• BIKES: Science on Two Wheels - Sport Bicycles
  • BIKES: Science on Two Wheels - Sport Bicycles

BIKES: Science on Two Wheels

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Sport Bicycles

In the first half of the 20th Century, Europeans saw cycling as a serious pursuit, with races attracting top riders from all over Europe. Marshall Taylor broke numerous cycling records in the early 1900s and was the first African-American world champion in any sport.

Early races were held on the open road or specially-built indoor tracks called velodromes. Six-day races were popular through the 1920s, with some riders pedaling for days without sleeping. The Tour de France, still going strong today, started in 1903 and would become the most famous endurance race, often stretching over 2,000 miles.

Technological advancements that allow racers to gain an advantage are always in development. The derailleur system for changing gears was perfected by the 1930s and found widespread use in road races; until then, riders had to carry different wheels and change them in the middle of the race! Stronger and lighter frames from ‘space-age’ technologies allowed for faster speeds. In the second half of the 20th Century, European cycling technology was combined with classic American designs to create BMX and mountain bikes. Designers and engineers today continue to explore ways to make cycling faster, better and safer.

Schwinn Paramount Prototype – 1937
Track bicycles are designed to reach high speeds on indoor wooden tracks called velodromes. To keep the bikes light, most track bikes use fixed gears with no freewheel…and no brakes! Off the race track, these bicycles are frequently used by bike messengers.

Miyata Sports Model – late 1970s
Miyata is a Japanese bicycle company that has been in operation since 1892. Road bicycles feature drop handlebars, which allow the rider to change hand positions for comfort or aerodynamics, and lightweight frames, which allow greater speed.

Raleigh Touring Bicycle – early 1970s
Touring bicycles are designed for riding long distances, not sprinting. Luggage racks, heavy-duty tires, and derailleurs with multiple gear combinations help riders explore almost any road.

Schwinn Ontare – c. 1988
Riders looking for a lighter bicycle have many options, including expensive titanium and carbon fiber. Aluminum bicycles like this Ontare provide light weight at a more affordable price.

Schwinn Z-Force – 1992
Bicycle motocross, or BMX, started in the 1970’s in California when children on their Schwinn Stingrays started riding off-road like their favorite motocross riders. Modern BMX bicycles have small frames, which help the rider perform jumps, and knobby tires to grip the dirt track.

Cannondale Caffeine 29’er – 2007
Mountain bikes often feature shock-absorbing forks to provide a comfortable ride over rough terrain. This Cannondale features a “Lefty” fork, which only connects to one side of the front wheel to make the bicycle lighter. Disc brakes are also common on mountain bikes as they keep the braking surface out of water and mud.

Surly Moonlander
Fatbikes are bicycles with oversized tires (over 3.7 inches wide) designed for riding on soft terrain. The tires are inflated to a low pressure, allowing the rider to cross terrain littered with rocks, as well as snow, sand, curbs, and potholes.

Carbon Racing Bike
Carbon fiber, which has high strength, high stiffness, and low weight, is a material commonly used in aerospace applications. Many professional racers rely on materials like carbon fiber to make their bicycles as light as possible. A carbon fiber bicycle frame can weigh as little as one and a half pounds!

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