Senior Project: Gabriel Lebow Explores Motorcycle Thermodynamics

Gabe1 Gabe Lebow has always had an interest in the working of engines and electrical systems, and he would often take items such as PCs apart to get a look at the components. So, it’s no surprise that for his Senior Project, he chose to restore a motorcycle to showroom condition and then test thermoelectric generation (generating electricity from waste heat) on the exhaust system.

Over the summer, he hunted for a motorcycle in need of repair, and finally purchased a Suzuki GSX-R600—the first model of Suzuki’s famous “K” series, high performance sport bikes. When in top condition, the bike can go from 0mph to 60mph in nearly three seconds.

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Gabe first did an assessment of the damage, and he noted that while the bike was capable of shifting through all gears properly, the shifter mechanism itself was broken, the key was broken in the ignition, and the bike would need new fairings, as the current ones were cracked and scratched as a result of the previous owner “laying the bike down” in several minor accidents. The Suzuki also had not been maintained; and Gabe would need to change the oil, filters, spark plugs, and valves. He would also encounter dozens of other issues such as problems with the headlights and battery.

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The restoration began with swapping the fairings, and he quickly discovered that the front fairing would not come off without disconnecting the dashboard. This in turn led to several DIY (do it yourself) electrical connections, and he had to consult a wiring diagram to make sure the connections to the terminals were in the correct positions. Eventually, Gabe completed the cosmetic and maintenance work, replacing the front brake lever and shifter rod along the way, as well as the leather on the seats. He also sanded and polished the metal and painted parts of the bike jet black. The painting involved removing the gas tank as well as the fuel pump and fuel rail.

Gabe said one of the best things about rebuilding the bike was he was able to apply his knowledge to a real-world situation. Back in October, he met a rider outside the supermarket with the same model Suzuki who was having trouble starting his bike. It turns out, someone had knocked the bike over, and it caused an electrical disconnection. Gabe helped him with removing the rear seat and gas tank to check the wiring harnesses and the fuse box. They were able to locate and fix the problem. “It was great to see the owner’s huge smile as he rode past, grateful that his bike was running.”

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Moving on to the thermoelectronics tests, Gabe first purchased thermoelectric generator parts and then began testing the electrical output at different heat ranges. He determined he would need a current sensor, air speed sensor, and a temperature sensor. He also configured a LabQuest data collection device to take two samples per second in three-minute intervals. He mounted the pieces to the exhaust pipe; and then hit the road to get some results.

The results concluded that the generator worked, and produced about 5 watts of power. This is not enough to totally replace the alternator and power the electrical system of the bike, but with more thermolelctric generators mounted in more specialized ways it would be more than enough.

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Overall, Gabe is really pleased with the results of his Project. Though challenging, he said if he had to do it over again he would tackle an even more complex engine restoration project. Those who had the pleasure of viewing the motorcycle at the recent Senior Project exhibition certainly agree that his level of skill and workmanship were very impressive.

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Gabe said he plans to pursue an engineering degree in college, and there’s no doubt he will excel in his chosen field.