of Hokie ingenuity.
Instead of relying on others, these individuals decided to rely on themselves for a solution to Blacksburg traffic. The students who made homemade vehicles all share the same passion for problem solving.
“All of my classes were very far apart and away from the commuter parking lot,” said Milad Rowshanbakhtfar, a junior aerospace engineering major. “I built the bike to travel from my apartment to class without having to park and walk far away.”
When confronted with such a daunting task, the internet proves a useful tool for the conception of these ideas –– to varying degrees.
“I ended up buying a kit online, because I figured it would be a fun project to do,” said Matt Tassiello, a junior construction engineering and management major, while pulling up a picture of his neatly designed bike, which looked meticulously well-maintained compared to the others.
There are many kits available, some of which are made by leading motorcycle manufacturers and some of which are from less-well-known brands.
“I searched for bicycle engines on eBay and all these cheap illegal-sounding Chinese engine kits popped up, and I bought one,” Medina said. “I bought the kit and a bunch of replacement parts, because many of the parts were made of a weak blend of metals.”
In order to successfully make one of these vehicles, you need to find the right bicycle for the job. According to Tassiello, he had to find another bicycle in addition to the one he already had in order to fit the parts correctly. Medina, on the other hand, had other plans.
“I went around and found an abandoned bike that looked like it hadn’t been ridden for a long time,” Medina said. “It did not work at all, so I fixed it up and put the engine on it.” The bike Medina currently uses is his second build.
When someone takes their bicycle out of one of the many bike racks on campus and a deafening motor comes to life, pushing them to speeds of up to 30 mph, it can turn a few heads.
“People are always looking,” Medina said. “It’s like you’re a celebrity or something.” According to Medina, his bike can keep up with cars on the road and has reached almost 40 mph going down hills.
“On a nice day, I’ll just take (the bike) out for a ride,” Tassiello said. In addition to how fun the bike is, it is also incredibly fuel efficient, and over the course of a year Tassiello has only bought a few gallons of gas –– a fraction compared to the average US licensed driver’s annual intake of over 600 gallons.
When associating these vehicles with Virginia Tech, some might think to an incident on campus in December 2018 when a homemade electric bike was mistaken for a bomb, prompting a reported evacuation of Newman Library.
“I thought it was pretty goofy when I heard about that,” Tassiello said. “All of my friends texted me wondering if my bike was the one that they thought was a bomb.”
While the bikes are not as explosive as some people think, there does seem to be a certain level of risk to them, and one would wonder what the allure of creating one would be.
“I guess it’s the appeal of something dangerous,” Medina said, “It seemed like the best idea ever, and I was motivated because everyone was against the whole idea.”
Medina reflects again on how much freedom building his bike has given him in terms of being able to make something his very own.
“The effect of it is so cool; the feeling of power, the noise and all of the work is what drew me to it –– it’s liberating,” Medina said. “I have a lot of freedom on what I can do on the bike, and the moment you get off and go to class, you have this whole rush in your head, because it’s such a thrilling experience. I can’t think of any other experience that creates that feeling.”