Opportunity for incoming Master’s student interested in adaptive cycles


The Velomobility for Disability project is seeking a domestic student to begin in September 2023 who wishes to complete a master’s thesis in the Faculty of Environmental and Urban Change, York University and conduct fieldwork focused on the design, fabrication and trade of adaptive cycles used by persons with a disability. This opportunity is open to Canadian students or those with permanent residency in Canada.

The graduate student would conduct field work between 2024 and 2025 in North America, Western Europe and Indonesia accompanied by Dr Kruse (University of Graz, Austria), Professor Sugiono (University of Brawijaya, Indonesia), Dr Lintangsari (University of Brawijaya, Indonesia), and Professor Norcliffe (York University, principal investigator). All fieldwork expenses as well as a stipend will be provided. The student is expected to develop a thesis research topic based on this field research. Graduate students at York University have the opportunity to apply for other employment during the academic year, including as Teaching Assistants.

About the project

The three goals of this project are closely related. First, to uncover the source of new technologies used on adaptive cycles by persons with disability (PWD), with particular emphasis on the role of users in developing these devices. Second to investigate how such cycles are made, and customized for users. And third, to determine how users (and their immediate social network) choose one cycle design over another. The approach (based on fieldwork) is comparative of these activities in North America, Western Europe and Indonesia.

1. Many persons with a disability have to cope with an impairment that restricts their spatial mobility, including their access to schools and other places of learning, to jobs, to stores, sport and entertainment, and to socializing with family and friends. This research focuses on the case of adaptive cycles which, due to recent advances in design, have led to major technical improvements that offer one of the most promising avenues to improving mobility. Poorly understood, however, is the role of users, their family and friends, engineers, virtual information and trade magazines in the design, manufacture and distribution of adaptive cycles.

This study will compare the design and production in four advanced industrial countries—Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands—with their design and production in Indonesia. Being a country with incomes approximately one quarter of the Advanced Industrial Countries (AICs), Indonesia appears to have developed low-cost solutions using recycled materials, with adaptive cycles mostly customized to meet user needs and affordability. Interviews, public records and websites indicate that there are between 25 and 30 specialized makers of adaptive cycles in North America and Europe, whereas in Indonesia many tukang (artisans) are engaged in these activities on a very small scale.

2. How are these adaptive cycles made? The price attached to some of the most sophisticated devices (over $10,000) is not very different from that of a low-end car, and beyond the limited means of many PWD. Production runs in industrialized countries are very short, indeed many cycles are customized to meet a user’s specific needs. In Indonesia, in contrast, much lower cost structures and wages are found, and there is greater use of recycled bicycles and other materials to match the lower incomes of the average citizen. This raises the possibility of creating supply chains connecting low-cost parts makers in the global south with high-cost assembly in AICs.

3. How do users select adaptive cycles and how are they distributed? How does a user find out about alternate models and choose between them? Do they “test drive” an existing model, or negotiate with a maker for customized adaptations? Are markets local, or do niche cycles enter into international trade?

Interested students should contact Glen Norcliffe, sending a short CV to gnorclif@yorku.ca.