Sister and brother team Lydia and Barrett Moore had some special requests when they consulted with University of Tulsa mechanical engineering students last fall — no pink for Lydia’s customized bicycle and Barrett wanted a train theme for his personalized ride. Both Lydia and her brother were born with congenital limb differences in their arms and hands that make it difficult to ride a standard bicycle, so students from TU’s Make a Difference Engineering (MADE at TU) group took on the project to build, test and deliver bikes that cater to the kids’ individual needs.
The thrill of the ride
Beginning in October, students met with the children, father, Bryson, and mother, Mandy, executive director of the TU Student Success Team, to discuss bike modifications. MADE at TU’s priorities included complying with engineering specifications and standards to ensure the bicycles were functional and safe. “The bikes needed to be visible to car drivers, rideable on uneven pavement and most importantly, future proof so they can continue to use the bikes as they grow,” said mechanical engineering senior and team leader Anna Williams.
MADE at TU brainstormed ideas and narrowed them down to the most viable options. During the spring semester, the group met with the Moore family once a week to test new prototypes of the 3D-printed handlebar attachments and gain valuable feedback that could improve the design. The children’s enthusiasm was hard to contain as they tried out the latest changes. “We loved getting to know the family and see Lydia and Barrett’s confidence and skills develop from week to week,” Williams stated. “It is amazing to know something you helped design and create is bringing joy to a family.”
Once the TU group finalized the most effective prototype, they made permanent modifications to the shiny new bikes for their official debut. Williams said watching the brother and sister happily ride their bikes was the ultimate approval. “It is rewarding to see the impact of our designs as this is not always an opportunity available to university students,” she explained. “It is rare to transform theory into reality at the university level, and the positive opinions of Barrett and Lydia were the ultimate grade.”
Lydia and Barrett’s mother, Mandy, explained how important it was for the children to be independent and ride bikes like their friends. When Lydia set a goal was to ride a bike without training wheels, her parents quickly realized she and her brother would need a prosthetic or adaptive bike to help them achieve this childhood milestone. “It was such a moving experience to see so many bright minds apply their mechanical engineering expertise to help our children,” Mandy commented. “We owe the joy on Lydia’s face the first time she rode her bike without training wheels to the students at TU. I’ve worked in higher education for 14 years. I’ve never met a more prepared, professional, and kind group of students. They not only built our kids these amazing bikes, but they also made them feel cared for.”
Skills for a lifetime
Williams, a TU soccer player, says she hopes to continue working on projects where she can apply lessons from daily life and college to help people enjoy lifelong skills. She plans to return to TU for a master’s degree in mechanical engineering and work in one of the department’s research laboratories. “As a TU athlete, I know the value of sports and activities that can help you develop friendships and abilities,” she said.
Fellow mechanical engineering seniors Suzy Evenson, Victoria Tucker, Michael Harris, Jennifer Smith, Sulaiman Alshammari, Cole Ogg, Mohammed Al Abattahin and Ajwad Al-Essa joined Williams on the project. The MADE at TU challenge provided these students with real-world problem-solving that they will all encounter in their future graduate programs and careers.
The freedom and joy felt when riding a bike is a rite of passage every child should have the chance to experience. Lydia and Barrett are now the proud owners of custom wheels designed specifically for their needs and fun personalities.