Posts Tagged ‘Cycling Science’

A little learning in Oxford


1902981_960111807345477_7702756648112225286_nStill learning. That’s my lesson from the Cycling Science tour in Oxford on the longest day of the year. Even though I’d led it a few times before in other cities and thought I knew it all, I came away knowing even more.

It may have been the lovely bunch of riders who came along – all ages, all genders, all kinds of bikes.  It may have been the lovely route plotted by Science Oxford. It may have been the lovely weather.

Whatever the trigger, there was a moment on the tour when I gained a little bit more understanding about how best to demonstrate some of the science that makes cycling magic. So it’s not just the lovely riders who discover stuff, en route, from the demonstrations and experiments.

Of course, having written a book about Cycling Science, I’d cockily thought there was nothing else to learn.

To write it, I’d read hundreds of thousands of words from hundreds of papers and synthesised them into 192 lovingly illustrated pages.

Yet, to really understand bicycles and the science that makes cycling work, you’ve got to get hands-on, feet on and, yes, bum on, too.

So it was that, during one of the demonstrations, I had a small epiphany.11146479_960111707345487_154455016948870744_n

All the demos and experiments had pretty much worked at each stop on our way to Aston’s Eyot. Then, nervously, I tried to show how the lowest spoke in a wheel gets slacker and carries less load than the other spokes.

I was worried because it hadn’t worked very well on some of the other tours I’d led.

But, in that verdant glade not far from the city centre, on a blazing afternoon on the longest day of the year, it worked perfectly. I became midsummer merry.

The lesson for me was when I realised why it had worked. Unwittingly, I’d used a wheel with spokes laced radially. Prevously I’d always used the more common type, with tangential spokes.



The difference it made to the lovely bunch of riders may have been small. The difference it made to me was enormous. A key point about wire-tensioned wheels had been made clearly and I had learned something new – to always use a radial wheel for that particular demonstration.

To describe the demonstration in detail here would be to spoil the surprise for future Cycling Science tourers. And really, it is an adventure that has to be hands-on, feet on, and, yes, bum on, too.

Naturally I’ll be very happy to bring the new improved resoundingly fantastic demonstration with the radial wheel and the entire tour to everyone who wants it. Drop me a line to book your tour.

And, when that happens, which I hope will be soon, I look forward to learning yet more from the whole experience.

Photos  courtesy of Science Oxford

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Cycling Science goes Live in Brighton

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