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Friday, June 25, 2010

Newtonian Physics

Motorcycling is one of the greatest applications of Classical, or Newtonian, Physics. Yet if you asked the average rider about it I venture to say that a blank stare would be the most common reply. Too bad, because knowing the basics of how your bike interacts with the world around it would definitely make you a better rider.

When I was at UConn I took the Advanced Math course which was 4 semesters with the same group of students who went from basic calculus to complex theories in more than 3 dimensions. On day, at the beginning of class, another student were trying to decide why and how a motorcycle was able to turn. The teacher picked up the discussion and we spent the next 3 days modeling the ability of a motorcycle to turn mathematically. I'm not saying that every time I lean my bike over I calculate E-mc2 but I think that knowing how it works makes me more aware of what's going on where the rubber meets the road. A simple force/vector diagram will explain why applying power helps a bike in a corner.

I think most people avoid physics because they assume that it involves a lot of math. American schools are dismal at teaching math and science. They are more interested in assuring Bobby and Suzy that they feel good about themselves and "fit in" than actually challenging them with material that would help them succeed in life (and thus feel good about themselves). 
Greg London has written an excellent article on Classical Physics. It's very readable and easy to understand. He doesn't talk down to you but instead explains the subject with relevant examples from the real world. If you have ever shoot a game of pool or played air hockey you can understand the subject matter. It's only 54 pages long and I split it up over a few days while drinking my morning coffee. Small bites make it a fun subject.

When you squeeze the front brake lever a lot of things start to happen all at once. After reading Greg's article you'll know a lot more about them and be a better rider for it. And you'll be able to impress the members of the opposite sex at the next party.