Thursday, January 24, 2013

"I Want To Ride My Bicycle, I Want To Ride My Bike...."

Bicycle! Bicycle!

Yes, we are doing bicycle physics! I already mentioned about this quite a while back. But there's new coverage on this not-as-simple-as-you-think phenomenon of riding a bicycle. The new coverage doesn't present anything new, though, but merely reemphasize the fact that 'steering' is an important factor in how one can balance on 2 wheels on a moving bicycle.

Partially through this research, physicists have come up with an explanation for why bicycles don’t tip over: they always turn toward the direction they’re falling. When the bicycle begins to tilt to one side, the front wheel turns in that same direction, which prevents the bike from falling over. This can be verified by locking the handlebars so that the bicycle can’t turn. When you do this and give the bike a push, it topples over.

Now, the reason why the bicycle steers in the direction that it is about to topple over isn't as clear.

That’s where things get really complicated. Rather than a simple explanation, scientists have developed a formula that determines whether or not a bicycle design will have this essential attribute. Insomuch as it has been tested, the formula works. Unfortunately, it’s not a simple two- or three-variable equation: it requires 25 different characteristics of the bicycle to make a prediction.

So do we know how a bicycle works? Technically, yes. We have an equation that can predict whether or not a particular design will be easy to balance. But that doesn’t mean we fully understand what’s going on and the one-sentence explanation of what keeps it upright only leads to more questions that aren’t so easily answered.

So there! Even the everything, common thing that we all are familiar with can still be puzzling.


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