Saint Thomas Academy’s Safer Electric Motorcycle

Saint Thomas Electric MotorcycleHere's another high school motorcycle project, this time the design was aimed at building a highly efficient, environmentally friendly commuter with safety features not found on most bikes. The result is this lithium phosphate ion powered electric with an enclosed structure designed to keep the rider inside in the event of a crash and protect him with crush zones of compressible material. There's even a seat belt!

Saint Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn., received a $10,000 InvenTeams grant from the Lemelson-MIT program which, along with a number of other sponsors and supporters, provided the financial backing to get things going.

The 19 member student team researched other electric motorcycles first and then began designing their own in the summer of 2007, creating the plans in SolidWorks.

The frame and full roll cage is built from TIG welded 4130 chromoly tubing. The 60-volt primary system with 5 lithium phosphate ion batteries drives a Briggs and Stratton ETEK electric motor for a range of 40+ miles and a top speed of 60 mph. The on board 110 volt charger can recharge the batteries in less than 3 hours. The body is a molded composite of carbon fiber, Kevlar, and Nomex honeycomb, providing both protection from the weather and minor collisions with impact absorbing foam housed in the collapsible composite framework.

Advisor, Mark Westlake sent along some information summing up the project:

The Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team was created in an effort to take students out of the textbook and provide budding engineers with real life problem-solving activities. Students are pushed to realize that science is not always easy, that it does not always work, and that the answers are not always at the back of the book. ... In the past ten years, students on the team have designed, built, tested, and competed with small one-person vehicles that are as varied as the contests they were built for. The team has put its inventive talents to use in Supermileage, Electrathon, The World Human Powered Ice Race, Solar Bike Rayce, The National Indoor Electric Ice Vehicle Challenge, and the Dell-Winston Solar Car Challenge.

Nice job!

Saint Thomas Electric Motorcycle

Saint Thomas Electric Motorcycle

Saint Thomas Electric Motorcycle

Link: Saint Thomas Academy Experimental Vehicle Team

Related: High School Motorcycle Projects - Nisky Garage



  1. greybeard says

    “enclosed structure designed to keep the rider inside in the event of a crash and protect him with crush zones of compressible material. There’s even a seat belt!”

    ..Got one of those already.

    Ford Ranger.

  2. kneeslider says

    I’d probably agree the whole enclosed structure idea may be a non-starter in the market. As an engineering project it did what they wanted to do but it might not sell.

    I wonder if school projects designed to not only build something but see if it would sell, too … create the whole business, not just the engineering department, might be a good idea.

  3. BluVida says

    60mph with a 40 mile range? Get rid of the body work
    and this could be marketable.

  4. Pharwaylok says

    If anything it will get the lawyer commercial off the air that’s airing around Charleston, WV. Danny Cline is pitching law suits to riders, that since there are no air bags or roll bars to protect riders you have the right to sue if you’re in an accident.

    Right on kids, defeat the lawyers!

  5. Edison's Revenge says

    In response to the previous post:
    # greybeard Says:

    “enclosed structure designed to keep the rider inside in the event of a crash and protect him with crush zones of compressible material. There’s even a seat belt!”
    ..Got one of those already.

    Ford Ranger.
    Think how safe you’ll be when gas goes over $10 in about 4 years. What could be safer than sitting in a 3500 lb. lawn ornament. Go big RED.

  6. Mayakovski says

    It’s really gonna suck the first time you tip over and can’t get out because your leg is trapped, assuming of course it isn’t broken.

    No thanks.

  7. Dirk says

    All I see is another example of making todays kids scared to have any risk in life beyond a low score on a video game. That looks like no fun at all to ride compared to a real motorcycle. Call it the Sissycycle.

  8. Greybeard says

    Edison’s Revenge Says:
    “Think how safe you’ll be when gas goes over $10 in about 4 years. What could be safer than sitting in a 3500 lb. lawn ornament”

    I’m sure there’s some degree of safety and economy in that vehicle but it does absolutely nothing for the motorcycling experience.
    As I think was pointed out already, lose the weight of that seed pod and REALLY get some outstanding mileage figures…or drive a truck with belts and airbags!

    And at $10 a gallon I’ll STILL be on my bike. 😉

  9. Azzy says

    No risk? I wonder if they crashed one, or just punctured the lithium cells, to see how fast those hot burning cells will ignight all the fancy foam and plastic.

    Your safe from impact, but your sitting in your own little instant napalm bubble.

  10. says

    Irregardless if you love-it-or-hate-it — I think it’s a great project for a bunch of high school kids! There are a LOT of professional shops out there in the real world who probably couldn’t make this happen — much less quite a few “armchair quarterbacks” at home.

    If the students who built this expand upon what they did: engineering, Solidworks, bodywork design, composites, drivetrain systems, etc — it was definitely worthwhile. If it motivates a few of them to get into the industry, I’m all for more projects like this one to continue. Too many students/kids today aren’t “building things” anymore — they are playing video games. (Is this whom you want to design and build your next motorcycle?)

    Hopefully all the students get to ride this around to learn more about the engineering, aerodynamics, ergonomics and to think about the construction methods used and how it applies into the project goal of “safety features”. I personally think it is a pretty cool project for a bunch of “high school students”…

  11. kneeslider says

    Mark, that is, indeed, the reason I like to put these projects up here. Some of the criticisms would be appropriate if this was coming out of some mega corporate vehicle design group, but this is a team of high school students actually building something.

    As I alluded to in my comment above, to add realism to the project, the students might want to add a few focus groups of other students or a few carefully chosen individuals from the community and ask them what they thought of various designs. It might add the market research aspect and show how design and engineering have to respond to potential buyer perceptions as well as the engineering challenges themselves.

  12. todd says

    I wish we did stuff like this when I was in high school. If anything this project has exposed motorcycles and fuel consciousness to a portion of our next generation. Hopefully many of the people who have participated in or witnessed this project will go on to reconsider their choices in trasportation. Many of the kids might enroll in engineering classes in college and develop this further, potentially attracting the attention of manufacturers. How is this bad?

    Good for them.


  13. Greybeard says

    Perhaps we might want to consider this project from a slightly different angle, no engineering pun intended.
    Their adviser, if not completely certain of the design proposals himself, might have wanted to research some of the more bold aspects of the project.
    Since safety was one of the main goals the most obvious aspect to consider would be what affect, positive or negative, the overall design would have on the handling and stability of the vehicle.
    That bodywork is ill-conceived and perilous at best and does nothing but actually create a dangerous vehicle.
    I think the students were done a dis-service.

  14. FREEMAN says

    It figures with all the other things wrong with this thing they’d top it off with putting the “door” on the right. I have some friendly advice for anybody designing a motorcycle: NOBODY wants a roof on their motorcycle, nobody.

  15. says

    Well said Mark, Todd,

    These school programs for budding inventors and engineers are essential to this country’s future. I went through similar school programs, and they had a direct impact on my career direction. In fact, had I not participated in them I would not be doing what I’m doing today.

    If I may, however, I’d like to offer some constructive criticism about the concept. And this is completely my opinion, so take it however you want. As a rider in the “gone down before” category, I would feel very uncomfortable operating this machine. I can understand the intent to provide additional safety, and I encourage further exploration in that arena, but I feel having the option to be “thrown” from a bike during an accident is much safer. Of course there are extreme circumstances where maybe it’s not. I believe that me being separated from the bike at the crucial moment, and God, are the only reasons I walked away.

    Also, crumple zones are a nice thought. But in order for them to function properly, I believe the mass of each obstruction has to be taken into account. A crumple zone has one purpose: extend the time it takes to bring the vehicle to a stop. Same concept with a helmet: thicker styrofoam allows your brain more time to stop, thus avoiding concussion. Light weight vehicles, such as this concept, will pretty much stop instantly no matter what they hit. But think of a light weight vehicle as just like a helmet or a hard-boiled egg. So, although I’m not a fan of enclosed motorcycles, the concept could work if the chassis was an egg-like “safety cage” and the entire interior was filled with airbags or rigid foam (ala Demolition Man).

    Other than that, good job and best wishes to the team in everything you do.

  16. smoke says

    For the more experienced riders here this concept seems rather ridiculous because we were brought up to be tough and macho. None of us wants a roof on our bikes but act like p@ssies when there’s a few clouds in the sky. Currently only 3% of American riders use their bikes for daily commuting, the 97% of you all have a good excuse, right.
    Fact is a biker who jumps in a car cause its raining is a p@ssy. A biker who would rather drive his pickup truck to work than ride his bike cause it’s too dangerous is a p@ssy.
    Motorcycles were originally designed as cheap transportation, today it is an expensive recreation sport used to pretend that we are wannabe badasses or wannabe MotoGp racers.
    This concept designed by high school students identifies what youngsters of today want to ride, something we have no control over. Progress cannot be stopped. For all the negative issues, it clearly points out some positive ones as well that many of us geezers don’t want to admit to. A motorcycle that can withstand a minor impact. A motorcycle that offers decent wind & rain protection. A motorcycle that uses an alternate energy source to gasoline. A motorcycle as fugly as can be. A motorcycle that can easily be used as a daily commuter.
    Concepts like this take time to develop, test and brought to the market. These high school students obviously see things differently than most of us, but I applaud their vision and ability not to be swayed by peer pressure and the need to be tough macho p@ssys like the rest of us.

  17. Renegade_Azzy says

    People stop riding because of rain?

    Hey, I think its great to see them try and design this, but IMHO, more attention should of been paid to the electric part of the bike than the supposed safety “features”.

    It would grner high marks in my book, given that glose up the craftsmandship (or budding skills) are there.

    Lithium batteries in any vehicle freaks me out.. combined with foam and with a harder way to get out.. sorry, thats a reciepe for a skin graft or a dirt bath.

  18. says

    bravo…it may not be marketable but it is funky! i happen to be part of the 1% that would dig something so “out there”

    i’ve logged close to a million on and offroad miles over the last 39 years and will always have a straight-up motorcycle…probably wouldn’t buy it, but i’d try it.

  19. GenWaylaid says

    Without the roof (and the top third of the windshield, and most of the backrest) this wouldn’t look too bad. It would start to resemble one of those fairing-covered Vincents from the fifties. The only things the design would lose are rain protection while stopped and a rollbar that would never be used on such a narrow vehicle.

    Personally, I’d rather see this kind of talent applied to a minimum-drag fairing design instead.

  20. Sean says

    I wish I had the opportunity these guys had. I’m in my final year of highschool, and have gained access to the machine shop for my own personal use. Quite obviously I’ve been making bits and pieces for my bike. However, having $10 000 US would certainly let me push the envelope further than risers and special tools.

  21. says

    Um, no, no thank you. Is the fact the everyone would be laughing at you too hard to drive part of the safety features because this thing looks ridiculously stupid.

  22. Alex says

    From a UK perspective where petrol today is £1.17 per litre or around $10 a gallon I would be interested in this as I am in the ventrix. For a bunch of school kids to have done this is remarkable I don’t like the style but I bet lots of the kids working on it would be able to very quickly produce a 3D model and rapid prototype of any shaped component from petrol tank to fairing you cared to describe. Remembering they are kids in school the skills gained and experience of making something they can be rightly proud of is a real education that will stand them and your country in good stead and that to me sounds like a GOOD education.

  23. JohnH_in_OKC says

    I might buy one if speed can be increased to 70 mph and a battery charge can be extended to 80 miles at 70 mph (hopefully with a 5 minute charge instead of overnight). Also the vehicle must be air conditioned and cost under $4,000.

    Otherwise, I am opting for a Chevy Volt in 2009 or 2010, whenever it is available. –John

  24. plunk says

    Two things, first, for a high school project, I think it’s GREAT to teach future engineering students to take a set of requirements and make a product. We got enough lazy ass video game playing pot smoking loafers in marketing already to worry about whether or not it’s gonna sell.

    Second, so many of you are worry about it as a motorcycle in the way you use your motorcycles here in America. Go to Asia sometime and check out there rides. All scooterish like bikes that most of you’ll wouldn’t think to take seriously, but from China to India for Billions of people, it’s that or walk. And it rains there, they would LOVE a roof (ever seen folks riding bikes with umbrellas? I have, and it wasn’t out of the ordinary in most of the towns around northern Thailand). If (when) gas gets to $10 a gallon and stays there for a while, a lot of people will be very interested in a vehicle like this.

    And for the lithium battery fire professors, you seem to want me to believe that having one of those is SO much MORE dangerous than a 5 gallons of gasoline in a metal tank. (there’s a reason gas is THE standard for bikes today, it is because it explodes so easy and violently)

  25. rrpostal says

    Ha! I picture them thinking what a great idea this is until they pull up to a light and stop. The thing tips over on it’s side and the inventor goes “Damn!”