We Built An Unrideable Bike To Show How Bikes Work

We Built An Unrideable Bike To Show How Bikes Work

Why are bicycles stable? The most common answer is gyroscopic effects, but this is not right. This video was sponsored by Kiwico. Get 50% off your first month of any crate at https://kiwico.com/veritasium50

Huge thanks to Rick Cavallaro for creating this bike on short notice. Thanks to all the friends who participated in the filming. Rick was also responsible for the Blackbird Faster Than The Wind Downwind Cart. https://youtu.be/jyQwgBAaBag

Great videos on bikes and counter-steering:

MinutePhysics: How Do Bikes Stay Up? https://youtu.be/oZAc5t2lkvo

MinutePhysics: The Counterintuitive Physics of Turning a Bike: https://youtu.be/llRkf1fnNDM

Why Bicycles Do Not Fall – Arend Schwab TED talk: https://youtu.be/2Y4mbT3ozcA

Today I Found Out: We Still Don’t Know How Bicycles Work https://youtu.be/YWsK6rmsKSI

TU Delft – Smart motor in handlebars prevents bicycles from falling over: https://youtu.be/rBOQp2uY_lk

Andy Ruina Explains How Bicycles Balance Themselves: https://youtu.be/NcZCzr9ExKk

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More References:

TU Delft Bicycle Site: http://bicycle.tudelft.nl/schwab/Bicycle/

Bicycle stability program: http://ruina.tam.cornell.edu/research/topics/bicycle_mechanics/JBike6_web_folder/index.htm

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Special thanks to Patreon supporters: Luis Felipe, Anton Ragin, Paul Peijzel, S S, Benedikt Heinen, Diffbot, Micah Mangione, Juan Benet, Ruslan Khroma, Richard Sundvall, Lee Redden, Sam Lutfi, MJP, Gnare, Nick DiCandilo, Dave Kircher, Edward Larsen, Burt Humburg, Blake Byers, Dumky, Mike Tung, Evgeny Skvortsov, Meekay, Ismail Öncü Usta, Crated Comments, Anna, Mac Malkawi, Michael Schneider, Oleksii Leonov, Jim Osmun, Tyson McDowell, Ludovic Robillard, Jim buckmaster, fanime96, Ruslan Khroma, Robert Blum, Vincent, Marinus Kuivenhoven, Alfred Wallace, Arjun Chakroborty, Joar Wandborg, Clayton Greenwell, Michael Krugman, Cy ‘kkm’ K’Nelson,Ron Neal

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Written by Derek Muller
Filmed by Trenton Oliver, Raquel Nuno and Derek Muller
Edited by Derek Muller
Music from Epidemic Sound and Jonny Hyman
Produced by Derek Muller, Petr Lebedev and Emily Zhang

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33 Responses

  1. ShortHax says:

    It’s easy to build a rocket. It’s not like it’s bicycle-science

  2. DoctorMotorcycle says:

    I figured this out by accident when I did a (small) motorcycle build and wanted to see how tight I could make the steering stem to act as a ghetto “steering stabilizer”. I tightened the steering stem to the point where it required a fair amount of force to turn the bars, and I almost fell off the bike when I let the clutch out. It was un-rideable. I had always thought gyroscopic procession was why the bike stayed stable, and immediately realized it was the abilty to constantly re-correct that keeps you from falling over. Would you consider doing a video on the mechanics of Trials bike riders?

    • Rick Houston says:

      Trial’s riding would be a fantastic subject to cover as there are a lot of mechanisms involved.

    • divemonkeys says:

      learned this a couple of decades ago on my sport bike. Depending on the speed I would steer into the corner while leaning into the corner, or steer out of the corner while leaning into the corner upon entry into the corner. There was a show on Discovery, back when they actually made shows on these types of things, about a world record speed attempt on motorcycle talking about at the different speeds the rider having to change which way he adjusted his steering to turn the bike.

    • Cleon Teunissen says:

      @Chuck For testing: go to a place where you can safely abandon an intented turn (empy parking lot, for instance) At a range of speeds try the following: postpone the initiation of the turn as long as you can. You can for example aim to turn inside of a particular line, at a spot where it is also safe to just continue straight. Postpone the initiation. Your sense of balance will start urging you. If you delay the inititation too long your sense of balance will know, and you abandon the turn. If you postpone until the last split second you need a big move to initiate the lean. Postpone and you really have to slam it into the lean.

      In everyday riding you anticipate an upcoming turn, and your sense of balance _allows_ a lean to develop. That is, in everyday riding the countersteering is often absorbed in the small corrections.

    • Cleon Teunissen says:

      @Erkle64 Indeed. The next step up is to turn at a moments notice, without any touching of the handlebars. I do a rapid sideways bend of my body, and since I’m sitting on the saddle that sideways flick transfers to the front wheel. It flicks the front wheel out a couple of centimeters or so. That steers the contact patch away from underneath me, and the subsequent lean of the bicycle makes the front wheel turn in the intended direction.

    • Blox117 says:

      @Erkle64 yeah just press over into the direction you want to go. doing counter steering is only if you need to make a very sharp hard turn.

  3. Michael says:

    this comes out the day after tom scott’s video of him learning to ride a bike as an adult, having forgotten how in the decades since he last rode one.
    Although, it seems like most of what’s shown in this video as far as ability to ride is complicated by the low speeds at which it all happened. I’d like to see a professional rider try this bike out, either someone like a distance road racer or a BMX stunt biker, who likely are much better at shifting their weight (this video implies a person can’t properly shift their own weight without turning the bike briefly in the opposite direction of a turn, to force them to lean into the turn)

    • nico freiler says:

      exactly, I know a few people who ride without even having their hands on the handlebar and they can go left and right simply by shifting their weight appropriately

    • jjjota says:

      @nico freiler the handlebars of a bike still steer with no hands, as they’re designed to easily do that, even without the rider.

    • Caiman Saurus says:

      @nico freiler if you watched the video you’d see he explained that bikes are self-balancing, but can’t self balance when the handlebars are fixed in place, which is why those people struggled so much

    • Caspar von Campenhausen says:

      @Caiman Saurus his point is that they don’t start off by going in the opposite direction in order to get a lean towards the right. They just get this lean by leaning in that direction

  4. LyricWulf says:

    “Turn right to go left… Hm…” —Lightning McQueen, moments before disaster

  5. Nelson Joppi says:

    derek: “most people would think that the wheels spin and create a gyroscopic effect that resists falling over”
    me thinking:

  6. Sinful Eldian says:

    I found out about this when I was a child, my old bike got rusty and the steering system got heavy and locked itself on position occasionally. Took me some days to piece two and two together and understand why it’s necessary to have a free swinging steering system to keep balance.

  7. DoubleYouPee says:

    This counter steer effect is really well demonstrated when riding a motorcycle at high speed. Especially in a chicane you are literally pulling the opposite side of the handlebar with all your power to flip the bike. Pretty cool feeling.

  8. Tommy says:

    Bicycles are fantastic devices that show physics in action. They are 200 years old and since they were invented we’ve developed flight and space travel, been to the bottom of the ocean, atomic energy, invented computers…..but we are still learning/debating about a device that people use everyday

  9. Astrid Alaniz says:

    This is really fascinating! I’ve done this my entire life but it wasn’t until I started learning BMX that I realized it. There are a lot of tricks where counter steering is an essential part of process because it lets you build up angular velocity prior to bunny hopping. You have to counter steer really hard, and then whip the bike back the direction you want to go. It feels like you are about to get thrown off the bike but somehow it works! Someone else mentioned this, but it is actually possible to turn without counter steering by leaning your body in the direction you want to turn while keeping the handlebars straight. Once the bike hits a certain angle, the wheel sort of “falls” in the direction you want to go and never actually counter steers. I’d be really interested in a follow up video about how that works!

  10. neurostream says:

    “…how bicycles work is still and active area of research.” That was a gem.

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