Archive for the ‘Education’ Category

Higher education on two wheels


If you’ve not heard of the Faculty of Science and Engineering at the University of Chester, you have now. It’s new, fast-moving and extremely welcoming.

What’s it got to do with cycling science? Well, the powers that be at the Faculty have their fingers on the pulse and recognise that cycling is blossoming.

So they invited me to lead a cycling science ride at the weekend, an initiative generously supported by CWAC/iTravel.Under the railway bridge

That’s why a group of people could be found in a back lane near the River Dee, discussing the functions, materials and dimensions of that most under-rated component, the spoke.

Tangential, radial, three-cross, four-cross, bladed, steel, aluminium, carbon – all the little niceties were discussed vigorously.

One of the cyclists realised for the first time that the front wheel he’d been using for more than a year has lovely radial spokes – and why his rear wheel doesn’t.

To cap it all, another rider, an information systems expert of course, had a tuning app on her smartphone so we could demonstrate to any doubters that it’s the tension in the wire spoke that keeps the wheel together.

Fact: knowledge keeps the legs warm

Fact: knowledge keeps the legs warm

The weight of a general practitioner, who volunteered innocently, bearing down on the axle was then shown to be enough to reduce the frequency of the lowermost spoke by half a tone.

Elsewhere on the ride, along Chester’s glorious Greenway, the effects of rolling resistance were demonstrated by putting some air in the tyres on which an esteemed chemical engineer usually rides almost totally flat.

Human balance, steering, the self-stable dynamics of a bicycle, aerodynamics and how to hover simply by pedalling hard (and building an enormous lightweight helicopter) were all covered.

So, if you’re looking to study science or engineering, you could do worse than to consider Chester University. Not only do they know HOW a bicycle works, they also know WHY.

Photos: Garfield Southall

There’s no business like …


The Times Cheltenham Science Festival pageNormally these posts focus on the work of others and I’m usually spoilt for choice because, on average, I come across one new research paper about cycling and science every single day of the year. And that’s in the English language, only. You can see them all by following @cyclingscience1 on Twitter.

So today I’ve been struggling to decide whether to describe a new way of detecting when pro cyclists are lying dopers, or the treatment of vulval swelling among long-distance female cyclists (perhaps as a partner piece to the post about the “third testicle“) or how engineers view the benefits of cycle helmets.

Then it struck me that I should write about the Science of Cycling – a live presentation that’s part of The Times Cheltenham Science Festival, on Sunday 8th June 2014, from 4.30pm.

I got involved in October 2013 when I saw tweets that heaped embarrassingly high praise on my book, from someone called Andrea who claimed also to have “a cunning plan”. Falling into Andrea’s trap, I responded. And I’m glad I did. Andrea turned out to be Andrea Sella, professor of chemistry at University College London and an avid cyclist with Hackney CC.

Through the magic of Twitter, emails, text messages and very occasional phone conversations, the outline of a new kind of event took shape. Andrea’s love of eye-opening, mind-expanding demonstrations were designed to complement information and facts from my book.

Over the months, I’ve blagged equipment and material from the cycling industry while Andrea has accrued weird and wonderful things from the outer reaches of science.

But one thing was still missing – an expert practitioner.

Fortunately, the solution was found at Bespoked – the Handbuilt Bicycle Show at the Olympic Velodrome last month. There was Ted James – leading edge framebuilder and ultra-skilled BMX rider. We were thrilled when he agreed to take part in the Science of Cycling presentation.

Yesterday, the three of us came together for the first time. We put our heads together on the full contents for the hour-long show and, with all the demonstrations, explanations, live action cycling, clear explanations, big-screen graphics and exclusive video clips it came to a little under 5 hours 45 minutes.

So, we have a few days to trim it and use only the very best bits which will reveal unusual and unexpected aspects of cycling and science to all those people who are lucky enough to have booked tickets.

Hope you can make it and don’t be scared to ask questions because our aim is to provoke and stimulate.

See you there.