As a professional master’s student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, Katrina Leyden moonlights as a machinist and welder for local bike shops in the Boulder area. But it wasn’t until Leyden recently won the PBE X SRAM Inclusivity Scholarship that she had the opportunity to build the bike of her dreams.
The scholarship, which provides funding to build and showcase a bike at the Philly Bike Expo, aims to highlight and support people of color as well as women, trans and non-binary frame builders who have been historically underrepresented in the bicycle industry.
“Without the scholarship and the recognition that folks from underrepresented communities need support,” Leyden said, “I don’t think I ever would have been able to build my own bike. The cost of entry for frame building is just too high.”
Yearning for a sense of ownership over the building process, Leyden oversaw the making of her bike through its entire life cycle. Typically, an engineer designs a concept and hands it off to manufacturers to build it. But Leyden handed off the design of her bike to herself and put her own skills to the test.
The most challenging part was the initial phase of drawing and design. “The geometry of my bike frame dictates what components it can accept,” said Leyden. “And the components themselves dictate what terrain the bike can go on. So, I needed to figure out where I wanted this bike to go and work backwards from there.”
Leyden decided to build a flat-bar, titanium gravel bike designed for long-distance bikepacking, which required a frame versatile enough to handle different components that could be swapped out according to the topography.
During the manufacturing process, Leyden had the resources to attempt the machining of the titanium frame just once.
“It can be painstaking to get right,” Leyden said. “For example, there is one millimeter of tolerance around the rear triangle of the frame, where the chain stays, seat stays, rear wheel and the drive train all come together in a complex interface.”
Her hard work paid off when Leyden showcased her bike at the Philly Bike Expo, which is one of the premier cycling events in the country, where enthusiasts from all corners of the bike world come together to celebrate cycling for one weekend. Leyden named her bike Dream.
“I loved to see other people’s work, especially from the other scholarship recipients,” Leyden said. “When I think of the workspaces and classrooms I have been a part of, I am often the only woman and person of color, so it was lovely to meet other people who share my experience and an understanding of being underrepresented.”
Leyden says it’s essential for companies like SRAM to offer these scholarships and to welcome the changes that come with having more diverse voices at the table. “It’s about changing the culture and making these spaces fun, exciting and welcoming to everyone,” she said.
Currently, Katrina focuses her fabrication and engineering work on larger, structural projects with Coalesce Design and Fabrication, a custom fabrication shop in Boulder, CO.
After graduation, Leyden plans to find opportunities that test the knowledge and skills she gained as a master’s student in the Paul M. Rady Department of Mechanical Engineering, too.
By applying manufacturing principles, knowledge of material and mechanical properties and intelligent human-centered design, Leyden hopes not only to influence how society is built but to effect change in the mindsets of those who construct it.