The Stanford campus has no shortage of bicycles. On a typical school morning, Escondido Road can look more like a freeway gridlock than a college street, with students pedaling frantically to class. But amid a sea of Stanford bikers, an 80-year-old engineering professor stands, or rather sits, apart. While at Stanford, most students will have come across Professor Richard Reis M.A. ’69 Ph.D. ’71 pedaling along on his original invention, the Full Body Bicycle.
“The idea behind the bicycle is to give me a full body workout,” Reis said, who noticed a regular bicycle did not work out his upper body. The Full Body Bicycle design allows the arms to propel the bike while providing both an upper and lower body workout, he added.
The project, which began as an assignment for Reis’ mechanical engineering class, has become an emblem of his life’s work at Stanford. Reis stresses the importance of exercising in enjoyable ways.
In 2003, the construction of the upgraded bicycle began with two identical bicycles. Reis and his students in the ME 113: “Mechanical Engineering Design” course took one of the bicycles apart and inserted the rear wheel from the first bike into the front of the new bicycle.
Reis quipped that the rest of the finalized Full Body Bicycle consists of “all the other stuff just cut up from the previous bike from the bicycle that was ‘sacrificed.’”
Throughout its 18-year history, the invention has encountered plenty of bumps in the road.
In early versions of the bicycle, Reis found chains popping off and asked that others not ride it for long periods of time. Over the years, though, Reis managed to address the mechanical issues but still decided not to commercialize the bicycle.
“The whole idea was to ride it and not make a business out of it,” Reis said.
In the morning, before driving to campus, Reis mounts the bike onto the back of his car. He parks a few miles away from the campus and dismounts the bike to continue his travels.
On his ride to class, Reis draws a wide variety of reactions from onlookers, from “putting their thumbs up as they drive by, to saying ‘It’s really cool,’ to you know, ‘can I take a picture of it?’ Just the whole range of responses,” he said.
“The invention of the bike, riding of the bike, the tireless explaining to curious onlookers about the bike and the absolute joy he gets from all three I think sums up a lot of who my dad is and how he touches others,” said Reis’ daughter, Deanna Baresova.
Since he joined the Stanford community, Reis has workshopped a number of inventions — some for academic purposes and others for personal enjoyment. The Grandpa’s Take Apart Box, which Reis’ grandchildren inspired him to invent, is one that he said he holds close to his heart.
Items in the box include toasters, bicycle parts and more. Reis provides his grandchildren with wire cutters and scissors, among other tools, to take apart and reconstruct the items — just as he did with the Full Body Bicycle.
Reis’ mentorship of students and family members is motivated by his passion for watching what younger generations can accomplish, he said. The challenges Reis faced during the development of his projects have never deterred him from continuing his work, a value that he said he tries to instill in his students every time he teaches.
“Don’t hold back for perfection,” he said. “Just start doing it and then it will evolve as time goes on.”
Riding to class on his Full Body Bicycle, Reis said he often thinks of B.J. Thomas’ “Raindrops Falling on My Head.” For Reis, the tune is the unofficial theme song of the Full Body Bicycle — encapsulating not only his journey with the creation but also his life at Stanford.
As the song goes, “But there’s one thing I know/The blues they send to meet me/Won’t defeat me, it won’t be long ’till happiness steps up to greet me.”