Look, Ma, no training wheels!

Does your tyke have bike anxiety? Purdue University's industrial design program may have just the thing for you.

It's called Shift, a prototype that just took first place in the 9th International Bicycle Design Competition in Taiwan. Arguably, the vehicle could be called a tricycle, since it has three wheels, but that doesn't seem to have been a problem for the competition's judges. And the two rear wheels are only inches apart, so the tripod effect is kept to a minimum. Certainly, the Shift doesn't have the wheel span of your average bicycle with training wheels.

That's actually the point, though. The Purdue team behind the Shift cooked up the design with toddlers in mind as a way to help youngsters learn how to ride a bicycle. "Most children learn how to ride a bike on training wheels, but these simply keep the bike from tipping," Scott Shim, a professor at Purdue who developed the concept along with a pair of students, said in a statement. "Our bike allows children to learn how to balance themselves as they ride instead of looking back to see if their parent is still holding the bike."

Here's how it works: When the Shift is parked or moving slowly, the tops of the rear wheels tip inward, providing a wider base and thus a more stable platform. As it picks up speed, the wheels move into a parallel alignment and eventually to a point where they have a single point of contact with the ground, shifting the balance from the bicycle to the child.

The striking design, with its Z-shaped frame, beat 853 initial entrants (and 24 finalists) from 56 countries at the Taiwan competition. Shim said his team is now waiting to hear more from manufacturers who have expressed an interest in producing the design.

And there must be something inherently appealing about tricycle design--the second-place finisher was a three-wheeler--with the single wheel in the rear and a large box in between the front tires--built with an eye toward environmentally conscious mail carriers.

About the author

Jonathan Skillings is managing editor of CNET News, based in the Boston bureau. He's been with CNET since 2000, after a decade in tech journalism at the IDG News Service, PC Week, and an AS/400 magazine. He's also been a soldier and a schoolteacher, and will always be a die-hard fan of jazz, the brassier the better.

 

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