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How does a bicycle stay upright?

General Knowledge | 11-14 yrs | Animation, Video

Scientists have been fascinated by the science of how a bicycle stays upright for almost as long as bicycles have existed! There are several contributing factors which aid our ability to remain upright while riding a bicycle.

How does a bicycle work?

Bicycles function through the conversion of muscular energy (energy created by the cyclist peddling) into kinetic energy (energy created by movement). The bicycle itself has several components which are simple machines – a combination of levers, pulleys and wheels and axles, which help convert the action of pedalling into movement. This may answer any confusion as to how bicycles work, however, does not address how exactly it stays upright.

Gyroscopic Effect

Till a few decades ago, scientists believed that bicycles remained upright owing to the ‘Gyroscopic Effect’ – which means that a spinning wheel will stay aligned to its original direction during motion. The momentum, in this case, is an Angular Momentum, created when a cyclist pedals and propels the bicycle forward. Though the Gyroscopic Effect explains how a bicycle remains stable, experiments conducted revealed that even if the Gyroscopic Effect were to be cancelled, the bicycle would still remain upright!

Caster Effect

The Caster Effect is another effect in play which helps guide the front tire of the bicycle in order for it to stay upright. The centrifugal force of the back wheel also plays a part in ensuring the bicycle does not fall over.

Why does a bicycle stay upright?

A bicycle stays upright due to a combination of different effects – Gyroscopic as well as the Caster Effect. Alongside this, the rider must be taken into consideration. Our mind also plays a role in making sure we do not fall over while riding a bicycle. The body unconsciously balances itself whenever it is needed. If we feel a tilt to the left, we automatically balance ourselves, by leaning into the right.