It is unlikely that some future rowdy bachelorette party or high school reunion rolling through downtown Waco on a pedal tour would ever think some Waco high school students earned class credit for the vehicle enabling their rolling fun.

Nor is it likely that those same students thought, a year or so ago, that crafting a pedal-powered vehicle that seats 16 people, with table surfaces to facilitate drinking, would help them graduate and learn valuable skills.

That is the case, however, thanks to the common ground discovered by some Waco businessmen, a Rapoport Academy science, technology, engineering and mathematics coordinator, and Rapoport students.

Four Rapoport students are heading into their final months of work in building a custom-designed steel-framed vehicle for Waco Pedal Tours, with 10 pedaling seats and an electric engine, designed largely by their STEM instructor, Clay Springer.

This is not your father’s pedal bike, although if he prefers riding to pedaling, he might appreciate it.

Building from scratch enabled customization to meet specific needs Waco Pedal Tours encountered from real customers: seats farther from pedals for taller people; a step bar to aid seating; bench seating on the end for older customers, kids and those not into pedaling; adjustable suspension to ease road bumps; and more space for the driver and any tour helper.

The finished bike also will feature a video touchscreen for karaoke, LED lighting and a water mister system for hot weather.

“We’re going to nerd out on this thing,” Springer said.

It should be in action by late spring, but Springer and his students have several weeks’ worth of work ahead to install seats, the drivetrain, an electric engine assist, roofing, painting and trim.

In a case where a problem led to opportunity, Waco Pedal Tours found itself plagued with business interruptions last year when its one pedal bike broke down and parts were hard to come by. Company partners Cory Dickman, Jake Cockerill and Daniel Abarca met informally with Springer to see if he could help fix it locally with his design skills and mechanical expertise.

As he looked at it, he realized one could be built locally. And, a STEM teacher always looking for work-related, hands-on education for his students, he saw how building a pedal bike would mirror some of the hands-on learning in Rapoport’s robotics classes.

“Every little aspect of it is what we do in robotics,” he said.

Rapoport Academy Superintendent Alexis Neumann signed on, and a Capstone class required of Rapoport students was created for the pedal bike construction. Waco Pedal Tours covered the projected $30,000 cost of a new bike, lower than the $60,000 or so for a fully tricked-out new bike with electric assist, which enabled a paid internship for students and avoided the usual fundraising needed for $10,000 to $15,000 robotics projects.

Friday morning found Rapoport seniors Conrey Guy and Sydney Stallworth, both 17 years old and in Rapoport’s STEM/robotics sequence, in a West Waco shop continuing their work on the 20-foot-long vehicle. Both had to earn OSHA certification to work on their own — certification they can use professionally — and found pedal bike making a combination of extensive metal work, some design and lots of practical problem-solving and trouble-shooting.

The pedal bike features axles pulled from a 1998 Jeep Cherokee, steering linkage from a 2006 Ford Mustang, leaf springs from a Ford F-350 truck, a suspension system and custom mounting plates.

In addition to learning building skills and designing insights, the Rapoport students have learned about the business and customer side of things from Abarca, the tours’ personable and entertaining driver who brings years of experience working in Cozumel resorts.

There is the practical need for an electric motor assist, for one thing, Abarca said.

“It’s usually a two-hour tour and everybody gets tired pedaling after three minutes,” he said with a laugh.

As the driver, he usually ends up being the last one pedaling, he said.

The Rapoport team, incidentally, took their turn at a pedal bike this fall, driving Waco Pedal Tours’ bike in the Baylor University Homecoming parade and doing karaoke as they went.

The project has opened doors for all parties. Guy, armed with a McLennan Community College associate’s degree, wants to study manufacturing and engineering technology at Texas A&M University and go into engineering design. Stallworth will finish automotive tech at Texas State Technical College, then serve with the Air Force and possibly come back for automotive engineering studies at TSTC to enable his ultimate dream of auto building and design.

Springer is eager to find other Waco businesses open to student-public-private collaborations in any number of fields, be it electronics, construction, graphic design, writing or more.

“I do want to find more businesses to meet students’ passions,” he said.

Abarca sees new ways of entertaining Waco tourists, families and downtown visitors, while Dickman’s entrepreneurial mind is finding new directions of sales and distribution. Lessons learned and building designs created for this bike will enable the prospect of building, then selling pedal bikes to other companies or building different styles to meet specific needs.

“Having people in Waco riding a pedal bike that was Waco-built — that’s very rare,” he said.

And it’s something Stallworth said he would not mind signing after finishing. “Maybe on the frame on the bottom,” he said.

Tribune-Herald entertainment editor

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