Schottenbauer Publishing

Friday, April 10, 2015

The Physics of Cycling

Bicycling provides excellent examples of motion for physics education. Road bikes demonstrate a combination of translational and rotational motion, while stationary bicycles demonstrate the rotational motion of the wheel.

The graph below, excerpted from The Science of Exercise Equipment, Volume 1, shows the acceleration, force, and altitude changes associated with the rotational motion of a recumbent stationary bicycle.

Discussion Questions
  1. What are the minimum and maximum points on each graph?
  2. Why does the graph show acceleration in three directions of motion? Describe how each component, including x, y, and z, relates to the motion of the ankle.
  3. What aspect of bicycle motion is normally modeled by a sine wave?
  4. Can any of these graphs be modeled with a sine wave? Why or why not? 
  5. What is the period and frequency of the motion in the graph?
  6. Does the athlete change speed during the motion recorded in the graph? Why or why not?
  7. What is more useful for analyzing the motion of the wheel: a) the total force, b) the x, y, and z acceleration? Why?
  8. Is the athlete pedaling forwards or backwards?

The free YouTube video, Understanding the Motion of the Wheel from Schottenbauer Publishingprovides graphical analysis of video footage. In the video, spatial analysis of motion (e.g., what does the motion look like to a viewer) is compared to graphical analysis of motion (e.g., what does the motion look like in a graph). This video can supplement traditional lectures on the science of basic motion. The video, shown below, is discussed in detail in the blog post Understanding Translational and Rotational Motion from a Bicycle Wheel on the blog The Science of Transportation.

The following books from Schottenbauer Publishing contain similar types of graphs and data pertaining to the science of bicycles:

Graphs & Data for Science Lab: Multi-Volume Series
  • The Science of the Wheel
    • Volume 1: Force, Velocity, Acceleration
    • Volume 2: Video Analysis, Force, Velocity, Acceleration
    • Volume 3: Video Analysis, Force
  • The Science of Exercise Equipment
    • Volume 1: Force, Velocity, Acceleration
    • Volume 2: Biophysics
    • Volume 3: Video Analysis
    • Volume 4: Video Analysis
Anthologies of 28 Graphs
    • The Science of Transportation
    • The Science of Physical Fitness
    • The Science of Summer Olympic Sports

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