How do you control a bicycle?

May 20, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- "Just like riding a bike" is a cliche for a simple skill you do not forget, but understanding how a human controls a bicycle is in some ways more challenging than understanding how a pilot flies an airplane, say two UC Davis engineers.

Professors Mont Hubbard and Ron Hess of the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering are studying human control of bicycles, supported by a two-year, $300,000 grant from the National Science Foundation.

"There's a lot of folklore and experience, but we don't have a precise scientific understanding of how humans control bicycles," said Hubbard, who leads the Sports Biomechanics Laboratory at UC Davis.

Hess, a nationally recognized expert on how pilots interact with aircraft control systems, said that riding a bike turns out to be a more complex problem.

"What makes riding a unique is that you have to use all the sensory information available," Hess said. That includes not just vision and hearing, but motion, orientation, awareness of where your limbs are, and the movement of muscle groups.

For example, it is possible to build a flight or driving simulator without motion cues, but a bicycle simulator without "lean" would not be realistic.

The research group includes graduate students Jason Moore, Dale Peterson, Danique Fintelman, Brendan Connors and Gilbert Gede, and undergraduates Derek Pell, Joseph Rinek, Eric Chan and Steve Brendel. The team is building bicycles fitted with sensors to measure precisely how the vehicle and the rider move. They will capture motion on video and analyze it with computer models.

They will also attempt to build a robot bicycle based on their findings, Hess said.

Hubbard and Hess hope that their work could lead to new insights into how humans interact with control systems, and perhaps new bicycle designs.

"We'd like to know what makes a bicycle hard to ride, and can we make it easier," Hubbard said. The researchers hope to look at how different populations -- such as seniors -- ride, and whether bicycle designs could be tailored to their needs, he said.

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frajo
5 / 5 (1) May 21, 2010
The team is building bicycles fitted with sensors to measure precisely how the vehicle and the rider move.
Including sensors fitted to the knees?
hush1
not rated yet May 23, 2010
Folklore and experience are unavoidably subjective.

Intuitively - at least from what you perceptively sense - the center of gravity is as good a scientific starting point as any other quantifiable, measurable, objective aspect.

The Holy Grail is a doctorate of Physics - a physicist who is simultaneously a stuntman/woman.
They are everywhere, right? :)
bikengr
not rated yet May 24, 2010
The Holy Grail is a doctorate of Physics - a physicist who is simultaneously a stuntman/woman.
They are everywhere, right? :)


Truth is stranger than fiction. Ines Brunn is a particle physicist who rides a bike better than I ever will! See her on YouTube http://www.youtub...1Qm7HSd8

Jim Papadopoulos
hush1
not rated yet May 31, 2010
Truth is stranger than fiction. Ines Brunn is a particle physicist who rides a bike better than I ever will! See her on YouTube http://www.youtub...1Qm7HSd8
Jim Papadopoulos


She dramatically and literally exemplifies visually Hess's words:
"What makes riding a bicycle unique is that you have to use all the sensory information available," Hess said. That includes not just vision and hearing, but motion, orientation, awareness of where your limbs are, and the movement of muscle groups.

And she starts where all humans start at birth - she lying, then rolls, then sits, etc., etc. She is taking you through all the stages all have gone but forgotten since their birth onward. That is one key.
I am an avid cyclist. My impressionistic view of "what makes a bicycle hard to ride" is the following:

Most avoid falling. Most have forgotten what falling means. If you learn to fall again, you will also learn (again) where(and when)your center of gravity is irretrievable.
hush1
not rated yet May 31, 2010
So? I fall. I practice falling. I try all sorts of movements to ascertain if my subjective feeling of irretrievable loss of balance is just that: a feeling - and not the immutable point of no return that the laws of physics mandates.

Are there consequences to falling? Sure. Ask a surfer or a wind surfer - you get wet. :)

Well, are there more consequences to falling off a bike? Sure. You can fall WRONG. You hurt or break something on your body then.

So, if you REALLY want to help cyclists OF ALL AGES learn cycling, put a visual aid on the handlebar indicating how far or near you are to that immutable point of no return of the center of gravity so the cyclist doesn't waste time trying to retrieve the irretrievable and concentrate on falling RIGHT - the right fall being the fall with the LEAST consequence for you and your bike.

So get on a Pogostick and familiarize yourself again with that elusive 'feeling'- yet hardly disputable, immutable law of physics - your center of gravity. :)
frajo
not rated yet May 31, 2010
If your bike has 25 or more HP, you should have an excellent feeling for some more physics than just your center of gravity. Like linear and angular momentum, like torque and acceleration, like friction on diverse surfaces.
hush1
5 / 5 (1) Jun 02, 2010
lol. Strangely enough, the study of linear and angular momentum, as well as torque, acceleration and friction has led to the development of the lightest and most successful bicycle wheel of all time - it's called the "Lightweight" wheel. The international bicycle association doesn't allow competition for bicycles under 15 lbs. My bike weights 11 lbs. The lightest bikes are under 5 lbs.

Motorized bikes are fun too. I can also hope Ines Brunn has time to improve my feeling for some more physics besides just my center of gravity. CERN keeps her busy though.