Limerick bicycle engineer helping blind people cycle solo

David Sheehan with the Students' student award at the Bicycle Engineering Academy in Raheen.

A LIMERICK father-of three, who was blinded 20 years ago, is developing a radar-enabled bicycle that will allow him to cycle solo along the Limerick Greenway.

David Sheehan, who is a graduate of the Limerick Bicycle Engineering Academy (BEA), is now in the final stages of testing the bike which was originally developed as the first Irish made cargo bicycle for commercial deliveries.

Although disappointingly rejected by An Post, who opted for an imported model two years ago, David has customised the bike with radar technology to allow a completely blind person to safely cycle on their own along a controlled stretch of greenway.

After learning the skills to design and build a tandem at the academy, David now cycles whenever he gets the chance with a fully-sighted guide.

As the first bicycle engineering college in Ireland, the BEA delivers traditional engineering qualifications in computer aided design, mechanical engineering, structural engineering and engineering science with practical experimentation at the centre of all lessons.

Sign up for the weekly Limerick Post newsletter

An exceptional student who won the inaugural Students’ student of the Year award, David now teaches wheel building in the academy on a part-time basis. Regarded as something of a ‘black art’ in the bicycle industry, wheel building requires a special skill set and focus to excel in the subject.

“Although he is 100 per cent blind, David never takes no for an answer and we are supporting him in his ambition to develop the autonomous tricycle that will allow him safely navigate a section of the Limerick Greenway,” Marty Mannering of the Bicycle Engineering Academy explained.

“Our support includes access to the academy, bicycle frame fabrication facilities, computer aided design systems, in-house expertise and anything else we can do in helping him achieve his goal. We are now hoping that funding or a sponsor can be secured to take David’s dream to the next level,” Mr Mannering added.

“Taking a universal product like the bicycle and dissecting it into engineering outcomes may not be  rocket science but it requires some very unique transferable engineering skills.  Students want to enjoy learning and everyone loves bicycles, so when the two are combined we get very high student attendance rates.

“We regularly have 95 per cent attendance throughout our full time programme when the norm for adult education would be around 50 per cent on average.

“We have also developed many prototypes in the academy for international clients.  We have yet to be recognised at that level in Ireland but I have no doubt that will happen in the very near future,” Mr Mannering concluded.

The An Post cargo delivery bicycle used by David Sheehan for his project development work.