How to Keep Your Balance While Riding a Bike

The Art of Balancing

When it comes to riding a bike, balancing is the key skill that every young rider needs to learn. However, have you ever stopped to think about how exactly you keep a bike balanced? In this article, we’ll delve into the topic and answer the important question: how does a rider balance a bike?

Finding Balance in a Broom

Imagine balancing a broom upright on the palm of your hand. As long as the broom remains perfectly vertical, it will stay balanced. But even the slightest tilt will cause the top of the broom to tip and fall towards the ground. To maintain balance, you need to move your hand in the direction of the broom’s tilt, bringing it back to a vertical position. This balancing act involves continuously observing and correcting the broom’s lean, over and over again. In more scientific terms, you’re ensuring that the support of the broom (the part touching your hand) remains directly underneath its center of mass.

Assisting Factors

While riding a bike, there are two effects that assist the rider: the gyroscopic effect of the wheels and the steering torque effect of rake. Although these effects contribute to the bike’s stability, they are not solely responsible for keeping it upright. For the purpose of understanding how riders maintain balance, we will set these effects aside.

Another factor we’ll ignore is centrifugal force. This force comes into play when riders make turns, allowing them to lean without toppling over. Centrifugal force alters the bike’s balance dynamics and is not necessary for maintaining balance, so we’ll exclude it from this discussion.

The Role of Steering in Balancing

To balance a bike, a rider primarily relies on steering. More specifically, a rider uses steering to continuously ensure that the wheels stay aligned beneath the bike’s center of mass. If this concept isn’t crystal clear, don’t worry. We’ll break it down for you step by step, and we’ve even included helpful illustrations.

Unless the bike’s mass is perfectly centered over the wheels (which practically never happens), gravity will always exert a downward pull, causing the bike to lean. To counteract these leans, riders must continually steer and generate centrifugal force in the opposite direction of the lean.

An Illustration of Steering in Action

Let’s walk through the process visually:

Starting Out

Begin with the bike in a balanced position, where the wheels (the support) align directly under the bike’s center of mass.

Getting Imbalanced

As the bike starts to tilt in one direction, the center of mass moves out of alignment with the support.

Correcting the Lean

To counteract the lean, the rider steers towards the direction of the tilt. This realigns the support (wheels) beneath the center of mass.

The Takeaway

When riding a bike, riders are constantly making adjustments to counterbalance the lean. Their brains instinctively and swiftly correct the bike’s balance without conscious thought. Acquiring this ability to make rapid and precise adjustments is the crucial skill young riders need to learn.

Once you master bike balancing, it becomes second nature, just like walking. However, it’s important to remember that it can be frustrating for beginners. By empathizing with their struggles and understanding the mechanics of balance, we can enhance how we teach kids to ride, making the process less intimidating, more enjoyable, and easier.

Note: For a more in-depth exploration of these concepts, you can refer to the book “Bicycling Science” by David Gordon Wilson. Let’s keep the discussion civil in the comments section, as this article focuses on helping young riders.