Around Town in Style: An ODU Student Fabricates High-Speed Circus Bicycle


Myles Perry

Linkel demonstrating the use of an angle grinder.

By Myles Perry, Contributing Author

Amid the electric vehicle revolution, an ODU student challenged himself to reimagine what a personal electric vehicle means. 

Milo Linkel, a junior studying Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, sketched designs while peering over a small bicycle. The bicycle, no longer than three feet, looked fit for the shenanigans of a circus clown.  A battery pack a quarter of the size of the bicycle itself was propped awkwardly underneath. 

“Imagine [an electric] bike, but small and funny,” said Linkel, taking a break from the welding station. Since 2020, Linkel has twice built battery-powered electric skateboards, each time honing his design process and familiarity with electric motor technology. Now he has his nose to the grindstone developing a circus bicycle capable of pushing 20 miles per hour.

He has been working on this project for two full semesters, learning metalworking, welding, and safe use of lithium-ion batteries. The dimensions of a circus clown bicycle are not ideal for accommodating a large electric motor and battery pack, so fabricating custom mounts from metal has pushed Linkel’s skills as a designer. 

Working with high-voltage batteries, such as the 10S4P modules powering this bicycle, one must vigilantly avoid electric shock hazards. “I have blown up lithium ion cells and created some big sparks on accident,” Linkel said.

Electric bicycles and scooters have become a mainstay when traversing any urban area or college campus. Although controversial, they are changing our relationship with small-scale transportation and movement. 

Linkel argued for their adoption: “I know some people hate them because they drive and they get in the way of cars, but as a non-car [supporter] I think they are useful when you need something. I think they are a net benefit.” 

In transportation lies an opportunity for creativity and self-expression: modified cars; detailed longboard graphics; and thanks to Linkel, a circus bike that can beat any scooter in a race. 

Linkel fabricates his brainchild in the Monarch Engineering and Fabrication Lab, or M-lab for short. He is one of many engineers at ODU who use the M-Lab to reimagine the world through a syncretism of creativity and classwork. Gesturing at roughly sketched design notes, Linkel said that “the timeline worked out that while I was taking physics two and we went over how motors and induction worked while I was trying to understand brushless motors.” 

Linkel holding a face shield next to a welding cart.
Linkel holding a face shield next to a welding cart. (Myles Perry)

Bold creatives face the judgmental eye of the public due to their often-esoteric design choices. In the past, Linkel drew the curious gaze of onlookers while in the Whitehurst parking lot cutting up planks of wood with a jigsaw. “[I] probably look[ed] like an insane person,” he said. 

Change often happens in the face of social adversity, however, and Linkel understands this tenant of leadership: “I embrace the onlookers.”