The Science Behind Ghost Riding

ghost_ridingIt may not seem like it sometimes, but motorcycles don’t want to fall over. If they’re going fast enough, they have a natural tendency to stay up. But why? Researchers have been trying to figure out the answer to that question since the 19th century.

They’ve come up with a few answers too. The accepted thought is that the front wheel asks like a gyroscope to keep the bike upright. When the bike leans, the front wheel turns into the fall and straightens the bike back up.

The other factor that gives a bike self stabilization is a design feature known as trail, which has to do with the placement of the steering axis in relation to where the wheels meet the ground.

These two factors have been known, studied, and accepted for centuries, but a research team in the Netherlands says that these aren’t the only factors that keep a bike upright when it’s moving. Andy Ruina, a professor of mechanical engineering at Cornell University, says that these two factors aren’t even necessary for a bike to self stabilize.

“Even though those two effects are important, they’re not necessary,” Ruina said. “Just like chocolate cake is important to a nice birthday dinner, it isn’t necessary.”

Ruina and his team designed a few bikes that didn’t follow the typical rules of bike building, but surprisingly, found that their designs were able to coast without a rider just as well as a normal bike.

“You don’t need gyroscope or trail to make a bicycle self-stable,” Ruina says.

Ruina’s study will be published in the April issue of Science. But in case you’re wondering just how well a bike can self-stabalize, check out this video from Biker Punks.

Ghost Riding His Bike
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