Honda's selfriding motorbike

How do you steer on a 1-track vehicle ?

Translations Translations

This film shows you exactly what this article is all about. So have a look first.

Did you ever notice that children (and not just children) have quite some difficulties in learning to ride their first bicycle ?! That is certainly not magic or a coincident but purely a matter of physics. In this article you will find out why this is a problem and how to deal with it.

Everyone knows that you're going left if you steer to the left. However that is not the case when it concerns a 2-wheeled vehicle !

As a toddler you get your first tricycle and it does exactly what you want and expect. Steering to the left is going to the left and steering to the right is going to the right.

Then you grow bigger, get your first bicycle and it does what the tricycle did. Steering left is going to the left and steering right is going to the right.

Then you grow even more bigger and your mom and dad are now so proud they think it is time to remove those sidewheels. Then "suddenly" turning left makes you go to the right ! And you fall over and over and over again ...

Riding an unstable vehicle is a matter of (self) keeping your balance (how ?) as long as you want to ride straight ahead. And to purposely (self) disturb the balance if you want to turn.

Fact is that you as first action not lean to the right if you want to turn right. Leaning in on a 1-track vehicle is actually pushing yourself against the vehicule, so against it's mass. But every action causes a reaction.

Riding a 2-tracked vehicle brings you all that seems normal. Steering left is going to the left and steering right is going to the right. You (and all wheels) simply follow the white line.*

But on a 1-track vehicule you turn right if you steer to the left ! That is, if you first steer to the left. The white line is that of the frontwheel and the gray one that of the rearwheel.

The explanation for this is simple but sneaky. You just can't have your body plus vehicule drop to a side, so into a corner. The combination has a large amount of kinetic energy and (thus !) wants to (and will) continue straight on.

As you know Mr. Albert Einstein has investigated that aspect of live and has formulated : Energy = 1/2 x mass x velocity². Thanks to this law of physics we can bicycle anyway then without (forward) cinetic energy we would simply tumble down ... However, at the same time that same energy makes it difficult to change direction.

What you do unconsciously (have to learn) is to get the combination out of it's balance. That can only be achieved by forcing the frontwheel away from the (line of the) center of gravity (of that moment). The sneaky thing is that you have to do that into the "wrong" direction.

If you bring the frontwheel of the straight line the center of the mass of the combination is no longer on top of that line. So the center of gravity is out of line. And that means that the combination will (start to) fall ! It will fall sideways. Away from the frontwheel, so to the other side.

On a 1-track vehicule falling sideways means leaning in. That is, if you then immediately countersteer (again) to catch the fall. The frontwheel has to make a S-shaped traject (down to up when driving down to up) to get of the straight line.

Having a bicycle steering to the right means that you'll first have to steer left and then have to steer right (a little). So you countersteer and countersteer again.

Conclusion is that you are actually continously falling over but without hitting the ground !

Tip : Watch the film one more time and pay special attention on how the frontfork behaves.

Tip : give a child a walking bicycle instead of a tricycle. That way it will not first learn to drive like in a car. And it later will learn to cycle easily and fast. Besides that, who wants to drive a car anyway 😀.

This countersteering is what you do all the time, not just when you want to change direction. You have to do that just to not fall over, regardless of your direction.

And this basic "Einstein" behaviour is also the reason why it so extra difficult to handle a fully loaded bicycle. The weight (inertia) does not want to change anything. And the frontfork with all that luggage (inertia) does not want to turn either. Every countersteering action just takes to many (extra) milliseconds. That is why you then need more space sideways 😨.

If your bicycle is 3 times heavier Einsteins Energy = 1/2 x MASS x velocity² means that "things" get 3 times more difficult.

If your bicycle is 3 times faster Einsteins Energy = 1/2 x mass x VELOCITY² means that "things" get 9 times more difficult.

People who cycle with shoppingbags or -crates mounted at the front tell the world they did not enjoy there schoollessons 😉. In the NL there even is a university helping foreigners to learn cycling. There bicycles are equipped with frontcrates (with there logo on 🙄) and the students drop there luggage in there. Then the lessons start ...

All in all conclusion is that riding a bicycle is the best legal way to be different !

* Although the non-steering wheels always will take a shorter path (why ?).