Thursday, 23 May 2013

On the science of biking

Last week, I catalogued a book the science of cycling. It was quite interesting in a number of respects.  The first was a page that showed how fast bicycling was compared to other sports. It was quite revealing in a number of ways.  It gave the speeds and distances covered of a number of disciplines.  It had Usain Bolt's record over a 100 m of some 36 km/h, a 40 something km/h of a speed skater over 500 m, and the 56 odd kilometers covered by a cyclist on a track in one hour, i.e. 56.9 km/h for one hour.  It also listed the peak speed of 118 km/h of an enclosed bicycle. 

What intrigued me in particular was the record 56 km in an hour record as my peak speed on relatively level ground (admittedly with a very strong tail wind) is 60 km/h.  In still air, I have 40 km/h on level in sprints. I am no great athlete, yet with my bike I am able to perform at a level that comes much closer to that of high level athletes than I would be able to in, say, running. Bicycles are evidently a great force multiplier of ability. This is further reinforced when it remembered that the 56 km record was over an hour whereas the skating and running record were sprints.

The book also showed the relative efficiencies of assorted modes of transportation over a standard distance in terms of carbon emissions.  Unsurprisingly, biking and walking were the most efficient.  The book included a number of possible sources of associated carbon emissions, such as infrastructure, operating costs, and manufacturing.  Walking and biking had near identical totals. Biking had lower operating costs than walking but had a greater manufacturing cost.

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