Science Has No Clue How Bicycles Really Work

Illustration for article titled Science Has No Clue How Bicycles Really Work

The saying "just like riding a bike" has been around for ages. It refers to doing something that's easy to understand. But there's irony in that: Physicists have no clue how bicycles work, making them some of the most complicated things in the world.


For more than a century, the assumption was that the gyroscopic forces of the wheels are what kept a bike upright. When a riderless bike is moving quickly, you can push it slightly and it won't fall over. That was the assumption.

But that was, apparently, wrong.

A few years ago a deep dive was taken into "bicycle science." Guess what? They found that the gyroscopic force wasn't enough to keep the bike upright. That means that decades of science and assumptions based in science have been totally wrong.

We can send a man to the moon. We can explore the depths of the ocean. We can make hydrogen power things. We have a pretty good idea about how the universe started. But we have no clue how one of the simplest mechanisms, something that we all take for granted as one of the easiest ways to get around, works.

That seems messed up, doesn't it?

(Hat Tip to @joshpetri!)

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Matt McIrish

I always thought they were powered by the rider's sense of self-importance.