The Bicycle Can Tell Us How To Make It Better

Over the years bicycle design has changed. Materials were upgraded as technology advanced, and accumulated knowledge helped bicycle builders make improvements along the way. But deep analysis with the intent to make meaningful improvements has not been widely embraced. Reasearchers at UC Davis are looking to expand into this frontier by letting the bicycle tell us how it can be improved. This is one of the test bikes they’ve been working on, which is mainly aimed at data harvesting. They’re hoping to find some real improvements based mostly on how the machine can get out of the rider’s way as much as possible. The thought here is that the rider’s body makes up 80-90% of the volume of the vehicle and should be accommodated in every way possible.

Sure, this could be a case of trying to build a better mouse trap. But listening to the discussion in the video after the break really drives home the complex issues of stability and locomotion that go into these seemingly simple vehicles. We’re going to guess the final recommendations will not involve making the bike five times taller.

16 thoughts on “The Bicycle Can Tell Us How To Make It Better

  1. I was under the impression that a lot of engineering already went into a bike, and that things were already placed pretty efficiently for both rider comfort and mobility.

  2. Call me ignorant, but I think the basic bike design has already evolved to a quite optimal state. Bikes that are specifically designed with a certain goal in mind, for example speed due to minimal air resistance as with the recumbent bike, are expensive and hard to ride and also less visible to other vehicles/persons.

    Most modern improvements are small but practical, like electric assistance and LED lighting. For some reason significantly different engineered bikes have never taken off.

    Any interesting stuff I have seen concentrates on hacking small stuff that slightly improves the bikin experience.

    I have done some bike stuff myself: My front light is a 3W power LED with a driver circuit that rectifies the AC of the bottle dynamo and provides a constant current source using a LM317. The tail light is 2 red leds antiparallel with 2 resistors in series. Everything is glued into a reflector, preventing any damage (tail lights are usually placed on the tail fender and sometimes kicked of by drunken people).
    In the end, this setup reduces resistance of the bottle dynamo as less current is needed and light output is far more than incandescent lighting or the simple battery powered led lights that everybody seems to use nowadays.

      1. I know about hub dynamos but built in ones are prohibitively expensive. However, there are aftermarket external dynamos and of course those dynamos can be made DIY, it’s just a bunch of coils and magnets (which can be harvested from hard drives).

        My goal was to make the lighting more reliable. Thicker cables, better resistance against urban environments.

  3. While I appreciate the effort of data gathering on the physics of bicycling a few questions arise after seeing the video…

    In none of the videos the guy is peddling, most of the aerodynamics revolve around this movement and it seems a huge part of the way a bicycle moves. What data the balancing part would offer that can be interesting if a good bicyclist can make turns and corrections without his hands on the steering wheel?

    Another thing I wonder about is if they include hills in their research it’s the part that will be the most interesting for the bicycling community I suspect.

  4. Oh man. . . I wonder how many mirrors those guys have stuck to their helmets? /snark

    I will read their articles on this topic with great interest. Bicycling Science (MIT Press) is a good read but doesn’t fill in all of the gaps and some assumptions in the book have been shown to be false, so I would say that more study is a good thing. A lot of bike design (and fit) is a combination of generations of lore and anecdotal experience with little to no science. However, getting the market to adopt their recommendations may prove impossible. For example, it has been shown that a slightly wider (~25c) tire actually has lower rolling resistance than a narrower tire at higher pressure on surfaces that aren’t perfectly smooth. Despite the evidence many racer types still run stupidly narrow tires thinking that it faster. The bike world is full of misconceptions and I don’t see that changing.

    – Robot

  5. At least they’re testing a comfortable, upright riding posture! All bike riders do not want to assume the hunched over, ball-busting, back breaking racing posture.

    1. Yes it’s comfortable to ride that way, but I also find that you get good power to manage hills in that position. You tense your arms and lean back and then gain some extra strength for your legs when going up hill.

  6. To all those saying the bike is already optimal, the science of riding needs a lot of work done on it. For example, it’s so damn hard to find an ergonomically designed set of handlebars. I’ve got some arthritis in my hands and wrists making me very sensitive to hand position. Straight bars put too much force on your thumbs, dropper bars make your wrist eccentric. The perfect handlebar (for me) for seated riding is a 17 degree backsweep bar, which represent about 1% of the bars sold. Same situation applies to grips, shocks, frame materials, damn near anything. The only development and optimisation I’ve seen is in world class racing, and world class racers represent a very small fraction of bike riders ;)

    I’m guessing these guys are not pedalling (yet) because the dynamics of a bike and rider are not known. They are starting off with the simplified version before including confusing elements like pedalling.

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