An Adult Tricycle Wins the Chainless Challenge Race

Illinois Institute of Technology Chainless Challenge 2013 team photoIn the previous blog in this series, we learned how the Chainless Challenge “won the race” in drawing students to hydraulics like never before. But another big winner has obviously been that of design. In fact, the Challenge illustrates how, most of the time, real innovation doesn’t happen at the core of a knowledge domain, but rather out on the fringes. And it has been fascinating to watch the schools’ progression year after year, with the same schools tending to stick with the Challenge. Their bikes just keep getting better and better in part because the students improve on designs by building on their classmates’ ideas from previous years.


A winning team

For example, the team from Illinois Institute of Technology located in Chicago did not even have a fluid power program in their school when they first participated in the 2012 Challenge. The students sprinted up the learning curve, supported by a dedicated professor, and the school now has a small fluid power program in place. Although they didn’t win much of anything in the 2012 Challenge final event, in 2013 they had so improved their design that they won each of the seven design categories and 4th in the Sprint Race and 2nd in the Time Trial for a 3rd place overall finish. All of the other schools participating,  University of Minnesota, Purdue University, University of Illinois – Urbana Champaign, University of Akron, University of Cincinnati, Western Michigan University, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, Murray State University, and Cleveland State University had participated in many of the previous challenges and had loads of "lessons learned".

Illinois Institute of Technology IIT Chainless Challenge pneumatics layout with Parker Hannifin componentsThe inexperienced IIT team approached the challenge with "fresh eyes". Since they had little knowledge of traditional hydraulic systems they used engineering logic to reduce the problem to its simplest terms with surprising results. The IIT design comprised of an adult-size tricycle and a custom designed bolt on tricycle rear axial assembly.

Connected to the rider’s input crank were two Parker hydraulic cylinders.  Those two cylinders were hydraulically coupled to two identical cylinders in the custom frame that powered the rear axle.  The novel addition to IIT’s 2013 design was a pneumatic power boost system that ran in parallel to the hydraulic pedaling.  Three compressed air canisters were used to power a pneumatic motor that would give the rider a command for quick acceleration, or adding power when going uphill. IIT produced a unique and well-designed vehicle that won the attention of the judges and performed well in the events!


Hitting milestones

Chainless Challege Competitor in Sprint Race- Parker Hannfin Parker stays involved in the Chainless Challenge throughout the year. The company holds periodic reviews of designs and handles the project along the lines of a venture capital model. Students get an idea, and, based on how valuable that idea is, the school hits a certain milestone and gets additional funds. Some teams have eliminated their participation in years past. They don't hit the milestones, so they don't get the funds to move forward. winners are awarded $15,000 scholarships from the Chainless Challenge.

Parker Hannifin 2013 Chainless Challenge Group Shot CaliforniaThe Chainless Challenge has proven to be a “win-win” event. Parker has been able to inspire talented students to become excited about hydraulics. For example, a young Cleveland State student was introduced to Parker Hannifin in the competition two years ago. The event inspired her so much she applied and has been accepted into a PhD program to pursue her doctoral degree in biomechatronics. She said she'd someday love to work for Parker. That's a great story. Hopefully, more stories like that will unfold as time goes on.

(If you’d like to learn more about the Chainless Challenge, and how you or your school might become involved, contact Sandy Harper at


Craig Maxwell Corporate Vice President , Chief Technology and Innovation Officer Article contributed by Craig Maxwell, Vice President - Chief Technology and Innovation Officer





Other related articles:

Chainless Challenge: A Hydraulic Bicycle?

Pneumatics Technology Enhances Profitability in Rail Applications


Have a question about Parker products or services? We can help: Contact Us!

Comments for An Adult Tricycle Wins the Chainless Challenge Race

Tom McDonald
I have read with interest articles relating to hydraulic powered bikes. is there anyone considering a commercially viable bike. There has been a tremendous increase in e bikes over the past few years with a growing awareness of impact on resources (lithium for batteries and electricity for recharging). An efficient alternative technology such as hydraulic power could be a winner.

Please note that, in an effort to combat spam, comments with hyperlinks will not be published.

Leave a comment