You all know how a bicycle work, right? You push the pedal, it make rotate the cranks and a chain transmit the movement to the wheel, making the vehicle moving forward. That is easy to understand, besides it been about 200 years the process is nearly the same.
But do you remember your first time? When you thought you were going to crash onto the ground, your dad ensuring you that it would not happen ? You were asking yourself how this strange bunch of metallic pipes will make you stay right, keeping you balanced?
Actually… no one knows. And if you have requested your father to anwser, the response must have been « Because! ».
The reality is fairly simple : today, even the most considered scientist doesn’t know the anwser. And the conceptor ? Neither. Leonardo Da Vinci’s apprentice, Salai, draw the first concept in the middle of the 14th century (even if that point is hotly discussed). But the true inventor was the Baron von Drais in 1817. Although, the Baron did not need to have a chair in weird-curved vehicle to achieve it goal. He simply put two wheels on a wood structure and saw that it was good. So the « dandy-horse » as it was called had no pedals on it. Then, the next engineer working on this machin says it was too exhausting, so he puts pedals and saw that it was good. This serie of trial and failure lead us to the current bicycle model… with no explanation, no blueprint explaining the transportation’s puzzling stability.
But despite this hole in the bicycle conception, many theories want to elucidate the mystery. The first one, the one every motorcycle user will provide you : the gyroscopic effect. You know it. It the same effect that keeps a spinning top rotating. It assure a motorcycle user to not falling on the ground, according to motorcycle monitors. The anwser sound pretty, but there is a little problem… this theory was proved false in the ’70. Some scientists try to put an anti-gyroscopic device on a bicycle and… it continue to roll right.
The second option is called « trail », or « caster angle ». This physic element is the angle the wheel is suspended, for a car or our damned bicycle. Do you have already notice that the wheel is never connected perpendiculary to the rest of the structure, maintaining it ? Physicians think that it is the main reason why bicycle are balanced. But, guess what? That’s not it either. Researchers of the institute of Cornell recently invalidate this theory, by the use of – almost – the same trick that had discredited the gyroscopic effect : constructing a bicycle without trail effect AND gyroscopic effect (to make sure there is no trick). It stay self-stable.
So now, scientists need to go back to their drafts and think about new theories. But somehow, we are kind of uneasy with this. After all, it is just a bicycle! The science proved us everything can be solved by her. So why can’t we solve a problem like this?
Andy Ruina, a mechanical and aerospace engineer at Cornell intitute, said that « In some sense, it’s been well understood since the mid-1900s in that people can write the equations, but in terms of having some intuitive understanding of it, nobody ever has ».
Think about it.