If you want to see technological elegance at work, you need look no further than the humble bicycle. The simplicity of their design makes bikes efficient, easy to maintain, and highly versatile, not to mention ecologically friendly. But even though humanity has been using bicycles for more than a hundred years, there are aspects of this tech we still don’t understand—like how they stay upright in the first place. And, yes, we know what you’re going to say: it’s a combination of the rider’s balancing act and gyroscopic effects of the spinning wheels. But those explanations simply aren’t enough, according to experimental evidence.
built a real-world version, designed with little trailing and two counter-spinning wheels to negate the gyroscopic effects—it was still stable.
On the flip side, the researchers also found bicycle configurations that have both of those benefits, yet aren’t stable. So while gyroscopic properties and trailing certainly don’t hurt, they aren’t the whole story. What’s really making our bikes so miraculously stable? The paper doesn’t provide a concise answer, but suggests that it has something to do with complex interactions between multiple factors.
It seems this rather ordinary form of transportation is a bit more complex than we thought. The research paper is available for perusal, as are some videos of the experiments.
Image via Flickr user cuellar