Why does a bike stay up more easily when it's moving?

11 January 2009


Sewage Bicycle



Why does a bike stay up so much more easily when it’s moving? It’s very hard to balance when the bike isn’t moving.


Dave - It is very hard to balance when a bike's stationary. There's two effects. One of them is if you tip a bike to the left you'll see the front wheel tends to turn into the left as well because the front forks are leaning forwards. It's more stable if the handlebars tip to the left. Once the handlebars tip to the left then you tend to steer into the corner and the wheel works its way back underneath you.

Chris - So it's like if I give you the old trick of a broom handle you can balance the broom handle in the palm of your hand. Just by moving your hand around you can hold the broom handle vertically. It's because when the broom starts to fall in one direction you can move your hand to go effectively into the direction of fall and that's what keeps it stable. The bike's doing the same thing.

Dave - The bike's doing the same thing automatically. There's also a gyroscopic effect that can help.

Chris - Because the wheels are spinning and so because the wheels themselves are turning they have a gyroscopic moment. It's obviously difficult to make it deviate. Given that it's most unstable when it's moving slower you can still balance. You probably get more stable when you speed up?

Dave - You do and it's easier to ride when you're going faster. If you imagine a spinning top it starts to fall over it starts to rotate round and round in circles and the same thing starts to happen to your bike wheel. As you start to turn over it starts rotating and turns into the corner as well.


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