Scott Walls ’83: I just patented my “Tilting Trike” after many years of design
As a child, I didn’t like tricycles and would have nothing to do with training wheels because they just didn’t feel right. I didn’t know it but that’s when I became a student of the physical sciences, fascinated by whatever it was that made cycling like flying, and contemptuous of anything that would conspire to push me to one side or to the other. As a kid, I glued together plastic kit airplanes that wouldn’t fly, before I knew anything about stall speeds, Bernoulli’s Principle, or weight transfer. What really struck my imagination was the amazing things I might build with the leftover bits and pieces from the model kits. With wood and junk, I made all kinds of stuff. Later I would go on to build contraptions that would fly underwater, also pilot a hang glider as well as handle the controls of Pipers and Cessnas.
I barely limped through Michigan with a BSME because I couldn’t get many test answers correct in only one hour, despite attending all the lectures, all of the labs, the books, the example problems. Strategic class withdrawal and light class loads eventually yielded to my efforts. But my secret superpower was the family that you choose, the company you keep. Delta Chi in the late 1970’s was light in numbers but heavy in engineering talent. There was also the easy family atmosphere that drove my feelings of isolation into the corner. And John Russell was there to ballast the ship with his “Now you boys” and his “This ain’t no hotel”. Michigan was a love-hate relationship for me, but I got through it despite. I have recently come to the belief that I am something called neuro-divergent.
Upon graduation, Greg Roda and I set out for the Sunny South on our motorcycles to find our fortunes, stopping in Rural Retreat Virginia to visit JR. I kept in touch with JR over the years on the phone until his tragic death.
My career was a catastrophe in slow motion. I failed to grasp the brass ring a couple times and got fired a couple times. My inability to “sell myself” in resumes and interviews made job-getting that much harder. At thirty four with a mortgage and a kid, I found myself digging ditches and toting equipment for six dollars an hour. I finally had lowered my expectations enough to find something that I could get good at, and strangely I enjoyed the tough physicality of the work.
Fast forward 25 years of becoming a plumbing foreman for mid-sized commercial construction projects, while always retaining that inner physical scientist and futurist, always on the lookout for that one idea that would carry me where I thought I was meant to be.
Turning fifty-nine in 2018 shook me to my core. Late in the evening of that birthday, I looked bleary-eyed into the bathroom mirror and said out loud “I am not satisfied with what I’m looking at.” I then did an intensive review of all my journals and came to the realization that I would have to find my fortune rather than my fortune finding me. Good ideas are a dime a dozen, but you’ve got to make something.
One idea lurking at the edge of my bandwidth for over thirty years resurfaced suddenly in early 2019. I had long-believed that the fourth wheel of a vehicle was redundant in a quest for efficiency and weight reduction. But to make that idea a good one, I had to defeat that long-hated lateral g-force to keep the center of gravity along the centerline of the vehicle. I had determined in about 2006 that the concept was not practical until a thing called a “hubmotor” was available. My understanding of hubmotors from articles in Popular Science magazine was essentially a powered ball bearing with a tire fitted to its outer race. In about January 2019, I saw it hanging from the ceiling of my local bicycle shop. It almost even had a little halo around it. Maybe that was just imagination. I rushed home to consult the mirror again. My dad had a saying ” Are you gonna fish or cut bait?” I was going to fish!
I cut everything out of my life other than my wife and my day job. Seventeen months later I finished a ridiculous-looking thing that resembled a Schwinn being humped by an antique farm implement. That thing rode like a champ around east Charlotte, North Carolina for over a year and a half. It was so fun and handled so well that I had to keep going. Along the way I started the build on another one, tripling the power and inventing a feature that allows it to operate in two “modes”. The motorcycle mode enables the machine to have the same riding experience as that of a motorcycle but with improved surefootedness on rutted terrain, a motorcycle danger zone. The tricycle mode allows the machine to operate just like a tricycle at slow speeds only, enabling reverse and improved cargo carrying capabilities over that of a motorcycle. I have recently been allowed a US utility patent with all of my patent claims intact. You can see the results of my efforts at instagram.com/agencytrike/.
The old guys call it badass while the kids call it sick, and dope.
Either you’re building your dream or someone else is paying you to build theirs. That was a lesson they never taught us in Ann Arbor.
In the bond, Scott Walls ’83