Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 38.djvu/786

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766
THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.
WHAT KEEPS THE BICYCLER UPRIGHT?[1]

By CHARLES B. WARRING, Ph. D.

THERE is something weird, almost uncanny, in the noiseless rush of the 'cyclist, as he comes into view, passes by, and disappears. Pedestrians and carriages are left behind. He yields only to the locomotive and to birds. The apparent ease and security of his movement excite our wonder. We have seen rope-walkers, and most of us have tried to walk on the top rail of a fence, and have a vivid recollection of the incessant tossing of arms and legs to keep our balance, and the assistance we got from a long stick or a stone held in our hands. But the 'cyclist gets no help. His legs move only in the tread of the wheel, and his hands rest quietly on the ends of the cross-bar of his machine. The rope-walker keeps every muscle tense, and every limb in motion or ready to move. No wonder, when a tourist on his bicycle spins for the first time through a village here, or among the nomads of Asia, he is followed by a gaping crowd, till his machine carries him out of their sight.

We involuntarily ask, How is it possible for one supported on so narrow a base to keep his seat so securely and, seemingly, so without effort?

For an answer to this question I have searched somewhat widely, and, while I have found articles enough on or about the bicycle, and what has been done by its riders, I have found none that offered a reasonable theory for its explanation. This is my apology for presenting the present paper. In it I shall state the theories which have been offered, the reasons why they are unsatisfactory, and then give what appears to me the true rationale of the machine.

The only paper I found that claimed to explain the bicycle was one by Mr. C. Vernon Boys, entitled The Bicycle and its Theory. It was delivered before a meeting of mechanical engineers, and is reported at great length in Nature, vol. xxix, page 478. Here, thought I, is something valuable and convincing. But, on examination, I found that, out of several pages of closely printed matter, the Theory occupied possibly a dozen lines. All the rest was about the bicycle and what had been done on it, but not another word about its theory. We are told that Mr. Boys exhibited a top in action, and requested his audience to notice its remarkable stability. Then he said that the stability of the bicycle was due to the same principle, but made no attempt to show any connection between them. The top revolves on its axis, and

  1. A paper read before the Vassar Brothers' Institute.