Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Brighton: fun & done. Edinburgh and Chester next

17/03/2015

Viki describes how carbon fibre really works - as on the rare Lotus MTB It’s official! Brighton Science Festival was a lot of fun. Andrea Sella, Viki Bloodworth and I had a vast range of props, slides, demonstrations and experiments lined up to explore just a few of the things where science and cycling meet.

Viki brought the rare and beautiful Lotus MTB, the monocoque carbon fibre bike designed by Chris Hornzee-Jones of Aerotrope. The finer points of carbon fibre were explored – plus some insights into the extraordinary new developments coming to a man-made composite near you any day soon. Deflation & inflationForty-three years after Eddie Merckx had a special request turned down by Ernesto Colnago, Andrea  demonstrated in public, for the first time in recorded history, how the great cyclist could’ve saved 10g from his bike by filling his tyres with hydrogen. It was a gas.

Thanks to EasyComposites, which kindly donated materials, the audience was able to visualise how much bloomin’ air a cyclist has to push aside just to pedal down the road. The instant scale model wind tunnel, powered by Dyson, made apparent the vortex that hides behind every saddle and saps our energies just a little.

DSC_5775_30 Some of this, and more, will be happening again next month. At the Edinburgh International Science Festival, at 5.30pm on Sunday 12 April, Andrea and I will be joined by Ashleigh Fraser, Scottish National Junior Women’s Road Race Champion. She’ll put us amateurs in our places as she reveals the true science of being best on a bike.

In Chester, at the University’s Thornton campus on Friday 24th April, I’ll be talking and running a couple of cycling science rides for school students. On Saturday 25th April, in the afternoon,

I’ll lead a public cycling science ride in the centre of Chester, complete with demos and experiments. In the evening I’ll be explaining How to Cycle over the Greater Himalayas by Accident. On purpose. DSC_5796_50

  Photos: Martin J Burton Photography

Cycling Science goes Live in Brighton

27/01/2015
Exploring why bicycles stay upright

Exploring why bicycles stay upright – one of the experiments by the cycling scientists

I’m involved with cycling science events during Brighton Science Festival so I hope you can come along to at least one of them.

First, there’s Cycling Science: The Ride! They are led rides through Brighton, stopping to do experiments and demonstrations. Tickets are on sale here.

You will be the guinea pigs in the experiments and demonstrations and, no matter how much you think you know about cycling or about science, I hope you’ll find out something new.

The rides are family-friendly but tickets are limited so I’ll be doing it at 11.00am on Sunday 1st March and again at 2.30pm on Sunday 1st March.

The rides are supported by Rule 5 BikesUniversity of SussexMartin Burton PhotographyNick Sayers and the Velo Café.

The other event is a presentation all about the science of cycling which I’ll be giving with Professor Andrea Sella of University College London, BBC TV, Radio 4 and Hackney CC.

He’s the 2015 recipient of the Michael Faraday Prize, given annually by the Royal Society for excellence in communicating science. Yes, he’s terrific.

We’ll be joined by Viki Bloodworth, structural engineer, cycling addict and expert in carbon fibre at Aerotrope. She’ll talk about possible futures for carbon fibre bicycles. And she’ll be bringing an extraordinarily rare and special bike. Viki’s terrific, too.

The presentation is part of Big Science Saturday, on 28th February 2015, and it’s the first event of the day, scheduled to start at 10am. Tickets are on sale here.

The presentation is supported by Dyson, University of Sussex, AerotropeMorvelo, and EasyComposites Endo diagram for Cycling Science

New home for cycling science news

27/11/2014

Cycling Weekly: The power of happyFor the time being, my cycling and science stories are not appearing on this blog – because they are being published by Cycling Weekly.

As a self-employed journalist, this makes good sense. It means I can earn part of my living by sharing the wide range of new information that continues to pass across my desk.

You can read my more recent contributions to Cycling Weekly here and the earliest ones here.

Enjoy them and send me your comments.

I’m hoping that other publications, too, will soon be carrying my cycling and science stories – they’ll be different in subject, content and style.

When there’s news about them, it’ll be posted here.

Listen up!

31/07/2013

traffic bicycleSshhh! Cycling’s way down the list of noise polluters. A well-maintained bike on a smooth surface can be near-silent (assuming the rider isn’t wearing chain mail, playing a bugle or both). The peacefulness is one of its pleasures.

So that makes a bicycle a relatively good platform for collecting other sounds on the move. What you do with those noises is up to you and different scientists are doing surprising things.

There’s a team in Austria that’s been eavesdropping on a rider as she pedals around the town of Graz. She knew about it. Before she started she phoned the lab and kept the call connected. The researchers were able to hear all the sounds around her wherever she cycled.

Then they analysed the audible clues and, like sound detectives with their ears to the ground, they succeeded in working out her route just from the noises they heard through her phone. It’s an impressive result.

It’s not clear from this experiment who had the most fun but it does show that even if you doubt the existance of Big Brother (he does exist), it seems that he doesn’t need to watch you to find out where you are. All he has to do is listen and he’s got you located.

The research paper will download when you click here.

Elsewhere, three unfamous (as yet) Belgians have been cycling round cities capturing the traffic noise as they ride. At the same time they’ve been sampling the air, not just through their own mouths and noses but also through chemical sensors.

They made 200 trips and then calculated that there is a relationship between traffic noise and the level of carbon particles that pollute the air. This shouldn’t be very surprising because it stands to reason that the more traffic there is, the noiser it is and the greater the quantity of pollutants they are pumping into the atmosphere.

Here’s the clever thing about the research. Lots of people want to know how dirty the air is in our city streets at different times of day and in different weather conditions. The general aim is to keep the air cleaner somehow or other and thus improve everybody’s health. The problem, though, is that air quality monitoring equipment isn’t cheap.

By showing that noise levels are a reliable indicator of air pollution levels, the Belgian team says that audio recordings captured by street-level microphones can reveal the truth just as effectvely as air quality sensors. And microphones are much, much cheaper.

How ironic that the toxic emissions from motor vehicles will be more easily monitored because of an experiment by cyclists.

The abstract of the research can be seen here.

Wake up and smell the coffee

06/04/2013
The strongest is at the top, the weakest at the bottom. Cycle fastest with an espresso - hence its name.

The strongest is at the top, the weakest at the bottom. Cycle fastest with an espresso – hence its name.

AG2RThanks to a timely tweet by Asker Jeukendrup (@Jeukendrup), I got to read about new research that shows coffee can improve performance as effectively as caffeine on its own.

The paper, one of whose authors is Asker, can be read here.

What caught my eye in subsequent tweets was that different coffees contain different caffeine levels.

This is somethng I learned nine years ago during one of my more bizarre commissions.

I had to drive the length of England to collect 25 coffee samples, mostly from motorway service stations. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to spend two days.

The Centre for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Sussex generously agreed to measure the samples. It’s the lab where Professor Sir Harry Kroto first identified the form of carbon now known as buckyballs and for which he received a Nobel Prize.

The results were more stimulating than a treble espresso/Red Bull cocktail.

They showed that the strongest coffee contained more than 25 times as much caffeine as the weakest.

So, if you’re gong to drink coffee to ride faster for longer, don’t drink a Nescafé Latté from the Sutton Scotney service station on the A34.

Better to start your ride in Cheshire, at the Sandbach servces on the M6,with an Espresso double from Costa Coffee. Vrooooom!

Mind the gap – how close do cars come?

02/04/2013

How much room does a driver give a cyclist when overtaking? What do you do as a cyclist when a car is passing you? How straight is the line you ride as vehicles pass you by? A group of scientists in Taiwan built a special bike to answer these questions and more.

Bicycle instrumented for rider/driver behaviour

All the on-board kit

It was instrumented to record lateral distance from the passing motorists, wheel angle and speed control. That’s a lot of special kit to add to a bicycle on city streets. It includes an ultrasonic sensor, camera, a variable resistor in the headset and a solid state compass, gyroscope and accelerometer. OK, it costs less than a CF disc wheel but it’s a lot of value to expose to potentially hazardous situations.

Well, as with the vast majority of urban rides, nothing went wrong and the data were analysed. Thirty-four riders were overtaken a total of 1,380 times. The equipment revealed that

• motorbikes passed more closely to the bicycle than cars and trucks did.

• cyclists couldn’t keep such a straight line when buses overtook

• vehicles passing slowly led to more cautious but less stable riding

• a solid white line, like for a bike lane, increases the distance between passing vehicles and bicycles
• motorists pass closer to men than women.
This last point confirms the 2007 findings of Dr Ian Walker of Bath University and some subsequent US research.
However, what’s not clear from the latest research is how much the beaviour of the riders and the drivers was influenced by the test itself. The riders would’ve at least been aware of the equipment of the bike and so may have ridden differently from normal.
Likewise the motorists could’ve seen the oddly-equipped bicycle and so changed from their normal steering pattern.
Nevertheless, I like this kind of research because it attempts to quantify experiences familiar to every cyclist and so it helps by converting anecdotes into evidence that may be used to improve road safety.

+++++++++++++++++

The use of a quasi-naturalistic riding method to investigate bicyclists’ behaviors when motorists pass, published in  Accident Analysis & Prevention, available online 29 March 2013, by Kai-Hsiang Chuang, Chun-Chia Hsu, Ching-Huei Lai, Ji-Liang Doon and Ming-Chang Jeng

More contenders for 2012 Cycling Science awards

09/01/2013

Here’s a couple of new nominations for the 2012 Cycling Science award. If you would like to suggest others, please use the reply form at the bottom of this page.

Out for the count

City planners need the right information to make the best decisions for encouraging cycling. Unfortunately the best information isn’t always available so they compromise and try to extract it from other sources.

For example, they should use accurate traffic counts when assesing the need for road design changes and the construction of better facilities for cycling, either cycle lanes or separated cycle paths.

The trouble is, they sometimes rely on those induction loops embedded in the asphalt and that are often there as part of the traffic signal system. They believe they detect every wheel that crosses them. They are so, so wrong.

While it’s common for the loops to ignore cyclists altogether, it seems from research at Ohio State University that they can’t always detect the lumps of metal that are cars and trucks.

Some of the induction loop counters were wrong by a massive 52%. Such inaccurate data must never be used in designing cycling facilities on or adjacent to the highway.

Head case

There are three things that careful researchers avoid:

1. Entering the febrile arena of discussion about bicycle helmets

2. Questioning head on accepted wisdom, such as that which evolves from Cochrane reviews

3. Taking the time to correct the mistakes made by others.

So three cheers to Rune Elvik at the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway and editor of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

He’s done all three in a dense little paper, which will infurate the pro-helmet lobby because one of its conclusions is that “no overall effect of bicycle helmets could be found when injuries to head, face or neck are considered as a whole.

The lure of the future

15/11/2012

There’s been a flurry of news about genuinely new technologies for bikes, mostly involving digital electronics. These stories are seductive because they fulfil our desire for an exciting, better future. I know this all too well – I earned a living from writing such stuff for more than a decade.

One downer is that most of them are chimeras. They never materialise. In Britain it’s known as the Tomorrow’s World effect, after a TV programme that, each week, highlighted innovations but which were never seen again.

Of course, that’s a little unfair. While the novel devices and gadgets don’t themselves become commercial products, some of the underlying technologies are picked up and find their way into successful, popular designs.

So that’s my excuse for showcasing a few of the innovations for cyclists that have floated across the internet recently. They may disappear, they may become mainstream or the ideas embedded within them may surface in a completely different manifestation. Whatever – they’re fun.

A head case from MIT

Wired has featured a helmet that, allegedly, can detect brainwaves. It’s a student project at MIT and it has been suggested that it could be used to detect the intentions of cyclists and trigger the operation of digitally controllable electronic components. So it could, with a single thought, illuminate a left-turn light.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Consultants have turned a smartphone into a virtual gearlever and so do away with human thought altogether, according to my old editor Paul Marks at New Scientist. With its internal accelerometer, a prototype app and a Bluetooth connection to the electronic gear mech, the mobile phone makes the chain shift between cogs automatically and maintains a steady cadence for the rider.

Stop me and buy one

If the Bluetooth connectivity tech from Cambridge Consultants is allied with MIT’s helmet they could be harnessed by Saarland University’s digital braking system. Then all a rider would need to do would be to think about slowing and, hey presto, the brakes would be applied, the tyres would never skid because the wheels would have a digital anti-lock function and the gearing would change down automatically and make it easier to start pedalling.

Full of holes

Battery-powered enhancements are not for everyone so how about a puncture-proof tyre? Britek Tire and Rubber came up with an air-less car tyre almost a decade ago but have not yet succeeded in going mainstream with it. Now they hope that mountain bikers might adopt it. I’d love to hear from anyone who has ridden these tyres.

Full of good in tensions

Finally, something that genuinely deserves to be supported by the cycle industry – an independent lab for assessing the friction of all bicycle components. Friction pales in comparison to drag in terms of wasting a cyclist’s energy but, with aerodynamics becoming reasonably well understood, this new facility should become very busy as riders want to shave even more seconds off their competition times.

That’s the future. Maybe. Waddyou reckon?

25 days to go

08/10/2012

It’s been a long time coming but it’s almost there. Cycling Science by Max Glaskin

In 25 days my book on Cycling Science is due to be published. It occupied me for almost a year and, at times, it was not a comfortable journey. Finding science relevant to cycling that can also be illustrated with detailed infographics was a new challenge for someone used to dealing only with words, not illustrations. For instance, how can inertia, a fundamental influence on cycling, be illustrated clearly and easily? If you have an answer, please do send it via the Comment option below.

Nevertheless, by scouring the academic journals it was possible to pull together several hundred pieces of research that deserved to be explained clearly in words and graphics so that cyclists can understand better how they work with their bikes. Some of the science and data may be familiar to the keenest but the book covers such a wide spectrum, from environment and physiology to aerodynamics and technology that it’s likely more than 90% will be new information to most readers.

I finished work on the book in July 2012, after which my editors (seven at the last count) spent some time preparing it for printing. So I haven’t yet seen it and wait expectantly and nervously for the first advance copy. Although there is a pile of early page layouts stacked at the end of my desk, I know that whole spreads may have changed entirely and many, many tiny details tweaked.

This blog is an open continuation of the book. There are items of science research relevant to cycling that are published almost daily somewhere in the world. I’ve been tweeting them (@cyclingscience1) as often as possible so that they become known to an audience outside the universities and research labs. Every so often I add a short item to my Facebook page (Cycling Science).

This blog, thouygh, is meant to broaden the conversation, to receive feedback about the book, to hear directly from scientists and to disseminate and discuss the latest findings. If it works, it should be a lively read. If it doesn’t, well, I’ll just get on my bike and I’d suggest that you do, too.

Max Glaskin