Perpetual Motion Machines – Why I don’t believe in bicycles

A gif animation of a cyclist moving in three frames

I don’t believe in bicycles.

No, let me specify: I don’t believe in the physics that govern bicycles.

Even more specific: I don’t believe in the physics that govern the movement of bicycles.

A gif animation of a cyclist moving in three frames

A bicycle cannot stand up unless it is in motion. It will slump in a rigid heap on the ground in an instant if left to balance by itself. So how can something that does not have enough balance to stand still manage to stay upright while moving. My theory: human imagination.

Human imagination had to be present to build the bicycle in the first place. The history is remarkable – to conceive a two-wheeled moving machine that could propel a person through space, and yet cannot stand up by itself, is frankly bizarre. The discovery must have been monumental.

Today, even with our great understanding of physics, it is still debated as to how aeroplanes gain lift and leave the runway. I once flew a plane and this is what my instructor told me on the first lesson, to settle my nerves.

A photograph of an aeroplane from beneath in a very blue sky

It is generally accepted that changes in pressure below and above the wings create “lift”, and that this is how an aeroplane can leave the surface of the earth. The principles that govern the gliding motion of a plane, or the rudder/engine propulsion are uncontested, yet the principle that governs lift, to this day, over 100 years since the invention of the flying machine, is still contested.

This is how I feel about the principles governing bicycles.

This idea was contributed¬†to Wikipedia by “expert” Joel Fajans:

The rider applies torque to the handlebars in order to turn the front wheel and so to control lean and maintain balance. At high speeds, small steering angles quickly move the ground contact points laterally; at low speeds, larger steering angles are required to achieve the same results in the same amount of time. Because of this, it is usually easier to maintain balance at high speeds.

I can personally confirm that this is entirely incorrect, as I recently found out after a tremendous fall off my bike that has resulted in a broken bone (after I began writing this post). High speeds do not maintain balance.

A photograph of a bicycle bathed in bright light

My hypothesis: The bicycle can only remain balanced if the will of the human being riding it is strong enough. This will is a combination of imagination and luck (90/10 split) and is the only thing that can keep an object, which has no business standing up by itself, standing. This is the reason for my own accident – I didn’t lose my happy thought, or run out of fairy dust. I had just stopped believing.

I therefore submit the bicycle into the ambiguous category of the “perpetual motion machine”. If the balance of bicycles can only continue while they are moving, then what I regard as their principle point of existence, as moving transportation machines, is all but pitifully useless, unless in perpetual motion. So through the power of imagination, a bicycle solves two human quandaries: First, it explains its own existence, and second it ensures that a perpetual motion machine can also exist. The only other possible explanation is that bicycles have consciousness and personality, but I submit to the grander ideas of Professor De Selby on that aspect.


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