MPX News

Building Electric Bikes: An Engineering Marvel

The MPX10 students raced their electric bikes around the Mid-Pacific campus.

Posted on April 1, 2016 by Scot Allen

The MPX10 students raced their electric bikes around the Mid-Pacific campus in a flurry of peddling legs and grinding gears. The race, and the presentations to a panel of judges which followed, served as the final exhibition of learning for their MPX physics unit.

Please click here to view photos of the project.

"The bike is an engineering marvel," said Lorenzo Nierva on the sidelines of the race. Nierva is a bike mechanic at Kalihi Valley Instructional Bike Exchange (KVIBE) that served as the community partner for the MPX10s. "It is the perfect vehicle to study motion and physics." In the fall, MPX10 students took four field trips to visit Nierva and his team in Kalihi Valley. There they learned the basics of how to build a bike before layering on the electric components.

With bike mechanics under their belts, Dr. Mark Hines provided the students with batteries, wire, and connectors to explore electric circuitry. Yips of joy filled the classroom as each team made a successful circuit and saw their motors begin to spin. It took several week of work for the students to devise different strategies to attach the motors to the bikes. The final bike race demonstrated the strengths of different approaches as some chains struggled to stay on during the race.

"They could have done this this easy way," said Marcos Bendana, community outreach coordinator at KVIBE. KVIBE is a non-profit organization that promotes bicycle related activities for the youth of Kalihi Valley. "They could have bought fancy kits for the students to attach to the bikes, but they wouldn't have learned much. Doing it this way, the students really had to problem-solve and engineer the bikes. It's an incredible learning experience."

After the race, each team faced a team of local judges to explain their engineering process and highlight the strengths of their designs. Additionally, almost all of the presentations explained the "why" of the bike project. "This year our study of climate change led us to see the problems transportation presents in terms of huge CO2 emissions," said Kelsi Julian-Araki, student-MC of the hosted event. "Electric bikes are part of the solution."

Dr. Mark Hines, MPX10 department head and teacher of the class, explained his rational for the exhibition of learning. "The high water mark of learning is when the student has the opportunity to show their work to an adult audience and to be able to explain and defend it while talking about their learning journey. For us, if we don't have that in the learning experience, then we haven't really done something of value. It will just be forgotten."

All of the bikes were auctioned off following the presentations with proceeds going to support KVIBE's work with kids in Kalihi Valley.

"We wanted the students to have an authentic problem they could investigate in which they would design their idea that would teach them a lot of big topics in STEM and humanities," explained Dr. Hines. "We wanted the project to give them something at the end where they feel like they owned part of the problem and understood how to be part of the solution." Students will take the bike project as an example of a solution-oriented project as they move into fourth quarter when they will design their own sustainability-related passion projects.

Have an idea or resource that could support sustainability-focused projects? Contact Dr. Mark Hines at

By Laura Davis