Engineering students develop bicycle for teen with cerebral palsy

Janessa Gerhardt now biking several kilometres everyday

Janessa Gerhardt's new bicycle.
Credit: 
Supplied by Elizabeth Hoskin

Because of her cerebral palsy, Napanee teenager Janessa Gerhardt was never able to find a bicycle suited to her limited range of motion. Thanks to engineering professor Claire Davies and a group of her students, Gerhardt now bikes several kilometres everyday.

Gerhardt’s physiotherapist at Hotel Dieu Hospital Karen Forbes contacted Davies, who runs a Building and Designing Assistive Technology (BDAT) lab at Queen’s, to develop a bike for Gerhardt’s use.

Davies told The Journal that the BDAT lab “is designed around working with people with disabilities in increasing independence. Although accessible bikes is one aspect, there are many other projects that we work on to positively impact the lives of people with different abilities.” 

The process took approximately 12 months and two teams of students to complete. Comprised of fourth-year engineering students working on their Capstone Project, the first team worked from September 2016 until April 2017. The second team of students took over during the summer months, implementing recommendations put forth by the first group of students to finish the project. 

Davies mainly tasked her students with redesigning the crankshaft of a three-wheeled bike previously donated to Gerhardt. Both teams adjusted different aspects of a stationary bicycle such as the height, pedals and crank to make it easy for Gerhardt to ride. 

One of the students involved in the project, Andrew Gowthorpe, Sci ’18, said, “Janessa was so happy to be able to ride her bike. This bike was donated to her two years ago, so for her to be finally able to ride it was amazing to see.”

Elizabeth Hoskin, Sci ’17, also worked on the bike and said the experience was extremely rewarding. “I knew she was happy with it but hearing her talk about the freedom that it granted her [showed] how much it means to her.”

Gerhardt told the Queen’s Gazette that the bicycle gives her “exercise and freedom and [her] legs work like they are supposed to.”

“[Gerhardt] rides it a few kilometres every day, sometimes even twice a day if she’s feeling good,” Gowthorpe said. “It gives her freedom and independence to be able to get out on her own without relying on her motorized wheelchair.” 

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