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A design project on two wheels

Devin Tyman '09, '11G displays his latest design, a bicycle with a wooden frame.

An avid mountain biker, Devin Tyman ’09, ’11G was originally drawn to Lehigh by photos of the trails on South Mountain. Little did he know that a few years later, he’d be leaving the university with a bachelor’s degree, a master’s degree and a mountain bike with a wooden frame that he designed himself.

Tyman, who grew up in Holliston, Mass., studied mechanical engineering as an undergraduate, with a focus on designing and manufacturing consumer products. He also worked in the woodshop and prototyping lab with Brian Slocum, manager of the design labs.

When Tyman was preparing to graduate with his B.S., Slocum invited him to stay on as a graduate assistant in the department of art, architecture and design. Tyman could continue his studies at Lehigh and keep working in the labs. He quickly accepted and started working on his master’s degree in mechanical engineering.

Once he finished his engineering coursework, Tyman enrolled in an independent study with Slocum so he could focus on a project he’d had in mind for several years. A long-time member of Lehigh’s cycling team, he wanted to design and build his own wooden bicycle frame.

Hands-on learning

Wood is an unusual material for a bicycle, and it’s not often used in engineering. But for Tyman, it added to the appeal of his project.

“A lot of people think of wood as a weak material compared to metal or composites,” he says. “But I’ve been working with it for the past six years and I know how strong it can be. I applied some of the engineering and design skills I learned to create something that a lot of people would say is not possible.”

Tyman started the project by researching the geometry of bicycles and looking at nature for shapes to incorporate in his design. After sketching a series of frames, he turned to computer-assisted design to develop a 3D model.

Then it was time to build the frame. Tyman laminated strips of hickory together and used a CNC router to sculpt the shape of the frame. The router was built by another Lehigh student, Daniel Pfautz ’07. Because he used wood, Tyman was able to carve interesting shapes and curves that wouldn’t be possible with metal.

Building the bike was an exciting experience for Tyman. He will return to Lehigh this summer to build a new bike frame that corrects some of the issues in his initial design.

“It was my first opportunity to apply the principles I’ve learned,” he says. “I learned so much more by actually building it and working with the wood than I could sitting in front of a computer with the design. I realized that doing it hands-on is really instrumental in the learning process.”

Story by Emily Groff

Posted on Monday, June 13, 2011

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