RWU Professors and Students Wheel Out New Cycle

A cycle built for two debuted on the Roger Williams campus this spring

Professor demonstrates operating cycle.
RWU Professor Chris Menton demonstrates the Companion Cycle, his original design that was built this spring by nine engineering students.

BRISTOL, R.I. – This isn’t your grandfather’s bicycle built for two.

This is the Companion Cycle, an electric-power-assisted three-wheeled cycle built for two – with the passenger positioned in front of the person providing the pedal power.

It was designed by Roger Williams University Professor of Criminal Justice Chris Menton, who has conducted ground-breaking research on police bicycle patrols. And it was built by nine RWU engineering students who worked on it as their senior project under the direction of Assistant Professor of Engineering William Palm.

“I like to facilitate experiential learning,” Menton said. “The students learned that they can develop alternative means of transportation. And they get to understand the physics of a bicycle.”

The prototype of the Companion Cycle includes the frame of a Giant road bike, and the rear tire is a Copenhagen Wheel, which provides an electronic boost while sensing steeper terrain and how hard the rider is pedaling.

Menton said he waited three years to get a Copenhagen Wheel, which is patented by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and produced by Superpedestrian, based in Cambridge, Mass. The wheel’s lithium battery can remain charged for 30 minutes or more, depending on whether there’s a passenger, and riders can generate electricity by pedaling backward.

While pedicabs place passengers behind the bike rider, the Companion Cycle puts the passenger seat in front on the handle bars. The prototype features a comfortable red-and-black go-kart seat for the passenger, complete with a seat belt.

Menton, who lives in Bristol and commutes on the Companion Cycle, said he has taken passengers up steep hills in town, and it feels like he’s riding on flat ground. The Copenhagen Wheel is controlled by a mobile phone app, and it can be set to provide varying degrees of assistance: economy, standard and turbo.

Like your grandfather’s bicycle built for two, the Companion Cycle can bring people together. “People should be talking to each other,” Menton said. “It’s tough to have a conversation when you’re on separate bikes. And we’re in a world where people often have their heads down, looking at screens.”

Wherever it goes, the Companion Cycle often gets people talking. “It’s a novelty,” Menton said. “It starts conversations. It’s a people magnet.”

And it has practical applications. “It can be used by a person who can’t afford a car -- to get groceries, to do laundry,” Menton said. “It’s a nice urban tool. And it can be used by people who are too old to ride a regular bicycle, who might lose their balance.”

Looking ahead, Menton sees more development possibilities for the Companion Cycle, such as adjustments in materials and mechanics. He said he’d like to get more people to try to the cycle, either as a pedaler or a passenger, and to chronicle their reactions.

If you are on RWU’s Bristol campus and would like to try the Companion Cycle, contact Professor Menton at pmenton@rwu.edu.