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25 May 2010

The Laws of Physics

"You cannae change the laws of physics Cap'n" as Engineer Scott famously said in Star Trek and although it was a science fiction programme, the statement is most certainly fact and these same laws play a massive role in keeping us safe on our bikes.

In conversation with a retired motorcycle Policeman the other day, I enquired as to why all bike cops rode around bolt upright in the saddle and astonishingly the answer is that it "looks professional". I would have expected him to have told me that the upright style brings many benefits, but no, it is the look that is important. I suppose the thinking goes that the Police are considered to be good riders and can hustle along well enough sitting bolt upright, therefore riders that hang off like their favourite racers, will try and ride like their favourite racers (fast) and that of course must be discouraged.

Although it may look professional, to certain eyes, the bolt upright riding style has a particular and deadly disadvantage that outweighs any of its advantages.

The picture with this blog is of a chimney in mid collapse. Notice that the top of the chimney has broken away from the main body and has adopted a much steeper angle than the rest of it. This is a wonderful illustration of Newton's First Law also known as the Law of Inertia, which states that an object at rest tends to stay at rest and that an object in uniform motion tends to stay in uniform motion unless acted upon by a net external force. The chimney in the picture has started to fall because the demolition contractor has knocked its feet out from under it, thus rendering it unstable. As it falls it tries to accelerate the entire mass of the chimney, but there is a bit of a problem in that the top of the chimney has to accelerate much, much faster than the bottom of it. The first bit of Newtons law states that stuff wants to stay at rest, so the brick built chimney snaps in the middle as the inertia of the top resists the acceleration forces coming up from the base. The only way to stop the chimney from snapping is to lower it at a rate that allowed all the components to accelerate together. This rate would be much slower than that due to gravity alone and would require some sort of external counter force to be applied. Watching videos of concrete, rather than brick chimneys being demolished shows that because they cannot snap due to their massive strength they fall very, very slowly once their foundations have been blasted away.

This leads us straight to the problem with the bolt upright riding style in that a bike is like the falling chimney. When we lean the bike over to negotiate a corner, the faster we lean it, the quicker it will turn and the slower we lean it, the slower it will turn. If we try to lean it quickly, then Newtons law of inertia means that our very heavy head wants to stay where it is and like the top of the brick chimney in the picture, it tends to get left behind. If we lean it at a rate that allows us to keep our head in line with the rest of the bike, then like the concrete chimney, it has to lean very slowly indeed.

This wouldn't matter so much but for the fact that leaning a bike slowly takes up a fair amount of road in going from upright to leaned over. To counter this problem, we have to start the leaning process early and the earlier we start leaning the bike the wider we will run at the exit of the corner. To counter running wide at the exit, we have to lean the bike over more and run the risk of dragging hard parts or running out of tyre which usually means we run wide.

Running wide on rural bends is the biggest killer of riders in this country, yet the Police use and encourage a riding style that practically guarantees that riders will run wide and kill themselves. It hardly makes any sense.

As it is impossible to change the laws of physics as Scotty once told us, we will have to change something else to make them work in our favour rather than working against us.

Luckily there is a solution to the problem and it's called the Total Control riding style which we are hoping will eventually become the default professional style for riders of all types. After all, you cannae change the laws of physics!

Get yourself booked onto a course today and learn the secrets of the Total Control riding style, you never know, it might well save your life.

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