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Design of


by Mark Archibald

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© 2016, The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), 2 Park Avenue, New York, NY
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Names: Archibald, C. Mark, author.

Title: Design of human-powered vehicles / by C. Mark Archibald.
Description: New York : ASME Press, [2016] | Includes bibliographical references and index.
Identifiers: LCCN 2016005632 | ISBN 9780791861103
Subjects: LCSH: Velocipedes--Design and construction. | Bicycles--Design and construction. |
Human powered vehicles--Design and construction.
Classification: LCC TL400 .A73 2016 | DDC 629.227/2--dc23 LC record available at http://lccn.loc.

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Table of contents
Acknowledgments................................................................................................................. ix
Preface.................................................................................................................................. xi

Chapter 1: Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use............................................1

Fitness and Health��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������5
Chapter 2: Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles..................................................................13
A Brief Historical Perspective������������������������������������������������������������������������13
Land Vehicle Applications and Functions�����������������������������������������������������16
Land Vehicle Configurations���������������������������������������������������������������������������17
Chapter 3: General Structured Design of HPV’s..................................................................... 25
General Structured Design of HPVs���������������������������������������������������������������25
Target Speeds for Tandem Bicycle����������������������������������������������������������������30
Example Vehicle Design Specification�����������������������������������������������������������31
Functional Requirements�������������������������������������������������������������������������������32
Outline of Design Process�������������������������������������������������������������������������������38
Chapter 4: Physiology of Human Power Generation................................................................41
Muscle Structure and Function����������������������������������������������������������������������42
Body Systems during Exercise�����������������������������������������������������������������������52
Maximal Oxygen Consumption����������������������������������������������������������������������57
Anaerobic Threshold��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������58
Appendix: Calculating the CO2 Production Rate as a Function
of External Work���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������58


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Chapter 5: The Human-Machine Interface..............................................................................61

Mechanisms for Power Transfer to Human-Powered Vehicles���������������������63
Optimal Body Position for Leg Cranks�����������������������������������������������������������64
Crank Length and Physiological Efficiency���������������������������������������������������67
Hand Cranks����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������69
Unusual Mechanisms for Human Power Transfer�����������������������������������������71
Chapter 6: Manufacturing Processes and Materials.............................................................. 77
Wrought Metals—Overview����������������������������������������������������������������������������78
Cast Metals—Note������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������81
Non-Metal Materials—Overview��������������������������������������������������������������������81
Frame Materials and Manufacturing Processes��������������������������������������������85
Stainless Steel�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������89
Fiber Reinforced-Polymer Composites����������������������������������������������������������92
Other Frame Materials������������������������������������������������������������������������������������96
Frame Manufacturing Processes��������������������������������������������������������������������97
Other Frame Processes (Monocoque, etc.)�������������������������������������������������100
Fairing or Shell Materials������������������������������������������������������������������������������101
Fairing Hardware������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������104
Chapter 7: Road Loads.........................................................................................................105
Review of Equilibrium Equations�����������������������������������������������������������������105
SAE Vehicle Coordinate System for Vehicle Dynamics������������������������������106
Static Loads on Level Ground����������������������������������������������������������������������107
Static Loads on a Grade��������������������������������������������������������������������������������110
Steady Motion Road Loads���������������������������������������������������������������������������112
Basic Loads in a Steady Turn�����������������������������������������������������������������������115
Acceleration and Braking�����������������������������������������������������������������������������117
Power-Limited Acceleration�������������������������������������������������������������������������118
Traction-Limited Acceleration���������������������������������������������������������������������119
Inertia Coefficient�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������121
Load Transfer during Acceleration and Braking�����������������������������������������124


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  Table of Contents

Braking Performance������������������������������������������������������������������������������������128
Chapter 8: Speed and Power Models....................................................................................133
Drive Train Efficiency�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������134
Aerodynamic Drag����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������135
Rolling Resistance�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������138
Frictional Losses in Wheel Bearings������������������������������������������������������������139
Changes in Potential Energy������������������������������������������������������������������������140
Changes in Kinetic Energy���������������������������������������������������������������������������140
Power Models������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������141
Cubic Power Model���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������144
Applications of Power Models����������������������������������������������������������������������146
Chapter 9: Aerodynamic Drag.............................................................................................. 151
Causes of Aerodynamic Drag�����������������������������������������������������������������������151
Lift and Induced Drag�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������157
Computing Drag Force���������������������������������������������������������������������������������158
Factors Affecting the Drag Coefficient��������������������������������������������������������159
Estimation of the Drag Coefficient���������������������������������������������������������������162
Drag Coefficients for Various Vehicles���������������������������������������������������������163
Chapter 10: Bicycle Handling Performance..........................................................................167
Bicycle Stability���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������167
Bicycle Handling�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������173
Patterson’s Method���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������175
Chapter 11: Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance........................................................195
Multi-Track Vehicle Handling�����������������������������������������������������������������������195
Definitions and Nomenclature����������������������������������������������������������������������196
Low-Speed Cornering�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������197
High-Speed Cornering����������������������������������������������������������������������������������207
Lateral Load Transfer and Rollover Threshold��������������������������������������������214
Summary of Multi-Track Handling Characteristics�������������������������������������225
Appendix 11-1 Kinematic Solution of the Track Rod
Steering Mechanism��������������������������������������������������������������������������������������226
Appendix 11-2 Derivation of Rollover Threshold for Tadpole Trike����������228
Chapter 12: Drive Train Design............................................................................................ 233
Recumbent Drivetrains���������������������������������������������������������������������������������236
Drive Train Configurations���������������������������������������������������������������������������238
Drive Train Design����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������242

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Drive Train Technologies������������������������������������������������������������������������������243

Efficiency of Chain Drives����������������������������������������������������������������������������246
Chain Drive Design���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������251
Chapter 13: Land Vehicle Frames and Structures................................................................ 253
Functional Requirements�����������������������������������������������������������������������������253
Inadequate Stiffness�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������256
Finite Element Modeling of Frames�������������������������������������������������������������256
FEA Modeling—Idealizations, Loads, Constraints, and Validation������������258
Beam Elements���������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������259
Shell Elements����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������262
Summary of Frame Analysis Using Shell Idealizations�������������������������������264
Solid Elements����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������264
Boundary Conditions: Loads and Constraints���������������������������������������������265
Load Cases�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������265
Vertical Drop�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������266
Horizontal Impact (CPSC or ISO Frame Test)��������������������������������������������267
Maximum Acceleration���������������������������������������������������������������������������������269
Hill Climb�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������271
Maximum Front Braking�������������������������������������������������������������������������������271
Maximum Rear Braking��������������������������������������������������������������������������������273
Steady-State Pedaling�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������274
Other Load Cases������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������274
FEA Load Verification�����������������������������������������������������������������������������������274
Initial Design Using Beam Idealizations�������������������������������������������������������274
Detailed Frame Design���������������������������������������������������������������������������������275
Frame Compatibility with Components�������������������������������������������������������276
Bottom Bracket Shells����������������������������������������������������������������������������������276
Head Tubes����������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������277
Steerer Tubes������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������278
Dropout Locknut-to-Locknut Dimensions���������������������������������������������������279
Integral Derailleur Hangar Dimensions�������������������������������������������������������280
Chapter 14: Bicycle Components..........................................................................................281
Wheels and Tires�������������������������������������������������������������������������������������������282
Drivetrain Components��������������������������������������������������������������������������������290


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  Table of Contents

Compatibility of Levers and Brakes�������������������������������������������������������������304

Index.................................................................................................................................. 307
About the Author.................................................................................................................. 311


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I am deeply indebted to the many people who—directly or indirectly—
assisted with this book. First, many, many thanks go to Aaron Williams,
who thoughtfully and thoroughly reviewed many of the chapters. The
book is much improved as a result of his help. Many of my students
have assisted in various projects over the years that contributed data for
this book. Among them, I would particularly like to thank Tyler Baker,
Cameron Daugherty, Gretchen Robinson, and Liz Casteel, each of whom
spent many hours conducting experiments and analyzing data that was
used in this text. I must also thank Dr. Mark Reuber, who set me on the
journey of writing this book and, of course, my family that put up with my
long days and requests for proofreading.


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Matlab Computer Programs

Several chapters in this book refer to short computer code written in

Matlab. Matlab is a technical computing environment that includes a
high-level programming language. The script files and functions men-
tioned in the text are available for download to all purchasers of this
book. Navigate to the ftp site To download the files,
log in as anonymous, and enter your email address as your password.
At this time, all files require a valid Matlab license and installation. Many
universities with engineering or science programs have site licenses for
Matlab. If you are affiliated with a university, you may well have a license
available. Otherwise, see
for purchasing Matlab. (Student licenses are quite reasonably priced,
and home licenses are only a little more expensive.) All files include a
help section that will provide instructions for use. In some cases, multi-
ple versions of a program may be provided. The functionality may be the
same, but usage may differ. For example, a program may be offered as
both a script and a function. Please make use of the programs and use
them to design your ideal vehicle. I hope you find both the text and the
programs useful and helpful in your design efforts.


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T his book is about the design of vehicles with wheels that are powered by hu-
man muscles alone. These can provide affordable, sustainable, and healthy
transportation to people around the globe. The term Human-Powered Vehicle,
or HPV, is sometimes used to denote a sub-class of vehicles including only
high-performance bicycles or tricycles equipped with aerodynamic fairings. More
generally, the term refer to any semi-recumbent bicycle. But the term should
properly refer to any means of carriage, conveyance, or transport that is powered
solely by human muscles. Manufacturers of bicycles, canoes, kayaks, and scooters
do not market their products as HPVs, but surely all of these qualify for the name.
Hybrid human-powered vehicles such as mopeds and electric bikes use human
power in addition to other sources. While these vehicles are outside our definition
of HPVs, they are certainly similar, in both technology and philosophy.
Human-powered vehicles were originally designed for transportation, and that
is still their most important use. HPVs today provide clean, quiet, and efficient
transportation. In most developed countries, and in particular the United States,
the primary transportation systems are powerful and inefficient, generating large
amounts of air and noise pollution. HPVs may be chosen simply because it is
pleasurable to travel quietly through the countryside, experiencing nature rather
than blocking it out behind steel and glass. They may be chosen because in some
cases HPVs provide mobility that no other vehicle can. Couriers in congested
cities use bicycles because they are faster. Campers and fishermen in areas such
as Minnesota’s Boundary Waters or Ontario’s Algonquin Park may choose a canoe
because no other vehicle can traverse the lakes, rivers, and portages quite so

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

well. Many choose human power because it is significantly less expensive than
other alternatives, or perhaps because it is good for their health. Athletes and
those with a competitive bent can find many venues for racing. Perhaps the most
compelling reason to use HPVs is sustainability: the environmental footprint of
HPVs is typically much, much smaller than that of other modes of transportation.
Despite these commonalities, HPVs are used by a variety of different people for
a wide range of diverse reasons, including recreation, competition, cost, health,
transportation, and concern for the environment.
This book is limited to design of land human-powered vehicles. There are many
reasons why the design and use of such vehicles is beneficial. In developed coun-
tries, using an HPV in lieu of an automobile (or in lieu of a second automobile for
a family) can save $5,000 to $10,000 each year, while improving health and reduc-
ing emissions of greenhouse gasses and pollutants. Greenhouse gas emission will
be reduced by more than 4,000 kg per year due to the corresponding reduction
in energy consumption of more than 17,000 kWh. In addition, infrastructure for
cycling is far less costly than highways designed for automotive traffic. It is appro-
priate to look more deeply into the benefits of HPV use.

HPVs, including both land and water vehicles, are frequently used for recre-
ation. Often a bike ride or a canoe trip is a social event with friends and family.
Quiet streets and rural roads can offer excellent cycling. The number of bicycle
paths is increasing in many parts of the United States as abandoned railroads
are converted into rail-trails and as local, state, and national parks provide more
bike trails and paths. These facilities provide scenic routes for day rides, and can
provide a sense of security for young riders, their parents, and others who are
concerned about riding in traffic. Increasingly, the trails are long enough to use
for multi-day trips. Streams, rivers, lakes, and coastal waters provide a rich range
of environments for canoeists, kayakers, and rowers. A quiet pond or small stream
may be an ideal place to get away for a while with a small paddle craft, while white
water offers kayakers thrills and challenges. Many regions of the country have
waterways that are restricted to human-power, either through law or in practice
due to the nature of the lake or river.

Racing HPVs has likely existed as long as human-powered vehicles them-
selves. It is easy to imagine a group of tough and intrepid cyclists racing their

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  Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use

high-wheeled ordinary cycles over roughly paved roads in the nineteenth cen-
tury. As bicycles became more advanced, the competition undoubtedly became
faster, but perhaps no keener. Today, bicycle racing is an extremely popular sport
in many parts of the world, especially Europe. Competitors can find venues for
racing a variety of human-powered land and water craft, and several competitions
have involved aircraft. HPV organizations provide many venues for racing re-
cumbent vehicles, including very fast streamliners. Often these events showcase
technological developments and design innovation. Many are local or regional
events, sponsored by clubs. Of the more traditional races, the most well known is
the Tour-de-France, an event restricted to diamond-frame bicycles. Two notable
races that permit recumbent bicycles and streamliners are the Race Across Amer-
ica and the World Human-Powered Speed Challenge. The Race Across America
is one of the toughest races in the world. Competing individuals or teams start in
California and race to New Jersey, with minimal sleep. The team record is slightly
over 5 days for a faired recumbent bicycle, while the individual record is a little
over 8 days. The World Human-Powered Speed Challenge held in Battle Moun-
tain, Nevada, has hosted most of the land HPV speed records in recent years. On
September 17, 2015, Todd Reichert set the men’s world record for the 200 meter
flying start time trial with a speed of 137.9 kph1 (85.71 mph). This is quite remark-
able, considering that top speeds for conventional racing bikes are usually under
50 kph (31 mph) and for recreational cyclists around 30 kph (19 mph).
For vehicle engineers, racing is a means of validating and proving new de-
signs and design modifications. Competitive cyclists tend to be strong and to ride
frequently. They demand the best performance from each vehicle system and
often ride vehicles to the limits of performance. Components and systems that
continue to operate and function well throughout training and racing generally
function well for many years of less rigorous use. In recent years, cycling compo-
nent manufacturers have competed to develop better, lighter, race-worthy parts
and systems. The most successful designs become top-tier components seen on
the best competition vehicles. Lower-tier components benefit as the best tech-
nologies trickle down through product lines. The bicycle or HPV consumer is the
ultimate beneficiary of this process, as the quality of lower-end components has
increased significantly over the last few years wit hout a concomitant increase in

IHPVA announcements,, Accessed October 10, 2015.

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

While the physical challenges and excitement of racing appeal to some, econom-
ics attracts more people to HPVs than perhaps any other reason. Human-powered
vehicles, especially bicycles, are substantially less expensive to purchase, own,
and operate than other vehicles. In the United States, a significant number of
people with limited or no income use bicycles for transportation simply because
they are affordable. This group includes students, of course, but it also includes
many of our nation’s poor. It is not hard to find a rideable bicycle at a garage sale
or thrift store for less than $25.00. What many people with incomes well above the
poverty level do not realize is just how large transportation costs can be, partic-
ularly with a transportation infrastructure that favors personal automobiles. The
cost differential can be calculated relatively easily.
Consider a commuter that lives seven miles from her workplace. Additional
driving brings her yearly average up to 15,000 miles. She bought the car after
graduation from college for $18,000, paying $4,000 down and financing the rest at
six% interest. On average, the car gets 22 miles per gallon, and her average price
for fuel is $2.60. Maintenance costs her on average five cents per mile. She is more
fortunate than many city workers, as she has free parking both at work and home.
Including insurance at $350 per year, her total operating costs are very close to
average, about 45 cents per mile. See Table 1-1 for more details and assumptions.
She decides to investigate how much money she would save if she sold her
car and bought a bicycle. Her bicycle would cost $1500, plus an additional $250
for clothing and accessories. She would spend about $725 each year on bicycle
maintenance, sports foods and drinks, and accessories. Because she makes some
long-distance trips that would not be practical for the bike, she spends about $400
per year on automobile rental. Since she rides regularly, she also cancelled her
$216 gym membership.
Annual cost for both car and bike are plotted in Figure 1-1. The first year, she
would save over $8,000, primarily because of the large down payment on the car.
During loan repayment, she would save over $5,900 per year, but after the loan is
paid off, her annual savings is still almost $2000. Each year she places the savings
in a certificate of deposit earning four percent interest. At the end of 10 years she
would have over $50,000 in the bank thanks to her bicycle commute.
The example is quite realistic, and the savings are realizable. In this case, the
yearly savings is more than 12% of the United States median family income. For
many people, this is a very significant amount. Different scenarios may result in
different savings, but in virtually all cases, the savings are large. In some cases,
the savings after 10 years can approach $100,000.

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  Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use

Table 1-1
Data for cost comparison of bicycle and automobile

Input Variables Value Units   Input Variables Value Units

Initial Cost of Auto 18000 $ Initial cost of bike 1500 $
Cost accessories/
Financed amount 14000 $ clothing 250 $
Loan period 4 years Maintenance 150 $/year
Interest 6 %APR Clothing maintenance 75 $/year
Gas Mileage 22 MPG Auto rental (trips) 400 $/year
Annual Miles driven 15000 miles Sports drinks/snacks 500 $/year
Gasoline price 2.60 $/gal Gym Savings 216 $/year
Insurance 350 $/year Sold at 10 years
Maintenance 0.05 $/mile Salvage value 0 $
Sold at 10 years  
Salvage value 1500 $  
Savings interest rate 4 %APR  

Assumptions: Auto and bike replaced with identical vehicle

Difference placed in savings
Auto loan is paid off on schedule
Bicycle is bought with cash
Bicycle is not insured
Notes: Auto rental covers transportations costs for trips that would be driven in
auto only
Annual bike mileage is usually less than comparable auto mileage
Savings based on the entire difference placed in savings account

Fitness and Health

Human-powered vehicles used on a regular basis can significantly improve
health and fitness. Health problems related to sedentary lifestyles affect a signifi-
cant portion of the world’s population. In 2006, Dr. Barry Popkin, in a presentation
to the International Association of Agricultural Economists, announced that the
number of overweight people around the globe exceeds the number of hungry
people.2 This is particularly a problem in developed countries such as the United

Story from BBC NEWS: Pub-
lished: 2006/08/15 09:06:27 GMT, accessed 2007/08/20.

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 1-1  Cost comparison of bicycle and automobile

States. Sedentary lifestyles can lead to obesity, with many associated health risks
including diabetes and cardiovascular disease. In contrast, regular physical activ-
ity can reduce the likelihood of obesity and increase overall health.
Many people in the United States recognize the benefits of regular exercise.
People who exercise regularly tend to live longer, more active lives. Regular aero-
bic exercise keeps the cardiovascular system in good shape, prevents or reduces
high blood pressure, and reduces levels of potentially harmful LDL cholesterol.
Long-term regular exercise may also raise HDL (good) cholesterol levels. Moder-
ate levels of exercise improve the immune system (although very intense exer-
cise may actually impair immune system function.) Exercise also elevates mood
and feelings. Brain levels of endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine are raised with
either brief, intense exercise or longer, moderate exercise. These benefits have
been shown to reduce the effects of depression and lead to improved feelings of
Long-term exercise, coupled with a good diet, is effective for weight loss. Even
brief, but regular, periods of exercise can be beneficial, and cycling is particularly
effective. Generally, exercise does not make overweight people hungrier.
Regular cycling or HPV use provides all of these health benefits. Gym member-
ships and fitness clubs are quite popular, and work well for many. Others, how-
ever, find it difficult to make time for a workout, or drop out after a few sessions.
Recreational bicycling or HPV riding is an enjoyable way to exercise, but—as with

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  Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use

gym memberships—it can be difficult to make time for it. An excellent alternative
is to use HPVs for commuting or errands around town. The incremental time
required to complete a trip by HPV is much smaller than that required for an
exercise program, and can be done on a daily basis. Some consider HPV trans-
portation a means of getting time for free. If a commute takes 20 minutes by
automobile and 50 minutes by HPV, the trip adds 30 minutes to the commute,
but provides 50 minutes of exercise. Compared to spending an hour in the gym,
this provides an extra 20 minutes per day. Using HPVs as transportation leads to
a much healthier lifestyle than that of driving every trip. Counterintuitively, blood
levels of toxins from automobile exhaust products are higher in motorists than in
cyclists in the same environment—another health benefit of cycling.
Bicycle and HPVs are also much safer than many people realize. Based on sta-
tistics for fatal accidents, for every hour of operation a motorist is approximately
twice as likely to die in an accident as a cyclist. By comparing on an hourly basis,
compensation is made for the different number of miles traveled and the different
speeds of automobiles and bicycles. The likely cause is the substantial difference
in kinetic energies. A light car at 45 mph has about one hundred times the kinetic
energy of a cyclist, while an SUV at interstate speeds has about a thousand times
the energy.
Most bicycle accidents are falls, in which the rider is not seriously injured.
HPVs can be made even safer than bicycles. A long wheelbase recumbent bicycle
with under-seat steering is perhaps the safest type of non-faired bicycle. The risk
of a forward tip-over is negligible, and the energy of a frontal collision is absorbed
by the bicycle and the rider’s legs (rather than his head). A fairing, or shell around
the rider, can provide additional protection. Shells are used to reduce aerody-
namic drag and to enclose vehicle systems which sometimes include rollover
protection. A well designed shell will also provide protection against abrasions
in the event of a fall. The safety advantage of enclosed HPVs was illustrated in
2003 when Sam Whittingham experienced a front tire blowout at 82 mph during a
speed record attempt. He slid, spun, and went airborne before coming to rest 250
yards away. He was shaken, but walked away from the accident. It is quite possi-
ble to design everyday HPVs and velomobiles to be exceptionally safe.
There is a well-established body of literature documenting the health benefits
of cycling. Johan de Hartog3 and colleagues conducted a study in the Netherlands
investigating the health benefits and risks of cycling as compared to car driving.

Johan de Hartog, J., Boogaard, H., Nijland, H., and Hoek, G., 2010, “Do the Health
Benefits of Cycling Outweigh the Risks?”, Environmental Health Perspectives, 118(8),

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

They found that the beneficial effects of exercise exceeded the health risks due
to both accidents and exposure to air pollution. Cyclists in general lived longer
than car drivers. A number of other studies support the claimed health benefits of
cycling.4,5 These studies indicate that the general perception in the United States
that cycling is inherently dangerous is probably inaccurate.

Human-powered vehicles provide excellent mobility for local trips. Mobility is
the ability to get to a destination in an efficient and relatively quick manner. Road
HPVs are particularly adept at local trips in both rural and urban areas, with mo-
bility sometimes approaching or exceeding that of motor vehicles. For example,
in heavily congested areas, bicycles are often faster than automobiles. The bicycle
messenger business exists primarily because of this fact. Mountain bicycles can
provide outstanding mobility in areas without roads. Canoes and kayaks excel in
waterways that other boats cannot navigate, such as shallow, rocky waters or wa-
ters choked with vegetation. They are also easily carried across portages, making
them ideal for wilderness trips in regions with many lakes and rivers.
The majority of automobile trips in the United States are short, and many trips
are very short—less than one or two miles. Most of these trips could be completed
by human-power with little or no lost time. In areas that have limited parking for
automobiles and in congested areas, bicycles are much more convenient, often
allowing the operator to ride right up to his or her destination.

Environmental concerns provide a compelling reason to use human-powered
vehicles. In the developed world, transportation systems account for a very sig-
nificant fraction of air pollution. Emissions from motor vehicles include toxins
and greenhouse gasses (GHGs.) In the United States, the prevalence of personal
automobiles and the relatively low cost of motor fuel have led to a transportation
infrastructure that is predominantly based on highway vehicles. These vehicles
are generally inefficient, resulting in more pollution per passenger-mile than other
transportation modes, such as rail. A second consequence is the rapid growth and

Pucher, J., Dill, J., Handy, S., 2010, “Infrastructure, Programs, and Policies to Increase
Bicycling: An International Review”, Preventive Medicine, 50, S106–S125.
Yang, L., Sahlqvist, S., McMinn, A., Griffin, S. J., and Ogilvie, D., 2010, “Interventions to
Promote Cycling: Systematic Review”, c5293, British Medical Journal, 341.

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  Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use

development of suburban and rural areas. This has put increased pressure on
wetlands and wildlife habitat, as well as encouraged longer commutes from home
to workplace. The result is a combination of increased air pollution and decreased
natural resources. Automobiles are also noisy, which can also be considered a
type of pollution of the environment.
Transportation accounts for a significant fraction of air pollution and green-
house gas emissions in the United States. On-road mobile sources account for
51% of all carbon monoxide emissions, 29% of all hydrocarbon emissions, 34%
of all nitrogen oxides, and 10% of all particulate emissions. Cars and motorcycles
contribute more than half of the on-road mobile sources for carbon monoxide and
hydrocarbons, while gasoline trucks and diesel vehicles account for most of the
on-road nitrogen oxides and particulates. Emissions include combustion products
and fuel evaporation. One third of the greenhouse gas emissions are produced by
mobile sources. For every liter of gasoline burned, 2.3 kg of carbon dioxide equiv-
alents are released into the atmosphere (19.4 lb CO2E per US gallon burned).
Greenhouse gas concentrations have risen sharply since the start of the industrial

Many scientists are concerned about the significant increase in the con-
centration of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere. Since the preindustrial
era, atmospheric concentrations of CO2 have increased by nearly 30 percent
and CH4 concentrations have more than doubled. There is a growing interna-
tional scientific consensus that this increase has been caused, at least in part,
by human activity, primarily the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil, and natural
gas) for such activities as generating electricity and driving cars.
Moreover, in international scientific circles a consensus is growing that
the buildup of CO2 and other GHGs in the atmosphere will lead to major en-
vironmental changes such as (1) rising sea levels that may flood coastal and
river delta communities; (2) shrinking mountain glaciers and reduced snow
cover that may diminish fresh water resources; (3) the spread of infectious
diseases and increased heat-related mortality; (4) possible loss in biological
diversity and other impacts on ecosystems; and (5) agricultural shifts such
as impacts on crop yields and productivity. Although reliably detecting the
trends in climate due to natural variability is difficult, the most accepted cur-
rent projections suggest that the rate of climate change attributable to GHGs
will far exceed any natural climate changes that have occurred during the
last 1,000 years.

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 1-2  CO2 Production from typical cyclist on a city bike

era, leading to increasing average global temperatures. The US EPA summarized

the likely or possible environmental changes, some of which are already visible:6
Significantly increasing the number and use of human-powered vehicles used
for transportation can alleviate the environmental damage from the transportation
sector. This is a practical and effective solution that could be easily and quickly
implemented. HPVs produce no pollutants during use, and a small fraction of the
greenhouse gas emitted by automobiles. Figure 1-2 shows the greenhouse gas
emissions of automobiles on a per-mile basis as a function of miles-per-gallon. The
average automobile fuel mileage is about 22 mpg. The average automobile emits
418 grams of greenhouse gas every mile. An HPV driver exhales carbon dioxide,
but in much smaller amounts. Carbon dioxide emissions for a typical city bicycle
with a 77 kg rider are plotted as a function of speed in Figure 1-3. For a given trip,
greenhouse gas emissions are reduced by about two orders of magnitude.
Any alternative transportation system must not only reduce emissions, but
must also be affordable and use existing technology. Bicycles and HPVs use exist-
ing infrastructure—roadways and bicycle paths—and would require no additional
capital outlay. In fact, HPVs inflict less damage to roads than automobiles, so it is
conceivable that infrastructure costs could actually decline with increased HPV



Emissions and Sinks, 3rd EDITION, US EPA, September 2006.


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  Rationale for Human-Powered Vehicle Design and Use

Figure 1-3  Greenhouse gas emissions from gasoline-powered motor vehicles

use. Cost to consumers could also be significantly reduced, as discussed above.

Human-powered vehicles fill a unique role in sustainable transportation alterna-
tives. No other option can provide quantifiable reduction in air pollutants and
greenhouse gas emissions with available and affordable technology that uses ex-
isting infrastructure. HPVs are, for the present, critical to achieving a sustainable
transportation system.


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A Brief Historical Perspective
Humans are mobile. People like to move, to travel, to roam. In the dawn of
human history, there were no vehicles, and all transportation was by our own—
human—power. Probably the very first vehicles were floating logs or vegetative
mats carried by currents or waves. When an early human first kicked, paddled, or
poled one of these, human-powered vehicles came into existence. Simple paddled
or rowed watercraft was quite likely the earliest human-powered vehicles. By the
time of the ancient Greeks, human-powered boat technology had advanced to
large rowed vessels—biremes and triremes—that were up to 40 m (130 ft) long
and powered by a crew of up to 170 men. The ancient Greek trireme, with three
rows of rowers, probably was capable of seven or eight knots for short bursts.1
The technology, as always, was driven by need—in this case the need for a fast,
powerful military vessel.
For millennia, human muscles, along with wind and currents, were a domi-
nant source of power for boats. For land transportation, animal power as well as
human power was extensively used prior to the industrial revolution. Wheeled
vehicles probably date back at least 5,000 years. While these may have been pri-
marily pulled by animals, surely some were pulled by humans—perhaps creat-
ing a primitive version of the rickshaw. With the advent of steam and internal
combustion engines, and later electric motors and batteries, most high-power
transportation modes switched from muscle to alternative power sources. This
transition, which occurred during second half of the eighteenth century, marked

Abbot, Allan V. and Wilson, David Gordon, 1995, Human-Powered Vehicles, Human Kinet-
ics, Champaign, IL, Chap 2.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

a blossoming of new technologies, including the bicycle, the automobile, and

the soon-to-fly airplane. Muscle power (both animal and human), steam power,
and power from the new internal-combustion engine were all viewed as viable
options for transportation and industry. Electric power was also rapidly develop-
ing, although the power grid was still extremely limited and batteries were heavy
and low-powered. Human mobility was increasing significantly, and vehicles of all
types were rapidly developing. These heady times saw the bicycle develop from
a rudimentary hobby-horse type device into a practical, clean, and fast means of
personal transportation.
The bicycle originated with the Draisenne (Figure 2-1), invented by German
Baron Karl von Drais early in the nineteenth century. This device had two wheels,
the front one steerable. It was propelled by kicking the ground, similar to a
young child’s bicycle. By 1880, the bicycle had evolved into the ordinary, or high-
wheel, bicycle of familiar lore. This vehicle, sometimes called a penny-farthing,
was driven by cranks connected directly to the front wheel. In order to obtain
high speeds, the wheel diameter was increased to quite large sizes—up to 1.5 m
(60 in). The large wheel allowed higher speeds, but was limited by rider leg length.
These bicycles, with a dangerous tendency to pitchover (throwing the rider over
the handlebars during hard braking), were soon replaced with the safety bicy-
cle, driven by a chain drive which permitted higher gearing and hence smaller
wheels. This lowered the center of gravity and moved the front wheel forward,
significantly reducing pitchover accidents. The chain drive, in conjunction with
the invention of the pneumatic tire, created a strong demand for bicycles in the
last decade of the nineteenth century. The bicycle industry experienced rapid and
extensive growth, and spawned many technological improvements that carried
over to the automobile and aviation industries in the early twentieth century.2
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries were exciting times for the
bicycle industry. Cycling was immensely popular. Cycling was the most advanced
form of transportation for local trips, and bicycle racing was quite popular. Cycling
technology advanced dramatically, with many new developments in structural de-
signs, components, and systems. Recumbent seating, tricycles, and tandems were
all tried in a variety of configurations. However, by the 1930s international racing
rules prohibited all but conventional upright frame designs. The bicycle industry
by and large followed the racing standards, and the upright bicycle design became
the standard.

 Herlihy, David V., 2004, Bicycle, The History, Yale University Press, New Haven and


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  Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles

Figure 2-1  Draisenne or Hobby Horse

Although the basic configuration of the modern multi-speed bicycle did not
change dramatically during the twentieth century, cycling technologies contin-
ued to develop. Advancements in materials, processes, and components were
dramatic. Perhaps the bigger story of that century is the shift in transportation
modes and public perception of bicycles. At the turn of the twentieth century,
bicycles were seen primarily as affordable, fast transportation. As the automobile
became more affordable—most dramatically in the United States, and to a lesser
extent in Europe—and the network of roads (originally paved for cyclists!) im-
proved, public perception of the bicycle shifted from a desirable primary mode of
transportation to a sporting device or child’s toy. Recreational cycling increased
in the United States at the end of the twentieth century, perhaps due to the in-
troduction of the mountain bicycle in the 1980s. Cycling as a primary transpor-
tation mode in the United States remains low, but is experiencing slow growth.
In Europe, particularly northern European countries, cycling for transportation
is much more common than in the US, and bicycle sales exceed automobile sales.
In both Europe and the US, regional planners are much more likely—and often
required by law—to consider infrastructure investments for cyclists than they
were several decades ago. This is in contrast with China, where the bicycle has
been a ubiquitous and affordable transportation mode for quite some time. As
China’s economic growth continues, there is a mode shift away from bicycles to
private automobiles.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Land Vehicle Applications and Functions

Human-powered vehicles meet a diverse variety of transportation needs
around the globe. Unlike the United States, where cycling, along with canoeing
and kayaking, are seen primarily as recreational activities, many people choose
human power as the most viable transportation alternative. The choice of trans-
portation mode, is—and always has been—based on the balance of needs and
resources. For many, human-powered vehicles are simply the best option. Fac-
tors that affect mode choice include the available transportation infrastructure,
performance and functional needs, the local environment, public transportation
policy, and economics. In some areas of Africa, public transportation is very lim-
ited, the road network is poor, and private automobiles are very expensive. Bicy-
cles are highly valued for transportation. In Copenhagen, Denmark, high costs of
living and taxes make automobiles quite expensive; an excellent infrastructure
for cycling and public transportation exists; and cycling is perceived as a viable
and affordable—and socially acceptable—option. As a result, 38% of trips into
downtown Copenhagen are by bicycle, and 50% of trips within the central city
are by cyclists. In Cairo, flatbread is delivered by cycle couriers that reportedly
balance up to 50 kg of bread while they work their way through congested traffic.3
The entire bike messenger business, common in many US cities, exists because
cycling is often faster than automobile travel in congested urban traffic.
Land human-powered vehicles are used primarily for personal transportation:
one person getting from one place to another. Some vehicles can carry passen-
gers. Passengers may be young children in a vehicle designed and marketed for
family transportation or they could be paying customers in a pedicab. Tandems
allow both riders to pedal; some vehicles allow three or more riders to contribute
to propulsion. In some cases, the passenger is a medical patient, and the vehicle
is a human-powered ambulance. Several of these are in operation in Namibia and
other African nations. Rather than carry people, some vehicles are cargo haulers,
designed to transport relatively heavy loads. Several commercial models are avail-
able that are designed to carry over 90 kg of cargo. Many industrial factories use
work cycles to move people or light goods around large plants. Trailers are also
widely used with cycles to transport both children and cargo.
Bicycle courier, or bike messenger, services are offered in many urban areas,
where cyclists can deliver light parcels or letters much quicker than alternative
transportation modes. These cyclists are able to negotiate around heavy auto­
motive traffic and congestion in order to make prompt deliveries. Somewhat

 Marthaler, Claude, 2006, “Riding with the Breadmen,” Velovision, 22, pp. 10–12.


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  Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles

larger parcels are routinely carried in panniers, trunks, baskets or backpacks by

cyclists during the daily routines of life, such as shopping, commuting to school
or work, or a picnic in the park.
Many bicycles are used for recreation or competition. These cycles are often
designed to be fast and sporty, with little consideration for cargo, weather pro-
tection, or reduced maintenance cycles. Professional bicycle racing is a very pop-
ular sport in some areas of the world, and famous races, such as the Tour de
France, draw very large viewing audiences worldwide. Recumbent bicycles and
multi-track vehicles are not generally allowed in these races, so alternative venues
have developed specifically for these vehicles. The Race Across America—a race
in which contestants ride across the United States from the Pacific to the Atlantic
coasts—permit both recumbents and tandems, but they compete in different classes
from the upright single bicycles. The annual World Human-Powered Speed Chal-
lenge, held at Battle Mountain, Nevada sees the fastest human-powered vehicles in
the world—sleek recumbent streamliners that have demonstrated speeds exceeding
38 m/s. The current record, set on September 17, 2015 by Todd Reichert is 38.3 m/s
(85.71 mph). Recreational riders cycle for pleasure: the sounds, sights and smells
of spring ride along a country road can be immensely rewarding. Some recre-
ational riders also ride for fitness, reaping health and fitness benefits in an enjoy-
able sport. More adventurous riders use human-powered vehicles for extended
tours lasting from a few days to many months. Touring cycles are usually rugged,
with reliable tires and equipment suitable for varied and perhaps hostile terrain.
They generally have good cargo capacity and are designed to be comfortable for
long hours of riding.

Land Vehicle Configurations

The arrangement of elements, such as wheels, seat, drive train, and steering
system, define the configuration of a vehicle. For land human-powered vehicles,
the number and position of the wheels and the body position of the rider are the
most significant configuration options. Bicycles have two wheels, tadpole tricycles
have three wheels with one in the rear and two in front, delta tricycles have one
wheel in front and two aft, and quadricycles have four wheels. Body positions
are most often identified as upright or recumbent, although there is considerable
variation within each classification. The word recumbent means “lying down.” In
cycling, the more accurate term would be semi-recumbent, referring to leaning
back in a reclined position. The term is shortened in the vernacular to “recum-
bent,” and sometimes the even shorter “bent,” and is often used as a noun to
denote any vehicle in which the rider sits in a semi-recumbent attitude.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Vehicle configuration is determined during the conceptual stage of design. In

the vast majority of cases, the configuration is immutable once the design is in
production. There are exceptions, however, and some vehicles are designed to be
convertible by the user. A few production bicycles can be converted from a long
wheelbase recumbent with the front wheel in front of the cranks to a short wheel
base, for example. Aftermarket kits are available to convert some bicycle models
into tricycles. (The author once had the opportunity to ride a bespoke vehicle
that could convert between a recumbent and upright riding position. The conver-
sion could be made on-the-fly, while riding the vehicle. It was quite fun to ride,
if of questionable utility.) Configuration design is an important task that must be
completed early in the design sequence. The following descriptions provide ex-
amples of some fairly typical configurations, along with some general comments.
The familiar upright bicycle has two wheels, and the rider sits on a saddle
in an upright position or a forward-leaning crouch. Steering is generally direct,
with several different styles of handlebars. Typically, the rear wheel is driven, and
the front wheel is steered. The differences between upright bicycles are gener-
ally more in the details than in configuration. Mountain bicycles, city bikes, and
racing bicycles, while different, all share a similar configuration. Road bicycles
usually have drop-style handlebars and the rider is positioned in a crouch that
minimizes air resistance and provides good power transfer. These bicycles usually
use narrow tires and caliper brakes. Mountain bicycles position the rider in a more
upright position, with straight or riser handlebars. They usually have wide-range
gearing and can accommodate wide tires. Linear pull, disc, or cantilever brakes
are used as these types better accommodate the wide tires. Touring bicycles usu-
ally have wide-range gearing, a longer wheelbase, and ample fittings for racks and
bottle cages. They may have any style of handlebar, but are designed for heavy
use and relative comfort for long hours in the saddle.
Figure 2-2 shows an upright bicycle designed to be folded and transported in
a suitcase. This bicycle requires some disassembly prior to transport, but can be
easily checked on an airline or train as ordinary luggage. Two companies known
for their high-quality travel bikes are Bike Friday and Airnimal. Other folding bi-
cycles are designed to fold quickly and be stored in a very compact space. These
are frequently used by urban commuters that either have little storage space or
use multi-mode transport, carrying bikes onto the subway or bus. Some of these
models fold into a compact package within seconds. Brompton and Dahon are
examples of companies that specialize in folding bicycles.
Recumbent bicycles also have two wheels, but the rider sits in a seat rather
than on a saddle. Recumbent bicycles tend to be more specialized than upright
bicycles. The fastest bicycle in the world is a recumbent. The most comfortable


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  Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles

Figure 2-2  Upright folding travel bicycle

bike in the world is a recumbent. The safest bicycle in the world is most likely a
recumbent. However, these may be three very different bicycles. This illustrates
the great diversity of configurations for recumbent cycles. Most recumbent bicy-
cles have rear-wheel drive, although some use front-wheel drive to avoid lengthy
chains and idlers. Steering may be direct, meaning the handlebar connects di-
rectly to the fork, or indirect, meaning the fork and handlebar are connected via
a linkage of some type. There are many options for handlebar type and position.
Some have the handlebar mounted under the seat, while others may curve over
the rider’s legs or extend nearly to the rider’s chest. The last is sometimes colloqui-
ally called the “begging hamster” position. The wheelbase has great significance
for recumbent bikes as it affects rider position, handling, and vehicle structure.
Long-wheelbase recumbents often have the front wheel located in front of the
crank. They tend to be larger and heavier than comparable short-wheelbase mod-
els, but may be easier to ride and somewhat more stable. Short-wheelbase bikes
may have sportier handling and be lighter and more compact. The crank is usually
in front of, or above, the front wheel. Seat construction and position can vary
greatly between vehicles. Seats can be rigid molded composites, made of mesh
slings, or a combination of the two. Position varies from a fairly upright sitting
position to very reclined. In general, the more upright positions are more comfort-
able, and are used on recreational vehicles, while the more reclined seats reduce
aerodynamic drag and are frequently used on performance bikes. Hard or rigid
seats are also often used on high-performance vehicles, and provide a firm back to
resist hard pedal forces. Sling seats provide both breathability and some suspen-
sion, and are generally considered more comfortable. Many seats have mesh back
rests and a padded, rigid seat bottom. The position of the cranks relative to the
seat also affects rider position. The most aerodynamic vehicles place the cranks


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 2-3  Long-wheelbase recumbent bicycle

above the seat bottom and have very reclined seat backs. Lower crank positions
and more upright seating are used when comfort is more important.
The following figures illustrate several examples of recumbent bicycles. Fig-
ure 2-3 depicts a long-wheelbase bicycle with over seat direct steering, a padded
hard seat bottom and mesh seat back. This bicycle would likely be well suited for
rides through the countryside, where maneuvering is less important than a com-
fortable high-speed cruise. A short-wheelbase bike is shown in Figure 2-4. This
bicycle also has direct steering, but uses a pivoting handlebar mast that allows
easy mounting, dismounting, and comfortable hand positioning. Note the hard-
shell seat. The vehicle in Figure 2-5 is a low-racer streamliner, designed to be fast
and aerodynamic. The entire bicycle fits within a compact, streamlined fairing. It
has front-wheel drive and a steeply reclined hard shell seat. This bicycle would be
very impractical in urban traffic, but can be quite fast on the race track. Note that
in the figure, only one-half of the fairing is depicted in order to show the bicycle
inside the fairing.
Gunnar Fehlau presents a nice overview and comparison of many configuration
options for recumbent bicycles.4 His book is easy to read, and includes a brief de-
scription of each option, along with bullet lists of advantages and disadvantages.
Tricycles have three wheels, with either upright or recumbent rider position-
ing. Tadpole tricycles have two wheels in front and one wheel in back. Usually,
the front wheels are steered and the rear wheel provides drive power. Tadpole
trikes tend to provide the best handling response, but the steering mechanism is

 Fehlau, Gunnar, 2006, The Recumbent Bicycle, 2nd Ed., Out Your Backdoor Press.


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  Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles

Figure 2-4  Short-wheelbase recumbent bicycle

Figure 2-5  Short-wheelbase low-racer streamliner. This bicycle has front-wheel


more complicated. Underseat steering via handlebars and an Ackerman linkage

(described in Chapter 16) can provide very nice steering response, although di-
rect steering via handle bars connected to the kingpins is also a common option.
The example shown in Figure 2-6 is a recumbent tadpole tricycle with direct
steering. Like most tricycles, tadpoles are stable when stopped or moving very
slowly. This is a distinct advantage for riders with balance problems, or riders that
spend a great deal of time at very low speeds or hauling very heavy loads up hills.
Performance tadpole trikes usually have long drive trains, often routed below the
seat with idlers. Low seating provides more stability during high-speed cornering,


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 2-6  Tadpole recumbent tricycle with direct steering and hard shell seat

although not all tadpoles have low seating. A few upright tadpole tricycles have
been produced, although most models are recumbents.
In contrast to the tadpole configuration, delta tricycles have two wheels in back
and one in front. Steering is much simpler than the tadpole, but drive systems
can be more complex. Delta trikes with rear wheel drive can be driven by only
one wheel or both wheels. If both rear wheels are driven, a mechanism to allow
the outside wheel to speed up during turns prevents wheel slip and the resul-
tant handling problems. This can be done by clutches or a much more expensive
differential. Some delta tricycles are driven with only one rear wheel, avoiding
the problem altogether. These vehicles produce a turning moment under heavy
pedaling which can be a problem in low-speed, high-torque situations. In some
conditions—such as a hard, steep climb on a wet road—this can cause the front
wheel to lose traction and control. Front-wheel drive is another option, but this
usually results in pedals that swing during maneuvering or twisting chains. Delta
tricycles have a tendency toward oversteer as speed increases. This results in
poorer handling (and in extreme cases less stability) than tadpole trikes.
Quadricycles, or quads for short, have four wheels. Quads can have better sta-
bility and handling than either tadpole or delta tricycles. In addition, there are es-
sentially no restrictions on wheelbase, since the wheels do not interfere with either
the seat or the cranks. However, quads have both the drive train complexities of
the delta trike and the steering complexities of the tadpole. This usually results in a
more complex and potentially heavier vehicle. Accurate wheel alignment both front
and rear is required for good performance. There are a great many configuration


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  Overview of Human-Powered Vehicles

Figure 2-7  Delta recumbent tricycle with under-seat steering

variations possible with quads. Figure 2-8 shows a recumbent quadricycle designed
to use either hand cranks or leg cranks. This is a multi-configuration design: the leg
cranks can be replaced with stirrups for handcycling, or the hand cranks could be
replaced with a conventional handlebar for leg cranking only. A minor drivetrain
modification allowed both drive options to be used simultaneously.
The examples in this chapter illustrate some of the many configurations that
are possible with land human-powered vehicles. The number and position of the
wheels, position of the rider, number of riders, drivetrain type and wheels driven,
handlebar position and steering system design, and other options define the con-
figuration. An understanding of vehicle systems and configuration options is very
beneficial to the design engineer at the outset of a new vehicle project.
Additional information for the interested reader:

For an excellent history of the bicycle, see:

Herlihy, David V., 2004, Bicycle, The History, Yale University Press, New
Haven and London.
The following book contains illustrations of early bicycles and (mostly) compo-
nents. Originally published in Japan, there is essentially no text, only figures.
100 Years of Bicycle Component and Accessory Design Authentic
Reprint Edition of The Data Book, Van der Plas Publications, San
Francisco, 1998.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 2-8  Recumbent quadricycle with options for either arm or leg cranks


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D esigning a new human-powered vehicle from scratch is both stimulating and
rewarding. It may be quite challenging, and the road from idea to realization
can be more convoluted than linear. A pre-established structure, or plan, for the
design process can be helpful to the designer, in much the way an outline aids a
writer. This chapter defines and describes a general structure for HPV design. It
is a broad template, applicable to many types of human-powered vehicles. The
objective is to provide an outline or plan for the design process. Each section
includes a description of tasks that should be completed, followed by a brief out-
line, which can be used as a checklist.

General Structured Design of HPVs

The design process for human-powered vehicles is similar to that for any other
product. The design progresses through stages, from formulation of the problem
statement to prototype testing. These stages are depicted in Figure 3-1 and de-
scribed throughout this chapter. The central column in Figure 3-1 represents the
eight stages of design. These are essentially the same steps used in the design of
any product. The left column represents requirements that must be completed at
each stage. These are specific to human-powered vehicle design. A large portion
of this book is devoted to these topics. The right column illustrates the iterative
nature of design. The bubble labeled “verify mission” is a reminder of the impor-
tance of keeping a sharp focus on the mission of the vehicle.
Although this chapter divides the design process into eight distinct stages,
this is for organizational simplification only. The design process is continuous and


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

1. Define Vehicle
Customer Info

Define Design
Parameters 2. Product Design
Verify Mission
Target Values


Gross Geometry
3. Develop Vehicle
Drive Train Concepts

Frame Geometry
Special Features Concept Iterate As
Selection Required

5. Parametric Iterate As
Design Required

6. Detailed Design Iterate As

7. Prototype

8. Performance Evaluation

Figure 3-1  Diagram of the design process

contains many iterations, changes, and modifications. Frequently, stages overlap

chronologically. For example, some parts may be in detailed design stage or even
prototype fabrication stage while other parts are still in the parametric design
stage. Nonetheless, the general workflow follows the stages described here and
depicted in Figure 3-1.


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  General Structured Design of HPV’s

STEP 1. Define the mission of the vehicle  A clear mission statement for the
proposed vehicle is invaluable. It is far too easy for a design to gradually shift direc-
tion mid-stream, resulting in a vehicle that may not be what the customer wants.
A well-formulated mission statement forces the designer to focus on the most im-
portant aspects of the project, and maintains that focus throughout the design pro-
cess. This is the best way to ensure that the customer gets what he or she orders.
A mission statement should clearly and concisely state the primary functional
requirements for the vehicle. For example, a vehicle designed for year-round
commuting in northern temperate might have the following mission statement:
This vehicle shall provide reliable year-round single-person transporta-
tion in northern urban and suburban regions.
This statement is brief and contains quite a bit of information. The word reli-
able indicates that the vehicle will not break down very frequently. The vehicle
must be practical for the transportation needs of a single individual. This probably
implies that cargo space be included. Other items can be inferred, such as lights
and reflectors for night transport. Northern urban and suburban regions will un-
doubtedly include weather and environmental hazards such as rain, snow, poor
pavement, and probably salt. While much of this could be inferred from the state-
ment, additional sentences can clarify and remove ambiguity from the statement.
This vehicle shall provide reliable year-round single-person transpor-
tation in northern urban and suburban regions. Expected usage includes
personal transport, commuting, shopping, and recreation. The operator
must be provided reasonable protection against the elements, and vehicle
maintenance should be minimized. The vehicle should be comfortable, easy
to operate, and easy to propel. Expected environmental conditions include
cold, heat, rain, snow, and salt. The vehicle should be safe and legal for day
or night travel.

a. Obtain customer information  If the user of the vehicle is not the de-
signer, it is quite important to consult actual or typical customers and
potential users of the vehicle. This should be done early in the design, and
continue throughout the design process. The mission statement should be
developed in conjunction with customer input.

STEP 2. Develop vehicle design specifications  Design specifications define

the attributes of a successful vehicle. In engineering design, these are more gen-
erally called product design specifications, or, collectively, the PDS. The design
specifications should clearly identify the qualitative and quantitative attributes


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

required or desired in the final design. They are used as a reference throughout
the entire design process. For example, a specification for the maximum load
capacity of a vehicle is used in vehicle performance calculations, and structural
analyses, and vehicle testing.
The vehicle design specification should include the purpose, function, and
intended market for the vehicle; functional performance requirements; a-priori
design constraints; and any additional requirements. Specifications should be
specific with regard to outcomes without limiting design options. That is, the re-
quirements should be clearly identified without placing any constraints on how
they will be physically realized. This gives the designer guidance without limiting
Developing the vehicle design specifications requires gathering information,
identifying parameters, and setting target values.

1. Information Sources  The product design specification should not be

written without adequate information. Sources of information include
customer data (Step 1), codes, standards, and warranty or historical data.
Information should also be gathered from vehicles with similar missions or
technologies. Particular emphasis should be placed on customer desires,
whether the customer be a single individual or a population. This infor-
mation is obtained with user surveys and interviews. QFD is particularly
useful for this. Historical and current solutions should be thoroughly in-
vestigated as well. Many designers have made the mistake of re-inventing
old technologies, sometimes with the original faults or limitations. Vehi-
cles that serve similar missions should be investigated and ridden if possi-
ble. The new design should show a distinct advantage over other vehicles
in performance, cost, comfort, or other attributes.
2. Design Parameters  Design parameters should be identified while de-
veloping the vehicle specifications. A well-defined set of critical design
parameters provides a template for the new vehicle design. Three classes
of parameters are defined: control variables, envelope variables, and per-
formance metrics. Identifying these parameters from scratch for each
design is time consuming and runs the risk of omissions. The alternative—
to start with a slate of pre-determined parameters—reduces design time
and potentially improves the quality of the final vehicle.
a. Design Control Variables include the parameters over which the de-
signer has complete control. Examples include wheelbase, castor an-
gle, wheel size, etc. In general, these variables should not be specified


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  General Structured Design of HPV’s

in the PDS unless there is a strong a-priori reason for doing so. The val-
ues of these parameters will be determined during the design process,
and will depend on the conceptual design solutions.
b. Design Envelope Variables describe attributes over which the de-
signer has no direct control, but whose values are required in the design
process. These typically depend on the operator and environmental
conditions. Examples include limits on operator size and weight, design
vehicle speed envelope, etc. Many of these will be specified in the PDS,
either with a target value or a range of values.
c. Performance metrics are used to evaluate how well a proposed de-
sign meets the mission and design specifications. Objective, quantifi-
able performance metrics are said to be hard, while subjective metrics
are soft. Examples of hard metrics include vehicle weight, coefficients
of drag and rolling resistance, power required to operate the vehicle,
etc. Aesthetics, ride quality, etc. are soft metrics. Performance metrics
should be included in the vehicle design specifications. For many ve-
hicles, the performance specifications are among the most important.
3. Determine target values  Values must be determined for the parameters
identified in Step 3. The starting point is always the design specifications—
the  design envelope variables and performance metrics. These are incor-
porated into the product design specification, which is the driving force for
vehicle design. The importance of this step cannot be overemphasized! A
poor job at this stage will result in ambiguity in later stages of the design.
The result will likely not meet the customer’s desires, or will fail to perform
as required.
The target values used in the specifications should be stated in a way
that directly relates to analytical and experimental results. During the
design process, the performance of proposed concepts is evaluated and
compared to the specification. A specification that is expressed in a form
that cannot be evaluated with reasonable accuracy is not useful. Consider
vehicle top speed. For most vehicles, setting a numeric specification for
vehicle top speed simply does not make sense. There are many factors
that affect top speed, including the strength of the driver, road and wind
conditions, and grade. Most human-powered vehicles will never operate
at their theoretical top speed. (Exceptions are vehicles for which the
achievement of that speed is critical to the success of the vehicle.) Much
more important than top speed is the overall efficiency of the vehicle,
which can be expressed in a variety of ways. For a hard specification, the


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

speed envelope under specified conditions may be appropriate, as the fol-

lowing example for an unfaired tandem bicycle illustrates.

Target Speeds for Tandem Bicycle

Conditions: 600 W Power Total from Both Riders
Smooth Asphalt Pavement

• 24 m/s with a 5% down slope and negligible wind

• 6 km/h, 5% up slope with negligible wind
• 14 m/s on a level surface with negligible wind
• 11 m/s on a level surface with 5 m/s head wind

First, determine Design Envelope variable values. Use customer data, field
experience, and knowledge of the operational environment to determine design
envelopes. An obvious example is to determine values for height, weight, fitness
level and potential power output of the design operator or operators. Chapter 4
includes data on the power a human can produce with leg cranks, and is relevant
to this task. Second, determine values (or ranges) for all the primary performance
metrics. The product design specification (PDS) can then be prepared. Note that
soft metrics can be quantified with appropriate scales. For example “Overall Ap-
pearance of Vehicle” may have a minimum value of 4 based on a scale of 1 to 5.
In general, values for the design control variables will be determined in a later
step. These values will be selected in order to obtain the desired performance
characteristics defined by the design envelope variables and the performance tar-
get metrics. Design control variable values should only be set at this point if there
is a valid a-priori reason for doing so.
CHECK: Before proceeding, go back to the mission statement for the vehicle
and verify that all target values are consistent with it. If not, return to Step 2 and
revise the values.
Following is an example of a vehicle design specification. This specification is
based loosely on the format presented by George Dieter.1 The interested reader is
referred to that reference for more information on general mechanical engineer-
ing design.

 Dieter, Geroge E., Engineering Design A Materials and Processing Approach 3rd Ed.,

McGraw-Hill, 2000.


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  General Structured Design of HPV’s

Example Vehicle Design Specification

Mission Statement
This vehicle shall provide reliable year-round single-person transpor-
tation in temperate to cool urban and suburban regions. Expected usage
includes personal transport, commuting, shopping, and recreation. The op-
erator must be provided reasonable protection against the elements, and
vehicle maintenance should be minimized. The vehicle should be comfort-
able, easy to operate, and easy to propel. Expected environmental conditions
include cold, heat, rain, snow, and salt. The vehicle should be safe and legal
for day or night travel.

In-Use Purposes and Market

Product Title: Practical Velomobile
To provide clean, quiet, and efficient personal transportation for typical daily
tasks regardless of season or time of day.

Unintended Uses
Operation on very rough terrain
Carrying passengers

Special Features
Weather protection against rain, snow, cold and heat
Cargo capacity for routine shopping or work-related gear
Sufficient lighting and reflectors for safe and legal night transportation
Reduced maintenance, especially in salty environments

Production velomobiles are direct competitors. Areas that can be improved
over production velomobiles include cost reduction, weight reduction, improved
ingress and egress, and visibility.
Production recumbent bicycles and tricycles are also competitors. Areas for
improvement include weatherization, winter performance, drag reduction, and
Upright bicycles may also be competitors. These vehicles are lower cost and
offer excellent maneuverability, visibility, and operational flexibility in urban traf-
fic. A challenge is to retain as many of these advantages as possible with a weath-
erized vehicle.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Functional Requirements

Performance Requirements

Turn Radius: Turn radius shall not exceed that required to negotiate a turn
on 1.52 meter wide sidewalks with no rounded corners. That is, the minimum
turn radius shall be

 1  1 1 
R =W   +T  − 
 1 − cos(45°)   2 1 − cos(45°) 

R = 3.4142 W − 2.9142 T

where R is the centerline turn radius, W is the sidewalk width (1.52 m) and T
is the vehicle wheel track in meters.

Braking: The vehicle shall be capable of making a complete stop from a speed
of 25 kph within no more than 6 meters on level, dry, smooth asphalt.

Speed and Power: With a 75 kg driver supplying no more than 180 watts on
smooth asphalt surfaces, the vehicle should be capable of the following:

13 m/s Level Road No wind No more than 180 Watts

30 m/s 5% Down slope No wind No more than 180 Watts
3.3 m/s 5% Up slope No wind No more than 180 Watts
10 m/s Level Road 5 m/s head wind No more than 180 Watts

Mechanical Drive Train Efficiency: The average mechanical efficiency of

the drivetrain should be 90–95% with clean, new components. Mechanical effi-
ciency is defined as: h = Prear wheel/Pcrank.

Ingress/Egress: The vehicle should permit easy, unassisted ingress and egress
of driver, as well as easy loading of cargo.

Parking: The vehicle should be equipped with a device to prevent rolling while

Theft Protection: The vehicle shall have a convenient means to prevent theft.

Driver’s View: The driver shall have views of the road and surrounding areas
sufficient to permit safe operation in traffic.


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Physical Requirements

Cargo Volume: At least 60 L in no more than two compartments.

Cargo Mass: The vehicle must be capable of carrying at least 25 kg cargo.

Maximum Vehicle Weight: 25 kg.

Ground Clearance: For a multi-track vehicle only, ground clearance must be

sufficient to pass over a 7.5 cm cube anywhere between the outermost wheels
without touching the vehicle (except for additional wheels inside the track).

Frontal Area: Total frontal area of the vehicle (including maximum size de-
sign rider) shall be such that the fully faired vehicle can achieve a drag area
(CDA) of not more than .150 m2.

Design Operators: The vehicle shell shall be capable of fitting riders with
normal proportions ranging from 145 to 155 cm height and weighing no more
than 72 kg. Seating and drive train components may be replaced as necessary
to accommodate different sized riders. No special clothing shall be required to
enter, operate, or exit the vehicle. Components with potential to stain clothing,
such as chains, shall be covered or located outside of the driver compartment.

Regulations: Meet or exceed all safety requirements contained in 16CFR1512A

and ISO 4210.

Service Environment
Region: The vehicle shall provide comfortable and safe transport in temperate
to cold climates in urban, suburban, and rural areas.
Road Surface: The vehicle shall be operable without significant service or life
penalty on road surfaces ranging from smooth asphalt or concrete to gravel or
loose dirt, including rough or broken asphalt, grass, chip seal, etc.
Weather: The vehicle shall be operable without undue safety penalty in rain,
snow, slush, mud or on ice. Tires and other components may be changed to
meet weather extremes. Consideration should be given to reducing corrosion
due to riding in wet, muddy, or salty (northern winter roads) environments.
Temperature: All vehicle systems should be operable between –25°C and
40°C ambient temperature.


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Hazards: There should be no hazards such as sharp edges, open tubes, or
pinch-points that could harm the operator or bystanders during normal use of
the vehicle, including operation, ingress and egress, and moving the vehicle.
Crashworthiness: The vehicle shall be able to sustain a head-on collision
from 1.3 m/s with no permanent deformation to the vehicle frame or steering
mechanism and no damage that would render the vehicle inoperable. Vehicle
fairings should withstand normal handling of the vehicle, including a person
leaning on the fairing.

STEP 3. Develop vehicle concepts

1. Determine vehicle configuration  The vehicle configuration must be

determined very early in the design stage. Configuration implies both form
and principle features. The number and location of wheels, driven wheels,
steered wheels, and type of steering are examples of configuration op-
tions for a land vehicle. A configuration for a solo land vehicle might be
a short wheel base semi-recumbent bicycle with under seat steering and
rear wheel drive. A boat configuration might be an open monohull single
operator boat with stern propeller drive.
Choosing a configuration places limits on control variable values, con-
straining the design. Values become easier to establish and to interpret.
See Chapter 2 for examples of vehicle configurations.
CHECK: Before proceeding, check that the configuration is compati-
ble with the mission statement. If not, repeat this step and develop a new
2. Determine vehicle gross geometry  Tentatively assign control variable
values to establish the gross vehicle geometry. These parameters should
be sufficient to define the vehicle size and basic performance characteris-
tics. Strive for values that will obtain performance goals.
Known design principles, background knowledge, experience, compari-
sons with similar vehicles, and any other source of information may be used
to help determine the values. In most cases, values are determined based
on performance criteria. For example, the wheelbase, center-of-gravity
range, headtube angle, and fork offset for a bicycle concept should be se-
lected to provide acceptable handling and stability characteristics. Gross
geometry is usually based on handling performance, as described in Chap-
ters 10 and 11.


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3. Design the drive train and establish chain line  Determine the type
of drive train and the physical locations of drive components. If a chain is
used, the best approach is to establish the chain line early, then zealously
guard against frame or component encroachment. In most cases, the
chain line can be established as soon as gross vehicle geometry is known.
The frame and components can then be designed around the chain. (In
some cases, preliminary frame geometry must be developed simultane-
ously with the chain line. This is clearly the case when the chain will be
routed internally through the frame.) Drive train design is described in
Chapter 12.
4. Establish initial frame geometry Frame geometry is driven by the
gross vehicle geometry, drive train, and expected load cases for the ve-
hicle. At this stage, viable conceptual gross geometry is required. The
type of frame—monocoque or space frame—and preliminary location of
frame members is required. Final geometry, tube sizing, and optimization
will take place in a later stage. Chapter 13 discusses frames and frame
5. Special features Special features should be included as viable con-
cepts. These features may include cargo areas, lighting systems, fairings
or shells, landing gear, etc. It is best to address these features during the
concept stage, rather than wait until later stages. This approach provides
better system integration and improved vehicle quality.

STEP 4. Select Optimal Concept  The goal of the concept selection process
is to choose the best of all conceptual designs for further development. Concept
selection should be based on rational decision making processes, which are de-
scribed in many engineering design texts, including Dieter.2 Ideally, several viable
concepts should be considered. Each should be evaluated based on its merits,
using the most quantitative measures available. The concepts should be devel-
oped to comparable levels of detail. Once the optimal concept is selected, the
design can proceed with confidence that the proposed design solution is the best

STEP 5. Complete Parametric Design  Part geometry is established and ver-

ified in the parametric design stage. This is the stage where frames, shells, and
special-purpose parts are designed, validated, and finalized for prototyping. For
example, the gross geometry of the frame, along with tubing material, diameters,



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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

and wall thickness is established in this stage. The geometric shape, size and
material for all custom-designed components should also be designed. The three
major aspects of this stage are (1) determination of part geometry and material,
(2) analytical validation of the geometry and material, and (3) experimental test-
ing required to validate geometry and material.
Initial geometry should be based on functional requirements, such as vehicle per-
formance, strength, and life specifications. Aesthetics of the design are must also be
addressed. Appearance and style often make the difference between a successful
design and a mediocre one. For the functional requirements, use relevant analyses
to assess the success of the proposed geometry and material selection. This includes
handling (Chapters 15 and 16), structural requirements of the frame (Chapter 18),
and possibly power/speed characteristics (Chapters 12–14). Often, data required for
an analysis is not available. In this case, experimentation may be required to obtain
the necessary data. For example, the designer of a bamboo frame should know the
flexural strength of the bamboo used. Due to the many variables involved—such as
species, treatment, moisture content, etc., few published tables are able to give reli-
able values. An experiment can provide the necessary information.
The design is iterative. Analyses and optimization studies are performed on trial
geometry, the geometry and/or material is updated, and the analyses are repeated.
The cycle continues until satisfactory results are obtained. Optimization methods
are available in many cases to speed convergence. It is important during this pro-
cess to keep the mission of the vehicle in mind. It is far too easy to shift focus during
this stage, developing a possibly fine vehicle that does not meet the objectives of the
project. This is known as “mission drift” and most designers are susceptible to it.
Performance analysis is a key component of the parametric design stage. Perfor-
mance, in this context, should be interpreted broadly so as to include all aspects of
the design. The product design specifications set performance goals: analyses con-
ducted at this stage predict if those goals will be reached or exceeded. Ideally, the
design should continue iteration until all specifications are met. In the real world,
compromises must sometimes be made, particularly with very ambitious design goals.

STEP 6. Complete Detailed Design  Detailed dimensions, tolerances, specifi-

cations, and other detail items are completed in the Detailed Design stage. This is
a critical stage, requiring diligence and attention to detail. Incorrect specifications
can lead to non-functional parts, cost overruns, and lost time. The three primary
tasks include development of working drawings, manufacturing plans, and speci-
fication of components.
Detailed working drawings are needed for production of the frame and
special-purpose parts. Drawings should include all dimensions required to fully


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  General Structured Design of HPV’s

specify the part, but no redundant dimensions. Tolerances should be as large as

function will allow. It is quite possible to increase the cost of a part by an order
of magnitude or more by specifying a smaller tolerance than is required. As a
rough rule of thumb, the cost doubles for every additional decimal place used in
a tolerance. A tolerance of 0.01 mm will generally require grinding, and will be
approximately twice as expensive as a tolerance of 0.10 mm. Likewise, surface
finish and other special requirements should be used only where necessary for
fit or function of the parts. Note that dimensions on welded structures such as
vehicle frames can be very difficult to hold to close tolerances.
Manufacturing plans should be prepared for each part and assembly. They in-
clude the process used to make the component, raw materials, equipment re-
quired and any special tooling required. Special tooling is very significant, as it
needs to be made prior to manufacturing the part. Effective time and money allo-
cations depend on good manufacturing plans.
Component selection should be finalized during this stage. Wheels and tires,
drivetrain components, brakes, etc. should be specified. A very wide range of
commercial components is available, with an equally wide range of price and
performance. The selected components should match the mission of the vehi-
cle while also meeting budget constraints. Often, components must be carefully
selected to work together for optimal performance. See Chapters 17 and 19 for
more details on component functionality and selection.

STEP 7. Fabricate Prototype  On completion of the design, a prototype vehi-

cle should be constructed and evaluated. In some cases, a single bespoke vehicle
is the goal of the design process, and the prototype is the final product. Occa-
sionally, one or more prototypes must be constructed during the design stage in
order to test specific characteristics of the vehicle. This is usually only required
for very innovative designs, when a design deviates significantly from existing
vehicles. Prototypes take time and money to complete. To be most effective,
testing should be planned in advance, and the prototype(s) built to accommo-
date the required testing. For example, a prototype meant to test a new trans-
mission might be constructed by modifying an existing vehicle to use the novel
drivetrain. This would permit testing the transmission sooner with less expense
and effort.

STEP 8. Complete Functional and Performance Testing  The design must

be validated with experimental testing for functionality and performance. A
significant investment of time, money, and effort goes into the design and
construction of a new vehicle. Inadequate or poorly planned experiments


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

reduce the value of that investment—valuable knowledge of the effectiveness

of design elements and features is lost. To retain the maximum value, a com-
prehensive plan for testing should be developed and implemented. Testing
should include functionality and performance of all systems and the overall
vehicle, with the goal of answering the following questions: Do the systems
function as designed? How well do they function? How could functionality
be enhanced, or how can non-functional systems be made functional? Does
performance meet or exceed specifications? How could performance be
Results of testing should be compared to the design specifications and the
analytical predictions. This step closes the loop of the design process, and makes
future design and development efforts much more productive and fruitful. Knowl-
edge of the successful and non-successful design elements is very valuable. The
most effective experimental program follows these guidelines:

• Use the Product Design Specification as a guide for planning experiments.

• Develop a plan for each experiment.
• Each experiment should include an explicit objective.
• Each experiment should assess one or more design specifications.
• Wherever possible, conduct a statistical analysis of the data.
• Compare results with design specifications and analytical predictions.
• Attempt to understand the cause of discrepancies.

Outline of Design Process

STEP 1. Define the mission of the vehicle
1. Obtain customer information

STEP 2. Develop vehicle design specifications

1. Information Sources
2. Design Parameters
a. Design Control Variables
b. Design Envelope Variables
c. Performance metrics
3. Determine target values
4. CHECK: Before proceeding, go back to the mission statement for the ve-
hicle and verify that all target values are consistent with it. If not, return
to Step 2 and revise the values.


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  General Structured Design of HPV’s

STEP 3. Develop vehicle concepts

1. Determine vehicle configuration
a. CHECK: Before proceeding, check that the configuration is compatible
with the mission statement.
2. Determine vehicle gross geometry
3. Design the drive train and establish chain line
4. Establish initial frame geometry
5. Special Features

STEP 4. Select optimal concept

1. Use rational decision-making techniques
2. Ensure each concept is compatible with mission and meets minimum de-
sign specification requirements

STEP 5. Complete parametric design

1. Validate vehicle geometry Preliminary performance analyses should
be used to validate the vehicle gross geometry. (frame dimensions, hull
a. Use handling and performance analyses
b. Verify top-level performance objectives are met, iterate as required
c. If performance objectives cannot be met with configuration, go back to
Step 3
d. CHECK: Performance and handling must be consistent with mission
2. Complete Structural and other analyses and optimization
a. Frame or shell type and structure (e.g., diamond frame vs. monotube)
b. Member sizes/shapes
c. Materials and conditions
d. Processes
3. Determine testing needed to complete an optimal design

STEP 6. Complete detailed design

1. Complete detailed drawings of frame and all special-purpose parts
2. Complete manufacturing plans
3. Select components

STEP 7. Fabricate prototype

STEP 8. Complete functional and performance testing
1. Compare results with design specifications and analytical predictions
a. Attempt to understand the cause of discrepancies


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

2. Test the following categories:

a. Validate drive train
i. Chain management and interference
ii. Gearing requirements
iii. Impedance match
b. Determine load cases and loads
i. CPSC Fork and frame test
ii. Maximum Acceleration
iii. Road/water obstructions
iv. Hill climb
v. Maximum braking—front
vi. Maximum braking—rear
c. Validate frame/hull structure
i. Structural analysis (FEM, etc.)
ii. Optimization
iii. Modify and iterate as required
d. Review component compatibility
i. Modify and iterate as required
e. Complete details
i. CHECK: Interference, chain management
ii. Features—brake bosses, braze-ons, seats/saddles, etc.
iii. Cable/control routing and hardware
f. Complete drawings
i. Detailed SP part drawings
ii. Assembly drawings
iii. BOM
g. Prototype fabrication and testing
i. Fabrication and Assembly
ii. Functionality testing
iii. Performance testing
iv. Market testing
h. Modify and iterate or advance to production planning


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T he human is the power plant for all human-powered vehicles. Although the
human engine is often compared to an internal combustion engine, its oper-
ation and performance characteristics are quite different. Both engines convert
the chemical energy of fuel into mechanical energy, and both produce about four
times as much waste heat as useful power. The similarity ends here, however. The
internal combustion engine is a heat engine, operating on a thermodynamic cycle
and subject to the second law of thermodynamics. This cycle is limited by the
difference in temperatures between the hottest and coolest parts of the cycle. In
contrast, the human engine, while producing heat as a by-product, is not a heat
engine. The energy conversion is completely chemical, and the human is not sub-
ject to the second law limitations. Performance characteristics are quite different
as well. The internal combustion engine can produce no zero-speed torque. As
the engine speed increases, the torque increases to a maximum, then decreases
at high RPM. In contrast, a human achieves maximum torque or force when the
speed is zero. Torque decreases with speed to a value of essentially zero at high
speed. In this respect, the human is much more like a permanent magnet DC mo-
tor than an internal combustion heat engine.
Carbohydrates, fats, and proteins are fuels for the human power plant. Car-
bohydrates are converted to energy easier and more quickly than fats, and are
the principle fuels for the athlete. At low power levels where rapid metabolism of
fuel to energy is not required, fats can become an important fuel source as well.
Proteins are used more for body repair than for fuel, but can be metabolized and
provide some energy. Proper nutrition includes more than fuel sources, however.
Vitamins and minerals are essential for good nutrition, but do not contribute any


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The human power plant produces waste energy in the form of heat. The chemi-
cal reactions that produce muscular energy are exothermic, producing extra heat.
For every Watt of useful power produced, 3 to 4 W of waste heat must be dissi-
pated. This heat is carried away from the muscles by the blood, and is dissipated
by sweat and increased blood flow to the skin. A simple definition of efficiency
is the ratio of work done to total energy generated. The efficiency of the human
power plant varies somewhat between individuals, but is approximately 25%.

Work Output
η= ≈ 0.25 (4-1)
Total Generated Energy

It is perhaps worth noting that a heat engine operating at 25% efficiency with an
ambient temperature of 15°C would require a hot temperature of at least 111°C.
The human body could not survive this temperature. This calculation, based on
Carnot efficiency, clearly illustrates that the human body is not a heat engine in a
thermodynamic sense.

Muscle Structure and Function

Muscle Structure Humans and other animals use skeletal muscles, tendons,
and bones to generate forces and to absorb energy imparted to the body. Muscles
and tendons are the actuators that move skeletal joints. Neurons trigger the con-
traction of muscle fibers, which produces forces within the muscle. For skeletal
muscles this force acts across a joint, which can result in motion. The structure
and function of the muscle-tendon unit are quite complex, and the following de-
scription is simplified. A more detailed overview of muscle-tendon structure and
function can be found in Hawkins.1
Muscles are complex bundles of individual cells or fibers. Most muscle cells are
quite long—several centimeters in some cases—requiring multiple nuclei. The
individual fibers are grouped into small units called fasciculi, which in turn are
grouped into larger units that make up the muscle. The entire muscle is encased
in a sheath called the epimysium. Tendons connect the muscle to bone. Blood
vessels and capillary networks in the muscle provide oxygen, which is required
for oxidative metabolism. Neurons provide control inputs to the muscle fibers.

Hawkins, David, Biomechanical Systems: Techniques & Applications, Vol. III, Muscu-
loskeletal Models & Techniques, Cornelius Leondes, Ed., CRC Press, 2001.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

Skeletal muscles—the only type of interest here—are under control of the so-
matic nervous system, that is, they are thus under voluntary control.
Each individual neuron controls many muscle fibers, usually distributed
throughout the muscle. The neuron and all its associated muscle cells are called a
motor unit. An electrical signal is sent to the neuron either from the brain or from
reflex pathways. The signal is transmitted to the muscle fiber’s motor end point
by chemical means. If the signal is strong enough, the muscle fibers contract.
Contractions of mammalian skeletal muscles are not modulated—they are either
fully contracted or relaxed. After firing, the motor unit must wait for a period of
time known as the refractory period before it can fire again. To exert a greater
force, either more motor units are activated or the firing frequency is increased.
In the former case, a greater fraction of fibers in the muscle are contracting at any
given time. For the latter case, each motor unit is repeatedly activated. Once the
firing frequency exceeds the inverse of the refractory period, the motor unit will
be continuously activated.
Several different types of muscle fibers exist, often within a given muscle. Slow
oxidative (SO) muscle fibers are energized by aerobic metabolism and enervated
by small, low threshold, slow conducting neurons. Fast glycolytic (FG) fibers
are energized by anaerobic metabolism and enervated by large, high threshold,
fast conducting neurons. The slow muscle fibers are generally recruited first due
to the low activation threshold. As the name implies, SO fibers respond more
slowly to neural stimulation, but can contract repeatedly without fatigue. They
are smaller and weaker than glycolytic fibers. FG fibers respond more quickly and
are stronger, but fatigue much more rapidly than SO fibers. Exercise of moder-
ate intensity of extended duration predominantly relies on SO fibers, while short
bursts of high intensity effort use FG fibers. In humans, the two types of fibers
exist together within a given muscle in an approximately 50/50 ratio. Individuals
with a slightly higher fraction of SO fibers tend to excel at endurance sporting
events, while those with a higher fraction of FG fibers excel at sprint events.
Training can improve performance in either type of event, but cannot change
the ratio of muscle fibers. SO fibers are also called slow twitch or red fibers, and
are darker in color that FG fibers. The characteristic red color is due to the rich
supply of oxygen-storing myoglobin in the slow fibers. Fast gycolytic fibers are
light in color and are also known as fast-twitch fibers. Some animals, such as the
domestic chicken, have muscles comprised predominantly of only one type. The
breast muscles of a chicken are white FG fibers. Chickens only fly for short bursts
which require high effort. The leg muscles are dark SO fibers, as the chicken
spends most of its time walking on the ground.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Muscular Energy Supply Adenosine Triphosphate, or ATP, is the energy

source for all muscle functions. (In addition to force generation, ATP provides
energy for cellular repair, synthesis of proteins, and ion transport.) It is produced
by mitochondria within the cell cytoplasm. Also contained in the cytoplasm are
glycogen, lipids, and enzymes. Glycogen is a polymer form of glucose. It can be
rapidly converted into ATP to provide energy for the muscle. Partial conversion
occurs without oxygen, or anaerobically. Complete conversion is aerobic, requir-
ing oxygen supplied by the bloodstream. This process is slower, but much more
efficient. Lipids (fat) can also be converted to ATP, but only in the presence of
oxygen and at a rather slow rate.
ATP is provided to the muscle through several mechanisms. A limited amount
of ATP is stored within the muscle itself. This can provide energy for only about
eight muscle twitches, or two to five seconds of maximal exercise. This is the
energy source used for very high power levels of short duration, such as cyclist
in a sudden attack or a weightlifter hoisting a heavy load. There are no harmful
byproducts produced by this mechanism, but the ATP must be replaced.
At the onset of intense exercise, the most common mechanism for replenish-
ing ATP in the muscle is through phosphocreatine (PCr). PCr combines with a
byproduct of ATP to create additional ATP and creatine. Muscles store enough
PCr for several hundred muscle twitches, or about 10 seconds of maximal effort.
While this is longer than ATP stores, it is still far too brief for sustained effort.
The process is anaerobic as it does not require oxygen, and it also produces no
detrimental byproducts.
The muscular ATP and PCr mechanisms are rapid and anaerobic. They are
both used for very brief, very intense bouts of exercise, and predominantly re-
cruit FG muscle fibers. Additional mechanisms for producing ATP must be used
for exercise lasting more than a few seconds. Which mechanism is used by the
body depends on the availability of sufficient oxygen in the muscle cell, which is
supplied by the bloodstream. Anaerobic glycolysis can provide ATP to the muscle
through partial breakdown of glucose, or its polymerized form glycogen. Glyco-
gen is stored within the muscle and does not circulate around the body. Glucose
is transported by the bloodstream to muscles, organs, and the brain. Anaerobic
glycolysis only partially converts glycogen and produces two ATP molecules for
each glucose molecule. This represents only about 7% of the energy available
in the glucose molecule. Byproducts of this reaction include pyruvic acid and
Hydrogen. If sufficient oxygen is present, aerobic phosphorylation occurs, com-
pleting the glucose breakdown and producing 34 ATP molecules for each glucose
molecule. In this case, only benign byproducts—CO2 and H2O—are produced.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

However, if there is insufficient oxygen, the pyruvic acid combines with the hy-
drogen to form lactic acid. Lactic acid can be transported out of the muscle by the
bloodstream, where it is converted back into glycogen and stored. However, this
process is slow. If exercise intensity is great enough, the production of lactic acid
exceeds the body’s ability to remove it, and it begins to accumulate. When lactic
acid accumulates in the muscle, fatigue and pain set in, restricting or stopping
exercise. Anaerobic glycolysis provides energy for only a few minutes of high
intensity exercise, after which lactic acid buildup induces fatigue. In contrast, if
exercise intensity is slightly lower, metabolism is primarily aerobic, and the rate of
lactic acid production is less than the rate at which the bloodstream can remove
it from the muscle. In this case, exercise can continue until the muscle glycogen
is depleted, usually one to two hours of hard aerobic effort. If carbohydrates are
consumed during exercise, the glycogen stores can be replenished, and exercise
can last much longer.

Process Description Net ATP Comments

Aerobic FUEL + O2 ® ATP + 34 CO2 carried away by blood
Phosphorylation H2O + CO2 and exhaled
H2O absorbed by muscle
NO Fatiguing by-products
Anaerobic CHO ® ATP + 2 Lactic acid builds up in
Glycolysis LACTIC ACID muscle
(Glycogenolysis) Lactic acid can prevent
muscle contraction
With time and O2 lactic acid
converts to glucose

Fats, or lipids, can also be metabolized as fuel for muscles. Lipids are stored
throughout the body, and can provide enough fuel for days of lower intensity
exercise. However, the metabolism of fats is very slow, and requires more oxy-
gen than glycogen. Higher intensity exercise suppresses the metabolism of fats.
However, training at moderate intensity over time will improve the body’s ability
to metabolize fat, and helps to make it a viable fuel for low to moderate intensity
exercise. Fats are a significant source of energy for exercise lasting more than
about 3 hours.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Summary of Energy Supply Mechanisms

Duration By-products
Muscle ATP Anaerobic 3 seconds None
PCr Anaerobic 10 seconds None
Anaerobic Anaerobic 3 minutes Lactic Acid
Aerobic Aerobic 2 hours None
Lipids Aerobic Days (low intensity) None

Muscle fibers require energy to contract, whether or not any external work
is done. Isometric exercise does no work in the thermodynamic sense, but does
require energy and creates heat as a byproduct. When a muscle fiber elongates
while activated, work is done on the muscle. This also requires energy. For exam-
ple, consider slowly lowering a heavy weight. Although the weight does work on
the body during the process, the muscles are still expending energy. Endurance
athletes should strive to minimize isometric exercise (squeezing bicycle handle-
bars, for example) to maximize performance. This will help to minimize fatigue
and maximize the external work done by the body.
Power-Duration Relationship During exercise, muscles fatigue over time. Fa-
tigue is caused by either a buildup of lactic acid or by depletion of fuel faster than
it can be supplied. The onset of fatigue depends on both the exercise intensity
and the duration. Very intense, anaerobic exercise can result in very rapid fatigue,
whereas low to moderate intensity exercise can continue for many hours. For in-
tense exercise, the onset of fatigue occurs when lactic acid builds up within the
muscle. During intense anaerobic exercise, the production rate of lactic acid ex-
ceeds the rate at which the bloodstream can remove it from the muscle. The lactic
acid interferes with muscle chemistry, making it more difficult for muscle fibers
to contract. It also creates a painful burning sensation within muscle. Fatigue sets
in quickly. When the exercise intensity is somewhat lower, lactic acid is removed
from the muscle fast enough to prevent buildup. Fatigue then occurs when energy
demands exceed the supply. When muscle glycogen is depleted, the muscular “fuel
tank” is empty, and fatigue sets in. Consumption of carbohydrates during exercise
can maintain blood glucose levels and postpone fatigue. However, once glycogen
stores are depleted and blood glucose levels drop, fatigue significantly slows or
stops exercise. This is described by athletes as “bonking” or “hitting the wall.”


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation


MIURA 2009

Power (Watts)




-1 0 1 2 3
10 10 10 10 10
TIME (minutes)

Figure 4-1  Power output with leg cranks vs exercise duration1

Figure 4-1 illustrates the relationship between exercise time and intensity. For
exercise up to 30 minutes or so, a hyperbolic relationship exists between cycling
intensity and time to fatigue. The solid curves on the plot use this model, which
can be expressed as

P = W ′ ×   + CP (4-2)
t 

Where CP is the critical power and W¢ is the curvature constant. This model
is not accurate for very intense but brief bouts of exercise, or for exercise last-
ing more than an hour. However, it is quite appropriate for rides of moderate
duration. The figure includes a curve loosely based on a conjectured maximum
power-duration relationship for extraordinary athletes with optimal equipment.2
Miura et al.3 presented results from testing healthy subjects (male and female)
with and without prior work. While prior work did provide a slight increase in the
power for a given duration, the data shown is for no prior work. Also shown are
data from a NASA study on healthy men and champion athletes. The healthy men

Data for curves Max Power curves taken from Wilson (Reference 3).
Abbot, Allen, and David Gordon Wilson, Human-Powered Vehicles, Human Kinetics, 1995.
Miura, Akira et al., “The Effect Of Prior Heavy Exercise On The Parameters Of The Power-​

Duration Curve For Cycle Ergometry” Appl. Physiol. Nutr. Metab. 34: 1001–1007, 2009.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

were young, physically active, fit, and accustomed to doing work. Poole et al.4
presented data for healthy young males that fell in the range between the NASA
healthy men and Miura’s data, lending credence to the values shown in the figure.
Note that at exercise duration over about 1 hour, the maximum power falls below
the critical power or asymptotic value. Perhaps an exponential model would be
more appropriate for extended duration cycling (beyond one hour).
An average young, healthy man can be expected to produce between 350 and
400 Watts for one minute, or about 180 to 2800 W for 10 minutes. Women, inactive
men, and older people will likely produce less power at any give duration.
Gender, Height, and Age Factors The peak power achievable by an athlete is
strongly dependent on active muscle mass. Larger cyclists have greater muscle
mass, and can generate greater power. Maximum power also decreases with age,
perhaps due to reduces muscle mass. The designer of a human-powered vehicle
will generally have some idea of the height and possibly the gender of the rider,
so an understanding of how these factors affect power is of interest. Wohlfart and
Farazdaghi5 studied male and female subjects in order to revise reference val-
ues for clinical ramp tests on cycle ergometers. Subjects cycled on an ergometer,
initially at low power. The power was increased every 20 seconds by 5 W until
exhaustion, when the maximum power attained was recorded. Equation 4-3 pres-
ents their formulas for predicting the max power, in Watts, as a function of age
and height for both men and women. In these formulas, height is given in meters
and age in years.

244.6 × height − 92.1

1 + e 0.038×( age −77.3)
137.7 × height − 23.1
1 + e 0.064×( age −75.9)

Data from Equation 4-3 is plotted in Figure 4-2, which shows the reduced max
power of women as compared to men. This data can be used to estimate design
power, which can be used for performance predictions and, to a limited extent,
component sizing, and strength.

Poole, David C. et al., “Metabolic and Respiratory Profile of the Upper Limit for Prolonged
Exercise in Man,” Ergonomics, 31(9), 1265–1279, 1988.
Wohlfart, Bjorn, and Gholam R. Farazdaghi, “Reference Values for the Physical Work Ca-
pacity on a Bicycle Ergometer for Men—A Comparison With A Prevous Study On Women,”
Clinical Physiology and Functional Imaging 23(3), 166–170, 2003.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

2 2



1.9 1.9





1.8 1.8


Height (m)

Height (m)

1.7 1.7

0 0

28 20



1.6 0 1.6


1.5 18
1.5 0
24 20

1.4 1.4


20 30 40 50 60 70 20 30 40 50 60 70
AGE (years) AGE (years)

Figure 4-2  Maximal cycling loads for men and women as functions of age and

Proper nutrition is essential for the well-performing human power plant. Nu-
trition includes fuel for the muscles, but also includes vitamins and minerals that
help the body recover from strenuous exercise and repair damage. The athlete
that disregards nutrition will at best perform below her potential, and may possi-
bly injure herself or make herself sick. It is particularly important when physical
activity must be repeated day after day, as is the case for many cycling endurance
events like ultra-marathons and stage races. In this case, a full recovery must be
made in time to ride the next morning. Good nutrition involves appropriate con-
sumption of fluids, carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins and minerals.
Water is arguably the most important nutrient for the human body. Although a
person can live quite a long time without food, without water death occurs in just
a few days. When a person loses water amounting to just two percent of his body
weight, his body will not be able to control core temperatures adequately. Perfor-
mance is degraded by up to 7%.6 As water loss continues, endurance is reduced,
strength is reduced, and—in severe cases—cramps, heat exhaustion, heatstroke,
and death may possibly result.
Water loss from the body occurs through breathing, sweating, and urination.
An average, non-athletic person may lose up to 12 cups of fluid each day. An ath-
lete can lose much more, particularly in hot weather. The importance of drinking

Burke, Edmund R., Serious Cycling, 2nd Ed. Human Kinetics, 2002.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

water has been emphasized in the popular press in recent years, and most ath-
letes know that they should drink regularly. What is not widely recognized is the
relationship of sodium levels and fluid intake. Proper fluid intake is that which
will result in no weight change over the course of extended exercise. This amount
depends on the individual and on ambient conditions, so general guidelines may
not be adequate.7 Sodium intake should be proportional to fluid intake. Sweat and
urine (during exercise) contain approximately equal fractions of sodium, about
50 milliequivalents per liter. This is less than that supplied by most sports drinks,
so it is possible to remain properly hydrated and still be hyponatremic (sodium
levels too low). Extreme forms of hyponatremia can lead to serious consequences,
including death. This was illustrated dramatically by the death of a participant in
the 2002 Boston Marathon.8 Salt tablets or salty snacks such as pretzels may be
needed during extended exercise in hot weather.
Diet must provide adequate fuel for extended exercise of moderate or higher
intensity. The three fuels used by the body are carbohydrates, fats, and protein.
Carbohydrates are metabolized rapidly, and are the preferential fuel for high ex-
ertion levels. Fats can provide a tremendous amount of fuel, but only very slowly.
They are an important fuel source for extended low to moderate exercise. Pro-
teins are used in prolonged moderate to high intensity exercise. This is generally
not good, as proteins are needed for other functions within the muscle. Of the
three fuels, fats provide the most calories per gram. Fat contains about 9 kcal per
gram, whereas carbohydrates and protein each provide only 4 kcal per gram. (The
Calorie, spelled with a capital C on food labels, is actually a kilocalorie of energy.
One Joule is equivalent to 4.187 kcal or Calories.)

Energy Content
Fuel (Calories per Gram)
Fat 9
Carbohydrate 4
Protein 4

Weschler, Lulu, “Water and Salt Intake During Exercise,” online, accessed August 19,
Portsmouth Herald Portsmouth Herald Mass News: “Medical report says runner’s death
linked to excess fluid intake,” Portsmouth, NH Tuesday, August 13, 2002.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

A typical athlete working at 70% of his aerobic capacity will require about
60 to 80 grams of carbohydrate per hour of exercise. Initially his body will use
mainly muscle glycogen and fat in roughly equal fractions, with blood glucose
supplying about one seventh of the total. After 2 to 3 hours, the glycogen stores
are depleted. Blood glucose and fat become the principle fuel sources, with mus-
cle protein making up a significant minority fraction—again about one seventh
of the total.9 At this point, consumption of carbohydrates is essential to prevent
depletion of blood glucose. Glucose is the only energy source for the brain, so low
glucose levels can lead to lightheadedness and headaches. Protein should also be
consumed to replenish protein lost as fuel. During extended exercise, it is essen-
tial to consume sufficient fluids, electrolytes, carbohydrates, and protein. Some
fat may also be consumed, particularly for lower intensity activities. However, fat
can interfere with and slow down the process of replenishing muscle glycogen.
During and after high-intensity exercise, fat should be avoided.
The active athlete must be attentive to her entire diet, not only during exer-
cise, but throughout the day. The total daily caloric requirements vary from per-
son to person, and depend on exercise levels and duration. A typical thirty year
old sedentary male requires 2400 Calories per day, while a 30-year-old sedentary
female requires 2000 Calories per day. An active 30-year old of either sex would
require an additional 400 to 600 Calories per day.10 In contrast, endurance ath-
letes in extended events such as the Tour de France may require caloric intake
over 6000 Calories per day, and under extreme conditions 9000 Calories per day.
It is very difficult to maintain an energy balance under these conditions. Fortu-
nately, athletes can recover on rest days.
An overall diet for the athlete should be comprised of approximately 60% car-
bohydrate, 25% fat and 15% protein. Carbohydrates include both sugars (sim-
ple carbohydrates) and starches, or complex carbohydrates. The glycemic index
rates carbohydrate foods based on how quickly and effectively the body can pro-
cess them. Foods with high glycemic indices will cause a rapid rise in blood glu-
cose. This helps speed the process of replenishing muscle glycogen stores, which
is very helpful during recovery after strenuous exercise.

Burke, Edmund R. and Ed Pavelka, The Complete Book of Long-Distance Cycling, Rodale,
USDA, Dietary Requirements for Americans, “Chapter 2: Adequate Nutrients within Cal-
orie Needs,” accessed online August 22, 2005,
dga2005/document/html/chapter2.htm. Wilmore, Jack H., and David L. Costill, 2004, Phys-
iology of Sport and Exercise, 3rd Ed., Human Kinetics.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Fat is also an important nutrient. Fats not only provide energy, they also aid
the absorption of vitamins A, D, E, and K and help transport nutrients in and out
of cells. The fat burned as fuel is not sub-cutaneous fat, but rather it is located
within the muscles. Endurance athletes “train” their bodies to use fat more ef-
ficiently by extended low to moderate intensity exercise. This helps the body
to use a higher fraction of fat as opposed to muscle glycogen, thus extending
endurance. Athletes requiring 5000 to 6000 Calories per day find it difficult to
maintain an energy balance with less than about 25% fat in their diet. Intake
should be balanced between saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated
fats. Because most diets contain significant calories from fat, athletes do not need
to deliberately consume fatty foods. They should be consumed in moderation in
order to provide about 25% of the daily Caloric intake.
Vitamins and minerals provide no energy for exercise, but are a vital component
of an athlete’s diet. Vitamins can act as enzymes to speed metabolic processes
within the body. Perhaps more importantly for the athlete, some vitamins, such
as C, E, and beta carotene, act as antioxidants. Free radicals—toxic compounds
that can damage cell structure and function—occur naturally within the body.
Intense exercise stimulates the formation free radicals, potentially exacerbating
the damage they cause. Antioxidants help prevent the damage. The minerals zinc
and selenium also act as antioxidants. Other minerals are equally important in
forming the structural components of bones and teeth.
Protein is used to create enzymes and other compounds that are vital for body
functions. They can also provide some energy for the athlete. About 15% of the
athlete’s total daily caloric intake should be protein. (The FDA daily recommen-
dation is 0.8 grams per kilogram of body weight. The active athlete needs more
than this, about 1.5 grams per kilogram, which is about 15% of the daily caloric
requirements described previously.) Proteins are made up of amino acids. Amino
acids are either essential, meaning that they must be provided by diet, or nones-
sential. The body can produce nonessential amino acids. Complete proteins con-
tain all of the amino acids, while incomplete proteins contain only some of them.
Grains, vegetables, and nuts contain only incomplete proteins, while meat, fish,
eggs, and dairy products contain complete proteins. An athlete should be sure to
consume a well-rounded diet that includes foods from the latter group.

Body Systems during Exercise

Exercise places increased demands on the body, and body systems respond,
sometimes dramatically, to meet those needs. Short term responses to a partic-
ular bout of exercise are known as acute responses. Acute response includes


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

changes in heart rate, cardiac output, blood flow, oxygen consumption, and
other changes. The body also responds to long-term exercise, providing the
basis for training regimens. Acute response to a particular bout of exercise var-
ies from on individual to the next, and also depends on environmental factors,
making specific predictions difficult. Some factors that affect acute response to
exercise include temperature, humidity, ambient light level, noise levels, time
and size of last meal, sleep quantity and quality, and even time of day. Even so,
the acute response of the human body to exercise is general well understood.
During exercise, all body systems work in concert to ensure that physio-
logical needs are effectively met. The active muscles require more fuel and
oxygen, and produce more waste products which must be removed. Additional
heat is produced in the body that must be dissipated. The cardiovascular sys-
tem must work harder to provide more blood and oxygen to the active mus-
cles. The lungs must take in additional oxygen. A whole series of complex and
interrelated changes occur throughout the body to ensure it can perform at its
maximum level.
During exercise, the active muscles require increased blood flow both to supply
needed substances such as oxygen and glucose and to remove harmful products
such as lactic acid. At rest, an average adult heart will pump about 5 L of blood
per minute. During intense exercise, output increases to 20 to 40 L per minute.
The extra blood flow comes in part from increased cardiac output, and partially by
re-distributing the distribution of blood away from organs to the active muscles.
When a person begins intense exercise, the heart starts beating faster. (In some
cases, the heart rate increases even before exercise begins—an anticipatory re-
sponse.) At rest, heart rate for healthy adults is in the range of 60 to 80 beats per
minute. Heart rate increases linearly with exercise intensity up to some maximum
level. The maximum heart rate is the highest heart rate achievable by an individ-
ual during all-out exercise. It varies from person to person, but is correlated with
age. Equation 4-4 provides an approximate maximum heart rate as a function
of age. This formula is an average value, and individuals can deviate from the
predicted value.

HRMAX = 208 – (0.7 ´ AGE) (4-4)

This formula is somewhat more accurate than subtracting age from 220, which
is a common alternative formula for maximum heart rated. During a workout at
a constant sub-maximal load, heart rate will increase and then level off at a pla-
teau known as the steady-state heart rate. Usually, the steady-state heart rate is
achieved within one to two minutes of exercise or change in exercise intensity.


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For prolonged exercise, particularly under heat stress, the heart rate may drift
upward over time.
The increased heart rate accounts for some of the increased cardiac output, or
blood flow rate out of the heart. The remainder is due to increased stroke volume.
Stroke volume is the volume of blood ejected from the left ventricle with each
heartbeat. Up to about 50% of maximal effort, stroke volume increases linearly.
Thereafter, it appears to reach a plateau. The increased cardiac output is due
to both increased heart rate and stroke volume from the onset of exercise up to
about 50% of maximal effort, and to increased heart rate alone above 50% effort.
Blood pressure increases with exercise intensity. The contraction phase of the
heart chambers, in which blood is expelled from the heart, is known as systole.
Diastole is the resting phase, in which the heart muscles relax. Blood pressure
measurements consist of two numbers, the systolic and diastolic pressures. Sys-
tolic blood pressure is the maximum pressure in the arteries, and corresponds
to systole of the heart. It is the higher number reported for blood pressure. Dia-
stolic blood pressure is the lower number, corresponding to diastole of the heart.
During exercise, the systolic pressure increases linearly with exercise intensity,
but the diastolic blood pressure remains essentially constant. This helps drive the
blood through the vascular system to the muscles that need it. At maximum exer-
tion, systolic pressure nearly doubles over resting levels, from 120 mmHg to over
200 mmHg. Higher values up to 250 mmHg have been recorded for some athletes.
Blood flow patterns also change significantly with exercise. At rest, 15 to 20%
of the blood flows to the muscles, with the remainder going to organs such as the
liver, kidneys, stomach, and brain. During intense exercise, up to 85% of the blood
goes to the active muscles. This can amount to a 25-fold increase. Additional flow
is also sent to the skin for cooling. If a large meal has been eaten prior to exercise,
the digestive system and the active muscles are in competition for blood. Some
blood will be diverted from the muscles to the gastrointestinal system, which can
adversely affect performance. Most of the increased muscular flow comes from
increased cardiac output, but at high levels of exercise blood flow is actually re-
duced to the organs. Two mechanisms are responsible for changes in blood flow,
auto regulation and extrinsic neural control. Auto regulation occurs at a local
level, without intervention of the nervous system. Increased demands for oxygen
stimulate the arterioles, or small arteries, to dilate, permitting increased blood
flow and hence more oxygen to be delivered to the active muscles. Extrinsic neu-
ral control redistributes blood throughout the whole body, and is controlled by
the sympathetic nervous system. Vessels leading to organs are constricted, re-
ducing the blood flow. These mechanisms effectively increase blood flow to the
muscles with high demand, and reduce flow to organs, maximizing performance.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

Delivery of oxygen to active muscles is one of the primary roles of the cardiovas-
cular system. At rest, arterial blood flowing from the heart contains about 20 ml of
oxygen for every 100 ml of blood, while the veins contain about 14 ml per 100 ml
blood. The difference between these values—about 6 ml O2 /100 ml blood—is the
arterial-venous difference, or the amount of oxygen actually consumed by the body.
During exercise, the arterial oxygen content changes little, but the venous oxygen
decreases. As the active muscles demand more oxygen from the blood, the venous
oxygen content approaches zero in veins serving the active muscles. Since blood
returning from organs and inactive muscles will have higher oxygen content, blood
in returning to the right atrium of the heart rarely drops as low as 4 ml oxygen per
100 ml blood. Other changes in blood also occur, including decreased plasma volume
fraction, increased viscosity, and decreased pH.
Ventilation, or the volume of air inhaled per unit time, increases significantly with
exercise. Ventilation increases from around 5 L per minute at rest to 100 L per minute
or more during intense exercise. Larger individuals may approach 200  L per min-
ute. Initially, the increased ventilation comes from greater tidal volume. Breathing
is deeper, rather than faster, resulting in a greater volume of air inhaled with each
breath. As exercise intensity increases, the breathing rate begins to increase. After
termination of exercise, the pulmonary ventilation does not immediately return to the
resting rate. It takes several minutes to recover resting levels.
The reason for the increased ventilation is, of course, to increase the oxygen
delivered to the active muscles. In low-intensity steady-state exercise, ventilation
and oxygen consumption are proportional to exercise intensity. Oxygen consump-
tion is designated VO  2, while ventilation and carbon dioxide production are des-
ignated VE and VCO2, respectively. As exercise intensity increases above about
50% of maximum effort, oxygen consumption continues to increase linearly, while
ventilation increases at a faster rate. This is due to the accumulation of carbon
dioxide in the body, brought on by the onset of anaerobic metabolism. The in-
creased ventilation is the body’s method of removing excessive CO2. The point
at which the anaerobic metabolism begins is known as the anaerobic threshold.
Oxygen consumption continues to increase above the anaerobic threshold to a
maximum value, VO  2 max, at the limit of performance.
Since oxygen consumption increases in proportion to exercise intensity, it can
provide good estimates of energy expenditure during exercise. (The most pre-
cise measurements of metabolic energy expenditure require the subject to be
placed in what is essentially a large calorimeter. The energy balance is precisely
measured to determine metabolic energy. This is of course an expensive and of-
ten impractical method. Hence alternatives such as oxygen consumption are very
attractive.) The slope of the energy/VO  2 curve depends on the type of food being


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RER = 0.71, A = 4.69, 100% FATS
RER = 0.85, A = 4.87, 50/50 FATS/CARBS
25 RER = 1.00, A = 5.05, 100% CARBS

E NE RGY (k c al/ m in)



E = A*VO2

1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5

Figure 4-3  Energy as function of oxygen consumption

oxidized. More oxygen is required to metabolize fats than carbohydrates. If only

 2 curve is slightly flatter that if
fats are used as fuel, the slope of the energy/VO
only carbohydrates are metabolized. Instruments are available to measure venti-
lation, oxygen consumption, and carbon dioxide production either in the labora-
tory or in the field. The respiratory exchange ratio is the ratio of carbon dioxide
produced to oxygen consumed, or

RER =  2 (4-5)

The value of the respiratory exchange ratio depends on the mix of fuels used
for energy, ranging from about 0.71 for fuel provided solely by fats to 1.0 for
carbohydrates alone. A 50/50 mix of carbohydrates and fats produces a RER of
 2. The
about 0.85. Thus, the RER can be used to obtain the slope of the energy/VO
relationship is

A = 1.2414 × RER + 3.8086 (4-6)


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

The slope A in Equation 4-6 has units of kcal/liter O2. The metabolic energy
production rate during a bout of exercise can then be determined by

E = A × VO
 2 (4-7)

Where E is given in kilocalories per minute and VO  2 in liters of oxygen per

minute. Due to the relatively low efficiency of the human body, most of the energy
produced must be dissipated as heat. Only about 25% or so produces useful work

Maximal Oxygen Consumption

At rest, an average person consumes oxygen at a rate of about 0.3 L per min-
ute. When walking at a brisk 1.5 m/s, oxygen consumption increases to about
1.8 L per minute for the average person. A competitive cyclist riding a racing
bicycle at 12 m/s may consume 4.8 L per minute and approach his maximum
limit for oxygen consumption. The maximum rate of oxygen consumption for an
individual is known as his or her V O2 max, generally considered to be the best
measure of aerobic fitness and endurance. Because body size affects oxygen
consumption, maximum oxygen uptake is often reported per unit body mass.
Typical units for V O2 max are milliliters oxygen per kilogram of body mass per
minute. Elite cyclists have V O2 max values in the range of 70 to 80 ml/kg/min,
while lesser, but trained, cyclists have values in the 50 to 60 ml/kg/min range.
Maximal oxygen uptake does depend on the muscles used—larger active muscle
mass leads to greater oxygen consumption. The highest recorded V O2 max of
94 ml/kg/min was obtained by a Nordic skier—a sport that utilizes many muscles
and large muscle mass.11 Women generally have lower V O2 max values than men,
probably due to body composition differences, blood hemoglobin content, and
social factors.
Maximal oxygen uptake cannot be improved to a significant extent by training.
People that are young and sedentary may realize some increase due to training,
but trained athletes can only see modest if any increase. V O2 max changes with
age. For active people, it may remain constant from adulthood up to about the age
of 40, and then decreases to about half that value by age 80. Sedentary lifestyles
result in a decline starting much earlier in life, perhaps by age 20.

Ibid, p. 142.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Anaerobic Threshold
Maximal oxygen uptake is not highly correlated with cycling performance. In
road races, strategy, teamwork, and riding skills are much more important than a
high V O2 max. In time trials, the correlation improves, but is still weak, because
it is difficult or impossible for a cyclist to maintain a power output corresponding
to V O2 max long enough for most races. In contrast, the fraction of V O2 max that
can be sustained during extended exercise is an excellent indicator of steady-
state endurance performance. The best cyclists can pedal for extended periods
at high fractions of their V O2 max. The anaerobic threshold is a better indicator
of extended endurance performance than maximal oxygen uptake. The exercise
intensity at which lactate is generated faster than it can be removed is known as
the Onset of Blood Lactate Accumulation, or OBLA. The OBLA is a good predictor
of time trial performance for cyclists. As noted, V O2 max is relatively insensitive
to training. The same is not true for OBLA. Endurance performance can certainly
be improved with training, and the OBLA can be improved.
The OBLA is very similar to the anaerobic threshold (AT), although their strict
definitions differ. At the anaerobic threshold, any increased effort will be anaer-
obic, and oxygen demands exceed what the body can provide. The OBLA can
be determined by taking blood samples during exercise, which is useful in the
laboratory, but not particularly desirable as part of a regular training regimen.
Fortunately, there is a very good correlation with heart rate, which is easy to
measure during exercise. Today, most training programs are based on heart rate

Calculating the CO2 Production Rate as a Function of External Work
Abbot and Wilson12 use the following formula to predict oxygen consumption
during cycling with leg cranks:

 2 = 12.2 P + 3.5 W (4-8)


 2 is in ml/min
P is mechanical output power in Watts
W is body mass in kilograms

Ibid, p. 20.


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  Physiology of Human Power Generation

The respiratory exchange ratio is given above as

RER = (4-9)

Then the rate of CO2 generation should be

VCO 2 = RER * V O2 = RER *(12.2 P + 3.5W ) (4-10)

VCO2 is in ml/min. To convert to kg/min, use the ideal gas law pV = nRT, with
n= and R = 8314.3 J/kmol-K, or more conveniently, R = 82.06 atm-ml/mol-K.

MW * p * V
m= (4-11)
R *T

Where p is pressure in atm, V is volume in ml, and T is temperature in Kelvins.

The molecular weight of CO2 is 44 g/mol or .044 kg/mol. At STP ( p = 1 atm, T =
298.18 K) Equation 4-11 becomes

 .044 *1  −6
m= V = 1.798 e V (4-12)
 82.06 * 298.18 

where m is given in kilograms. Substituting into Equation 4-10 and multiplying

by 60 m/hour gives the kilograms of CO2 produced in one hour of exercise at a
power level P:

m CO2 = 1.079 e −4RQ *(12.2 P + 3.5 W ) (4-13)

Where m CO2 has units of kg CO2/hour.


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S uccessful human-powered vehicles are comfortable, easy to control, and have
efficient drive systems. A well-designed vehicle interfaces with the rider in a
natural, intuitive, and comfortable way. The rider is considered during develop-
ment of all vehicle systems, so that riding is a pleasure rather than an uncom-
fortable chore. Comfort, safety, and ease of operation are important attributes
for any type of vehicle, regardless of power source. They become crucial with
human-powered vehicles because performance depends on an effective interface
between the human body and the vehicle.
The interface includes all points of contact, controls, and all points of inter-
action between rider and vehicle. The seat or saddle, pedals, and handlebars are
prime examples of contact points. Controls include shift and brake levers, light
switches, bell, latches, and similar devices. The rider also interfaces visually with
the vehicle when monitoring the cycle computer, GPS, or gear indicators.

Contact points must be designed to fit the rider’s body in a comfortable man-
ner. Saddles, handlebars, and pedals are the most crucial contact points for up-
right bicycles. Anyone who has ridden an upright bicycle for an extended period
of time understands the importance—and subjectivity—of a comfortable saddle.
Often beginning riders look for soft, compliant saddles. This is usually a mistake,
as the most comfortable saddles are generally firm. However, saddle selection is
very personal, and there are many options on the market for even the most sen-
sitive rider. Handlebars are also important for rider comfort, particularly when a
significant portion of the rider’s weight is carried by the arms. The fit should allow


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

a slight bend in the elbow during riding. Multiple hand positions helps reduce
fatigue of the hands and wrists. Drop-style road bars accommodate several hand
positions—on the drops, on the brake hoods, or on the top of the bar. Flat or riser
bars offer fewer options. Bar ends can usually be added to these bars to provide
additional hand positions. Alternative bar styles, such as any of the trekking-style
or mustache bars can provide additional options for hand positions. Handlebar
grips or tape should be comfortably padded to absorb vibration. Egonomic grips
are now available by several manufacturers, and can significantly improve com-
fort. Pedals should be positioned properly and should grip the shoe without re-
stricting blood circulation to the foot. There are many styles of clipless pedals on
the market that work very well in terms of both comfort and performance. The
older style toe clips and straps provide less performance than clipless pedals, and
can contribute to numbness for some people. Platform pedals are good for casual
riding or around-town errands, although some models provide very little grip for
the shoes.
Recumbent vehicles are often considered more comfortable than upright bikes,
but contact points are no less important. The seat is a prime example. Hard-shell
seats offer good performance in terms of rigidity and power transfer to the pedals,
but must fit the rider’s body. A firm foam pad is often used for additional comfort.
Rigid seats do not breathe well, and may lead to some discomfort on long or hot
rides. Rigid seats are also usually designed for a reclined position. Using them in a
more vertical position is likely to be uncomfortable. Mesh seats breathe better and
provide improved shock absorption, and may be quite comfortable. However they
provide poorer power transmission due to increased compliance. Many seats have
a mesh back and rigid padded bottom, providing a good compromise in comfort
and performance. If the rider’s position is much reclined, a head rest is required
for comfort. Holding one’s head up on a laid-back recumbent is very tiring after
only a short ride. Hand numbness is not usually a problem on recumbents, but
handlebar design is still important. Handlebars should be positioned for easy arm
reach. On many vehicles, attention is required to ensure the handlebars do not
interfere with the legs during pedaling. This can be a challenge, especially for
vehicles with cranks positioned higher than the seat. Arms should be relaxed and
elbows bent during operation. Pedals are more crucial on recumbents than for
upright bicycles, particularly with high crank positions. If the shoe is not gripped
well, it tends to slide down and off the pedal. This causes the rider to work harder
to just hold his or her legs up, increasing fatigue and discomfort. Foot numbness
can also be a greater problem on recumbents. Clipless pedals are arguably more
important for comfort and performance on recumbents than for upright vehicles.
An alternative is BMX-style pedals with pins that provide good grip even on street


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  The Human-Machine Interface

shoes. These pedals provide better grip than platform pedals (although not so
good as clipless pedals), but can be quite painful when the pedal strikes a shin
Well-designed, ergonomic controls can make a significant difference in terms
of safety and ease-of-use. Brake and shift levers should be sized for the rider’s
hand and positioned for easy reach. Short-throw levers are available for children
or those with small hands. The reach is adjustable on many brake levers, partic-
ularly those for flat or riser handlebars. Shifting and braking should be easily ac-
tuated with the hands in a normal riding position, without moving the hands from
the handlebar. Other controls—such as a bell, light switches, ventilation controls,
or retractable landing gear, should be within easy reach and should operate easily.
Consider mechanical advantage in the design of control levers. The force required
should be appropriate for the task. Latches for canopy or doors should be easy
to reach and simple to operate. Data systems, such as cycle computers and GPS
units, should be placed where they are easy to read, but do not obstruct road
views for the rider.

Mechanisms for Power Transfer to Human-Powered Vehicles

Effective human-powered machines require that muscle force be combined
with efficient motion and sufficient active muscle mass. The combination of force
and motion produce power, but the mechanism must be designed for the phys-
iological and kinematic constraints of the human body to be effective. The total
power a particular person can generate for any given time depends on the active
muscle mass. Arms can provide more power than hands alone, and legs can pro-
vide more power than arms. Nordic skiing and rowing are examples of sports that
employ large muscle mass by using many muscles in both arms and legs for pro-
pulsive power. The moderate to high power levels required for vehicles demand
sufficient muscle mass, so vehicular mechanisms usually use the larger leg mus-
cles. In addition, the operation of most human-powered machines also requires
additional tasks that must not be impeded by the power-producing mechanism.
For example, a cyclist must steer, scan for traffic and road hazards, and signal in
addition to pedaling the vehicle.
For any mechanism, force, stroke, and cadence are the relevant mechanical
parameters, while joint angles, joint forces, and cadence are physiological pa-
rameters. Unfortunately, even for a given mechanism there is not unique set of
physiological parameters that correspond with a given set of mechanical parame-
ters. This is because of variations in the way the human body can move to match
the motion of a given machine. For example, there are several different pedaling


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

styles that can be used to power the same bicycle. Each style may employ dif-
ferent ankle and knee angles, even though the crank length and cadence remain
the same. Frequently, cyclists will switch pedaling styles while riding, either con-
sciously or unconsciously. This may reduce fatigue by using slightly different
muscle groups or using muscles in different ways. This considerably complicates
the question of optimal mechanisms. It may be that a particular mechanism is
optimal for only one style.
Circular cranks powered by leg muscles are by far the most common mecha-
nism currently in use to transfer power from human to land or air vehicles. The
large leg muscle mass, continuous motion, and efficient mechanical mechanisms
involved make this a particularly effective means of transferring power from the
human body to a machine. Circular leg cranks are used on most wheeled land

Optimal Body Position for Leg Cranks

The position and orientation of the rider’s body and the angles of the hip, knee,
and ankle affect cycling performance. Assessing the effect is difficult, as there
are complex interactions between the biomechanics of cycling, the rider’s physi-
cal condition, acclimatization to a particular cycling position, and environmental
factors. The optimum orientation likely varies from one person to the next, and
may change over time due to training and other variables. A significant amount
of research has been conducted in an attempt to understand the factors involved
and determine optimal cycling parameters.
Joint angles and range of motion of joints during cycling are important vari-
ables. Figure 5-1 defines a few of the significant position and joint angles. The
body configuration angle (BCA) is the angle between a line drawn from crank
axis to the hip and from the hip to the mid-plane of the torso. The BCA plays a
significant role in cycling performance. The rider shown in the figure could be
rotated about the crank axis while maintaining a constant BCA. The orientation
of the body relative to the crank is defined by the hip orientation angle (HOA),
defined as the angle between the horizontal and a line running from the crank
axis to the hip joint. If the crank is below the hip, as shown in the figure, the hip
orientation angle is positive. Thus recumbent vehicles with cranks above the hips
have negative hip orientation angles. Upright cyclists have large positive values
for the HOA. The knee angle (KA) is the angle between a line drawn from the hip
joint through the knee joint and a line from the knee to the ankle joint. This is also
an important cycling parameter. The backrest angle (BA) is the angle between
the back of the seat and the horizontal. It is similar to, but slightly different from,


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  The Human-Machine Interface

Figure 5-1  Illustration of body joint angle definitions

the trunk angle, measured between the horizontal and a line running from hip to
The body configuration angle is significant for optimal cycling performance.
Reiser et al.1 investigated the effects of body configuration angle on peak power
and average power during a Wingate test (a short-duration anaerobic cycling test
conducted on an ergometer). They found that in the recumbent position, an op-
timal BCA occurs between 130° and 140°. This is the same range used by upright
cyclists on mountain bicycles, but somewhat greater than the BCA for upright
road cyclists. Several other studies have shown comparable results. Interestingly,
Too’s2 work indicated an optimal BCA of approximately 115°, which is closer to
that used by road cyclists. Reiser speculates that the difference in results may be
due to the different types of cycling the subjects were used to. Reiser’s subjects
that rode upright bicycles use mountain bikes. Presumably, Too’s subjects used
road bicycles with drop handlebars. (Too also tested subjects with the backrest
angle fixed at 90°, a very unusual position. It is possible the unusual position could
affect the results.) It may very well be that the optimum BCA depends on the
training history of the rider. However, a BCA in the range of 130° to 140° appears
to be near optimal for most riders. The BCA of the cyclist in Figure 5-1 is 135°.
The hip orientation angle significantly affects aerodynamic drag on the vehicle.
If the HOA is negative, the crank is above the hips of the rider. At a hip orientation

Reiser II, Raoul F., Michael L. Peterson, and Jeffrey P. Broker, 2001, “Anaerobic Cycling
Power Output With Variations in Recumbent Body Configuration,” Journal of Biome-
chanics, 17, 204–216.
Too, Danny, 1991, “The Effect of Hip Position/Configuration on Anaerobic Power and
Capacity in Cycling,” International Journal of Sport Biomechanics, 7, 359–370.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

angle of negative 15° or so, the feet of the rider do not extend below the body
during pedaling. This reduces the frontal area, and hence the aerodynamic drag.
However, there is some evidence that negative hip orientation angles reduce the
peak power output of the rider. An optimal compromise may exist between the
aerodynamic advantages of a high crank and the power advantages of a lower
crank. Power required to overcome drag increases with the cube of speed. Fig-
ure 5-2 shows the power required to ride a recumbent HPV on level ground with
two different hip orientation angles, 5°, (the position shown in Figure 5-1) and
–15°. As speed increases, the advantages of a more streamlined position become
quite clear. For this example, the power required at 8 meters per second is re-
duced by 40 Watts (19%) relative to the 5° HOA position. This is a substantial
reduction in drag, and is most likely more important than the increase in power
production in the more upright position. (The simulation assumed that only the
frontal area changed, that is, the drag coefficient remained constant between the
two positions. This may be inaccurate, and the difference may be somewhat less
than predicted. However, the general trends are accurate.) More research may
be required to optimize the HOA relative to both power production and power


HOA = -15 deg
350 HOA = + 5 deg







0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Figure 5-2  Power requirements for HPV with different HOA values


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  The Human-Machine Interface

Crank Length and Physiological Efficiency

In upright cycling, crank arm length is typically varied over only a very small
range. Mountain bikes usually use crank arms between 170 and 175 mm, while
road bikes are slightly shorter, about 170 mm. If the crank length is increased
much more than 175 mm, bottom bracket height must be increased to avoid strik-
ing a pedal on the ground during turns. Shorter cranks require increasing saddle
height if the minimum knee angle is to be maintained. To prevent uncomfortably
high riding positions, the bottom bracket height should be lowered. However,
there is little evidence that short crank arms provide an advantage in upright
cycling, except possibly for people with short legs or children. If the crank arm
length is selected to be proportional to leg length, the range of knee and hip an-
gles can remain comparable to “average” cyclists. Children’s bicycles often use
very long crank arms relative to the rider’s leg length, frequently using 170 mm
arms despite the noticeable difference in leg lengths between children and adults.
This apparently does not affect peak power production in children3; however, it
does lead one to wonder if the resulting large joint angle ranges are hard on joint
health. It is likely that bicycle manufacturers use stock components rather than
develop child-specific components for cost reasons, and may have little concern
for physiological effects.
The question of crank length becomes much more interesting for recumbent cy-
cles. The constraints on upright cycle crank arm length do not apply to recumbents—​
it is feasible to use very short or extremely long cranks. With positions that have
cranks above the seat, gravity makes pedaling at high cadences more difficult
unless shorter cranks are used. Conversely, extra-long crank arms permit very
high torques to be applied at relatively low cadences. Some riders of recumbent
vehicles prefer very short crank arms—as short as 110 to 140 mm—when riding
vehicles with cranks located above the seat height. Unlike upright cycling, short
cranks have several definitive advantages for recumbent vehicles. A significant
benefit of recumbent vehicles is the reduced aerodynamic drag. Shortening the
crank arms reduces the area required for the feet and pedals, enabling smaller
and more aerodynamic velomobile or streamliner fairings. Peak chain loads and
frame stress/deflection due to hard pedaling can be reduced with short cranks.
Shorter cranks also reduce the hip, knee, and ankle joint ranges of motion during
pedaling (the maximum joint angles depend on the seat-pedal distance and are
not dependent on crank length). When the seat position is adjusted such that the

Martin, J.C., R.M. Malina, and W.W. Spirduso, 2002, “Effects of Crank Length on Maximal
Cycling Power and Optimal Pedaling Rate of Boys Aged 8–11 Years,” European Journal
of Applied Physiology, 86(3), 215–221.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

maximum leg extension is constant with respect to crank length, knees bend to a
less acute angle with shorter cranks. The leg muscles exert a force on the joints
through a smaller range of joint angles.4 Some individuals with knee problems
have reported that short crank arms make pedaling more enjoyable because of
decreased stress on the knees. Longer crank arms increase forces on tendons in
the knee which can cause knee pain and injury.5
A number of studies have investigated the effects of crank length on both
upright and recumbent cycling. Crank arm length has a smaller effect on peak
power, fatigue, and metabolic efficiency than other factors such as cadence. How-
ever, crank length and cadence are interrelated. As crank length is reduced, the
optimal cadence increases. However, cadence appears to be more important than
crank length. That is, the penalty (in power, metabolic efficiency, or fatigue) for
pedaling at a non-optimal cadence is much greater than the penalty for pedaling
with a non-optimal crank length. This is fortuitous for the vehicle designer, since
crank arm length is a design parameter and cadence is an operational parameter.
The vehicle engineer can specify crank arm length based on factors other than
bio-mechanics, such as fit within a fairing, avoiding component interference or
customer preference.
For upright cycling, the standard crank length of 170 mm is likely near opti-
mal for peak anaerobic power output, although the optimum is dependent on leg
length. As leg length increases, the optimum crank arm length also increases. In-
bar found that a leg length to crank arm length ratio of 6.28 optimizes peak power
in a 30 second Wingate power test.6 Other studies have produced similar results.
The effect of crank length on recumbent cycling is somewhat more uncertain,
but it appears that the optimal length with respect to peak anaerobic power is
somewhat less than that for upright cycling, perhaps in the 145 mm range. Baker
and Archibald found that metabolic efficiency is largely independent of crank arm
length in the recumbent position, at least for crank arms in the range of 115 to
170 mm.7 This means that the metabolic cost of cycling does not depend on crank

Too, D. and G.E., Landwer, 2004. “The Biomechanics of Force and Power Production in
Human Powered Vehicles,” Human Power, 55, 3–6.
Asplund, C. and P., Pierre, 2004, “Knee Pain and Bicycling,” The Physician and Sports-
medicine, 32(4), 2–3.
Inbar, O., R. Dotan, T. Trousil, and Z. Dvir, 1983, “The Effect of Bicycle Crank-Length
Variation upon Power Performance,” Ergonomics, 26(12), 1139–1146.
Baker, Tyler and Mark Archibald, 2011, “The Effect of Crank Length on Delta Efficiency in
Recumbent Cycling,” Proceedings of the 2011 ASEE North Central & Illinois-Indiana
Section Conference.


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  The Human-Machine Interface

arm length. For steady-state, submaximal pedaling, the crank arm length is not
important from a power or endurance standpoint. Fitting into a fairing or knee
comfort may be much more important reasons for selecting crank arm length.

Hand Cranks
Hand operated vehicles are often used by people with lower limb disabilities.
Rim-powered wheelchairs have been used for many years, and are still quite com-
mon. Hand cranks have several significant advantages over handrim-wheelchairs,
and have become increasingly popular for recreation, competition, and therapy
in recent years. Hand cranks allow users to achieve about twice the power output
of handrim wheelchairs.8 Special cranks are available for individuals with upper-​
body  impairment, making hand cycling more comfortable and efficient. These
devices make cycling possible for people with more severe limitations. Many of
these individuals can only achieve 15 to 25 W with handrim devices—insufficient
for practical transportation. Hand cranks can make muscle-powered transporta-
tion possible for many tetraplegics. This not only provides independence, but also
provides aerobic exercise that might otherwise not be possible.
Data for optimal hand-crank parameters is even more sparse than for leg
cranks. Identifying the most efficient cranking mode, crank arm length, and ca-
dence is helpful to competitive hand cyclists, therapists, and anyone with lower
limb disability. Most hand cycles currently in use have synchronous cranks, in
which both arms extend simultaneously. On hand-crank ergometers, some stud-
ies have shown that asynchronous cranks are more efficient. However, van der
Woude found synchronous cranking to be more efficient when subjects used a
hand cycle on a treadmill.9 The difference is likely due to the requirement for
steering a hand cycle, as opposed to an ergometer. Asynchronous cranking leads
to oscillations of the front wheel, with additional effort required to maintain a
straight track with the vehicle. An ergometer with a fixed crank is not steerable,
and hence not affected by steering inputs. Most hand-cycle athletes prefer asyn-
chronous hand cranking, probably for the same reason.

Janssen, Thomas W.J., Annet J. Dallmeijer, and Lucas H.V. van der Woude, 2001, “Physical
Capacity and Race Performance of Handcycle Users,” Journal of Rehabilitation Research
and Development, 38(1), 33–40.
Van der Woude, Luc H.V., I. Bosmans, B. Bervoets, and H.E.J. Veeger, 2000, “Handcycling:
Different Modes and Gear Ratios,” Journal of Medical Engineering and Technology,
24(6), 242–249.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Optimal cadence and crank arm length appear to follow trends similar to leg
cranks, although there is some disagreement in the literature. Physiological effi-
ciency during sub-maximal hand cranking is somewhat more sensitive to crank
length than leg cranking. As with leg cranks, optimal crank lengths are proba-
bly proportional to limb length. It appears that crank arms in the range of 180
to 190 mm are optimal for most people. Crank width seems to be less import-
ant than crank arm length. Kramer found that crank length equal to 26% of his
subjects’ forward reach were optimal for peak power generation.10 This length
averaged 190 mm for his study. He also found a clear inverted u-shaped relation-
ship between cadence and peak power. Cadence at peak power decreased from
125  RPM  to 107 RPM as crank length increased from 19% to 26% of forward
reach. These values are rather high, but the power output levels were also higher
than in many other studies. Optimal cadence does depend on power level: higher
cadences are required to produce very high power levels. In sub-maximal cycling,
where efficiency is more important than peak power, optimal cadences are likely
lower. Van der Woude predicted an optimal cadence of around 50 RPM, based on
his own data and other published data. His study used 180 mm cranks, and only
tested subjects at relatively low cadences, with a maximum of 45 RPM. Therefore,
he could have under-estimated the optimal cadence. Goosey-Tolfrey studied the
effects of crank length and cadence, and determined that 180 mm arm cranks
were more efficient than 220 mm cranks during sub-maximal cycling. However,
she was not able to detect a statistically significant difference in efficiency due to
cadence.11 She also noted that based on the literature, crank length differences of
40mm are required to elicit a significant difference in efficiency.
As with leg cranks, crank length—a design parameter—is of greater interest
than cadence—an operational parameter. Based on the literature, crank lengths
around 180 mm are likely optimal for most people. Riders with longer arms may
prefer longer cranks. Riders preferring high cadences may be more comfortable
with somewhat shorter crank lengths. The length of the crank arms may have
a more significant effect on peak power than efficiency, so optimal cranks are
crucial for events in which peak power is required. These events include sprints,

Kramer, Christian, Lutz Hilker, and Harald Bohm, 2009, “Influence of Crank Length and
Crank Width on Maximal Hand Cycling Power and Cadence,” European Journal of Ap-
plied Physiology, 106, 749–757.
Goosey-Tolfrey, Victoria L., Helen Alfano, and Neil Fowler, 2008, “The Influence of Crank
Length and Cadence on Mechanical Efficiency in Hand Cycling,” European Journal of
Applied Physiology, 102, 189–194.


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  The Human-Machine Interface

short time trials, and sometimes hill climbing. If arms are used for both steering
and cranking, synchronous cranking should be used.

Unusual Mechanisms for Human Power Transfer

Cranks are by far the most common type of mechanism for transferring human
power to a vehicle. They have been used on bicycles since the earliest days, as
well as on other types of human-powered equipment. Many other types of mech-
anisms have been tried over the years. No doubt many more will be attempted in
the future. Relatively few alternatives have shown significant promise, however.
The currently produced Rowbike (see uses a row-
ing motion to power a recumbent bicycle. Both arm and leg muscles are used for
propulsion, giving the rider a whole-body workout while riding. The active muscle
mass is greater than for leg-cranks, so total power can be expected to increase
somewhat. Oxygen requirements may limit the benefit of greater muscle mass for
many people.
Linear drives and elliptical drives have been introduced by several innovators
with little long-term success. With a linear drive, the feet move back and forth in
a straight line. Elliptical drives are a compromise between a linear drive and nor-
mal circular cranks, in which the feet move in an elongated ellipse. Both types of
drives have been used with recumbent streamliners to reduce the space required
for pedaling, and hence the size of the fairing. Linear drives require linear bear-
ings, which are inherently less efficient than rotational bearings. Further, they
introduce additional complexity into the mechanism. The added complexity and
reduced mechanical efficiency are potential problems for linear drives. From a
biomechanics standpoint, linear drives require accelerating and decelerating the
legs every cycle. Kinetic energy in the legs and feet cannot be conserved through-
out the cycle as can be done (at least partially) with circular cranks. This means
that linear drives are less efficient from both a mechanical and bio-mechanical
viewpoint, and the benefits are questionable at best. They should only be consid-
ered if aerodynamic drag can be demonstrably reduced by a significant fraction.
Elliptical drives have an aerodynamic advantage similar to linear drives, with-
out quite so many problems. It is possible to construct a drive in which the feet
move in a high-aspect ratio ellipse using only rotational bearings. However, the
mechanism will be complicated, requiring chains or gears and additional joints
to achieve the desired motion. The biomechanics of elliptical drives are probably
only slightly more efficient than linear drives. Neither drive type is recommended.
It is worth noting that an elliptical drive is not the same as a circular drive with el-
liptical chainrings, a different drive alternative. With an elliptical drive, the pedals


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

move in an elliptical path. In contrast, an ordinary crankset can be outfitted with

elliptical chainrings to alter the effective gear ratio within the pedal cycle. In this
case, the pedals and feet still move in a circular path. The goal is apparently to re-
duce the dead spots at either extreme in the pedal cycle. Other chainring shapes
have been introduced over the years, with no clear advantage. For a number of
years, Shimano manufactured non-circular chainrings called Biopace rings. Cur-
rently, Rotor produces non-circular chainrings marketed as Q-rings. Non-circular
chainrings probably do not incur the penalties of linear or elliptical drives, and
some riders may prefer them. However, they have not been definitively shown to
provide a performance benefit.
Levers, either for legs or arms, have also been used. Human-powered boats
have used levers in the form of paddles and oars for millennia. Some very early bi-
cycles used levers rather than cranks, coupled with cable drives. Hydraulic drives
using levers to actuate hydraulic pumps have also been proposed. Hydraulic
drives of any type are much less efficient than chain drives, and incur a significant
performance penalty. Levers suffer many of the same drawbacks as linear and
elliptical drives—greater complexity, reduced mechanical efficiency, and reduced
bio-mechanical effectiveness.
Other drive mechanisms include scooters, in which propulsion is attained by
kicking the ground. The compact foldable scooters popular in the last decade or
so can provide practical transportation, although not nearly as efficient or fast as
bicycles. Bicycles for young children are produced without cranks, and with a seat
height low enough to push them with the feet. This presumably helps to teach
balance at an early age. Efficiency is not a significant concern.
Circular cranks remain the dominant means of power transfer to land human-​
powered vehicles. The bio-mechanics of cycling with circular cranks are efficient,
and the mechanical design is simple and straightforward. It is probable that the
circular crank will remain a standard well into the future.

The design of any human-powered vehicle must address safety. For com-
mercially sold vehicles, safety is mandated by codes and standards such as
16CFR1512A in the United States, ISO 4210 for Europe, and JIS D9414 in Japan.
For any vehicle, including prototypes and home-builts, safety should be consid-
ered throughout the design. There are two types of safety features to consider:
preventive and protective. Preventive features are incorporated in vehicle de-
sign for the specific purpose of reducing the likelihood of accident or injury. Ad-
equate visibility of the road, structural integrity, and steering system reliability


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are obvious examples of preventive safety features. Protective features reduce

the likelihood of injury or the severity of an injury in the event of an accident.
Operationally, helmet use is a prime example of a protective feature. Helmets do
not prevent accidents, but have been clearly shown to reduce the likelihood of se-
rious head injury when an accident does occur. For the design engineer, roll-over
protection systems are examples of protective features.
It is important to note that injury can occur without an accident. Poorly placed
components or sharp edges can lead to cuts, scrapes, and bruises by simply op-
erating the vehicle in a normal manner. This is clearly not acceptable for any
vehicle. Other injuries such as muscle strain and joint damage are possible if the
vehicle does not fit the rider well. The designer is responsible for ensuring that all
reasonable precautions for protecting the rider have been addressed in the design
stage. This includes, but is not limited to, compliance with safety standards.
Safety design starts with hazard analysis. What can harm the rider of the vehi-
cle? Accidents comprise an important portion of the answer. The Consumer Prod-
uct Safety Commission identified the following accident patterns for bicycles:12

• Collisions with other vehicles, including motor vehicles

• Loss of Control
• Mechanical and Structural Problems
• Entanglement of hands, feet, or clothing
• Foot slippage from pedal.

In addition to accidents, injury can be incurred due to the following

• Sharp edges and puncture hazards

• Poorly placed components or frame elements
• Unguarded chains, spokes, or other moving components
• Loose or improperly secured components or parts

Table 5-1 lists accident classes and common hazards along with recommended
remediation during vehicle design. Although a bit general, the table can be used
as a checklist for safety items.
Streamliners and velomobiles have additional requirements due to the en-
closed body. In an accident, it is less likely that the rider will be thrown clear of
the vehicle. Rollover protection systems and side protection may be required.

Consumer Product Safety Commission Document 346, “Bicycle Fact Sheet.”


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Table 5-1
Remediation Checklist for Safety during the Design Stage
Hazard Design Remediation
Collisions with other Ensure rider has good visibility of the road
vehicles, including Ensure vehicle is easily visible to others
motor vehicles Ensure vehicle has acceptable handling qualities for
escape maneuvers
Ensure vehicle has adequate braking capacity
Loss of control Ensure handlebar and steering system is robust and
Ensure vehicle is stable and has acceptable handling
Verify wheels are properly tensioned and trued
Verify all controls are secure and operational
Mechanical and Verify frame and fork strength and rigidity
structural problems Ensure components are mounted correctly and fas-
teners properly torqued
Test frame, fork and all components thoroughly
Verify handlebar and seat are properly secured
Provide keepers to prevent loss of a chain
Entanglement of Provide guards for any location where entanglement
hands, feet, or is likely or possible
clothing Route chains and moving components away from the
rider’s reach
Foot slippage from Specify pedals with adequate grip or clipless pedals
Sharp edges and punc- Avoid sharp edges on frame members, mounting tabs
ture hazards and brackets, shells, and components
Cap all open tube ends
Ensure screws are correct length and do not pro-
trude more than 3 threads
Ensure all cable ends are capped or soldered


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Table 5-1 (Continued)

Hazard Design Remediation
Poorly placed com- Verify components do not interfere with normal opera-
ponents or frame tion of the vehicle
elements Adequately test ingress, egress and operation to ensure
no hazards exist
Unguarded chains, Provide guards for any location where hands, feet, or
spokes, or clothing might become caught
other moving
Loose or improperly Specify torque requirements for all fasteners
secured compo- Rigorously test all special-purpose components and
nents or parts mounts
Specify thread locking compound where necessary

Rollover protection should clear the head of the rider, and provide protection in
the event the vehicle rolls inverted or falls and slides top-first into an obstacle.
These systems are sometimes used on competitive vehicles to reduce injuries
during accidents. Design parameters include deflection, stress at peak load, and
energy absorption. A rider restraint system must be used for roll over protection
systems to be effective.
Side protection may be provided by the fairing or shell of the vehicle. If a ve-
hicle falls and skids across the road, these systems protect the rider from abra-
sion. Aramid composite fairings provide excellent abrasion resistance, superior to
many other common fairing materials.


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F ortunate is the rider whose steed is well-designed, finely tuned, and care-
fully crafted from quality materials. These machines exhibit a beauty and ele-
gance that transcend the functionality of chains and cogs, wheels and pedals. The
muddy wrack of the street is left behind as each pedal stroke is felt as a buoyant
surge of acceleration, each twist of the handlebar in a crisp, nimble turn. Imagine
cresting a mountain ridge as the early morning sun cuts across the valley, tendrils
of mist still clinging to the slopes, plunging down and around switchbacks, tuned
to nature, in tune with your swift and sure ride. Such experiences are richer and
felt more keenly when the vehicle is carefully designed and crafted. Many of the
qualities that make a vehicle stand out are related to materials and, less visibly
but no less important, the process used to craft those materials.
The choice of material and manufacturing process for a vehicle frame, shell,
or component has significant consequences in terms of cost, quality, and per-
formance. Processes and materials cannot be selected independently, as all
materials have a limited range of processing options, of which only a few may
be economically feasible. The optimal combination of material and processing
method provides the best balance of cost, performance, and fabrication effort
with respect to the goals and mission of the project. Always, the decision is a com-
promise. The best performing materials may be difficult or expensive to process,
for example. This chapter outlines some of the most common materials used for
human-powered vehicle frames, shells, and (to a lesser extent) components. The
scope is limited to an overview, with emphasis on the relative merits and draw-
backs of each material or process. Tables and descriptions should provide guid-
ance for selecting materials and processes suitable for a builder’s goals, budget,
and fabrication capabilities.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Wrought Metals—Overview
Wrought metals and their alloys are extensively used in human-powered vehi-
cles due to favorable mechanical, physical, and processing properties. Wrought
metals are formed or shaped in the solid or plastic state by processes such as
rolling, drawing, forging and extruding. In contrast, cast metals are formed by
pouring or injecting liquid metal into a mold. Generally, wrought metals have a
more refined grain structure and improved mechanical properties relative to cast
metals of similar chemical composition. Improvements in strength, ductility, and
toughness may be achieved through the forming process. This makes wrought
alloys well suited for human-powered vehicles, which require high strength and
stiffness coupled with low weight. Many parts are made of these materials, includ-
ing both frames and components.
Some material properties, such as density and modulus of elasticity, are pri-
marily dependent on the type of the material and vary only slightly across alloy
variations, heat treatments, and amount of cold work. Other properties, such as
strength, are highly dependent on the condition of the material, and can vary
greatly for the same chemistry depending on the history of the particular product.
For example, cold-drawn alloy steel tubing is stronger than hot-rolled bar stock
of the same alloy. Many metals can be further strengthened by appropriate heat
The properties of several wrought alloys used in human-powered vehicles are
shown in Table 6-1. Most of this data is also plotted in Figure 6-1, providing a
visual comparison of several materials. In order to make comparisons easier, all
properties have been normalized relative to low-carbon steel. Composite mea-
sures for mechanical and process properties are used to provide data that is as
complete as possible while remaining easy to interpret. Mechanical properties
scores are based on the product of fatigue strength (at 10E7 cycles), tensile
strength, and modulus of elasticity. The processibility score is based on the prod-
uct of formability, machinability, solder/brazability, and weldability ratings. The
relative CO2 footprint is based on primary production of the metal, and is a good
indicator of ecological merit. CO2 emissions are generally proportional to energy
requirements. The remaining columns are self-described. It is worth noting that
in the first four columns, higher scores indicate more desirable (improved proper-
ties), whereas in the last three columns, lower scores are more desirable. Values
in the table vary widely, and there is no clear optimal material when looking at all
seven property classes.
Bear in mind that this comparison is of necessity high-level, and specific prod-
ucts and processes may alter the results. Property values are averages for each


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Table 6-1
Material Properties of Selected Wrought Metals
Mechanical Fatigue Modulus of CO2 Footprint
Properties Processibility Strength to Elasticity to (Primary
Material Index Index Density Ratio Density Ratio Price Prod.) Density

KPa MPa Kg Kg
/ 3 N/m
/ 3 Kg m3
Al-alloys 8.22 131.45 0.3453 0.2328 1.01 12.79 2,691
Brass 24.27 447.21 0.2002 0.1029 2.64 3.56 8,215
Bronze 17.44 346.41 0.1655 0.0833 3.79 4.17 8,743
High carbon
steel 247.95 387.30 0.4467 0.2245 0.25 1.80 7,847
Low alloy steel 263.79 300.00 0.4511 0.2283 0.27 2.03 7,847
Low carbon steel 69.02 387.30 0.2640 0.2245 0.25 1.81 7,847
Medium carbon
steel 164.88 387.30 0.4013 0.2250 0.25 1.81 7,847
Stainless steel 228.79 150.00 0.3932 0.2158 2.80 4.97 7,843
Titanium alloys 227.59 30.98 1.1147 0.2124 10.58 46.34 4,594
alloys 5.57 120.00 0.7071 0.2208 1.48 35.31 1,710

  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

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Age-hardening wrought Al-alloys

10 Low alloy steel
Low carbon steel
Stainless steel
Titanium alloys
Wrought magnesium alloys

Figure 6-1  Properties of wrought metals relative to low carbon steel

material, so a particular material product may exhibit either better or poorer val-
ues. However, the data does provide a very good glimpse into the overall proper-
ties of these materials. For example, wrought aluminum alloys are generally not
as strong as steel, have poorer fatigue strength, and are one-third as stiff. How-
ever, some alloys of aluminum are stronger than some alloys of steel. In terms of
manufacturability, aluminum is generally easier to form (in the soft tempers) and
to machine (in hard tempers) than steel, but is more difficult to weld and braze.
The latter brings down the overall relative processibility score for aluminum al-
loys. The data is particularly well suited for comparing vehicle frame materials,
where joining members is important.
Tabulated data can be difficult to assimilate—often a figure is more informa-
tive. Figure 6-1 is based on selected materials from Table 6-1, but the values are
normalized to that of low carbon steel. Within each property set, all values were
divided by that of low carbon steel to obtain the relative values. This makes com-
parisons between materials easier to discern on the figure. Also, the reciprocals
of the last three properties—price, CO2 footprint, and density—are plotted so
that higher values on the plot are always better. The resulting curves are easily
Based on performance alone, alloy steel, stainless steel, and titanium are good
choices. However, both titanium and stainless steel are difficult to process, ex-
pensive, and produce more CO2 during material production. Titanium is the ex-
treme case, with excellent performance, but extremely poor manufacturability,
cost, and CO2 emissions. Taken as a whole, this explains why most of the world’s
bicycles have steel frames, but high-performance (and higher price-point) frames
are often made of carbon fiber, aluminum, or titanium.


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

Cast Metals—Note
Cast metals have fewer human-powered vehicle applications than wrought met-
als do. In general, cast metals have poorer mechanical properties than do wrought
metals of similar composition, making wrought metals more attractive from a per-
formance standpoint. However, cast metals provide the designer with much more
design freedom—very complex geometries can be obtained with castings. This
also makes it easier to combine several parts with different functions into a single
part. (In a production environment, this is very good—leading to fewer parts to
inventory and assemble lead to reduced cost and improved quality. It is hard to
realize these benefits for bespoke vehicles, however.) Castings may also be less ex-
pensive than machined components if production quantities are high enough. The
cost of molds and patterns required for casting can be considerable, particularly
for the more accurate casting processes such as die casting or investment casting.
Cast components for human-powered vehicles include parts used in some
components, where production quantities are high enough to justify the tooling
expense. Frame parts for brazed steel bicycle frames often use investment cast
lugs, dropouts, and similar items. (Although lugs can also be formed by stamping,
a less expensive process if quantities are high.)

Non-Metal Materials—Overview
Non-metals include polymers (plastics), elastomers, natural materials, ceram-
ics, glasses and most composites. The vast number of non-metallic materials make
a comprehensive overview impossible. Literally thousands of materials are avail-
able for human-powered components, fairings, and even frames. For this overview,
a small selection of polymers, polymer composites, and natural materials are briefly
described including properties typical of their type. Relatively few glasses and
ceramics are used in human-powered vehicles, and so those materials, although
many have remarkable properties, are not included except for glass-reinforced
polymer composites.
The range of material properties for non-metals is extremely wide, with some
materials surpassing the performance of the best metals, and others well below
metals. Few characteristics are common to all of them, although all but carbon
exhibit low thermal and electrical conductivity. In general, polymers and most
natural materials such as wood are significantly less strong and less rigid than
metals, and often have lower densities. They are often easier to process than
metals, either by molding or machining. On the other hand, reinforced polymer
composites can be competitive with metals in terms of strength and stiffness, but
with a lower density. Table 6-2 shows the properties of a few selected non-metal


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Table 6-2
Material Properties of Selected Polymers, Composites, and Natural Materials
Fatigue Modulus of CO2
Mechanical Strength Elasticity Footprint
Properties Processibility to Density to Density (Primary
Material Index Index Ratio Ratio Price Prod.) Density

KPa MPa Kg Kg
Design of Human-Powered Machines 

N/m3 N/m3 Kg m3
Acrylonitrile butadiene
styrene (ABS) 3.32 15.49 0.1200 0.2237 1.16 3.830 1,105
Bamboo 62.92 5.66 0.36 3.46 0.74 0.314 693
CFRP, epoxy matrix
(isotropic) 50,038.00 7.75 1.16 9.09 17.89 34.606 1,549
Flexible Polymer Foam
(MD) 0.00 6.93 0.09 0.01 1.31 3.606 90
GFRP, epoxy matrix
(isotropic) 828.58 10.96 0.33 1.53 13.12 9.988 1,856

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Phenolics 9.55 15.49 0.12 0.40 0.80 3.620 1,279

Plywood 6.41 17.32 0.12 1.75 0.26 0.826 748
Polyamides (Nylons,
PA) 52.48 15.49 0.37 0.35 1.94 7.970 1,130
(PEEK) 33.94 15.49 0.22 0.41 44.97 23.121 1,309
Polymethyl methacry-
late (Acrylic, PMMA) 12.31 15.49 0.16 0.34 1.27 6.792 1,189
(Acetal, POM) 21.67 15.49 0.17 0.35 1.40 4.050 1,409
Polystyrene (PS) 4.41 15.49 0.15 0.23 1.42 3.795 1,045
Softwood: pine, across
grain 0.01 12.25 0.02 0.20 0.43 0.377 514
Softwood: pine, along
grain 45.95 12.25 0.35 2.51 0.43 0.377 514

  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

materials. Several polymers are included, along with polymer composites and a
few natural materials such as pine wood and bamboo. All columns except for the
processibility index are defined as in Table 6-1. The non-metal processibility in-
dex is the product of moldability and machinability, processes more applicable to
non-metals than forming, welding and brazing.
Figure 6-2 plots the properties for selected non-metals in order to provide
a visual comparison. All properties were normalized to ABS plastic, chosen as
typical of engineered polymers. As with Table 6-1, the inverse of price, CO2 foot-
print, and density is plotted. Note the vast differences in the material properties
between materials—CFRP, or carbon fiber reinforced polymer, has a mechanical
properties index more than 1000 times that of ABS! The figure clearly shows the
performance advantage of carbon composite (CFRP) and to a lesser extent glass
composite (GFRP, also known as fiberglass) over other non-metal materials. Fiber
reinforced polymers—of which there are many types—are used structurally for
frames and shells, most notably for high-performance vehicles. Many racing bikes
have carbon composite frames, and almost all record-class streamliners use com-
posite shells. As the figure shows, these materials have high mechanical proper-
ties, high stiffness-to-weight and fatigue-strength-to-weight ratios, although they
tend to cost more and have a higher CO2 footprint than many of the other mate-
rials shown. Plastics, such as ABS and Nylon, are used in components and small
parts where performance is not critical. They are easily molded into many shapes,
but this requires expensive tooling and high production quantities. Both materials
can be printed on a 3D printer for low production and custom parts. Printing in
ABS is particularly common, although printed parts will generally not attain the


4 Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS)

10 Bamboo
CFRP, epoxy matrix (isotropic)
3 GFRP, epoxy matrix (isotropic)

2 Polyamides (Nylons, PA)
10 Softwood: pine, along grain





Figure 6-2  Material properties of selected non-metals relative to ABS plastic


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

properties of molded parts. Natural materials such as wood and bamboo have
been used for human-powered vehicle frames and shells. Search the internet for
“wooden bicycle” or “wooden velomobile” to see examples of beautiful, fully func-
tional vehicles. Bamboo in particular can have high performance with relatively
low cost. In most bamboo bicycle frames, composite joints are used to join the
bamboo tubes. Even soft woods such as pine can offer high good performance,
particularly if properly protected from moisture.

Frame Materials and Manufacturing Processes

Material selection always involves compromise. The ideal frame would be
light, strong, corrosion resistant, fatigue resistant and inexpensive. In addition,
the frame would be laterally and longitudinally stiff (where deformation would
impede performance) but compliant in the vertical direction for rider comfort.
It is certainly possible to design for any of these attributes, and even for many
combinations. All cannot be achieved in one vehicle frame, however. The quality
of bicycle frames currently on the market is actually quite remarkable. Some ex-
pensive frames meet almost all of the other criteria, while inexpensive frames can
still offer very good performance. A well-designed titanium frame can offer light
weight, high strength and fatigue life, good stiffness, and corrosion resistance, but
will be quite expensive. On the other hand, an inexpensive aluminum frame can
still provide a lightweight, responsive ride.
The choice of material depends on service loads and requirements, mate-
rial properties, cost, and other factors. Service loads and requirements include
forces and moments acting on the structure, resulting stress and deflection,
design life, requirements for wear, abrasion, and corrosion resistance, and so
forth. These should be included, either directly or indirectly, in the product de-
sign specification. Material properties include strength (ultimate strength, yield
strength, shear strength, fatigue strength, etc.) elasticity, toughness, ductility,
density, corrosion resistance, abrasion resistance, and others. Cost is always
an important factor, but raw material cost may not be as important as finished
product cost. Sometimes a more expensive, but easily processed, material can
produce a less expensive part than that made from a lower cost material that is
difficult to process. Other factors include available forms, sizes and shapes of the
raw material, process limitations, potential failure modes, and even customer
appeal. Titanium and carbon fiber are quite attractive to cycling consumers.
These materials may entice a customer due to their exotic, high-performance
appeal—even if the actual difference in performance relative to less expensive
materials is minor.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Steel is by far the most common material ever used for bicycle and human-​
powered vehicle frames. Steel is strong, stiff, and inexpensive compared to other
frame materials, making it an ideal material for many vehicle designs. It also has
excellent fatigue properties. Many manufacturing processes are suitable for steel,
including assembly processes such as welding and brazing. The two greatest
drawbacks to steel are its tendency to corrode (rust) and its relatively high den-
sity. Designing with steel is straightforward, and generally easier than other mate-
rials. Steel is also considered to be more environmentally benign than aluminum
or titanium.
Carbon steel is the most inexpensive material commonly used for frames. Due
to its relatively low strength, it is generally only used for inexpensive frames
where cost reduction is more important than performance. Cold-worked carbon
steel is available in round, square, and rectangular tubes, as well as strip, plate,
and other forms. Cold-drawn carbon steel tubing is often used for manufactur-
ing low-cost bicycle and human-powered vehicle frames. A wide range of tubular
carbon steel products are available on the market, with different material com-
positions, manufacturing processes, and mechanical properties. Products with an
annular cross-section are broadly classified as either pipe or tube. The term pipe
designates a tubular product made to specific dimensional sizes and generally
used for pipelines and connections. It is not suitable for vehicle frames. Tube is
used in heat exchangers and for structural applications. It is available in both hot
and cold processed products, and may be seamless or welded. Cold-drawn tubing
is generally available is thinner gauges, and has improved mechanical and dimen-
sional properties. Tubing suitable for vehicle frames is classified as structural or
mechanical tube, and several ASTM standards apply to these products. ASTM
A500 is cold-formed welded or seamless carbon steel structural tubing in round,
rectangular, square or other shapes. It has a tensile strength ranging from 310 Mpa
(45 ksi) to 427 Mpa (62 ksi) and yield strengths ranging from 228 to 317 Mpa
(33 to 46 ksi). This is a fairly low-strength tube. Mechanical tubing is often pre-
ferred for vehicle frames, due to improved properties. ASTM A519 is cold-drawn,
seamless mechanical carbon steel tubing, available in various grades with tensile
strengths ranging from 331 Mpa (48 ksi) for 1020 steel in the annealed condition
to 552 MPa (80 ksi) for 1045 stress-relieved tubes. There are several other spec-
ifications for carbon steel tube, and strength properties can vary significantly be-
tween different tube types and conditions. The design engineer should be aware
of the specific product and standard used to ensure safety and performance. Most
carbon steel tubing is readily weldable and easily brazed. It is usually bendable,


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

although tubes with high diameter to wall-thickness ratios can be difficult to bend
with simple equipment.
Higher quality steel frames use chromium-molybdenum steels due to their
higher strength, good weldability, and availability in thin gauges. Seamless aircraft
alloy tubing made to military specification MIL-T-6736B is an example. This is a
tubular product made from 4130 alloy steel. It is available in many outside diam-
eters from 4.76 mm (3/16 in) up to 90 mm (3.5 in), although smaller and larger
diameters may be available as well. Wall thickness ranges from .7 mm (.028 in)
up to 12.7 mm (.5 in), again with lighter and heavier gauges sometimes available.
For many human-powered vehicle frames, wall thickness of .9 mm (.035 in) is
suitable. In the normalized condition, tensile strength is usually 655 MPa (95 ksi)
and yield strength 517 MPa (75 ksi). Thin-wall chrome moly tubing is very dif-
ficult to bend, although it is possible in the smaller diameters. Bends in tubes
with large diameter-to-wall thickness ratios may only be possible with specialized
bending equipment that uses mandrels. MIL-T-6736B tubes can be easily welded
and brazed, although skill is required to weld very thin-walled sections. When
brazing or welding, care must be taken to avoid rapid cooling, as the material may
become locally brittle. It is possible to obtain 4130 tubing in a hardened condition.
Heat-treated tubes have increased strength and reduced ductility. They require
more skill during fabrication and are generally more expensive than tubing ob-
tained in the normalized condition. This tubing is available through a variety of
distributors, and is usually three to five times as expensive as carbon steel tubes.
Several companies offer high-performance bicycle tubes in steel, including
Reynolds Technology in the United Kingdom, Columbus in Italy, and True Temper
in the United States. These products are engineered for upright diamond-frame
bikes, and offer high strength alloys and heat treated tubes, butted tubes and
bicycle-specific size tubes. Butted tubes have a wall thickness that changes
along the length of the tube. These are used to optimize weight by providing a
heavier wall near welds and high-stress areas, while using a thinner wall in the
less-stressed portions of the tube. Bicycle tube sets are used to fabricate light-
weight, high-performance steel diamond frame bicycles, and some products are
not applicable to non-traditional frames such as recumbent bicycles and tricycles.
Nonetheless, Frame designers of non-traditional frames can make good use of
some of these products. Head tubes and seat tubes are made in sizes compatible
with standard bicycle headsets and seatposts, and are convenient to use if appli-
cable. If a conventional bicycle saddle is to be used, the inside diameter of the seat
tubes is critical for correct seat post fit. Use of an engineered seat tube assures
a good fit without reaming or shims. Threadless and threaded steerer tubes are
available that are butted to provide good strength at the fork crown. Fork blades


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 6-3  Double-butted bicycle tube

are available in round and oval sections, with either straight or bent ends. Ta-
pered and bent fork blades, known as unicrown blades, are available for building
forks without a separate crown. Figure 6-4 illustrates a fork made with unicrown
blades. The larger size unicrown blades can sometimes be used on a recumbent
frame to support a cantilevered rear wheel. Chain stays and seat stays are avail-
able when a conventional rear triangle is included in the frame design.
Information regarding products from Reynolds, Columbus, and True Temper
can be found at these companies’ websites. Be aware that the very high strength,
heat-treated tube products require extra skill during welding or brazing, and
should generally be avoided by the beginner.

True Temper:

Bicycle-specific frame components other than tubes can also be purchased for
many applications. For upright diamond-frame bikes, lugs are available for braz-
ing lightweight steel frames. These are not particularly useful for recumbents and
other non-traditional geometries, however. Examples of frame components that

Figure 6-4  Fork made with unicrown fork blades


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

are frequently useful for all vehicle designers include front and rear dropouts,
disc brake mounts, cantilever or linear pull brake bosses, water-bottle braze-ons,
cable stops, and rack bosses. Seat bolt bosses are used for securing the seat post
in the seat tube, but can be used effectively for vehicles with cranks mounted on
booms that fit inside a main tube. Henry James in the United States and Ceeway
in the United Kingdom each sell a variety of these components. Henry James is
also a distributor for True Temper bicycle tubes. While it is often unnecessary to
use these components, they may save time and effort in many cases. The braze-
ons add a professional, finished look as well as providing important functionality.

Henry James:

Stainless Steel
Stainless steel is used in many frame components and occasionally for frame
tubes themselves. Stainless steel frame components include lugs, dropouts, and
S&S frame tube couplers. Other bicycle components made from stainless steel in-
clude spokes, pedal spindles, and fasteners. Stainless steel’s greatest virtue is cor-
rosion resistance. Depending on the alloy and condition, it can be quite strong and
hard. It has high rigidity, high strength, and good fatigue life. Ultimate strength
for materials used in frames can range from 620 to 1280 MPa (90 to 185 ksi), with
stiffness and density approximately that of steel, 200 GPa and 8 g/cm3 (29 Mpsi
and 2.9 lb/in3). Stainless steel is significantly more expensive than carbon or alloy
steel, costing approximately five to ten times as much as carbon steel.

Aluminum alloys are widely used in modern bicycles, and can result in light-
weight, stiff frames. The density of aluminum is around 2.7 g/cm3 (0.098 lb/
in3), roughly one-third that of steel, but the range of strength overlaps that of
steel. Aluminum alloys thus have very favorable strength-to-weight ratios. It is a
common misconception that aluminum frames are inherently lighter than steel
frames. Stiffness and fatigue properties of aluminum alloys result in frames that
are much closer in weight to comparable steel frame than the difference in den-
sity would suggest. While well-designed aluminum frames are quite light, lower-​
quality frames are often heavier than good-quality steel frames. Good design is
the key to a successful aluminum frame. Compared to steel, aluminum requires
more design effort to achieve strength, performance, and life objectives.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Aluminum alloys exhibit combinations of properties that make them well-

suited for performance vehicle frames, but also more challenging to design. The
relatively low density of these alloys is well known. Many alloys exhibit good
strength; the strongest aluminum alloys exceed the strength of some carbon
steels. (It should be noted that the strongest steels are three time as strong as
the strongest aluminum alloys, however. Steels span an exceptionally wide range
of strengths.) Unlike steel, however, aluminum alloys do not exhibit a fatigue en-
durance limit. Design for fatigue loading is thus an important consideration. The
modulus of elasticity of aluminum is 71 GPa (10.3 Mpsi), or about one-third as
stiff as steel. Although aluminum is a highly reactive metal due to its location in
the electromotive series, all alloys readily form a tightly bonded aluminum oxide
surface film. This film provides excellent protection against corrosion in many
environments. If the oxide layer is damaged, it quickly re-forms and continues to
protect the material.
Aluminum is readily processable by most modern manufacturing methods.
In the soft tempers, it is quite formable, although some alloys will work-harden
rapidly. Tubes of almost any cross-section can also be easily extruded, and cus-
tom sections in relatively small quantities may be economically feasible. In some
cases, as little as 80 kg can justify a custom extrusion. Tubes that taper or change
shape along their length may be hydroformed, as can be seen in many commer-
cial aluminum frames. Aluminum alloys generally have excellent machinability
ratings, and high cutting speeds and feeds may be used. Most—but not all—​
alloys are weldable, an important consideration in frame design. Gas tungsten-arc
or gas metal-arc welding are typically used for fusion welding. Aluminum alloys
6061 and 7005 have excellent weldability. Alloy 2024, which has excellent me-
chanical properties, has very limited weldability. In general, the 1000, 3000, and
5000 series non-heat-treatable alloys are readily weldable, along with 6000 series
heat-treatable alloys. The 2000 and 4000 series alloys are generally more difficult
to weld, and only a few 7000 series alloys are weldable. Alloy 7005 was specifically
designed to be weldable.
Heat-treated alloys, such as 6061-T6, may be welded, but the as-welded
strength is slightly less than the unwelded T4 condition. This is due to partial
annealing in the heat-affected zone. The as-welded joint is thus weaker and less
ductile than the parent material. Solution heat treatment and artificial aging af-
ter welding can restore most of the strength, but some ductility loss will remain.
Vehicle frames are sometimes annealed after welding in order to straighten the
frame, and subsequently solution heat treated and artificially aged to obtain the
T6 condition.


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The two alloys of aluminum most often used for human-powered vehicle frames
are 6061-T6 and 7005-T6. Aluminum alloy 6061 is a general-purpose alloy widely
available in many forms, including extruded tube. It has good strength in the T6
condition—over 300 MPa ultimate strength and around 275 MPa yield strength.
Fatigue strength is 97 MPa at 500 million cycles of fully reversed bending (R. R.
Moore test). In softer tempers, it has good formability. It is typically welded with
GTAW using ER4043 filler rod.
Alloy 7005 is a high-strength alloy designed specifically to be welded. It is avail-
able in extruded tubes, as well as sheet and plate. Typical strength in the T6 tem-
per is: 372 MPa ultimate strength, 317 MPa yield strength, and 150 MPa fatigue
strength at 500 million cycles. It is typically welded using ER5356 filler rod.

Titanium alloys are used for expensive, performance-oriented vehicle frames.
Titanium alloys exhibit high strength-to-weight ratios and are very resistant to
corrosion, making these alloys very attractive for human-powered vehicles. How-
ever, titanium is quite expensive, costing up to 35 times as much as carbon steel.
Alloys can be very strong, with typical strengths for bicycle tubes in the range of
650 to 1030 MPa (95–150 ksi). The modulus of elasticity is only about half that of
steel, around 100 GPa (15 Mpsi), requiring care during design to ensure adequate
frame stiffness is obtained. The low density of 4.5 g/cm3 (.162 lb/in3), coupled with
good strength properties, make titanium a prized material for frames. Titanium
alloys also exhibit good fatigue properties; like steel they have an endurance limit.
Unfortunately, titanium alloys are notoriously difficult to work, with poor machin-
ability and poor formability.
The two titanium alloys most often used for vehicles are Ti6Al4V and Ti3Al2.5V.
Ti6Al4V provides a good balance of mechanical properties and processability. It is
produced in several mill forms, and is widely used in many different applications.
In the annealed condition, tensile strength is 895 MPa (130 ksi), although forg-
ings and solution treated aged bar can achieve 1035 MPa (150 ksi). Ti6Al4V is the
most commonly used titanium alloy, and should be considered for many structural
applications. Tube forming demands good formability, not a typical characteristic
of any titanium alloy. Ti3Al2.5V is frequently used for the production of tubing,
and is available for frame tubes. It is most often used in the annealed condition
or in the cold-worked and stress relieved condition. Annealed, it has a tensile
strength of 655 MPa (95 ksi), while cold worked and stress relieved products have
tensile strength of 895 MPa (130 ksi).


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Processing of titanium and its alloys is generally much more difficult than steel,
aluminum or copper alloys. As with many other materials, the properties of the
final product depend strongly on processing. Titanium can be forged, and forged
components have improved tensile strength, fatigue strength, creep resistance,
and toughness. Extrusion is possible, although difficult. Most titanium alloys are
strain hardened by cold work, and also exhibit significant springback, making
forming difficult. Successful formed products may exhibit improved strength and
reduced ductility. Titanium products can be formed with powder metallurgy, with
P/M product achieving nearly the strength of other processes.
Titanium components can be joined by welding, bonding, brazing, or mechani-
cal fasteners. Brazing is even more difficult than for aluminum alloys, and requires
special materials and procedures. Welding titanium alloys requires an inert atmo-
sphere on both sides of the joint. This is due to its very high reactivity at elevated
temperatures. For vehicle frames, this can be accomplished with an inert gas
purge on the inside of the tubes. Gas tungsten arc welding (GTAW) is the most
common type of welding, particularly for the light gauges used in human-powered
The high cost and processing difficulty of titanium demand a high level of en-
gineering in the design stage. Additional time and effort to complete a detailed
design is justified. Finite element analyses should be completed in more detail;
manufacturing methods should be carefully evaluated, and design details com-
pleted prior to prototype fabrication. Initial prototypes used to verify gross ge-
ometry, fit, and ergonomics may be fabricated of less expensive material, such as
steel, prior to investing in the final titanium frame. It is inappropriate to simply
switch materials from steel or aluminum to titanium without a rigorous analysis.

Fiber Reinforced-Polymer Composites

Fiber reinforced-polymer composite materials have tremendous potential for
high-performance vehicle structures. These materials can be strong, rigid, and
lightweight. They offer the knowledgeable designer tremendous design freedom,
both in terms of geometry and material properties. Macroscopic mechanical prop-
erties can be “fine-tuned” to meet service requirements, including anisotropic
stiffness and strength. However, it is challenging to realize these benefits. High-
level engineering and excellent process control are required to fully realize the
potential of these materials. Failures can be catastrophic, and defects may be far
from obvious.
Fiber reinforced-polymer composite materials are used for frames, forks, fair-
ings, and components. Monocoque frames, in which the fairing skin is a structural


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member, are often made with composites. These materials all use a fiber rein-
forcement embedded in a polymer matrix. The resulting structure has mechanical
properties that exceed those of the constituent materials. A variety of processing
methods are used, with differing tooling and labor costs, applicable part sizes, and
properties. The materials are often described based on the reinforcement mate-
rial, such as carbon, aramid, or glass. Though common, this is not strictly accurate
as the resins used for the polymer matrix do affect part quality, properties, and
Most reinforced polymer composite materials are fabricated in layers, which
may be made of different materials or different orientations of the same mate-
rial. Reinforcement is available in chopped strands, strands, mats, uni-directional
cloth, and woven cloth, as well as several other options. Strength is usually great-
est in the direction of the fibers. To achieve good strength properties in different
directions, multiple layers of unidirectional fabric can be used with different ori-
entations. More frequently, woven cloth is used for bi-directional strength. The
woven fabric is readily available and provides a more tolerant product for those
who don’t have the scale and resources to thoroughly test and refine compos-
ite parts. Sometimes different forms—or even different materials—are used in
different layers to obtain desired part-specific properties. Woven fabric of both
aramid and carbon can be used to obtain both the high strength and stiffness of
carbon and the abrasion resistance of aramid. This combination is advantageous
in fairings. In conjunction with geometric design freedom, this allows parts to be
optimized for their specific function. For example, chainstays can be designed to
provide high lateral and longitudinal stiffness, while providing some compliance
in the vertical direction. This ensures good power transfer and handling, yet pro-
vides a smoother, more comfortable ride for the operator. The details of such an
optimization are well beyond the scope of this text, however.
Large plate-like structures often must be reinforced to provide adequate stiff-
ness and strength, particularly under bending (flexural) loads. A good way to
improve the flexural stiffness and flexural strength, without adding much extra
weight, is to use sandwich construction. A lightweight core is “sandwiched” be-
tween two layers of FRP. This is quite useful for fairings, which consist of large
thin sections that are prone to bending. The improved rigidity and strength pro-
vided by a core can be quite noticeable, yet the weight penalty can be slight. Small
closed sections, such as frame tubes, have adequate stiffness by virtue of their
shape, and generally do not require cores.
A core material, made of balsa wood, foam, or honeycomb, is sandwiched be-
tween two layers of resin/reinforcement material. Figure 6-5 shows the effect of
core thickness on flexural strength, stiffness, and weight of a finished part. In


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 6-5  Effect of core thickness on strength, stiffness, and weight1

each case the thickness of the reinforcement/resin layers is the same; only the
core thickness changes. The numeric values assume a high-performance core
material that is very lightweight. Similar results are obtained with foam or balsa
wood. This technique is very useful for large structural shells such as streamliner
or velomobile monocoque fairings.
The specification for the number of layers, the orientation of the layers, and
the presence and location of core materials is known as the layup schedule. Highly
engineered composite parts require much attention to optimal specification of the
layup schedule. Done well, this results in a highly optimized structure meeting
the desired strength and rigidity requirements with minimum weight. The best
design may still prove deficient if manufacturing cannot maintain consistent high
quality production. The quality and reliability of composite manufacturing slowed
the widespread use of these materials in bicycles for several decades. Fortunately,
there is now enough expertise and experience with composites that these materi-
als are used successfully by many manufacturers. Nonetheless, quality manufac-
turing is crucial for reliable composite structures.
Carbon fiber reinforcement is used for parts demanding high strength and/or
high stiffness. Some manufacturers offer finished carbon fiber tubes which can be
assembled into frames by bonding. In addition to frames and forks, aerodynamic
fairings, handlebars, seatposts, crank arms and other parts are made from carbon
fiber. The actual carbon fibers used for reinforcement can be very strong, stiff, and
light, with tensile strengths as high as 5,580 MPa (810 ksi), elastic modulus ap-
proaching (in some cases exceeding) 300 GPa (43 Mpsi) and a density of about 1.8
g/cm3 (.065 lb/in3). However, these values are generally not achieved when the fi-
bers are used in a polymer matrix. The fiber-resin ratio, resin type, and layup will af-
fect the properties of the final part. Typical values for strength, stiffness and density

Marshall, Andrew C., 1998, Composite Basics—5, 5th Ed., Marshall Consulting, Walnut
Creek, CA, USA.


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in CFRP parts are 550–1050 MPa, 69–150 GPa, and 1.5–1.6 g/cm3 respectively. As
a comparison, this is about the same strength as steel, but at one fifth the density.
Property values quoted for composite materials should be treated only as general
information, and should not be used for design without testing. Actual values de-
pend on type of fiber and resin, layup schedule and fiber orientation, and manufac-
turing quality control, and can vary substantially from the values quoted here. (This
applies to all types of reinforced-polymer composite materials.) Density is affected
by the resin-fiber ratio—resin in excess of that required adds no strength, but does
increase density and hence the final part weight. These impressive properties ac-
count for the popularity of carbon fiber composites. Other properties are not quite
so good. CFRP has poor impact performance and poor abrasion resistance. Failure
modes can be abrupt, with no yielding—resulting in potentially serious accidents.
Aramid fiber, more commonly known by the DuPont trade name Kevlar, is used
less often for vehicle frames, but is frequently used in fairings and human-powered
boat hulls. In an epoxy matrix, the tensile strength can exceed 1,000 MPa (145 ksi).
Unlike carbon, aramid has excellent abrasion resistance, and is often used in aero-
dynamic shells to provide abrasion resistance in the event of an accident and re-
sulting slide over pavement. It is available in a variety of weaves, including woven
carbon/aramid mixtures. The carbon improves rigidity and strength, while the
aramid provides abrasion resistance.
Glass has good availability at modest cost, good mechanical properties, and
good manufacturing properties. It is not generally used in frame tubes, as is car-
bon fiber. Glass tubular construction is possible, but the resulting frame would be
less rigid and heavier than a carbon fiber frame. It is frequently used in monocoque
vehicles and fairings, where the lower cost makes it an attractive alternative to
aramid or carbon. The two types of glass fibers used in human-powered vehicles
are E-glass and S-glass. E-glass has been available for many decades, and offers
very good performance at moderate price. S-glass (S for structural) is often used
where structural performance justifies the higher cost. E-glass epoxy composites
can achieve tensile strengths over 1000 MPa (150 ksi) with a modulus of 45 GPa
(6.5 Mpsi). S-glass is a bit better, with tensile strengths of 1800 MPa (260 ksi) and
modulus of 55 GPa (8.1 Mpsi). The density of glass composite is a bit greater than
carbon or aramid, about 2.6 g/cm3 (.095 lb/in3), comparable to aluminum alloys.
The resins used for reinforced-polymer composites are usually thermoset poly-
mers. Epoxies, polyester and vinylester are the most common resins. Epoxy resins
work well with all types of reinforcement material, and offer the best strength and
chemical resistance. Epoxy resins can be up to three times stronger than other
resins, and they shrink less than polyester or vinylester during curing. Epoxies are
also more expensive. Due to its strength and ability to bond with glass, aramid, and


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Table 6-3
Table 1 Reinforced-Polymer Composite Material Properties
Material Density UTS FS Cycles Elongation Modulus
g/cm3 MPa MPa million % GPa
Carbon-Epoxy, 1.5–1.6 1610–2005 887–1305 10 1.3–1.5 57–61
UD 0°
Carbon-Epoxy, 1.5–1.6 519–725 246–421 10 .8–1.1 68–75
BX or QI
Epoxy/S-glass 1.84–1.97 260–283 18–27 10 1.0–1.6 16–17
fiber, UD 0°
Epoxy/S-glass 1.84–1.97 1700–1760 339–527 10 3.5–3.7 48
fiber, BX or QI
Kevlar-Epoxy, 1.38 1100–1380 605–897 10 1.7 60–80
UD 0°
Kevlar-Epoxy, QI 1.38 355–392 70.7–98.5 10 .374–.42 23.5–30.9
Notes: UD -- Unidirectional
BX -- Biaxial
QI -- Quasi-Isotropic Laminate
Source: Compiled from CES EduPack 2016 by Granta Design Limited

carbon, it is used for most HPV parts applications. Most high-performance fairings
are made with epoxy resin. However, on a commercial scale polyester resins are
the most widely used. It is easy to work with and the least expensive of the three
options. The cure rate for polyester resins can be controlled with the amount of
catalyst added. However, it does not bond well with aramid or carbon fibers, and
should not be used with these fibers for structural parts. Vinylester resin is easy
to work with and is suitable for glass, carbon and aramid. In terms of cost and
strength, it is between epoxy and polyester.

Other Frame Materials

Human-powered vehicle frames have been successfully made of many other
materials, including both metals and non-metals. Magnesium has been used for bi-
cycle frames to a very limited extent. The low density and relatively good strength
make it attractive, and the few frame manufacturers tout its ability to damp vibra-
tions. However, it has poor fatigue properties, design and manufacturing is more
difficult than aluminum, and there few companies producing tubes. Frames may
also be made of wood. Wooden frames have been used since the earliest days of


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cycling, but the properties of wood do not favor high-performance vehicles. How-
ever, wooden frames can be beautiful works of art. Laminated wood can provide
a functional and attractive structure. Currently, most wooden frames are built by
hobbyists that prefer impressive style to high performance.
Bamboo is a fascinating material, with the potential to provide a sustainable
product with good to excellent ride qualities. High-end road, mountain, and tan-
dem bicycles made from hemp-lugged bamboo that are beautiful and functional
are currently on the market. For best results the bamboo must be treated to pre-
vent splitting and ensure adequate life. However, it has been used to construct
inexpensive bicycle frames in regions of the world—such as many parts of Africa—
where bamboo grows naturally and there is a need for inexpensive transportation.

Frame Manufacturing Processes

Most steel, aluminum, and titanium frames today are assembled using gas-​
tungsten arc welding (GTAW, formerly TIG), although gas-metal arc (GMAW or MIG)
is used in higher-production environments. Both carbon steel and chromium-
​molybdenum steel are readily welded with either process. GTAW is preferred for
low production levels, as it provides high-quality welds and good arc control. This
is particularly important for welding thin-walled tubes. Disadvantages of GTAW
are low filler material deposition rate, higher equipment cost, and greater skill
required. For welding thin-wall (.9 mm (.035 inch)) 4130 tubing, Lincoln Electric
recommends GTAW welding with 2% thoriated tungsten electrode, DC straight
polarity (DC electrode negative) with 20 to 40 amps. The recommended filler
rod is .9 mm (.035 inch) diameter ER80S-D2.2 ER70S-2 will also work, although
the weld will be less strong and more ductile. Some welders prefer the more ex-
pensive 310, 312 or 309 stainless steel filler rod when welding 4130 steel. Prior
to welding it is very important to mechanically clean the surfaces to be welded
to remove all oxides and burrs, and then to wipe down with acetone to remove
oils. Parts should fit closely together prior to welding. For best results, the gap
between parts should not exceed .25 mm (.010 inch.).
Electrodes used with GTAW welding are made of tungsten, either pure or alloyed
with other elements. The addition of 1% or 2% thorium improves the electron emis-
sivity, increasing the current carrying capacity of the electrode. Thoriated electrodes
also produce a more stable arc and the arc is easier to start than pure tungsten. The

Lincoln Electric, TIG Weld 4130, AV-492 6/01.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

tip retains its shape well, and is more resistant to contamination. Unfortunately, tho-
rium is slightly radioactive, a concern when grinding the electrode tips. In the last
few decades electrodes alloyed with cerium have begun to replace thoriated elec-
trodes. Ceriated electrodes provide the benefits of thorium, but are not radioactive.
They perform as well as, or better than, thoriated electrodes at lower current levels.
Both ceriated and thoriated electrodes are generally used with DC welding, although
ceriated electrodes will also provide good AC results. Lanthanum is also used as an
alternative to thorium, and has good performance at low amperage.
Pure tungsten electrodes are less expensive, but carry less current and have
a low resistance to contamination. They are primarily used with AC welding, as
pure tungsten forms and holds a ball at the end. Sometimes zirconium is used as
an alloy agent. Zirconium electrodes have properties between thorium and pure
tungsten, and are often used with AC welding.
The electrode shape and size is also important. The size is determined by the
required current; larger diameters can carry higher amperages. The shape de-
pends on the amperage, polarity, and whether the current is AC or DC. Welding
with the electrode negative (also known as DC straight polarity) is preferred, as it
places the most heat at the workpiece rather than the electrode. In this case, the
tip should be ground into a truncated cone, as shown in Figure 6-6. Welding man-
uals can provide specific angles and tip diameters for specific current ranges. In
either AC or DC electrode positive welding, the tip should be hemispherical. Most
materials, including steel, titanium and stainless steel, are welded with DC elec-
trode negative. Aluminum and magnesium develop oxides that are quite stable,
and have melting points well above the base metal. AC is used for these materials.
The straight polarity portion of the wave provides good penetration and heat at
the workpiece, while the electrode positive portion of the cycle provides good
cleaning action that removes the oxide layer.

Figure 6-6  Electrode tip shapes for GTAW welding


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

Steel is also easily brazed. There are two types of brazed bicycle assembly
methods—fillet brazing and brazed lugged construction. Many excellent, light-
weight steel bicycle frames have been built using lugs, such as those produced by
Henry James and Ceeway. Frame tubes are inserted into lugs at each joint, and
the tubes are silver brazed to the lugs. This method permits very thin-wall, high-
strength tubes to be joined without butting, and—if brazed by a competent frame
builder—results in the strongest joints compared with welding or fillet brazing.
In the past, many steel production bicycles used brazed lugged construction with
stamped lugs. Today, this method is primarily used by low-volume manufacturers
and custom frame builders, using investment-cast lugs. Some of the best hand-
made bicycles today use brazed lugged construction. Unfortunately, lugs are manu-
factured for particular tube diameters and frame angles, so it is primarily used with
traditional diamond frame bicycles.
Fillet brazing joins tubes without lugs by building up a brazed fillet around the
joint. Brass brazing rod is used. Fillet brazing can be used with carbon or chromium-​
molybdenum steel, does not require expensive welding equipment or lugs, and
is applicable to all frame geometries. A skilled braze technician can achieve very
high joint strength by building up a fillet of appropriate thickness. Although the
brazing material is not as strong as 4130 steel, extra thickness can provide supe-
rior strength.3 Tests have shown that lugged, brazed joints can achieve the highest
strength; fillet brazed joints next, and welded joints lowest strength. However, all
three processes produce satisfactory frames.
Silver brazing is frequently used to attached fittings and small parts to steel
frames. Water bottle bosses, rack bosses and eyelets, pump hooks, and derailleur
mounts are common examples. Silver brazing requires simple equipment.

Adhesive bonding can be used with virtually any frame material. For some materi-
als, such as carbon composites or bamboo, it is the principle method of joining frame
tubes. The Windcheetah tadpole trike is an example of a bonded aluminum frame.

 While skilled technicians can achieve brazed joint strengths exceeding that of GTAW
welded joints, novices may not be able to achieve these results. The author’s mechani-
cal engineering students just learning to braze and weld typically achieve higher strength
joints with GTAW welding than with fillet brazing. Joint cleanliness, heat control, and
proper fillet size and shape are important factors affecting joint strength. Whether welding
or brazing, maximum joint strength depends on the skill of the fabricator.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

With aluminum, the bonding can speed the assembly process and avoid thermal dis-
tortion and subsequent straightening operations. Also, alloys that are not weldable
can be used effectively in bonded structures. Other advantages of bonding include
rapid assembly time and the ability to bond dissimilar materials. Bonding is used less
frequently with steel vehicle due to the ease with which it can be welded and brazed.
With any bonded joint, and particularly with aluminum members, diligent research
and care should be used to select the correct adhesive and joint types. Improperly
bonded joints can—and have—led to frame failures and accidents.
The strength of bonded joints can equal or exceed the strength of the frame
members, but this requires good joint design, selection of an appropriate adhesive,
and high assembly quality control. Bonded joints are strongest when loaded in
shear, compression, or tension, and weakest when loaded in peel or cleavage. Peel
occurs when the loading tends to pull the adhesive apart from one end, much like
peeling tape from a surface. Cleavage occurs when a force tends to separate the
members starting from one end. Peel and cleavage should be avoided in bonded
joint design. Socket joints are particularly useful for bonded frame construction.
Lugs are made by casting or other processes, into which the frame tubes are
inserted. Once the lugs are manufactured, the frame assembly is relatively quick
and easy. In lug design, the diameter of the tube is more important than the length
of the socket, since the shear stress is concentrated near the end of the joint. Dia-
metral clearance should be small, and close tolerances may need to be maintained
to achieve quality joints and to reduce un-necessary adhesive costs.
The success of bonded joints depends on good joint design, proper surface
preparation, appropriate adhesive selection, and good assembly and curing prac-
tice. The details of bonded joint design and adhesive selection are beyond the
scope of this text, and in-depth research is recommended. There is a plethora of
adhesive options available on the market, and selecting the optimal one can be a
daunting task. Adhesives are available in a variety of forms, including both one and
two part liquids, pastes, tapes and films. Check for compatibility with the materials
to be bonded, cure time, strength, resistance to moisture and other environmental
exposure, and service temperatures. Discussing specific requirements with a tech-
nical representative from an adhesive manufacturer is recommended. Be sure to
follow recommended surface preparation treatments, which as a minimum involve
careful cleaning. Aluminum and many polymers required additional preparation.

Other Frame Processes (Monocoque, etc.)

Vehicle frames can be constructed with a variety of other methods as well.
Frames have been cast whole, but this usually results excess weight and reduced


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

strength. More recently, composite frames have been molded as one entire part.
This is sometimes referred to as monocoque construction, although the meaning
is somewhat different from the more common usage of the term. Monocoque tra-
ditionally refers to a body in which the skin is a structural member. For human-
powered vehicles, this can mean a streamliner or velomobile in which the shell is
an integral part of the structure. Monocoque vehicles can be lightweight and struc-
turally efficient, if correctly designed and fabricated. They can be made of many
materials, although reinforced-polymer composites are most often used. Aluminum
is also occasionally used in monocoque construction, similar to aluminum aircraft.

Fairing or Shell Materials

Velomobiles and streamliners fully enclose the rider within a shell, either for
aerodynamics or weather protection, or both. Many other vehicles include devices
that reduce aerodynamic drag, protect the rider, or provide other functionality,
such as cargo space. Examples include tailboxes, partial front fairings, and com-
binations. These fairings, or shells, can be made of many different materials, with
very different price/labor/performance characteristics. Reinforced-polymer com-
posites, fabric, plastic, aluminum wood and foam have been successfully used.
Reinforced—polymer composite materials are widely used for fairings, and for
good reasons. These materials are previously described, so a brief list of advan-
tages and disadvantages should be sufficient:
Advantages of reinforced-polymer composite fairings include:

• Significant design freedom with respect to fairing shape

• Excellent aerodynamics are possible
• Very smooth surface finish is possible (but requires skill to achieve)
• Can be very lightweight, depending on material and design
• Good to excellent rigidity
• Good to excellent strength
• Aramid has excellent abrasion resistance

Disadvantages include:

• High-quality fairings require either extensive labor or expensive tooling

• Advanced composite materials can be expensive
• Poor quality control during fabrication can lead to structural weakness and
• Environmental emissions during manufacture may be significant


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Sheet aluminum is used for monocoque velomobiles and sometimes for partial
fairings and tailboxes. One notable advantage is that no mold is required, as it is
with composites. Aluminum monocoque vehicles can provide strong and relatively
lightweight fairings, although not as strong or light as the best reinforced polymer
composite fairings. Stiffness can be quite good if properly designed. Construction
usually involves forming the sheet into shapes and riveting together, although bond-
ing and welding are possible. Gussets and ribs may be used internally to improve
stiffness and strength. Aerodynamic curved shapes can be made by stretch forming
or stamping, but both processes require expensive tooling. Shapes that require only
straight bends and cylindrical or conical shapes are much easier to manufacture,
and can usually be realized. These vehicles are structurally complete, and do not
require a separate internal frame. They are also impervious to solar UV radiation,
which can damage reinforced polymer composites. However, they do require sheet
metal working tools, and without expensive tooling some shapes are not possible.
Unreinforced plastics are used extensively for transparent windshields, can-
opies and partial front fairings, and less often for tailboxes and full shells. In
general, plastics are less expensive, and have poorer mechanical properties than
aluminum or composites. Rigidity and strength are significantly lower than for
composites. Abrasion resistance is also low—much less than aramid or fiberglass.
A plastic fairing is usually heavier and less rigid than other materials, but may
cost less. Due to the low stiffness and strength, plastics are generally not used
for monocoque construction—most plastic fairings are mounted to a traditional
framed vehicle, usually a tricycle.
Clear plastic is used where visibility is important. Many models of clear front
fairings are available commercially, such as the models made by Zzipper for both
recumbent and upright bicycles. Bubble canopies and velomobile windshields also
use clear plastic, often thermoformed to obtain the desired shape. Thermoforming,
which can be used for either clear or colored plastic, involves heating a plastic sheet,
draping it over a form with the desired shape, and using a vacuum to hold the plas-
tic in place until it cools. For clear parts, the tool used must be smooth and highly
polished to prevent visible tool marks in the finished product that could obstruct
vision. An alternative method is to form the plastic without a tool by using heat and
gravity. These products provide good clarity, but the shape is less accurate.
It is also possible to produce full fairings by thermoforming. The fairing must
be formed in several pieces that are subsequently joined together, as thermo-
forming cannot produce an enclosed shape. Thermoforming involves relatively
modest tooling cost, but does require specialized equipment for forming. Many
thermoforming vendors will not have equipment large enough to produce a full
fairing. Another plastic process used for fairing production is rotational molding,


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  Manufacturing Processes and Materials

in which plastic pellets are melted in a closed, slowly rotating mold. A full fairing
can be produced in one step with this process, although holes for windows, door,
and wheels must be cut out. Rotational molding is used to make the shell of the
Rotovelo velomobile. Neither thermoforming nor rotational molding is feasible for
home builders or one-off prototypes.
Corrugated plastic, such as that manufactured under the trade name Coro-
plast, has been used by home builders to make fairings that offer a good compro-
mise in performance, cost, and fabrication labor. This material is often used for
temporary signs, as it is inexpensive and relatively durable and stiff. The corru-
gations provide good stiffness at a relatively light weight, advantages for fairings.
These products cannot achieve the design freedom available with composites,
but can be heated and bent into useful shapes. Panels may be joined by tape,
glue, or an internal support. Figure 6-7 shows a velomobile with a shell made of
corrugated plastic.
John Tetz popularized the use of foam for aerodynamic fairings. His articles
posted on have inspired many home builders to fashion
fairings from cross-linked polyethylene foam. Foam fairings are very lightweight,
relatively inexpensive, fairly easy to fabricate, and are quiet and damage-tolerant.
These fairings are not structural, so they are built around a traditional vehicle
chassis, usually a tricycle. Builders have claimed weights for full foam fairings
slightly over 3.2 kg (7 lb). Compared to quality composite fairings, foam is less
rigid and has a poorer surface finish. Both factors affect the aerodynamic per-
formance to some extent. While it is unlikely that a new world record will be set
using a foam fairing, it can be a good material for everyday use.
Fabric, wood, and other materials can also be used for fairings. Lightweight lycra
fairings are made to attach to clear plastic front fairings. These body socks often at-
tach with hook-and-loop fasteners to the fairing, seat, and either a tailbox or special-​
purpose frame on the rear of the vehicle. They can be removed and stowed in small

Figure 6-7  Example of a home built fairing built from corrugated plastic sheets


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

trunk bag if desired. The areodyamic advantage is less than for more rigid fairings,
but still may be noticeable. They also provide a degree of weather protection. Other
fabric fairings are stretched over a rigid frame, similar to fabric aircraft construc-
tion. When durability is not a concern, such as a single race event, model airplane
covering such as Monokote has been used. This material is very lightweight, but
cannot withstand the rigors of daily riding. Aircraft fabric such as Ceconite is much
more durable, but requires a strong frame for mounting. Thin wooden strips or ve-
neer can be formed into a fairing shape, often covered with fiberglass or carbon for
added strength and rigidity. When skillfully crafted, these can be beautiful works of
art, as well as functional for weather protection and aerodynamics.

Fairing Hardware
Regardless of the fairing material, some type of hardware is required to se-
cure it to the vehicle frame and to allow hatches and doors to operate. Simple,
lightweight hinges can be made of cloth or tape bonded to the door and frame.
This results in an inexpensive hinge that can function well, but may not have the
durability of more rugged hardware. In the event of damage, they can usually
be replaced fairly easily. Similarly, inexpensive latches can be made from elastic
cords or loops that attach to hooks. At the other extreme is aerospace hardware,
including hinges and latches. These function well and can have good durability,
but are quite expensive and not readily available. Fairing panels and components
can be attached to the frame by screws, quarter-turn fasteners, hook-and-loop
fasteners and other devices. Dzus makes very rugged quarter-turn fasteners that
can be excellent for attaching panels that must be removable for service or ac-
cess. They have excellent resistance to vibration, but the fit must be properly
engineered for the thickness of the panel and frame.

Selection of materials and processes for human-powered vehicle frames, shells,
and components is an important task, affecting vehicle production cost, perfor-
mance, quality, and customer appeal. No single material is best—each as merits
and challenges. Compatibility of process and material is essential, and the choice
should be consistent with the mission of the vehicle. The information in this chap-
ter is just a starting point for design decision related to materials and processes.
Of necessity, much has been omitted. However, it should provide the basis for
preliminary design decisions and a springboard to more detailed knowledge of
manufacturing process and materials.


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R oad loads are the external forces acting on a vehicle during operation. They
arise from gravity, the interaction between tires and the road surface, and
from air flowing past the moving vehicle. Understanding them is essential for the
vehicle designer, as they affect almost all aspects of the design, from vehicle dy-
namics and handling to power-speed models and structural analyses.
Figure 7-1 illustrates road loads acting on a bicycle riding in a straight line on
level ground. Aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance of the tires, traction forces and
braking forces all act parallel to the longitudinal axis of the bicycle. For a bicy-
cle traveling at a constant speed on a level road, the sum of the drag and rolling
resistance will exactly equal the tractive force produced by the driving wheel. If
the road is not level, a component of the weight will also act in the longitudinal
direction, pushing the bike downhill or restraining it during a climb.

Review of Equilibrium Equations

Frequently throughout this book equilibrium equations will be solved to deter-
mine unknown reaction forces and moments. These equations stem from Newton’s
second law, which states that the sum of forces acting on a body is equal to the
mass of the body times its acceleration, or

∑ F = ma
In a Cartesian coordinate system, this equation can be applied in each of the
coordinate directions x, y, and z. For static equilibrium, the acceleration, and
hence the right-hand side, is equal to zero. Quasi-static analyses treat the neg-
ative of the right-hand side (–ma) as if it were an externally applied force. This
quantity is often called the inertial force. Quasi-static analyses are quite useful for
many problems related to human-powered vehicles.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 7-1  Forces acting on a bicycle during level riding at constant speed (arrows
are not proportional to magnitude)

Newton’s second law is valid for moments as well as forces provided the right-
hand side is replaced with the product of the mass moment of inertia and the
angular acceleration. Hence:

∑ M = I α
As with forces, this equation is valid for moments about each coordinate axis,
giving three more equations. There are a total of six equilibrium equations for
three-dimensional systems, and hence up to six unknown forces or moments can
be found. When all forces lie within a common plane, three of the six equations
are eliminated, leaving two force equations and one moment equation. The six
equilibrium equations are:

∑F x = max ∑M x = I xx α x

∑F y = ma y ∑M y = I yy α y

∑F z = maz ∑M z = I zz α z

SAE Vehicle Coordinate System for Vehicle Dynamics

Figure 7-2 depicts the vehicle coordinate system defined per SAE J670e, which
is used throughout this book for all topics related to vehicle dynamics (with the
exception of Patterson’s method for predicting bicycle handling). The vehicle


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  Road Loads

Figure 7-2  Vehicle coordinate system (SAE Convention)

coordinate system is located at the center of gravity with the x-axis directed for-
ward, y-axis to the driver’s right, and the z-axis downward. These correspond to
the longitudinal, lateral, and vertical directions respectively. The correspond-
ing rotations about these axes are termed roll, pitch, and yaw. Rotation about the
x-axis, such as a lean to either right or left, is known as roll. Yaw is a rotation
about the vertical z-axis, for example from a heading of east to one of north. Pitch
is rotation about the lateral y-axis. Vehicles with suspension systems may pitch
forward during heavy braking or when riding over a bump.

Static Loads on Level Ground

For the simple case of a stationary vehicle on level ground, the total weight
of the vehicle, including the rider, and the vertical forces at each wheel are the
parameters of interest. The static weight fraction is ratio of weight on one wheel
to that of the entire loaded vehicle. Weight fraction affects handling and stability,
and frequently crops up in many analyses, so it is good to understand the concept
and how to calculate it.
Gravity acts on the entire vehicle, but for analytical purposes may be modeled
as a point force acting through the center of gravity of the vehicle. The center
of gravity is located at a location b forward of the rear axle and height h above
the ground. Referring to Figure 7-3, it is seen that the total vehicle weight W is
reacted by vertical forces at each wheel. The loads on each wheel can be found
using Newton’s second law. First, the load on the front wheel is found by summing
moments about the contact patch of the rear wheel. Since the vehicle is station-
ary, there are no accelerations and the right-hand side is zero.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 7-3  Static loads on a level, stationary vehicle

Wb – Wf L = 0 (7-1)

Given the total vehicle weight, the wheelbase, and the center of gravity loca-
tion, the unknown force on the front wheel can be found

Wb mgb
Wf = = (7-2)

With the vertical load on the front wheel known, the load on the rear wheel can
be found either by summing moments about the front tire patch or by summing
forces in the vertical (z) direction.

W (L − b ) mg(L − b )
Wr = = = (W − Wf ) (7-3)

As noted, the weight fractions are obtained by dividing each wheel load by
the total vehicle weight. Usually, the weight fraction is specified as the front axle
weight fraction or rear axle weight fraction, and may be expressed as a percent-
age. The front and rear weight fractions are given by:

fR = × 100%
fF = F × 100%


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  Road Loads

On level ground, the wheel loads WF and WR are always directed upward, op-
posing gravity. In this case, they are perpendicular to the road, and are also known
as the normal forces on the tires. By definition, WF and WR are taken to be normal
to the road surface, or acting in the z-direction relative to the vehicle coordinate
system. In this case, the sum of the wheel loads is less than the total weight of the
vehicle, as will be shown.

Example 7-1
A bicycle with a 104 cm wheelbase is weighed with a rider by placing
scales under each wheel. The rear wheel scale reads 491 N, while the scale
under the front wheel reads 415 N. Find the total weight of the bicycle and
rider and determine the horizontal location of the center of gravity.
The total weight is found by W = WR + WF = 491 + 415 = 906 N. The hori-
zontal location of the center of gravity can be found solving Equation 7-2 for b:

WF L 415 × 1.04
b= = = .476 m
W 906

The center of gravity is 0.476 meters forward of the rear wheel axle. The
front and rear static weight fractions are useful indicators of the static weight
distribution between the front and rear axles. The weight fractions for this
example are given by:

WR 491
fR = = = .542
W 906

W 415
fF = F = = .458
W 906

This shows that 54% of the weight of the vehicle is on the rear axle, and
46% is on the front axle.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Static Loads on a Grade

The weight fraction shifts when a vehicle is sitting on a slope. The analysis is
similar except that longitudinal as well as vertical loads occur at the wheels. The
vertical wheel forces are reduced and the horizontal force is produced by brakes
or by applying pressure to the pedals so as to prevent rolling backwards. Slopes
on roadways are usually specified as percent grade. Thus a road that rises 50 m
over 1 km has a moderately steep grade of 0.05 or 5%. The inclination angle of the
road is the arctangent of the grade.

q = tan–1(G) (7-5)

Typically, road grades are fairly small. Grades exceeding 12% are rare, even
in mountainous regions. For small grades, the inclination angle and its tangent
are approximately equal, and with little loss of accuracy one may assume q = G
(where q is measured in radians). This simplification incurs less than 0.5% error
for a 12% grade and only 1.3% error for an extremely steep 20% grade.
The forces are shown in Figure 7-4. The longitudinal force shown on the rear
wheel could occur at either wheel, depending on which brakes are applied. This
analysis is not affected by which wheel is used, although it may be important in
other contexts.
The wheel loads Wf and Wr are found by summing moments about the rear tire

(W cos(q))b – (W sin(q))h = Wf L

Figure 7-4  Static loads on a grade


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  Road Loads

This equation can be solved for the front wheel load Wf as before. Likewise, the
reaction at the rear wheel patch can be found by summing forces about the front
tire patch. The resulting equations are:

W (b cos(θ) − h sin(θ))
Wf =
W ((L − b )cos(θ) + h sin(θ))
Wr =

Equations 7-6 are the general equation for calculating vertical loads on the
front and rear axles. If the grade is zero, they reduce to Equations 7-2 and 7-3.
However, they can be simplified by using small angle approximations sin(q) @ q @
G, (with the angle expressed in radians), and cos(q) @ 1.

W (b − hG )
Wf =
W ((L − b ) + hG )
Wr =

Once the front and rear wheel loads are known, the weight fraction can be
calculated using Equation 7-4.
Going up a hill increases the load on the rear wheel and reduces the load on the
front wheel. Conversely, going down a hill increases the load on the front wheel.
Vehicles with high centers of gravity will experience more of a weight shift. An
upright road bike climbing a 10% grade may experience a 20% to 25% decrease
in the front wheel load. (This assumes the rider stays in the saddle. Standing on
the pedals can shift the CG forward significantly during hill climbing.) A low-racer
on the same grade will probably experience less than 10% decrease in front wheel
load compared with that on level ground.
Figure 7-5 shows the fractional reduction in front axle load as a function of
grade and the dimensionless ratio of the height to position from rear tire patch
of the vehicle center of gravity (h/b). Typical values of h/b for upright bicycles,
recumbent, and very low, laid-back recumbents are indicated.
When riding up a steep hill with poor traction conditions, there is a possibil-
ity of losing steering control due to the loss of load on the front wheel. This is
particularly true with vehicles that have lightly loaded front axles, such as many
long-wheelbase recumbents. Long-wheelbase delta tricycles that drive a single
rear wheel are likely candidates for this problem, due to the low front weight


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 







OG height to location ratio h/b









-0 .3



1 -0.
.0 5

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20

Figure 7-5  Fractional change in front tire load as function of grade and h/b ratio

fraction coupled with the turning moment produced by the single drive wheel
under heavy torque conditions.
More severe problems arise when riding downhill. Braking also shifts the ver-
tical load to the front wheel. Braking on a downhill slope can reduce the load on
the rear wheel to zero, potentially resulting in a dangerous accident with the rider
pitching over the handlebars. A high center of gravity exacerbates this problem,
which is more common with upright bicycles than recumbents.

Steady Motion Road Loads

A vehicle moving in a straight line at constant velocity is said to have steady
motion. That is, all vehicle acceleration terms are zero. There are four groups
of  forces acting on a vehicle in steady motion—propulsive forces, retarding
forces, weight and normal forces. These forces are shown in Figure 7-1. Pro-
pulsive forces provide the forward thrust on the vehicle. For vehicles driven by
wheels, this is a tractive force, which acts at the tire patch of each driving wheel.
Retarding forces include all forces resisting forward motion of the vehicle, such
as aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance, and braking forces. Weight can be con-
sidered to act downward through the center of gravity of the vehicle. The normal
reaction forces act through the tire contact patches in a direction normal to the
road surface. As any cyclist has experienced, if the vehicle is moving up or down
a grade, a component of the weight becomes a significant retarding or propulsive


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  Road Loads

For a vehicle traveling at constant speed, the propulsive forces must equal the
retarding forces. The tractive force is a function of the driving wheel torque T and
drive wheel rolling diameter d, and is given by:

Fx = (7-8)

At typical cruising speeds for most vehicles, aerodynamic drag is the most im-
portant retarding force. For example, a 70-kg man riding an unfaired long-wheel
base recumbent bicycle over asphalt would expend a total of 158 Watts in order
to maintain 8.4 m/s on level ground without wind. He would expend 117 Watts to
overcome aerodynamic drag, but only 35 Watts to overcome rolling resistance. If
our rider switched to an upright touring bike, the power required to overcome
drag would increase to 165 Watts due to the greater drag force.
The drag force depends strongly on the speed of the vehicle, increasing with
the square of the speed. It also depends on the shape and size of the vehicle.

FAERO = C D AV 2 (7-9)

Where r is air density, A is the frontal or surface area of the vehicle, and CD is
known as the drag coefficient. The drag coefficient takes into account the shape
and surface texture of the vehicle. V is the air velocity, which is equal to the vehi-
cle speed if there is no wind. The drag force acts through the aerodynamic center
of pressure which is not easily computed. Aerodynamic forces can also produce
vertical forces, which can be significant at high speeds. If the vertical force is
directed up, it is termed lift; otherwise it is called a downforce. Drag and drag
coefficients are discussed in detail in Chapter 9.
There is some resistance to motion as tires roll over pavement. On very smooth
surfaces, tires deform to support the load, creating a flat patch of contact between
the tire and the flat road. Tires also deform as they roll over irregularities in the
road surface. In addition, if the surface is soft, such as sand or soft dirt, the sur-
face itself is deformed. The energy dissipated in these deformations gives rise to a
retarding force known as rolling resistance. Rolling resistance is directly propor-
tional to the vertical load on the wheel, but also depends on wheel diameter, tire
construction and tread, inflation pressure, and the roughness and properties of
the road surface. Larger diameter wheels can roll over surface irregularities eas-
ier, and thus have lower rolling resistance. Thin-walled tires with slick tread have
significantly less rolling resistance than do knobby tires designed for off-road


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

traction. The tread, particularly knobby tread patterns, deforms significantly, in-
creasing the hysteretic energy losses and rolling resistance. Rolling resistance is
given by:

FRR = WCRR (7-10)

Where W is the total weight of the vehicle and CRR is the coefficient of roll-
ing resistance. It can range from less than .002 for high-pressure racing tires on
smooth track surfaces to almost .02 for wide, low-pressure tires on rough roads.
Typical road bike tires on typical asphalt may have a CRR value around .005 or
so. Equation 7-10 is applicable to either a single wheel or the entire vehicle. If
all wheels are the same size, use the same tires, and are inflated to the same
pressure, CRR will be the same for all wheels. In that case, if W is the total vehicle
weight, the calculated force applies to the whole vehicle; if it is the vertical load
on one wheel, the force applies to that wheel only. For vehicles with different size
wheels or different tires, the rolling resistance coefficient CRR will vary between
wheels. In that case, the rolling resistance force is the sum of the product of the
vertical force on a wheel with the coefficient of rolling resistance for that wheel.

FRR = ∑F C
z ,i RR ,i (7-11)

In practice Equation 7-10 can be used for a vehicle with differing tire sizes/
types as long as CRR is determined for the entire vehicle. Generally, Equation 7-11
is only used if it is known that the coefficients of rolling resistance vary signifi-
cantly between wheels.
Braking forces FB are retarding forces that act at the tire contact patch in a
direction parallel with the road surface. As expected, they can be considerably
greater in magnitude than any of the other retarding forces. Braking forces are
treated in more detail later in this chapter.
Problems involving steady-motion road loads frequently involve determination
of the tractive force required to maintain steady speed on level roads or climbing
hills. For steep descents, the braking force required to maintain constant speed
can also be found. Usually, a cyclist is not braking and pedaling simultaneously,
so either Fx or FB is taken to be zero. For vehicles with steady motion on level
ground, the equilibrium equation for forces in the longitudinal direction is

Fx – FAERO – FRR – FB = 0 (7-12)


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On a grade, an additional term is required in Equation 7-12 to account for the grav-
itational force pushing the vehicle downhill. The complete term is mg sin(tan–1 G),
but the small angle approximation mgG again incurs less than a 2% error at a grade
of 20%. Thus, for steady motion up or down a hill Equation 7-12 becomes:

Fx – FAERO – FRR – FB – mgG = 0 (7-13)

Equation 7-13 describes the longitudinal forces acting on a vehicle traveling

at constant speed. It is an important equation for modeling vehicle loads acting
on a vehicle, and is the basis for the power-speed models developed in Chapter
8. In conjunction with Equations 7-6 both longitudinal and lateral loads can be
analyzed. Lateral forces are developed during cornering, and are the subject of
the next section.

Basic Loads in a Steady Turn

Lateral forces act on a vehicle to produce and maintain a turn. In accordance
with Newton’s first law, a body moving in a curvilinear path must be acted on by
an external force. For a turning vehicle, the tires sustain cornering forces that
cause the vehicle to turn. These forces depend on tire properties and angles, and
are discussed in detail in Chapter 11. A steady turn is one in which neither the
vehicle speed nor the turn radius changes. During a steady turn the tire forces
produce the lateral acceleration required for curvilinear motion. This force is di-
rected toward the inside of the turn, and is opposed by centrifugal force, which
is just the inertial force –may. The lateral acceleration ay is related to the vehicle
speed and turn radius by:

ay = (7-14)
Where V is the speed of the vehicle and R is the turn radius, measured from
the turn center to the center of gravity of the vehicle. The total side load on the
wheels is given by Newton’s second law as Fy = may. This load is shared by the
front and rear axles in proportion to the normal load, or weight, on each axle, or

V2   ay 
Fyf = Wf   = Wf   = Wf Ay
 gR   g 
V 
 ay 
Fyr = Wr   = Wr   = Wr Ay
 gR   g 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 7-6  Lateral forces on a turning vehicle

Equations 7-15 describe the lateral loads acting on a vehicle. For convenience,
they are expressed in three different forms. These equations complete the set of
fundamental equilibrium equations applied to a vehicle in steady motion. Equa-
tions 7-6, 7-13, and 7-15 describe the forces on such a vehicle in the Z, X, and Y
coordinate dimensions respectively.
In a steady turn, a rolling moment is produced that tends to overturn the vehi-
cle. The moment is produced because Fyf and Fyr act in the ground plane, but the
countering centrifugal force may acts through the center of gravity of the vehicle,
located at a height h above the ground. The rolling moment is the product of the
total lateral force and the CG height, Fyh. A tricycle or quadricycle resists this mo-
ment by an increased vertical load on the outside wheels, known as lateral load
transfer. A bicycle must lean into the turn to reduce or eliminate this moment.
The lean angle that eliminates this moment is found by summing moments about
the longitudinal axis of the vehicle.
V2 
θ = tan −1  
 gR  (7-16)


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A rider that maintains this lean angle will experience no rolling moment. If she
does not maintain this angle, she will have to shift her weight to prevent rolling
and a potential accident. When the ideal lean angle is realized, the force on the
wheels is purely radial. This is very good for bicycle wheels, which are much
stronger in the radial direction than in the lateral direction. Note, however, that
this does not reduce or eliminate the side load on the bicycle as a whole. There is
always a side load on a turning vehicle.
The dynamics of a turning vehicle are much more complex than the preceding
discussion might indicate. Cornering performance depends on the reaction be-
tween the tire and the road surface, tire slip angles, steering linkage construction,
and other factors. Cornering is discussed in more detail in Chapter 11.

Acceleration and Braking

Acceleration and braking both result in changes in the forward velocity of the
vehicle. Equation 7-13 is no longer valid, since the right-hand term is no longer
zero, but max. Acceleration performance for human-powered vehicles is limited
either by available power or by low traction conditions. Usually, available power
is the limiting factor. Only on low traction surfaces, such as ice or loose gravel, is
traction-limited acceleration a problem. Brakes on human-powered vehicles are
almost invariably much more powerful than the human rider. A vehicle usually
can stop from a given speed in a much shorter distance than it can accelerate up
to that speed. Like acceleration, braking performance has two possible limiting
conditions: slipping on a low-traction surface or forward pitch-over.
The acceleration/braking analysis is quasi-static, meaning that we can use
Equation 7-13 but must now include an inertial term max on the right-hand side.

Fx – FAERO – FRR – FB – mgG = max (7-17)

The inertial term is the product of total vehicle mass m and longitudinal accel-
eration ax. Equation 7-17 is valid for both acceleration and braking—the acceler-
ation term is positive if the vehicle speed is increasing and negative if the speed
is decreasing.
During acceleration, the braking force FB is usually zero and the traction force
Fx is limited either by the power of the rider or the available traction. During
braking, the traction force is generally zero. Under most conditions, the brak-
ing force can be much larger than the maximum tractive effort created by rider
power. A strong rider starting from a full stop and pedaling hard might achieve


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

5  m/s2 (about 0.5 G’s) peak acceleration, but this value could not be sustained
more than a second or so. Braking on a hard, dry road surface can easily achieve
decelerations of 0.8 G’s or higher, and high braking levels can be maintained as
long as necessary to stop.

Power-Limited Acceleration
This chapter primarily treats forces. Power is the topic of Chapter 8. However,
in considering acceleration, power must be included as it is a limiting factor. The
drive power is the power that pushes the vehicle forward—the power at the drive
wheel contact patch. It is denoted by P¢ and is related to the traction force Fx and
the vehicle velocity by:

Fx = (7-18)

(The drive power is less than the total power supplied by the operator(s) be-
cause of mechanical losses in the drivetrain, as will be described in Chapter 8.)
Substituting Equation 7-18 into 7-17 and solving for the acceleration illustrates
the relationship between acceleration, drive power, and the longitudinal road
loads already discussed.

1 P ′ 
ax = − (F AERO + FRR + mgG ) (7-19)
m  V 

Acceleration is frequently expressed terms of G’s, where one G is equal to the

acceleration of gravity. This provides a more intuitive measure of acceleration
in  terms of our normal experience in Earth’s gravitational field. For example, a
bicycle and rider weigh 750 Newtons and accelerate at 1.96 m/s2. It may be rather
difficult to have an intuitive feel for this number. To obtain acceleration in G’s,
divide a by the acceleration due to gravity (9.81 m/s2­ or 32.2 ft/s2). In this example,
a 1.96
Ax = x = = 0.2 G. The inertial force max is then easily obtained by 750 ´ 0.2 =
g 9.81
150 Newtons.
In this text, lower case a is used for acceleration in units of length per time
squared, and upper case A is used for acceleration in dimensionless G’s. Equation
7-19 can be converted by dividing both sides by g.

1 P ′ 
Ax =  − (FAERO + FRR + mgG ) (7-20)
mg  V 


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Either equation shows that acceleration depends on the available drive power
in excess of that required to overcome drag, rolling resistance and hill climbing.

If P is greater than the sum of the longitudinal forces, power is available to ac-
celerate the vehicle.

Traction-Limited Acceleration
In low-traction conditions such as icy roads, acceleration performance may
be limited by traction rather than power. In this case, the drive wheel slips, pro-
ducing little or no drive power. This is not common, but does occur with smooth
tires on snow, mud, and even wet grass, particularly if the drive wheel is lightly
loaded. It usually occurs during heavy pedal forces, and the resulting sudden spin
of the pedals can be painful. However, under normal conditions human-powered
vehicles do not have enough power to reach the traction limit.
If μ is the coefficient of friction between the tire and the road, the maximum
traction force is given by

Fx,max = mWDW (7-21)

Where WDW is the vertical load on the driving wheel. (For rear-wheel drive
vehicles, WDW = Wr, and is given by Equation 7-13. For front-wheel drive vehicles
WDW = Wf. Some multitrack vehicles with a driving wheel on only one side will have
a different value.) The maximum acceleration under traction-limiting conditions
is then found by replacing the power term in Equation 7-20 with μWDW. The result,
expressed in G’s, is given by Equation 7-22.

Ax ,MAX = µWDW − (FAERO + FRR + mgG ) (7-22)
mg 

On level ground, the grade G is zero, the last term is not applicable. Large accel-
erations for human-powered vehicles typically occur at low speeds, where aerody-
namic drag is of little consequence. If rolling resistance is also neglected, it is seen
that the acceleration limit in G’s is numerically equal to the coefficient of friction.

Ax,max = m (7-23)

Computationally, Equations 7-20 and 7-22 may be more convenient if multiplied

through by the vehicle weight. The rolling resistance and grade terms are then
simplified. Doing so results in the following equations for maximum acceleration.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

 P ′   FAERO 
Power Limited: Ax ,MAX =   −  mg + C RR + G 
 mgV   
 µWDW   FAERO 
Traction Limited: Ax ,MAX =  − + C RR + G 
 mg   mg 

It is worth noting that loss of traction can also occur while climbing on wet
or loose surfaces. Upright bicycles ascending steep grades on wet roads or loose
surfaces are particularly prone to slipping when the rider stands on the pedals.
Standing shifts weight to the front wheel, reducing rear wheel traction. Pulling a
trailer up a grade with poor traction conditions also exacerbates the problem. The
traction force must be sufficient to pull the trailer, but the trailer weight does not
bear on the drive wheel. Recumbent vehicles are generally somewhat less likely to
lose traction under power, but can still do so when conditions are poor.

Example 7-2
A 70 kg cyclist attempts to ride a 12 kg upright bicycle towing a 25 kg
trailer up an 8% grade at 2 m/s. The combined bike/trailer rolling resistance
coefficient is 0.01, and the trailer load is balanced such that the tongue
weight is negligible. A light rain has fallen on an oily road surface, reducing
the friction coefficient to .18. The bicycle wheelbase is 1 m.
The cyclist stands on the pedals, shifting the center of gravity to 65 cm
forward of the rear axle and 110 cm above the ground. What is the maximum
possible acceleration? Seated, the center of gravity is 41 cm forward of the
rear axle and 99 cm above the ground. What is the maximum possible accel-
eration when seated?


At 2 m/s, the drag force can be neglected. To determine the weight on the
rear wheel (the drive wheel) use Equation 7-7. However, the mass used in
this calculation should not include the trailer mass. Since the tongue weight
is negligible, all the trailer weight is supported by the trailer wheels. (How-
ever, the trailer weight does contribute to the rolling resistance and gravity
terms.) Substituting Equation 7-7 into the first term in Equation 7-24 gives

Wr  (L − b ) + hG   (1.0 − .65) + 1.10 × .08 

µ = µ  = .18   = .0788
mg  L   1.0 


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The maximum acceleration is then given, in G’s, by Equation 7-24 as –.011 G:

Ax = .0788 – .01 – .08 = –.011

The negative sign indicates that the bicycle is slowing down. Even if roll-
ing resistance is omitted, the bicycle would continue slowing down, eventu-
ally coming to a stop. The rider will be unable to climb to the top of the hill.
If the rider sits on the saddle, however, the center of gravity shifts aft and
down. The maximum acceleration is then

Ax = .1205 – .01 – .08 = .03

In this case, the acceleration is positive, albeit small. The rider will be
able to continue up the hill. If the cyclist used panniers rather than a trailer,
the cargo weight would have increased the load on the rear wheel and made
climbing the slick hill more feasible.

Inertia Coefficient
The expressions for maximum acceleration are useful for estimating accelera-
tion limits. However, for accurate calculation of acceleration under a given set of
conditions the inertial effects of wheels and moving drive train components must
be included. This will become important in the power-speed models described in
Chapter 8. During acceleration, a certain amount of energy is required to accel-
erate the wheels, chain, and crankset. This energy is stored as kinetic energy in
these components, but this effect was not included in Equation 7-24. The actual
acceleration obtained with a given supply power will be slightly less than pre-
dicted due to this effect. For the greatest accuracy, the inertia of components
should be included the analysis.
The wheels have the largest mass moment of inertia of all the drivetrain
components, and hence contribute most to the acceleration capabilities of the
bicycle. To include the contribution of the wheels, sum torques on the driving

Tc = Fxr + Ia (7-25)


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The parameters I, a, and r are the mass moment of inertia, the angular accelera-
tion, and the rolling radius of the drive wheel. This equation can be converted to a
power equation by multiplying through by the angular velocity of the driving wheel

Tcw = Fxrw + Iaw

Noting that rw = V, α = ax and ω = this expression becomes
r r

Fx rV IaxV Ia V
PDW = + 2 = P ′ + x2 (7-26)
r r r

where PDW is the power supplied to the drive wheel and r is the driving wheel ra-
dius. The non-driven wheels must also be accounted for. If they are the same size
as the drive wheel, the moments of inertia can simply be added and Equation 7-26
can be used as-is. However, if they are different sizes, the relationship between
ax and a is different, and must be accounted for separately. The total supplied
power then becomes

 I R axV I F axV 
PS = P ′ + +  (7-27)
 rR2 rF2 

The power to accelerate the crankset is Icacwc where the subscripts indicate
the crankset inertia, angular acceleration, and angular velocity, respectively. The
angular velocity and acceleration at the crank is related to those at the drivewheel
through the velocity ratio, which is the ratio of teeth on the wheel sprocket to
those on the chainring. Hence

ωC = ωDW

αC = α DW

Where the subscript DW refers to the drive wheel, and NW and NC are the
number of teeth on the freewheel and crank sprocket, respectively. The power to
accelerate the crankset is thus
 axV  NW 
IC  2  
 rDW  N C 


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Adding this term to Equation 7-27 give the total power supplied by the opera-
tor to accelerate from initial speed V with an acceleration ax.

  I R IF  1  N W  
2 
PS = P ′ +  2
+ + I C  r 2  N   axV  (7-28)
  rR rF2  DW  C   

The terms in the curly braces depend only on the vehicle parameters, and not
on operational or environmental conditions. A single value can be computed that
remains constant for a given vehicle. It is convenient do so, and the resulting pa-
rameter is known as the inertia coefficient. The inertia coefficient CI is defined
for convenience to make acceleration problems easier to write and solve. Specifi-
cally, the inertia coefficient is defined as

 IR I F  I C  N W  

CI =  + + 2    (7-29)
 rR
rF2  rDW  N C  

Substituting CI into Equation 7-28 gives a simplified form.

PS = [P¢ + CIaxV] (7-30)

The inertia coefficient CI provides an insight into the effects of rotational iner-
tia on vehicle acceleration. It has units of mass, which makes direct comparisons
to the vehicle mass possible. For example, a bicycle and rider have a mass of 80 kg
and CI of 4 kg. This means that the effect of the inertia of the wheels and drive-
train on acceleration performance is equal to that of adding 4 kg, or 5%, to the
mass of the bicycle. For maximum acceleration performance, reducing weight is
important, but reducing rotating weight will have a greater benefit.
The inertia coefficient definition may be changed to include more or less detail
without affecting Equation 7-30. For example, the crank inertia can be neglected
by omitting the third term in Equation 7-29. Additional accuracy, particularly for
vehicles with long chains, can be obtained by including the inertia of the chain.
However, this is generally a fairly complicated calculation. The inertia coefficient
is used in the power models developed in Chapter 8.
It should be noted that actual acceleration performance is affected strongly by
the ability to effectively supply power to the drive wheel. The relationship between
pedal force, cadence, acceleration, and speed is quite important. Humans pedaling
leg cranks have a fairly narrow cadence range over which maximum power can be


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

attained. The curve of power with respect to cadence is shaped like an inverted U,
with a peak in the range of 90 or more RPM. Human-Powered vehicles are equipped
with a range of gears to enable riders to maintain optimal cadence over a wide speed
range. High accelerations necessarily imply rapid speed changes, so shifts must be
made during acceleration to maintain an acceptable gear. However, shifting usually
requires an interruption of power to the drive wheels, and thus adversely affects
acceleration performance. (Modern derailleurs and cassettes are capable of shift-
ing under full load, so in some cases the interrupted power flow is minimized.) Ac-
celeration performance is thus strongly influenced by the quality of the shift system
and the spacing of gears. This is addressed more fully in Chapter 12.

Load Transfer during Acceleration and Braking

The vertical load on each axle changes when the vehicle accelerates or de-
celerates. The change in axle load is known as longitudinal load transfer. Since
the total weight of the vehicle remains constant, the sum of the axle loads is
also constant, but the weight fraction on each axle depends on the acceleration
and the height of the center of gravity. During hard braking, load is transferred
from the rear axle to the front axle, whereas during acceleration, load is trans-
ferred to the rear axle. The load shift is due primarily to the moment produced
by the inertial force –max acting through the center of gravity. The negative sign
indicates that this “force” is directed aft (negative x-direction) for a positive ac-
celeration. For braking, the acceleration is negative. The loads on each wheel can
be found by summing moments about the front and rear tire patches, as was done
for the acceleration limits. In that case, the longitudinal forces and the limiting
longitudinal accelerations were of interest. Here, the vertical wheel loads are of
interest. The applicable free-body diagram is shown in Figure 7-7.
Summing moments about the rear wheel contact patch and then about the
front wheel contact patch and solving each for the unknown wheel force gives
the equations for the front and rear wheel loads during acceleration. Note that
dimensionless acceleration is used in these equations.

Wf = (b − Gh − Ax h )
W (7-31)
Wr = ((L − b ) + Gh + Ax h )
The term   Ax h is the load that is shifted due to acceleration. For the same
L 
acceleration, long, low vehicles will experience less load shift than high short


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Figure 7-7  Free body diagram used to find the longitudinal load shift during

vehicles. Low racers incur relatively little load shift, while upright bicycles may
experience a significant amount.
Equations 7-31 are valid for both positive and negative accelerations (increas-
ing and decreasing speed, respectively). As noted, human-powered vehicles
generally are not capable of achieving high positive accelerations under most
conditions. Braking does produce large negative accelerations, and the load shift
from rear to front axle may be very significant for vehicles with high or forward
centers of gravity. In extreme cases, this can lead to vehicle pitchover—the vehicle
flips forward, usually sending the rider over the handlebars in a dangerous acci-
dent. Upright bicycles and tadpole tricycles tend to be more prone to braking pi-
tchover. Tadpole trikes often have a center of gravity closer to the front axle than
the rear (large b) while upright bikes have a high cg (large h).
To be strictly complete, the drive torque reaction acting on the vehicle frame
also contributes somewhat to the load shift. Under heavy load, there can be a sig-
nificant torque at the rear wheel. This is particularly true at very low speed when
the operator is exerting a large force on the pedals. The frame reacts against the
wheel torque, which also unloads the front wheel. This is a small effect, and may
generally be neglected.

Peak braking forces on human-powered vehicles can be much larger than peak
acceleration forces from hard pedaling. The ability to stop in a short distance


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Example 7-3
A 77 kg cyclist rides a 14 kg long wheelbase recumbent bicycle. The
wheelbase is 1.6 m, while the center of gravity position and height are
56 cm and 75 cm respectively. Compare the front wheel load fraction for
riding at constant speed on level ground with that for 0.5 G braking on a
6% down grade.


For riding on level ground, the front wheel load is

mgb (77 + 14) × 9.91 × .56

Wf = = = 312 N
L 1.60

The corresponding weight fraction is

Wf 312
ff = = = .35
W 893

This is a typical value for long wheelbase vehicles, which tend to have
lightly loaded front wheels. For braking on a 6% downslope, the front wheel
load and the corresponding front wheel weight fraction is:

W 893
Wf = (b − Gh − Ax h ) = (.56 + .05 × .75 + .6 × .75) = 547 N
L 1.60

W 547
ff = f = = 0.61
W 893

Note that both the grade term and the deceleration term are positive, un-
like the first Equation 7-31. This is because the grade is negative (downhill)
and the acceleration in negative (slowing).
The increased load on the front axle is rather significant in this example,
although the rear wheel is not fully unloaded. It is instructive to look at the
braking and down hill components separately, to see which has the greater
effect. A total of 234 Newtons was transferred to the front axle, of which 25 N
were due to the down grade and 209 N were due to braking. This illustrates
how important braking can be on vehicle loads.


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while maintaining control is an important safety attribute of any vehicle. Good

braking performance is particularly important when riding in traffic in order to
avoid collisions. Even with good brakes, most upright bicycles require a longer
stopping distance than a typical automobile with the same initial speed. Stopping
power for recumbent bicycles is often superior to a comparable upright bike, due
to the lower CG height and the greater distance between the CG and the front
axle. For either type, the dangers of inadequate stopping distance must still be
addressed during the design stage.
Like acceleration, the maximum braking force is limited by either loss of trac-
tion or by shifting so much weight to the front wheel that the rear wheel is lifted
off the ground. The first case results in reduced braking performance and possible
loss of control, either of which can lead to an accident. In good traction condi-
tions, the forward weight shift may cause the rider to be thrown over the handle-
bars, potentially sustaining serious head or neck injuries.
The longitudinal load shift from the rear wheel to the front wheel always oc-
curs during braking. The pitchover threshold, at which the vertical force on the
rear wheel just goes to zero, limits braking when traction is good. This can be
found from Equation 7-31 by setting the rear wheel load to zero and solving for
the acceleration. Assuming level ground, the term Gh may be omitted, giving the
following braking limit:

(L − b )
Ax ,Unload rear wheel = − (7-32)

The negative sign simply indicates that the acceleration is negative, that is,
the vehicle is braking. Some skillful riders can brake hard, lifting the rear wheel
off the ground while maintaining control of the vehicle. More often this results
in a hazardous accident in which the rider is thrown over the handlebars. While
it is possible to exceed this limit on recumbent vehicles, it is more common with
upright bicycles and tadpole trikes.
In some cases, traction is not sufficient for a vehicle to pitch over. In this case,
the vehicle skids prior to unloading the rear wheel. Usually, the rear wheel begins
to skid first, as the vertical load is reduced. Once skidding starts, braking is ad-
versely affected and the deceleration is decreased. This usually precludes both
skidding and pitchover from occurring. However, if the front brakes have good
traction and the CG is forward, the rear wheel can skid and, with increased front
braking, the vehicle can still pitch over. Tadpole trikes are more prone to this than
many other vehicles.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

On level ground, traction limited deceleration is found by noting that FB,max =

mmg. Applying Newton’s second law gives mmg = –max. Dividing through by mg,
and solving for the deceleration gives the skid limit for braking.

Ax,skid = –m (7-33)

This equation differs from that for traction-limited acceleration, Equation 7-23,
only in sign. The maximum deceleration (in G’s) is just equal to the braking coeffi-
cient. Both limiting braking equations are reproduced here for clarity.

 L −b 
Pitchover Limited: Ax ,MAX = −  
 h  (7-34)

Traction Limited: Ax ,MAX = −µ

Due to the load transfer during deceleration, it is unusual for most vehicles
to lose traction on both axles at the same time. With bicycles, the rear wheel
generally loses traction first, due to the reduced vertical load. Maximum braking
performance will occur at a deceleration that just keeps the rear wheel in contact
with the ground or just keeps the wheels from skidding. Exceeding these limits
can increase stopping distance and risk loss of control of the vehicle.

Braking Performance
Braking performance may be measured either by the time or the distance to
come to a full stop from a given initial speed. Equation 7-17 can be used to ana-
lyze stopping distance by setting the drive force to zero and assuming a constant
deceleration. Assume that the braking force is constant during the deceleration.
Also assume a constant grade and that the rolling resistance is independent of
velocity. The relevant equation is then

{FB + FRR + mgG} + FAERO = max (7-35)

The terms in the curly braces can be taken as constant retarding forces, desig-
nated FD for convenience. The drag force cannot be combined with the remaining
forces because it is dependent on the squared velocity of the vehicle, and hence
does not remain constant during the braking process. However, the magnitude of
the drag force is small compared to the braking force, particularly at stops made


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  Road Loads

from low to moderate speeds. Under these conditions, drag can be neglected with
little loss of accuracy.
For simplicity, initially assume a stop made from a low initial speed such that
aerodynamic drag can be neglected. With FAERO = 0 and this simplification, and as-
suming that FD is constant, the deceleration will also be constant. The distance
and time required to stop can be calculated based by noting that ax = − , so
dV dt
FD = −m . Integrating and solving for t gives the time to decelerate:
ts = (V0 − VF ) (7-36)

Where V0 is the initial speed and VF is the final speed of the vehicle. Letting
VF = 0 gives the time required to come to a full stop.

 1   1 
t SD =  V0 =  V0 (7-37)
 ax   gAx 

Likewise, the distance required to come to a full stop is given by:


Note that the stopping time is proportional to the initial speed, whereas the
stopping distance is proportional to the speed squared. If the initial speed is dou-
bled, the stopping time is doubled, but the distance required to stop is quadrupled.
For stops made from high initial speeds, aerodynamic drag becomes signifi-
cant. With the drag term included in Equation 7-35, the deceleration is not con-
stant, even for constant FD. The stopping distance with drag included is given by

 m    ρC D A  2 
x SD =   ln  1 +  Vo  (7-39)
 ρC D A    2FD  

Neglecting the drag term, as in Equation 7-38, always results in overestimating

the stopping distance. If used in design, this results in an extra margin of safety.
The difference between Equation 7-38 and Equation 7-39 increases with initial
speed—the faster the initial speed the more wind resistance will help to stop the
vehicle. Likewise, a more streamlined the vehicle (low drag area CD A) is affected
less by drag and requires more distance to stop. At low initial speeds the differ-
ence between the two equations is slight.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Example 7-4
A pedicab loaded with two passengers must make an emergency brake to
stop from 8 m/s on a downhill grade of 3%. The total vehicle mass is 300 kg.
The coefficient of rolling resistance Crr is .008 and the drag area CD A is 1.5
m2. The braking friction coefficient is 0.80. The pedicab has a wheelbase of
2.0 m, with a center of gravity located 0.40 meters forward of the rear axle
and 1.3 m above the ground.
Determine the time and distance to stop under maximum braking.


First, the limiting deceleration must be determined. The pitchover limit

is given by

L − b 2.0 − 0.40
Ax ,pitchover = = = 1.23
h 1.3

The skid limit is similarly given by:

Ax,skid = m = 0.80

Since Ax,skid < Ax,pitchover, the limiting factor is a skid. Assume that the pedi-
cab driver is sufficiently skilled so as to maintain braking just prior to initiat-
ing a skid. The deceleration is then 0.80 Gs.
Next, find the retarding forces due to the downhill gradient and rolling

Frr = mgC rr = 300 × 9.81 × 0.008 = 23.5 N

Fgrade = mgG = 300 × 9.81 × ( −.03) = −88.3 N

Notice that the force due to the grade is negative because the pedicab is
rolling downhill. Neglect aerodynamic drag for the time being. The total re-
tarding force FD is then equal to max, as in Equation 7-35. The braking force
is thus given by

FB = FD − Frr − Fgrade = mAx g − Frr − Fgrade

FB = 300 × 9.81 × 0.80 − 23.5 − ( −88.3) = 2419 N


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  Road Loads

This is a very large braking force. Pedicabs must be equipped with power-
ful brakes in order to stop the large loads they must carry. The time and dis-
tance to stop, neglecting air resistance, is given by Equations 7-37 and 7-38:

 1   1 
ts =  Vo =  0.8 × 9.81  8 = 1.5 s
 Ax g 

1  2  1  2
xs =  Vo =  2 × 0.8 × 9.81  8 = 9.2 m
2 A
 x  g

Compare the stopping distance above with that obtained by Equation
7-39, which takes into account aerodynamic drag. Assuming a standard at-
mosphere with r = 1.226, the stopping distance is:

 m    ρC D A  2 
xs =   ln  1 +  Vo 
 ρC D A    2FD  

 300    1.2 × 1.5  
xs =  2
 ln  1 +  2 × 2354  8  = 8.9 m
 1.2 × 1.5     

A loaded pedicab is a large, heavy, and has a large drag area. A vehicle such
as this one would reach terminal velocity on a 3% grade at about 8.5 m/s, so
the operator in this case would not need to work to obtain the 8 m/s speed.
However, even though drag was significant and the initial speed relatively
slow (for most HPVs), the difference between including and neglecting drag
was only 30 cm over 9 m of stopping distance, or 2.8%.


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C ycling performance can be modeled and predicted fairly easily once the road
forces are understood. Road loads such as aerodynamic drag, rolling resis-
tance, and hill climbing resist the rider’s efforts. If the rider is generating more
power at the cranks than the total resistive power, the vehicle will speed up. Con-
versely, if she is generating less power, the vehicle will slow down. Performance
models relate the vehicle speed and ride conditions to the power required of the
rider. They can predict performance for competitive events and the potential for
success in record-breaking efforts. They are also useful for determining if a ve-
hicle is “fast” or “easy to pedal.” In this case, “fast” is taken to mean that under
typical operating conditions and with an average rider generating average power,
the vehicle is faster than an average or typical vehicle. “Easy to pedal” may mean
the same thing, but often the implication is that at average speeds the power re-
quired is less than that for an average vehicle.
The external factors that resist motion include aerodynamic drag, rolling re-
sistance, bearing and drive train friction, and changes in potential and kinetic en-
ergy. Martin et al.1 conducted a study to determine if mathematical models using
these terms can accurately predict a cyclist’s power requirements during cycling.
Their findings demonstrated that such models can do so with high accuracy. Of
course, the accuracy of any model depends on the accuracy of the parameter val-
ues used. An accurate estimate of drag power, for example, requires an accurate
value of the drag coefficient. Parameter estimation in the design stage can be
difficult, and is discussed in other chapters.
The power required to ride a vehicle under a given set of conditions is the sum
of the road forces acting on the vehicle, each multiplied by the road velocity of

Martin, James C., Douglas L. Milliken, John E. Cobb, Kevin L. McFadden, and Andrew R.

Coggan, “Validation of a Mathematical Model for Road Cycling Power,” Journal of Applied
Mechanics, 14, 276–291, 1988.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

the vehicle. Drive train friction is not a road load, and is accounted for by divid-
ing the required power by the drive train efficiency. The road power formula in a
generic form is given in Equation 8-1.

PTOTAL = {PAERO + PRR + PWB + P∆ΚΕ + P∆PE } (8-1)

η = Mechanical efficiency of the drive train
PAERO = Aerodynamic drag power
PRR = Rolling resistance power
PWB = Wheel bearing friction power
P∆KE = Change in kinetic energy
P∆PE = Change in potential energy

Many of these terms have been discussed in the previous sections. They will be
reviewed here for clarity and consistency.

Drive Train Efficiency

All mechanical drive systems incur some power losses. This is due to friction
in the chain, pedal and bottom bracket bearings, idlers, and gears, if so equipped.
(Frame flexure and torsion due to the cyclical pedal loads can also contribute
to power losses.) These loads are generally not evaluated individually, but are
lumped together as system losses.
When actually measuring power output while riding, the instruments used may
or may not include the drive train power losses. Some commercially available
systems use an instrumented rear hub, while others use instrumented cranks.
(Other methods, ranging from chain vibration to heart rate, have also been used
to measure power, usually with less accuracy.) If power is measured at the crank,
drive train power losses are included in the power measurement. Hub based sys-
tems measure power downstream from the drive train and will not capture these
losses. That is, the cyclist is actually generating somewhat more power than indi-
cated by the power meter.
Drive train efficiency is defined as the ratio of the power available at the drive
wheel divided by the power supplied by the crank.


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  Speed and Power Models

PDrive Wheel (8-2)


Drive train efficiencies for typical bicycle chain drives in good condition and
properly lubricated are quite good, often exceeding 95% and under ideal conditions
exceeding 98%. The best hub gears approach these efficiencies, particularly at high
power levels. Intermediate drives, chain guides and other components sometimes
used on recumbent and front-wheel drive vehicles can generally be expected to re-
duce efficiency. Drive train efficiencies are discussed in more depth in Chapter 12.

Aerodynamic Drag
Aerodynamic drag is the most significant factor in the power equation for mod-
erate and high speed riding. Only for low speed vehicles or on steep grades does
its significance diminish. The formula for computing aerodynamic drag presented
in Chapter 7 is given as if the vehicle were placed in a wind tunnel, with the wind
always coming from directly in front of the vehicle. On the road, this is seldom
the case. The wind component produced by the motion of the bicycle (known as
the ground speed,VG) must be added to the natural wind VW to obtain the relative
wind velocity VR. The drag force depends on the component of the relative wind
velocity that is tangent to the direction of the vehicle’s motion. This is the head-
wind component, designated VH. The power, however, is the product of the drag
force (which depends on the head wind speed VH) and the ground speed VG. Thus
both velocity terms appear in the drag power formula:

1 
PAERO =  ρVH2 (C D A )VG (8-3)
2 

Given the direction of the wind DW and the direction of the vehicle DV, the
headwind component can be found by

VH = VG + VW cos(DW – DB) (8-4)

Where VG is the vehicle speed over the road, VW is the wind speed, and DW and
DB are respectively the directions of the wind and the bicycle. The bicycle direc-
tion is the compass heading that the vehicle is going, while the wind direction is
the compass direction from which the wind is blowing. The term VW cos(DW – DB)


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

is the headwind component of the natural wind. The crosswind component, also
known as the normal wind component, is given by:

VCW = VW sin(DW – DB) (8-5)

The relative wind strikes the vehicle at some angle to the direction of motion
of the vehicle. This angle is known as the aerodynamic yaw angle, and is given by

 VCW  −1  (VG + VW cos( DW − DB ) 

Y A = tan −1   = tan  V sin(D − D )  (8-6)
 H   W W B 

The aerodynamic yaw angle may be significant because drag area—the prod-
uct of drag coefficient and area—will vary with wind yaw angle. Depending on the
vehicle, the drag area may increase or decrease. The drag force and consequently
the power to overcome drag usually increase, particularly at high yaw angles,
even if the headwind component remains constant. This is why a cyclist riding
with a direct crosswind will not ride as fast as on a calm day for the same power
output. A noticeable tailwind component must be present to help the rider. Gen-
erally, the wind direction must be more than 100º from the direction of the vehicle
to be beneficial. Streamliners can be exceptions to this rule. It is possible for a
streamliner to develop a thrust force in the presence of a crosswind. The thrust
force can more than compensate for the increased drag, making even small yaw
angles advantageous. However, even some unfaired road bikes may experience a
slight reduction in drag area with small yaw angles.
Equation 8-3 is valid for crosswind conditions, provided that the drag area
CDA is determined as a function of the aerodynamic yaw angle YA. This is best ac-
complished with wind tunnel testing which is often costly and difficult. Modeling
crosswind effects is generally less important for designers of unfaired vehicles.
However, designers of streamliners and HPVs with large fairings that might be-
have adversely in crosswind conditions should assess the effects of aerodynamic
yaw on vehicle handling and performance.

Example 8-1
A cyclist on an unfaired bicycle travels 30º northeast at 10 m/s. The wind
is from the south (180º) at 6 m/s. Find the relative headwind and crosswind
components, the magnitude of the relative wind, and the aerodynamic yaw
angle. Also find the power required to overcome aerodynamic drag if the
cyclist’s drag area AFCD = 0.30 m2.


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  Speed and Power Models


DW is the direction from which the wind is blowing and DB is the direction
the cyclist is riding. Thus, DW = 180° and DB = 30°. Then

VH = 10 + 6cos(180° − 30°) = 4.8 m/s

VCW = 6sin(180° − 30°) = 3.0 m/s

VR = 4.8 2 + 3.02 = 8.1 m/s

 3.0 
Y = tan −1   = 32°
 4.8 

To find the drag power, the air density must be known. Assume a standard
day at sea level. The standard air density is then 1.226 kg/m3. The power
required to overcome drag is given by Equation 8-3.

ρ   1.226 
PAERO =  VH2 (C D A )VG =  4.8 2 (.3)10 = 42 W
2   2 

The tailwind significantly reduces the drag power. In still wind conditions,
the cyclist would need to produce 184 W to maintain 10 m/s. The brisk tail-
wind reduced aerodynamic power requirements by 76%.

The spokes of rotating wheels also produce aerodynamic drag. Large numbers
of round spokes on small diameter wheels are poorest, while disk or aero spoked
wheels are much better. For example, the test bicycle studied by Martin et al.
used an aerodynamic disk rear wheel and 24 aerodynamic spokes on the front
wheel. The drag due to wheel rotation was 1.7% of the total aerodynamic drag,
and accounted for less than 3 watts of power at moderate speeds. (Note that an
aerodynamic rim shape is designed for the flow of air over the wheel due to the
vehicle’s motion, not due to the wheel rotation.)
The easiest way to include the effects of wheel rotation on overall drag is to de-
fine a drag area of the wheels, ADW. This term is analogous to the vehicle drag area,
AD, but applies strictly to the drag force due to wheel rotation. The units are those


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

of area, and the term in general must be experimentally determined for a given
set of wheels. The significance of this term is small, and for many analyses may
be omitted with little consequence. When high accuracy is required—predicting
the likelihood of a world record time for example—the term should be included
in the power equation.
Designating the drag area of the wheels as ADW, the drag power due to wheel
rotation is

1 
PDW =  ρVH2  ADW VG (8-7)
2 

The total aerodynamic drag power is then the sum of Equations 8-3 and 8-7.

1 
PAERO =  ρVH2 (C D A + ADW )VG (8-8)
2 

Rolling Resistance
Rolling resistance is often the dominant retarding force for low speeds,
knobby, low-pressure tires on soft surfaces. It is always present, giving an effect
similar to riding up a slight grade. The power lost to rolling resistance depends
on the load on the wheel, and on tire/surface properties including tire construc-
tion, pressure, size, road surface, and possibly vehicle speed. Wilson2 reviews
several theories of rolling resistance. The effects of the tire/surface properties
are usually lumped together in a coefficient of rolling resistance, as discussed in
Chapter 7.
Strictly, the component of load normal to the road is used for rolling resis-
tance calculations. That is, if the vehicle is riding up or down a slope, the normal
forces, rather than the axle weights, should be used to estimate rolling resistance.
As noted in Chapter 7 however, the difference is not significant for typical road
The power required to overcome rolling resistance is given by:

PRR = (mg cos(tan–1G))(CRR)VG (8-9)

Wilson, David Gordon, Bicycling Science, 3rd Ed., MIT Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004.


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  Speed and Power Models

G = Gradient of the road
CRR = Coefficient of rolling resistance
mg = Vehicle weight

If the effects due to the grade are neglected, Equation 8-9 simplifies to

PRR = mgCRRVG (8-10)

The difference between the true term cos(tan–1 G) and the small angle approx-
imation of unity is 0.5% for a 10% grade and less than 2% for a very steep 20%
grade. Frequently the uncertainty of CRR is significantly greater than this error,
implying the simpler formula is sufficient for all but the most precise calculations.

Frictional Losses in Wheel Bearings

Power lost to friction in the wheel bearings is generally small, and for many
analyses may be neglected. For the best accuracy in performance prediction, the
term should be included, however. The bearing losses depend strongly on the
wheel diameter. Larger wheels rotate more slowly for a given road speed than
do smaller wheels. Dahn et al.3 reports bicycle wheel bearing frictional torque as

T = 0.015 + 0.00005n (8-11)

T = Torque (N-m)
n = Speed (RPM)

Recalling that power is torque times speed, and making the necessary conver-
sions to relate wheel speed to vehicle speed, the power (in Watts) lost to bearing
friction per wheel is

 .030  .006  
PBF =  + V V (8-12)
2  G G
 d  πd  

Dahn, K., L. Mai, J. Poland, and C. Jenkens, “Frictional Resistance in Bicycle Wheel Bear-
ings,” Cycling Science, 3(3), 28–32.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Where d is the wheel diameter in meters, and VG is given in meters per second.
Note the unit dependence of Equation 8-12 !

Changes in Potential Energy

The power to climb a steep grade easily becomes the dominant retarding force
on a cyclist, as most riders have experienced. It is strictly dependent on the vehi-
cle weight and rate of ascent, given by

PDPE = mg sin(tan–1 G)VG (8-13)

For grades less than 10%, sin(tan–1 G) » G, so DPE = mgGVG is a good


Changes in Kinetic Energy

Kinetic energy changes whenever the vehicle’s velocity changes. The av-
erage power required to change speed is the change in kinetic energy divided
by the time required for the acceleration or deceleration, . Recalling that
1 ∆t
KE = mVG , formulas for the average power due to changes in kinetic energy are
easily derived.


Note that Equation 8-14 includes the inertia of the drivetrain and wheels. It
gives the total change in kinetic energy corresponding to a change in speed. This
equation is useful if we know the initial and final speeds and the time interval for
acceleration, but sometimes the instantaneous power required to change speed is
more important. The instantaneous power required to accelerate from a speed VG
with an acceleration ax is given by

PDKE = (m + CI)axVG (8-15)


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  Speed and Power Models

Power Models
Equation 8-1 is used to model power-speed relationships for a vehicle, or for
guiding investigations into how to best improve performance. All terms are func-
tions of speed. Given that all applicable parameters are known, the power re-
quired of the operator can be predicted for any given speed. Likewise, if power is
known, the resulting speed can be predicted. These models can be quite accurate,
if sufficient care is used to evaluate the model parameters. Within a vehicle devel-
opment or improvement cycle, power models are used to identify the best areas
for improvement. The best areas to work on are those that will provide significant
performance enhancements without undue development costs. The power model
can quantitatively compare the performance benefits of a given improvement—a
5% reduction in vehicle weight, for example. A vehicle with a mass of 80 kg climb-
ing a 5% grade at 4 m/s would require 194 Watts. A 5% reduction in mass, to 76 kg,
would require only 185 Watts, a 4.6% reduction in power. While a 4 kg reduction
may be feasible for a heavy vehicle, it could be a daunting task for lightweight
Power models have been used quite successfully to predict performance in
time trial competitive events. (During road races, drafting and race strategy are
more important performance elements, and so the power models are much less
likely to predict finish times.) A few years ago, these models were used to suc-
cessfully predict the ability of an elite-class cyclist to break the world hour record.
Predicted speed for the hour record attempt was 52.880 km/hr, and actual speed
of the successful record attempt was 53.040 km/hr—a difference of only 160 me-
ters (Padilla et al., 2000).4 In this case, the applicable model parameters, along
with the subject’s physiological parameters, were very carefully and accurately
measured prior to the record attempt.
Equation 8-16 summarizes the terms that appear in the power equation. All
are functions of vehicle speed. Note that small angles have been assumed for road
grades, and the bearing friction term is split into front and rear tires, with df and
dr the front and rear wheel diameters, respectively. (For tricycles or quads, mul-
tiply the appropriate term by two.)

Padilla, Sabino, Inigo Mujika, Francisco Angulo, and Juan Jose Goiriena, “Scientific Ap-
proach to the 1-h Cycling World Record: a Case Study,” Journal of Applied Physiology,
89, 1522–1527, 2000.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

1 
PAERO =  ρVH2 (C D A + ADW )VG
2 


 .030  .006  .030  .006  

PBF =  + V +
2  G
+ V V (8-16)
2  G G
 df  πdf  dr  πdr  

P∆PE = mgGVG

P∆KE = ( m + C I )axVG

Example 8-2
A cyclist on a recumbent bicycle travels south (180º) 8 m/s. The wind is
from the south-southeast (150º) at 5 m/s. The drag area is AFCD = 0.4 m2. The
road is rough asphalt with a coefficient of rolling resistance Crr = .010. The
combined mass of the rider and bicycle is 90 kg; the inertia coefficient for
the two 25-622 wheels and the crank is CI = 2.1 kg. The drivetrain efficiency
is approximately 95%.
Find the power the cyclist must expend to maintain his speed. How much
additional power is required if the rider maintains speed on a slight 1% up
grade? How much additional power would be required to accelerate to 10 m/s
within 15 seconds on level ground?


DW is the direction from which the wind is blowing and DB is the direction
the cyclist is riding. Thus, DW = 150° and DB = 180°. Then

VH = 8 + 5 cos(150° – 180°) = 12.3 m/s

The power required to overcome drag is:

ρ   1.226 
PAERO =  VH2 (C D A )VG =  12.32 (.4)8 = 298 W
2   2 
The power required to overcome rolling resistance is:

PRR = mgCRRVG = 90 ´ 9.81 ´ 0.010 ´ 8 = 70.6 W


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  Speed and Power Models

Bearing friction results in power losses of:

The power lost to wheel bearing friction is small, and may often be ne-
glected. For high accuracy, such as predicting success in racing events, it
should be included however.
Riding at a constant speed on level ground, no energy is expended to
change potential or kinetic energy, so the total power required is:

1 1
PTOTAL = {PAERO + PRR + PWB } = {298 + 70.6 + 3.59} = 372 W
η .95

A healthy adult male could maintain this power level for more than a min-
ute, while an elite cyclist could maintain this power for more than an hour.
If the rider maintained speed while climbing a slight 1% grade, the in-
crease in power due to changes in potential energy is

PDPE = mgGVG = 90*9.81*.01*8 = 70.6 W

Bringing the total required power up to 443 Watts.

Back on level ground, the rider accelerates to 10 m/s in 15 seconds. The
additional power to accelerate is given by:

This brings the total power to 483 Watts, a level most non-competitive
riders could maintain only for a short time.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Cubic Power Model

Each of the terms in Equation 8-16 is a polynomial function of ground speed.
The aerodynamic drag terms are cubic with respect to speed, while other terms
are linear or quadratic. A polynomial model is convenient for assessing speed/
power requirements. Substituting Equation 8-4 for VH in Equation 8-16 and in-
serting these terms into Equation 8-1 gives a cubic polynomial expression for the
power required as a function of speed.

PTOTAL = C1VG3 + C 2VG2 + C 3VG (8-17)

Where the coefficients are


These coefficients are sufficient if acceleration is constant and known. If it

is desired to find the acceleration resulting from a given power and speed, the
acceleration term in the coefficient C3 must be isolated. This is accomplished by
splitting C3 into a sum of two new coefficients C4 and C5, such

C3 = C4 + C5ax (8-19)


1 ρ  1 1  
C4 =  (C D A + ADW )(cos(DW − DB )VW ) + mgC RR + 0.030  +
 + mgG 
η 2  d f dr  

5 =
C (m + C I ) (8-20)

The power polynomial then becomes

PTOTAL = C1VG3 + C 2VG2 + (C 4 + C 5a x )VG (8-21)


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  Speed and Power Models

Solving for the acceleration gives:

 Ptotal  −1  C 4   C 2   C1  2
ax =  VG −   −  VG −  VG (8-22)
 5  C
 5  5C  C5 

Equations 8-21 and 8-17 provide mathematical models for evaluating and pre-
dicting performance of wheeled land vehicles. They can be used during vehicle
design to predict performance.

Example 8-3
Plot the power required as a function of speed for the rider in the previous
example, if the road is level and he rides at a constant speed.


Determine the values of the coefficients using Equation 8-18:

The power function for this example is a cubic polynomial with these

PTOT = .2581V 3 + 2.2442V 2 + 14.2271V


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 8-1 plots the power function for this example. Total power, and the
power to overcome aerodynamic drag, rolling resistance, and bearing friction
are included. It is clear from the figure that power requirements increase
dramatically as speed increases. This is primarily due to the drag term. At
speeds above two meters per second, drag is the largest of the retarding
forces. Above 5 m/s, it is significantly larger than the other terms.








0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10

Figure 8-1  Power function for the example HPV

Applications of Power Models

Vehicle designers can use the power model of Equation 8-1 to assess the effect
of design changes on vehicle performance. For example, the effects of different
tires on performance can be evaluated if the rolling resistance coefficient and
tire mass are known (or able to be approximated). Design decisions can be made
based on quantitative performance predictions rather than speculation. Many de-
sign decisions involve trade-offs between performance and cost. Power models
can provide guidance as to where money is best invested in order to achieve the
correct balance of cost and performance. Design concepts for entire vehicles or
for components can be evaluated and compared early in the design cycle.


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  Speed and Power Models

Power models are also commonly used to predict cycling performance. Coaches
and athletes use the power models developed in this chapter to predict perfor-
mance for competitive events such as time trials and track races. In these events,
the athlete competes against the clock, which is directly related to the ability to
overcome the road loads described in Chapter 7. In these events, the power mod-
els can provide accurate predictions of performance.
The following examples illustrate the application of power models to aid design
decisions and predict athletic performance.

Example 8-4
A cyclist will attempt an hour time trial in a streamlined recumbent bicy-
cle on an indoor velodrome track. Previous tests have shown that the cyclist
can maintain 350 watts for one hour. The drag coefficient for the vehicle is
.25 with a frontal area of .35 m2. The drag area of the spokes is .01 m2. The
coefficient of rolling resistance over the smooth track surface is 0.002. The
total mass of vehicle and rider is 95 kg, and the inertia coefficient is 3.8 kg.
The vehicle uses a 23-622 rear tire and a 28-451 front tire. The drive train
efficiency is 95%.
How far is the cyclist expected to ride in one hour?


For this problem, power is given and speed must be determined. Equation
8-17 should be used to solve for speed. The power equation coefficients must
be computed with Equation 8-18. Assume that the cyclist will be allowed a
rolling start, so that the power to accelerate is not significant. Also assume
a standard atmospheric density of 1.226 kg/m3. The first coefficient depends
on the aerodynamic parameters.

ρ 1.226
C1 = (C D A + ADW ) = (.25 × .35 + .01) = .0629
2η 2 × 0.95

Since there is no wind in the indoor velodrome, VW = 0. The diameter of a

wheel is given approximately as the sum of the bead seat diameter and twice
the section width, or d = BSD + 2 ´ SW, or dr = 622 + 2 ´ 23 = 668 and df =
451 + 2 ´ 28 = 507 mm.


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1  .006   .006  
C2 = ρ(C D A + ADW )cos(DW − DB )VW +  +
2   2 
η  πdf   πdr  

1   0.006   0.006  
= 0 + +  = 0.01233
.95   π × 0.668 2   π × 0.507 2  

The third coefficient is likewise simplified since not only is there zero
wind, but there is no grade or acceleration either.

The power equation then becomes

PTOTAL = C1VG3 + C 2VG2 + C 3VG

350 = 0.0629 × VG3 + 0.01233 × VG2 + 2.0716 × VG

This equation can be solved for VG using most scientific calculators or a

computer root-finding algorithm. In this case, the solution is V = 17.1 m/s. In
one hour, the cyclist will go 17.0 ´ 3600 = 61,334 m or 61.3 km.

Example 8-5
The cyclist in the previous example rides his vehicle at 14 m/s on the ve-
lodrome track. How much power is required? If the cyclist is able to increase
power to 400 watts from this speed, what is the resulting acceleration?


To determine the required power, the coefficients calculated previously

can be used. The power is given directly by Equation 8-17.
PTOTAL = C1VG3 + C 2VG2 + C 3VG

P14 = 0.0629 × 143 + 0.01233 × 142 + 2.0716 × 14 = 204 Watts


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  Speed and Power Models

A power increase to 400 watts would essentially double the power output.
To find the resulting acceleration, the coefficients C4 and C5 must be calcu-
lated using Equation 8-20.

The resulting acceleration is obtained using Equation 8-22

 Ptotal  −1  C 4   C 2   C1  2
ax =  VG −  C  −  C VG −  C VG
 5   5  5  5
 400  −1  2.0716   0.01233   0.0629  2
ax =  14 −  − 14 −  14 = 0.1346 m/s

 104   104   104   104 

The acceleration resulting from a near doubling of power to 400 watts is

thus .135 m/s2 or 0.013 Gs.

In some modeling problems, power is known or assumed and an initial speed

is known. The acceleration will decrease with increasing speed, as shown by
Equation 8-22. The speed will increase, but at a decreasing rate up to that speed
corresponding to zero acceleration. An iterative solution is required for these
problems. The general procedure is to first compute the initial acceleration as
in the previous example. Then compute the speed after a short time interval Δt
assuming constant acceleration for the duration of the time interval, v = v0 + a ´


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 





SPEED (m/s)






0 20 40 60 80 100 120 140 160 180
TIME (s)

Figure 8-2  Speed as a function of time for constant power acceleration from 14 m/s

Dt. Compute the instantaneous acceleration again at the new speed, and iterate
as required. This is a task best suited for computer calculation.
The figure above shows how the speed of the vehicle in the example increases
while the cyclist pedals at a constant 400 W. The initial speed is 14 m/s. After
2 minutes at this power level, the speed has almost stabilized, and is within .5%
of the speed that can just be maintained at 400 watts, 17.9 m/s. The curve was
computed by iterating with a time step of Dt = 0.01 s. However, it is worth noting
that a cyclist is rarely able to actually ride this type of profile, which assumes a
step increase in power from an initial level to some new, constant level. The power
during a hard acceleration actually increases at a decreasing rate due to, among
other things, the changing torque/speed relationship at the cranks. A parabolic
rise might better model the actual power profile during heavy acceleration.


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A t typical speeds on level roads, the aerodynamic drag force is the principle
retarding force acting on the bicycle. This is true even though the actual
value of the force is small. For example, a cyclist riding a typical road bike at
8 m/s over a level asphalt road will expend about 80% of her effort to overcome
drag (Figure 9-1). At 11 m/s, the fraction increases to 90% (although her total
power output more than doubles). If our cyclist climbs into a world-record class
streamlined HPV, she will find that at comparable speeds, the drag is almost neg-
ligible. She could ride at 11 m/s using only one-sixth the power required for her
road bike at that speed. The drag would represent about 28% of the (substantially
lower) total power she is exerting. At the high speeds for which these vehicles are
designed, however, the drag power fraction is about 80%.
The conclusion is clear: aerodynamic drag is a very important factor for all but
the slowest land human-powered vehicles Figure 9-2. For the competitor, mini-
mizing drag is critical, and often makes the difference between winning or losing
a time trial. The tourist and recreational rider will find faster or easier rides more
enjoyable, and arguably safer. Likewise the commuter will reap benefits of a more
aerodynamic vehicle. Thus, a good design goal is to always strive for reduced drag.

Causes of Aerodynamic Drag

The total aerodynamic drag acting on a vehicle is attributed to several causes.1
Form drag—the dominant type of drag on unfaired vehicles—is caused by the
air pressure difference between the front and rear of the vehicle. Essentially,
high-pressure air just pushes against the front of the vehicle and rider. If a vehi-
cle is streamlined, form drag is reduced and skin friction drag becomes most

Tamai, Goro, “Aerodynamic Drag Components,” Human Power, Vol 12 n 2, Spring 1998.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 







8 11 Other
m/s m/s Drag Power

Figure 9-1  Aerodynamic power fraction for a typical road bicycle







8 m/s 11 33 Other
m/s m/s Drag Power

Figure 9-2  Aerodynamic power fraction for a streamlined HPV

important. It is caused by the friction of the airstream as it flows past the surfaces
of the vehicle. Interference drag is produced by flow over protrusions, bumps,
holes, etc. One example is mirrors on the outside of a streamliner, which can re-
duce the effectiveness of an aerodynamic fairing. Interference drag can become
significant, particularly for vehicles designed for extremely low drag. Induced
drag is generated by any body that produces lift—a net force perpendicular to
the free airstream. Induced drag is important for airplane wings and similar sur-
faces, but is less important for most human-powered land vehicles.
Most bicycles and human-powered vehicles are unfaired or have only partial
fairings. Form drag—also known as pressure drag—is the dominant retarding
force, caused by the difference in pressure between the front and the rear of
the bicycle. The pressure in an airstream is given by Bernoulli’s Equation, which


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  Aerodynamic Drag

states that the total air pressure is equal to the sum of the ambient, or static,
pressure and the dynamic pressure due to the air velocity.2

Ptotal = Pstatic + Pdynamic

The static pressure is simply the ambient barometric pressure. A pressure tap
placed anywhere along the surface of an HPV would measure only the static pres-
sure. The dynamic pressure depends on the velocity of the airstream and is given by
Pdynamic = V 2

ρ = mass density of the air
V = velocity of the airstream

On a calm day, the airstream velocity in front of the vehicle is equal to the
speed of the vehicle over the road. (It is sometimes more convenient to consider
the vehicle as stationary and the air flowing past it, as if in a wind tunnel. This
is essentially equivalent, from a fluid dynamics standpoint, to a moving HPV on
a windless road.) Streamlines represent the flow of a line of air over the vehicle.
(Imagine a small massless speck of dust in the air. The path it follows will trace
out a streamline.) Well in front of the vehicle, all streamlines are parallel and have
the same velocity, and hence the same pressure. Near the front of the vehicle, the
streamlines must split to go around it. At some point there will be a streamline
that strikes the vehicle straight ahead and comes to a complete stop, or stagnates.
According to Bernoulli’s Equation, the total pressure will not change, so the static
pressure at the stagnation point must equal the total pressure of the free air-
stream. This produces a high pressure area on the front of the vehicle.
Pressure affects the flow velocity and direction. Visualize an isolated stream of
air flowing in a straight line, say from left to right. A pressure gradient exists in
the direction of flow, such that pressure increases to the right. There is no change
in  pressure, or pressure gradient, in the transverse direction. According to
Bernoulli’s Principle, the flow must slow down as the pressure increases. The
velocity decreases with increasing pressure, but the air continues to flow in a
straight line. A pressure gradient parallel to flow thus causes changes in airstream
speed. Now consider a pressure gradient that varies across the flow direction, say
increasing from bottom to top. This causes the airstream to turn toward the low
pressure side, or turn downward in this example. Transverse pressure gradients

Gillespie, Thomas D., Fundamentals of Vehicle Dynamics, SAE, 1992.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 9-3  Invicid flow over a cylinder

cause a change in flow direction. In summary, pressure gradients acting on an

airstream will always result in a change in fluid speed or direction—or both.
To understand what happens as the flow progresses around the vehicle, two
rather bold assumptions are initially made. First, that a bicycle rider in an upright
position can be modeled as a vertical cylinder. This may be reasonable for a crude ap-
proximation of drag (omitting the bicycle itself) but is used here to simplify the dis-
cussion and improve visualization. The second assumption is more drastic—that the
air is frictionless, with a viscosity of zero. This assumption is clearly unrealistic, and
in fact leads to zero drag. It is enlightening, however, to understand how air would
flow in such a condition. After a brief discussion of frictionless flow, this assumption
will be discarded and the differences between the ideal and real case explored.
Now visualize flow around our idealized rider—or vertical cylinder. Figure 9-3
shows an end view of the cylinder, (or a top view of the rider). Streamline A leads to
the stagnation point S, which has zero velocity and a very high pressure. This line is a
pressure “ridge”—the pressure increases toward the stagnation point and decreases
to either side. The pressure gradient is positive in the direction parallel to the flow,
but is zero in the transverse direction. Pressure increases and velocity decreases
toward the stagnation point, where velocity is zero and pressure is maximum.
Streamline B is very close to streamline A, and the pressure gradients are
similar, but not the same. Pressure increases as the flow nears the cylinder, but
the transverse pressure gradient is now negative to the left of the streamline.
That is, the pressure in front of and to the right of the streamline is greater
than that to the left of it and the air slows and starts to turn left to pass around
the cylinder. As the air flows upward toward point C, the pressure decreases
and the velocity increases, pushing the air to the right. Point C is an inflection
point, where the direction of the airstream becomes concave down in order to


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  Aerodynamic Drag

follow the profile of the cylinder. For this to occur, the pressure gradient must
reverse. Starting with point C, the pressure on the right of the airstream is lower
than that on the left. The speed of the airstream continues to increase and the
pressure to decrease until point D is reached. At this point the pressure is very
low—below ambient—and the velocity is maximum—above the free stream
The frictionless air continues to flow down the back side of the cylinder. As it
does so, the pressure increases and velocity decreases. A second inflection point
occurs at E, where again the pressure gradient reverses. The airstream turns left,
away from the cylinder, and continues to slow down. Well downstream of the cyl-
inder both the pressure and the velocity are equal to that of the free airstream.
The flow is symmetric.
Since the high pressure on the front of the cylinder is balanced by the high
pressure on the back side, there is no net pressure difference and hence no pres-
sure drag. Also, there is no resistance to the air as it slides over the cylinder, so
there is no skin friction drag. Unlike this thought experiment, real air does have
viscosity, and therefore friction. The viscosity affects the flow patterns signifi-
cantly, and produces both pressure drag and skin friction drag. Discard the rather
presumptuous assumption of frictionless flow, and see how real air flows over the
same cylinder.
Figure 9-4 shows streamlines of a viscous fluid flowing over a cylinder, as
modeled using computational fluid dynamics (CFD). The colors represent flow
velocity. Note how the upstream side (to the left of the cylinder in the figure)
looks similar to that of Figure 9-3, but the downstream side looks very different.
Figure 9-5 depicts simplified viscous flow around the cylinder. The stagnation
point S is similar to the inviscid example. Airstream B initially looks similar to
Figure 9-3, but now a thin layer of air next to the cylinder surface, called the
boundary layer, is formed because of friction between the air and the surface
of the cylinder. The boundary layer starts at the stagnation point and continues
around the cylinder. At the surface, friction causes the flow velocity to be zero.

Figure 9-4  CFD model of viscous flow over a cylinder


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 9-5  Viscous flow over a cylinder

Between the surface and the outside of the boundary layer, the velocity increases
until it achieves the full airstream velocity at the edge of the boundary layer. Ini-
tially the boundary layer can be thought of as being comprised of smooth, laminar
sheets of air that do not interfere with each other. The velocity of the “sheets”
increases linearly from the surface to the boundary edge. This is known as a lam-
inar boundary layer. As the flow moves over the surface, the boundary layer
thickness increases. At some point, (C in the figure) the laminar sheets start to
break up, and the boundary layer flow becomes turbulent. The thickness of the
boundary layer continues to grow.
The nature of the boundary layer can have a significant affect on the drag of a
vehicle. It is a very important topic, and will be addressed in more detail below.
From the stagnation point to point D, the pressure is decreasing and the veloc-
ity is increasing. This tends to force the boundary layer along in the direction of
flow, and prevents it from growing too large. After point D, however, the pressure
starts to increase, and the boundary layer is impeded. The boundary layer grows in
thickness, and the velocity is decreased. At some point, known as the separation
point, the boundary layer flow will stop entirely. Beyond this point, flow may even
reverse, meaning that air at the surface is flowing backward! The region behind the
separation point is characterized by turbulence, vortices, and low pressure.
The low pressure behind the vehicle caused by separated flow is the root cause
of form drag. The high pressure region in front of the rider, coupled with the low
pressure region due to separation, mean that a net force will act on the rider, re-
tarding her progress. Form drag is proportional to the frontal area of the vehicle
and the dynamic pressure.
From an energy standpoint, the vortices produced after separation contain a
large amount of kinetic energy. Clearly reducing the size of the separation region
is important for reducing drag. Streamlining does just this, as will be seen.


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  Aerodynamic Drag

The friction between the boundary layer and the surface produces a shear
force at the surface that retards the motion of the vehicle—the skin friction drag.
For blunt objects, like our cylinder—or a real cyclist on an unfaired bike—this is
very small compared to the form drag. However, for streamlined bodies it is usu-
ally the dominant cause of drag. Skin friction drag is proportional to the wetted
area—the total area exposed to flow—and the dynamic pressure.
Boundary layers with laminar flow have significantly less skin friction drag than
turbulent boundary layers. The smooth sheets of air flow over the surface with min-
imal resistance. If the laminar boundary layer remains attached—no separation—
drag will be minimized. However, laminar flow is more unstable than turbulent
boundary layers, and often leads to early separation. The resulting increase in
pressure drag can result in greater total drag than an attached turbulent bound-
ary layer. Designers of aircraft and high-speed HPVs have striven to achieve the
benefits of laminar flow, but the task is difficult. The laminar flow can be inter-
rupted very easily, from road vibrations or a dirty surface, for example. Hence,
many designers try to force turbulent flow, which delays separation and reduces
pressure drag.
Airflow over protrusions from a streamlined body disrupts the air flow by cre-
ating local separation, turbulence, and vortices. This is the source of interference
drag. Even gaps between body panels or the junction of the windshield can dis-
rupt the flow. Larger protrusions, such as mirrors, can have a significant drag pen-
alty. For an unstreamlined bicycle, much of the total drag is due to interference
drag over the handlebars, frame, cables, etc.

Lift and Induced Drag

The airflow around the cylinder was symmetric on either side. The pressure
distribution was also symmetric, and thus there was no net force acting in the
transverse direction. Consider what would happen if the cylinder was squashed in
on one side, creating an asymmetrical shape such as that shown.

Figure 9-6  Asymmetrical shape produces net lateral force in a flow field


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

In this case the pressure distribution on either side of the body would not be
symmetrical. The net force due to the air pressure would be at some oblique
angle to the free stream airflow. The component of this force parallel to the flow
is induced drag, and the component acting perpendicular to the flow is called
lift. Induced drag exists whenever a body is creating lift. For example, it always
exists for an airplane in normal flight. Road vehicles can produce lift and induced
drag, which affect the load distribution on the wheels. For many commuter HPVs
these are relatively small effects, but they certainly can become significant for
high speeds, and should be considered for competitive speed HPVs.

Computing Drag Force

Recalling that form drag is caused by the high-pressure region in front of the
vehicle coupled with the low-pressure region behind it, the drag force can be
estimated. On a simplistic level, this force should be equal to the dynamic pres-
sure of the free airstream times the frontal area of the vehicle. Measured values
of drag force differ from this value, however, due to a variety of reasons. To
account for these various factors, an extra parameter, known as the drag coeffi-
cient, is included in the equation. Thus, the drag force is generally computed as

FD = C DF AFVI2 (9-1)

FD = Aerodynamic Drag Force
CDF = Drag Coefficient
A F = Frontal Projection Area

For streamlined vehicles, skin-friction drag is generally more significant than

form drag. In this case the area that is used is the total wetted surface area, and
drag is computed as

FD = C DS ASVI2 (9-2)

As = Wetted Surface Area


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  Aerodynamic Drag

Equations 14-1 and 14-2 both have the same form. For a given vehicle, drag
may be computed by either method—they are equivalent. The product CD  A is
the same for both cases, although CDF ¹ CDS and AF ¹ AS. Care must be exercised
to always use the correct area that corresponds with the way in which the drag
coefficient CD was determined. For the remainder of this book, the second sub-
script will be dropped from the drag coefficient, as it is implied by the subscript
on the area.
Frequently, the product CD  A is of more interest than either individual param-
eter. This product is known as the drag area, and is frequently cited in aero-
dynamic studies in the literature. A particular vehicle may have a lower drag
coefficient than a similar vehicle, but its larger area may cause it to incur greater
drag. Use of the drag area avoids this confusion, as it is always directly propor-
tional to the drag force.

Factors Affecting the Drag Coefficient

The drag coefficient for a vehicle is affected by a number of variables, including:

• The shape of the vehicle

• The surface texture and smoothness
• Any protrusions in the airflow
• The Reynolds number
• Devices that affect boundary layer flow

Shape: From the previous discussion, it is clear that streamlined shapes that
reduce the separation area have lower drag coefficients. A well-designed stream-
lined HPV can have a drag coefficient two orders of magnitude less than an un-
faired bicycle. The rear of the vehicle should ideally taper to a point or edge. A
compromise solution—particularly for very tapered shapes—is to truncate the
taper by rounding the aft end of the fairing. This produces a small separation area
(with an increase in form drag), but eliminates a significant surface area of the
vehicle. The aerodynamic penalty may be slight, and the size and weight of the
vehicle can be reduced.
The front of the vehicle should be gently rounded, with a fairly low stagnation
point. The stagnation point height is important, as it determines which stream-
lines pass above or below the vehicle. Changes in the height of the stagnation
point can affect CD by up to 15% in automobiles. (Although the effect may be
reduced for most HPVs, due to their relative narrowness.)


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Surface Texture: A smooth surface will delay the onset of turbulent flow
in the boundary layer and reduce surface friction. Streamliners that strive for
laminar flow must have very smooth and clean surfaces. However, due to the in-
stability of laminar flow—its propensity to separate early—turbulent flow is some-
times induced early. This can actually reduce drag (in some cases) by delaying
separation. This is one reason for the dimples on a golf ball. There may thus be
cases where a slightly rougher surface may be beneficial. Still, smooth surfaces
are generally preferred.
Protrusions: Protrusions in the airflow create significant interference drag.
On streamliners, they should be eliminated as much as possible. For unfaired
or partially faired vehicles, elimination of protrusions is not possible, but they
can still be minimized. Cables can be routed inside the frame, for example. If a
protrusion must exist—handlebars or frame members for example—it should be
streamlined. Junctions between parts should be faired smooth. Placing a wheel in
the wake of a frame member can help, at can be seen on many time trial bicycles.
Reynolds Number: The Reynolds number (Re) is the ratio of viscous to in-
ertial forces in an airstream. Drag coefficients generally have a very strong de-
pendence on this dimensionless number. This is clearly illustrated in Figure 9-7,
which plots CD for various simple shapes as a function of Reynolds number. Reyn-
olds number is given by

Re = (9-3)

V = Free Airstream Velocity
D = Characteristic Length
ν = Kinematic Viscosity

The characteristic length is a representative number for the general size of the
vehicle. Generally, for unstreamlined shapes D is taken as a transverse dimension,
such as the width. For example, a cylinder normal to the flow would use the diam-
eter for D. Streamlined shapes typically use the length of the vehicle. Generally,
use the width for bodies that exhibit predominantly form drag and length for bod-
ies that exhibit predominantly skin-friction drag. The exact dimension used is not
critical, but should be specified. For example, it might be reported that “Reynolds
number, based on length, is 1.4e6.”


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Streamlined HPV
Semitubular Cylinder, 0 degrees
Semitubular Cylinder, 180 degrees
Circular Cylinder
Elliptic Cylinder, 2:1
Elliptic Cylinder, 8:1
10 Square Tube
Triangular Tube
Subsonic Sphere


10 2 3 4 5 6 7 8
10 10 10 10 10 10 10
Figure 9-7  Drag coefficients for various shapes obtained from wind tunnel testing 3–6

Abbot, Ira H., “The Drag of Two Streamline Bodies as Affected by Protuberances and Appendages,” NACA Report No 451.
Lindsey, W. F., “Drag of Cylinders of Simple Shapes,” NACA Report No. 619.
Kyle, C. R. and M. D. Weaver, “Aerodynamics of Human-Powered Vehicles,” Proc. Inst. Mech. Engrs. Vol 218 Part A: J. Power
and Energy, 141–154, 2004.

  Aerodynamic Drag

Zarin, N. A., “Measurement of Non-Continuum and Turbulence Effects on Subsonic Sphere Drag,” NASA Report CR-1585.

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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The transition from laminar flow to turbulent flow depends on the Reynolds
number. Above about Re = 3.0e3, a laminar boundary layer will spontaneously
become turbulent. The curve for a cylinder in Figure 9-7 levels off at about this
value. This is due to the transition from laminar to turbulent flow. If laminar flow
could be maintained at higher Reynolds numbers, the knee would be shifted down
and right, giving lower drag coefficients.
Typical values of Reynolds number (based on width) for bicycles and unfaired
HPVs range from about 1.2e5 to 1e6. For streamliners, the number increases to
about 5e6, due to the higher speeds and use of the vehicle length as a basis.
Inspection of Figure 9-7 shows that this is precisely the range where CD is most
sensitive to changes in Reynolds number.
Devices that Affect Boundary-Layer Flow: Because of the instability of
laminar flow, some designers try to force the boundary layer to become turbulent.
The reduction in form drag offsets the increase in skin friction drag. Trip wires
running around the surface can trigger turbulent flow, and are sometimes used.
Boundary-layer suction is sometimes used for the opposite effect—to prolong the
laminar flow. As the laminar boundary encounters an adverse pressure gradient, it
becomes thicker, with the layers closest to the skin having little momentum. Holes
or slits in the surface can be used to suck away these layers, resulting in a bound-
ary layer that is thinner and remains attached longer. The power required to main-
tain the suction is, in theory, much less than the power lost to non-laminar flow.

Estimation of the Drag Coefficient

The HPV designer is very concerned with estimating CD—or at least minimiz-
ing it. This is particularly true for high-performance vehicles. The drag coefficient
is very difficult to estimate accurately in most cases. The tools available to the
designer are experimentation, computational fluid dynamics, and approximation
based on published data for bodies with similar shapes.
Carefully conducted experiments are by far the most accurate—many would
argue the only accurate—way to obtain drag data. Tests are typically con-
ducted in wind tunnels, (although some experimenters have used road tests).
They require an accurate model or prototype of the vehicle, and are generally
very expensive and time consuming. If scale models are used for testing, the
airstream velocity must be scaled on the basis of the Reynolds number (de-
scribed below). As a design tool, the time penalty is large: model fabrication,
test scheduling and execution, data analysis, redesign and repeat. If budget
and time constraints do not preclude wind tunnel tests, they can provide in-
valuable data.


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  Aerodynamic Drag

Computer modeling with computational fluid dynamics (CFD) software can

provide estimates of drag coefficients. However, drag coefficients can be quite
sensitive to subtle changes in conditions which may be missed in the model. This
is particularly true in the range of Reynolds numbers where most HPVs operate.
CFD software is not trivial to use and interpret, and is usually fairly expensive.
(It is generally far less expensive than wind tunnel tests, particularly when the
cost is amortized over several projects.) In the hands of a skilled analyst, CFD can
be a valuable tool, with the potential of reducing the build-test-modify cycle. For
critical applications, tests should still be conducted.
Many designers will not have the budget for wind tunnel testing or the exper-
tise for CFD. Approximations of the drag can be obtained by using published data.
For example, a rider on an upright bicycle was crudely approximated as a vertical
cylinder. If we assume that the cylinder diameter is approximately 0.35 m, and the
speed of the bike is 8 m/s, the Reynolds number (at standard conditions) will be
about 1.9e5. Many basic fluid dynamics texts provide graphs for the drag coefficient
of a cylinder.7 In this case, the coefficient is slightly less than one. This corresponds
very well with published data for upright cyclists. Wilson reports drag coefficients
for an upright commuting bike and a touring bike to be 1.15 and 1.0 respectively.48
The example may lead to false optimism regarding drag estimation. First, it is
a very crude method, and will only provide ballpark figures. Secondly, the drag
curve for a cylinder exhibits a marked drop at a Reynolds number of about 2e5.
It is unlikely that an upright cyclist would realize the nearly five fold reduction in
drag coefficient predicted for a cylinder simply by increasing her speed a few me-
ters per second. Of course, streamlined vehicles should be compared with stream-
lined shapes or published data on streamliners. Caution should be used here as
well—if comparison is made to a well-designed and well-crafted vehicle CD may
be underestimated. Poor craftsmanship can cause significant increases in drag,
as discussed above. Nonetheless, approximating drag coefficients by comparison
with published data can be useful. It is inexpensive with respect to both time and
money, and will often get results “in the ballpark.”

Drag Coefficients for Various Vehicles

Drag measurements for various bicycles and HPVs have been published by
several investigators. Figure 9-8 shows a comparison of the drag area CD  A for

Robertson, John A. and Crowe, Clayton T., Engineering Fluid Mechanics, 3rd ed,
Houghton Mifflin, 1985.
Wilson, David G., Bicycling Science, 3rd Ed., MIT Press, 2004.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

r g er B 2 nt x a it T g e B e e g e ts er nt ty
PV PV ace PV
H r H i rinos S W 200 Be ade ipi rsu T
c a i rinRac SW Rac Rac i rin Bik por ant Gy tili
aM t , C in Pu 6 d a n c r
02 86 ow rF ec ce tF l F ai S Tri ee
20 19 d L ea r oj Ra Pr nd.
I r on s
V1 Roa F ul unt P
ire R op td F iu , o
B, er S r, ad er M
Fa W A te R a nt
5 S a n ic
M ic Tr
ux Tr
Figure 9-8  Drag area for various HPVs

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  Aerodynamic Drag

a wide range of vehicles. Some caution should be exercised in interpreting the

results, however. Some of the studies used wind tunnels, while others used coast-
down tests. The speed (and hence Reynolds number) varied for the different
tests. Measures of variability are in general not published, and hence the standard
deviation of the tests is not known. The wind tunnel tests are assumed to have
higher accuracy.
The values shown for the Road Race, Time Trial and Individual Pursuit upright
bicycles are averages of several different models that were measured in wind tun-
nel tests. These are most likely accurate average values for these types of bicycles
at the professional level.
Partially faired and unfaired recumbent bicycles are poorly represented in the
figure. Recumbents are made in a wide range of styles, and it is reasonable to ex-
pect a wide range of drag area values. It is expected that well-designed, unfaired
performance recumbents should have drag areas smaller than the most aerody-
namic upright bicycles. The figure does not include enough data to demonstrate
this, however. The two recumbents with the lowest drag areas each include par-
tial fairings. Further, few high-performance recumbents are included. Only one
tricycle is included.
Several conclusions can be drawn from the figure, despite the reservations.

• Streamliners unquestionably have the lowest drag areas. World-class stream-

lined racers in particular have extremely little drag.
• Upright bicycles with riders sitting in an upright position have the largest
drag areas. This category includes mountain bikes, European-style com-
muter bikes, and road bikes while riding with hands on the uprights.
• Performance upright bicycles can reduce drag over a standard road bicycle
• Recumbent bicycles, with some exceptions, generally rank with the best up-
right bicycles.
• Partial fairings can reduce drag noticeably.


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Bicycle Stability
Bicycles, despite being unstable at rest, are remarkably stable when in motion.
Some have claimed that the invention of the bicycle was a revolution in thought,
demanding extraordinary foresight to predict that a single-track vehicle could
be stable enough to ride. It is much more likely that when Baron Karl Von Drais
built his Draisienne—the first two-wheeled single track vehicle known—he had
no notion of it being stable. Probably, he expected it would require balancing
with the feet (which also provided propulsion by pushing against the ground).
Perhaps the Baron experienced a moment of surprise and astonishment when
the vehicle coasted unsupported down a grade without falling over! The ability
of a two-wheeled vehicle to remain upright at speed, even though it cannot do so
when stopped, is fascinating, and to many, a mystery.
A common misconception, or perhaps oversimplification, is that the gyroscopic
effect of the wheels makes a bike stable. Gyroscopic effects do play a role in bi-
cycle stability, but it is relatively minor, particularly at low speeds. Many stable,
rideable bicycles with little or no gyroscopic effects have been built. Consider the
foldable scooters that have been popular with children and students in recent
years. These two-wheeled vehicles have very small and light wheels. The angular
momentum of the wheels must be extremely small compared to a bicycle, and
almost negligible, yet they are easily ridden, even a low speeds. In 1970, David
Jones1 built a bicycle with a counter rotating wheel that exactly cancelled the
rotating inertia of the front wheel. His goal was to build an “unrideable” bicycle,
in order to better understand bicycle stability. The bicycle turned out to be easily

Jones, David E. H., 1970, “The Stability of the Bicycle,” Physics Today, April 1970, pp. 34–40.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

rideable, although the “feel” was a bit strange. Numerous “ice bikes” have been
built by replacing the front wheel of a bicycle with a skate blade. These bikes can
be stable and rideable, although they do look a bit odd. It is a very interesting sight
to see a Bachetta highracer zip past with the rider high in the air and only a small
blade in place of the front wheel. Figure 10-1 shows an upright bicycle with a
skate blade in place of the front wheel. These examples illustrate that gyroscopic
effects alone do not make a bicycle stable, yet they do contribute to stability. Any
rider that has replaced light racing tires with heavy touring or winter tires has no-
ticed the effect of the increased angular momentum. The bicycle does “feel” more
stable, less likely to fall over. This perception is supported by analytical models,
as will be seen.
It is important to note that a bicycle does not have to be stable to be rideable.
Skilled riders can balance on a stationary bike, ride backwards, balance on one
wheel or ride a unicycle, and so forth. Also, virtually all bicycles have a low-speed
range of instability that riders routinely operate in, if only briefly. However, a
stable bicycle will remain upright on its own, without active control by the rider,
whereas an unstable bicycle requires rider control to remain balanced.

Figure 10-1  Ice bike with skate blade in lieu of front wheel


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

To understand how a bicycle can remain upright, consider something that is

not a bicycle at all: a single wheel. If a bicycle wheel is placed upright on the
ground, it will quickly fall over, just as a bicycle falls over. In both cases, the wheel
or bike is behaving more or less like an inverted pendulum, which might balance
for a while but then falls over in a very unstable manner. Spin the wheel to give it
some angular momentum and set it on a flat surface, and it behaves very differ-
ently. The wheel will roll away, initially staying upright and moving in essentially
a straight line. As the rotational speed decreases, the wheel starts to lean and
begins moving in a slowly tightening spiral until at some point the wheel collapses.
This is due to gyroscopic effects acting in conjunction with ground forces and
centrifugal acceleration.2 The action of a bicycle is different. Spin the wheels on
a bicycle and release it on a flat surface, and the bicycle will initially take off in a
straight line, similar to the wheel. Unlike the wheel, the bicycle most likely does
not simply start a spiral leading to collapse. Instead, it first leans one way, then
the other, weaving back and forth. If the bicycle is rolling within the right range
of speeds, it will actually right itself after being disturbed, say by bumping the
handlebars. Below this speed range, the weaving behavior becomes greater with
each oscillation until the bike falls over. This is clearly different from the rolling
wheel. What, then, is the difference between a rolling bicycle and a rolling wheel?
The interaction between the tire and the ground is crucial in both cases. The
wheel—whether attached to a bicycle or rolling free—can move about the surface
on which it rolls. It is not constrained to move in a straight line. Nonetheless,
there must be some lateral constraint on the wheel to keep it from slipping side-
ways. Dynamicists call anything that restricts the motion of a body a constraint.
The number of ways a body can move is known as the degrees of freedom of that
body. Any rigid body in three-dimensional space can move in six ways unless
it is constrained: three translations (moving in the X, Y, and Z directions) and
three rotations (rotating about X, Y, and Z). The wheel rolling on a flat surface
cannot move vertically due to gravity pushing it down against the surface. This
is a constraint, and eliminates one of the six degrees of freedom of the rolling
wheel—vertical translation. It is spinning about its axis of rotation, and there is
nothing to prohibit it from leaning side to side or turning right or left, so none of
the rotational motions are constrained. Clearly, the wheel is free to move in the

At some point after launch, the wheel will start to lean either to the right or left. Gyroscopic
effects cause the wheel to precess about the vertical axis, turning in the direction of the
lean. Simultaneously, a lateral force due to the (now) off-center CG is developed at the
contact patch between the wheel and the ground due to the lateral friction of the tire.
This force causes the tire to turn, and also produces a moment tending to reduce the lean.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

forward direction as it rolls. But is the wheel free to move right and left on the
surface? This turns out to be a very interesting question. As the wheel rolls, it can
move right or left, but the lateral friction between the ground and the wheel does
not permit direct lateral motion of the wheel; that is, it cannot slide to either side.
In order to move right or left, the wheel must turn, and then roll to one side. There
is a constraint, but the constraint does not prevent the wheel from moving any-
where on the surface. The wheel has five degrees of freedom (translation on the
plane of the surface and rotations about all three axes) but two non-­redundant
constraints! However, the lateral friction constraint does not really prohibit lat-
eral motion, it just restricts how that lateral motion occurs (the rolling wheel
must turn in order to move left or right). Thus it does not reduce the number
of degrees of freedom. This is known as a non-holonomic constraint, a term that
tends to crop up frequently in bicycle dynamics. The key idea is that the lateral
friction of the tires prevents direct lateral motion (skidding sideways) but does
not restrict the bicycle from moving right or left while it rolls.
The non-holonomic constraints on the wheels are actually quite important for
bicycle stability. A bicycle with no lateral constraints at all—imagine a bicycle on
a frictionless, icy surface—cannot be made stable. But a bicycle with ordinary
(holonomic) lateral constraints preventing all lateral motion also cannot be made
stable—think of how quickly a bicycle will fall over if the wheels fall into crack
in the pavement. In other words, a stable bicycle requires lateral friction at the
wheels that does not prevent the bicycle from moving left or right on the road.
Imagine a bicycle attached to a rail. The wheels roll without slipping along the
rail, and the entire bike can rotate about the rail. (The contact patch must stay
on the rail, but the wheel can pivot about the track as if on a linear bearing.) A
bicycle launched on this track with spinning wheels would not wobble, but would
simply fall over shortly after launch. As will be shown, the same would happen to
a bicycle with both wheels attached to a single rigid frame (no headset bearing
between the frame and fork).
A bicycle becomes stable above low speeds primarily due to the coupling be-
tween the front fork/wheel assembly and the rear main frame and rear wheel. For
this coupling to occur, the wheels must be able to move laterally on the road sur-
face. (This is why longitudinal road cracks pose such a hazard to bicyclists—if the
front wheel is caught in a crack, it cannot move laterally.) A better understanding
of this coupling requires an investigation of the geometry of a typical bicycle.
The front fork assembly (which of course includes the front wheel) is able to
pivot, or steer, relative to the main frame of the bike. Almost invariably, the axis
of the pivot is angled backwards, as shown in Figure 10-2. The angle between the
ground and the steering axis is known as the headtubeangle, f. Most bicycles have


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

Figure 10-2  Some important bicycle parameters

the front wheel offset somewhat from the steer axis. This is known as fork offset
or rake. (Fork offset is obtained by bending the fork blades, mounting the wheel
dropouts off the fork center, welding the fork blades at an angle to the steering
axis, or a combination of these.) Other parameters of interest include the location
of the center of gravity location of the bicycle3 and the wheelbase.
Figure 10-3 depicts the front wheel parameters in more detail. Trail (T) is the
distance, measured along the road surface, from the intersection of the steering
axis with the ground to the center of the tire contact patch. Trail is widely con-
sidered an important parameter related to bicycle handling and stability, and is
sometimes provided in bicycle specifications. It is related to the more important
parameter (from a dynamics standpoint) called mechanical trail (Tm). Mechan-
ical trail is the perpendicular distance from the steering axis to the center of the
tire contact patch. All road forces acting on the tire do so at the contact patch.
Lateral forces produce moments about the steering axis, and mechanical trail is
just the moment arm producing these torques. Trail (and mechanical trail) de-
pends on the wheel radius R, the headtubeangle f, and the fork offset, S, and can
be found with the following formulas:

R cos φ − S
T= (10-1)
sin φ
Tm = Rcosf – S (10-2)

The mass properties of the rear frame with rider and the front assembly are actually quite
important and include the locations of the centers of gravity, the mass of each system, and
the inertia tensors for each system.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 10-3  Front wheel parameters

Any lateral force on the front wheel produces a steering torque as long as trail
is not equal to zero. Due to the coupling between the front fork assembly and the
rest of the bicycle, that torque not only changes steer angle, but also causes the
bike to lean, or roll, to one side. This begins to get to the heart of bicycle stability.
Consider again the bicycle launched across a flat, level surface such as a large
parking lot. Initially, the bike is upright and balanced. Shortly after launch, the
bike starts to fall to one side or the other, just as the rolling wheel did. If there was
no lateral friction, the wheels would simply slide out from under the bike, and the
CG would fall vertically until the bike crashed to the ground. But since there is
lateral friction, a lateral force is developed at the wheels acting in the direction of
the lean. (If the bike leans left, the force is directed to the left.)
What happens next is complex, and depends on gravity, mass and mass dis-
tribution for the front fork assembly and the main frame, ground forces at the
wheels, inertial and gyroscopic effects, and centrifugal force. It is also strongly de-
pendent on speed. The common and crucial element is that vehicle roll (leaning
to the side) and steering are coupled: if the bike leans, the fork turns. Conversely,
if the fork is turned, the bike leans. When a bicycle with conventional geometry
leans to the left, the handlebar and fork rotate so as to steer left. This is due
primarily to the ground forces acting on the tire contact patch (which is located
behind the steering axis) and partially to gyroscopic effects of the front wheel.
On the other hand, if the bicycle, initially straight and vertical, is momentarily
steered to the left, (by bumping one end the handlebar in the forward direction
for instance) the bike will initially lean to the right—again due to the tire forces.


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

Acting together, these tendencies cause a disturbed bike to weave back and forth,
oscillating between the effects of steer and lean. If the speed is within a certain
range, the oscillations are stable, and the bike eventually returns to vertical, trav-
elling in a straight line.
The interaction between all the various forces acting on the bicycle, in con-
junction with the coupling between the steering and rolling, lead to the following
theoretical conclusions:

• When the bicycle is stopped or moving at very low speeds, it is unstable and
will simply fall over.
• When the bicycle is moving at low speeds it is still unstable, but will oscillate
back and forth prior to falling. The oscillations become progressively larger
until the bike falls.
• Above a certain speed, the oscillations get progressively smaller until the
bicycle has returned to rolling straight in the upright position. Note that the
new heading (yaw angle) may not be the same as the original heading.
• At very high speeds, the bicycle may not be able to recover. Instead of over-
compensation and oscillatory behavior, the bicycle never quite makes it back
to vertical. It will begin a gradual arc and eventually fall over. It is worthwhile
to note that this instability is usually quite mild, and easily overcome by a
• A bicycle with negative trail can never be stable.
• Increasing the mass moment of inertia of the wheels slightly improves the
low-speed weave instability, but the high-speed capsize instability is made

These conclusions apply to a bicycle with an inert rider, as if the rider were
replaced with a sack of concrete of the same weight. They are interesting, and
help understand bicycle stability, but do not accurately predict the behavior of
a bicycle with a real rider. The rider is constantly interacting with the bicycle,
subtly and often unconsciously shifting her weight or providing steering inputs
to achieve the desired response. Stability is less important than how the bicycle
responds to these subtle inputs, or how the bicycle handles.

Bicycle Handling
The handling characteristics of a bicycle are quite important to the rider, and
must be compatible with the mission of the vehicle. Handling is much more than
stability—few, if any, riders would want the most stable bicycle possible. (The


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

possible exception are bicycles built purely for high-speed sprints, such as those
held annually at Battle Mountain, Nevada. These vehicles are designed to go as
fast as possible in a straight line. Perhaps extreme high-speed stability is an ad-
vantage in this situation.) While stability affects handling, it is only one factor
among several that affect the response of the bicycle. Handling qualities relate
the rider’s actions to the response of the vehicle. Indirectly, it also includes the
response of the bike to ‘noise’ inputs, such as rough pavement, road debris, or
wind gusts. When the handlebar is pushed or moved, the quickness, magnitude,
and nature of the response, collectively, are what is known as the handling char-
acteristics, or handling qualities, of the bicycle.
Handling qualities of a particular bicycle depend on the operational environ-
ment. Speed has a strong effect on handling, as every cyclist has learned through
experience. Handling is also strongly dependent on surface condition and, to
a much smaller extent, on the ambient weather conditions including wind and
temperature. Consider a bicycle ridden at 5 m/s on smooth, dry pavement on a
summer afternoon. A small push on the handlebar will result in a very different re-
sponse than on the same bicycle at 20 m/s. The same small push riding on a frozen
lake in January would result in yet a different response, even at the same speed.
Changes in any number of variables can affect handling performance. For exam-
ple, changing tires can have a significant effect. Perceived handling performance
is quite personal and subjective. A bicycle that has very light controls might be
perceived by one rider as difficult to control, while a second rider might find it
nimble and practical. Each rider’s abilities, riding experience, and expectations
affect perceptions of acceptable handling—so how does an engineer design for
Precise predictions of handling during the design stage of a new bicycle are
very difficult to make. The number of variables involved—both design variables
that can be controlled and environmental variables that cannot—make the prob-
lem very complex. Analytical models are very complex and incomplete with re-
gard to handling. The traditional approach has been to start with a known design,
modify it, and check the result. This approach works well for a new design based
on similar bicycles for which data is readily available. Large bicycle manufacturers
with years of experience producing similar bicycles can probably design a new
model with high confidence in the handling characteristics. This is particularly
true as upright bicycles have been manufactured for so long that there is a large
body of comparative data available. The sport builder designing her first recum-
bent bicycle has quite a different problem. Not only is data scarce, but cost in time
and money to build, test, modify and repeat may be unaffordable. Fortunately, it is
generally adequate to be able to only roughly predict the handling qualities during


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

the design of a new vehicle. As long as the handling characteristics of a new design
are generally as desired, the design is a success. Experimental programs can then
fine-tune the handling to greater precision. General handling characteristics may
be described as “easy to balance,” “responsive and sporty,” “stable during cruise.”
These might correspond to an entry-level recumbent; a sport or racing bike; or a
touring recumbent, respectively. Patterson’s method provides the designer with
a tool that can predict the general handling characteristics of a new design in the
early design stage, even before complete mass properties are available.

Patterson’s Method
Bill Patterson developed a method for predicting bicycle handling for a bicycle
design course he taught at California Polytechnic Institute.4 The method is based
on the premises that (1) the method should be an easy tool for the bicycle designer
to use, and (2) handling qualities can be defined mathematically by considering
the motion and force of the rider’s hands on the handlebar. In order to make the
method easy to use, the dynamic equations have been extremely simplified. The
mathematical accuracy of the result is questionable, but the method does work.
The pragmatic engineer is willing to forgo mathematical rigor for a design tool
that works! The second premise allows the intentions of the rider to be consid-
ered, if only in a limited way. Most bicycle riders use more than their hands to con-
trol a bicycle. Subtle weight shifts and body movements contribute significantly
to controlling a bicycle. These are the only methods of controlling a bicycle when
riding without hands. Nonetheless, being able to predict the response to hand
inputs provides a good insight into the handling qualities of the bicycle.
Patterson’s method will allow designers to determine bicycle geometry that
produces desired handling qualities during the early stages of design. The re-
quired input data is minimal, and the equations are fairly simple to implement.
However, the method does not predict handling with a high level of precision,
and precision should not be an expectation. As noted, there are many variables
involved, so a simple method that predicts general handling characteristics is ac-
tually quite a valuable tool. It is quite possible for a novice to design a bicycle that
meets design goals such as: easy to ride; very stable at speed; light controls; nim-
ble and sporty; or good low-speed maneuverability. While the method is simple
to use, it does require accurate interpretation of the results. Initially, it is often
useful to compare a new design with known bicycles. Two examples are included

Patterson, W. B., 2001, The Chronicles of the Lords of the Chainring, W. B. Patterson,
Santa Maria, CA, USA.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

at the end of this section to provide a basis for comparison. Analyzing a bicycle
that is ridden frequently also assists with interpretation of the results.
Patterson uses a slightly different set of parameters than is used throughout
this book. The wheel radius is measured to the center of the tire, rather than the
tire patch. This affects the value obtained when calculating trail. Patterson’s value
of trail will be slightly smaller than that calculated by Equation 10-1. Mechanical
trail is physically identical to that previously defined, but must be calculated dif-
ferently to account for the different definition of wheel radius. Rather than use
the head tube angle, Patterson measures the declination of the head tube from
the vertical, and denotes this angle as b. Beta is the complement of the head tube
angle f. These definitions are illustrated in Figure 10-4.
Nomenclature for Patterson’s Method

L Wheelbase
b Horizontal distance from rear axle to center of gravity
h Vertical distance from ground to center of gravity
If Mass moment of inertia of the front tire about the wheel axis
Ir Mass moment of inertia of the rear tire about the wheel axis
kx Radius of gyration about the centroidal x-axis (longitudinal axis)
K Roll Control Authority constant
K1–K5 Patterson’s constants (see text for explanation and interpretation)
m Combined mass of bicycle and rider

Figure 10-4  Patterson’s steering parameter definitions


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

Q Moment about the head tube axis

Rf Front wheel radius, measured from axle to mid-point of tire
R r Rear wheel radius, measured from axle to mid-point of tire
RH Handlebar radius, measured from steering axis to center of hand
S Fork offset
T Trail (see Figure 10-4)
Tm Mechanical trail (see Figure 10-4)
V Velocity of the bicycle
Wx Roll rate (rate of rotation about the longitudinal axis)
Wz Yaw rate (rate of rotation about the vertical axis)
b Compliment of the head tube angle, measured from the vertical
d Steering angle

The change in bicycle roll rate with respect to control inputs is considered to
be the most important handling characteristic. At low speeds, the fork is rotated
through a relatively large angle during maneuvers, and the bicycle is controlled
by actually moving the handlebars. Roll control authority is the change in roll
rate with respect to the distance the handlebar is moved, and is very important
for low-speed handling. At higher speeds, the fork rotates through only a very
small angle, and the force applied to the handlebar becomes more important than
the distance through which it moves. Patterson assumed that the intentions of
the rider could be measured by a weighted sum of the movement and the force
applied to the handlebar through the rider’s hands. The change in the roll rate
with respect to the intention function is the control sensitivity of the bicycle,
another very important handling characteristic. Roll authority increases linearly
with speed, but control sensitivity increases non-linearly with speed to a maxi-
mum, and then decreases. The value of the maximum sensitivity and the speed
at which it occurs are both significant. A third speed-dependent function also
provides important information regarding handling. The forces acting at the tire
contact patch produce moments about the steering axis. Conceptually, the total
moment can be thought of as a torsional spring with a stiffness that is dependent
on speed. This torsional spring constant is the third important characteristic that
the designer should consider. It is non-linear with speed, decreasing at an in-
creasing rate. The five “Patterson constants,” K, K1, K2, K3, K4, and K5 are used in
the formulas for roll control authority, control sensitivity, and the torsional spring
constant. Once a user has some experience with the method, the values of these
constants can provide insight into the handling qualities of a new design. The val-
ues of K3 and K5 are set by the user, and used to define acceptable handling. The
remaining constants are calculated based on bicycle parameters.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Trail is calculated as usual with Patterson’s method. The formula is repeated

here for convenience. (Recall that the wheel radius is measured to the center of
the tire, rather than the ground.)

R sin(β) S
T= − (10-3)
cos(β) cos(β)

The equation for mechanical trail must be modified to adjust for the radius of
the tire. Physically, it is the moment arm about the steering axis relative to the tire
contact patch. All lateral forces developed at the tire produce a torque about the
steer axis. Mechanical trail is the torque arm.

Tm = Tcos(b) + rtsin(b) (10-4)

Roll Control Authority is defined as the change in the roll rate of the bicycle
with respect to the distance the handlebar is moved. It is most applicable to low-
speed maneuvering, in which the handlebar is deflected through relatively large
angles. It is a linear function of speed, and the slope K provides insight into low-
speed control. Roll control authority is given by

dWx  b   cos(β) 
=  V (10-5)
RH d δ  hL   RH 


= KV (10-6)
RH d δ


 b   cos(β) 
K =   (10-7)
 hL  RH 

For bicycles designed for low-speed maneuvering, such as short-wheelbase

bikes designed for urban use, the value of K should be relatively large, greater
than 3.0 m–2. Greater values of K provide better low-speed control authority, but
may result in bicycles that are overly responsive at high speeds. Touring bicycles,


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

or bicycles designed for high-speed cruise, should have lower values. A long
wheelbase touring bike may have a value of K as low as 0.35 m–2.
Figure 10-5 illustrates the roll control authority plot for a typical bicycle. The
mid-range value of K indicates this is a good all-around bicycle.
The torsional spring constant is the torque acting on the steering column. It
is a decreasing quadratic function of speed, and is quite important for handling
qualities. It is given by the change in torque on the steering column with respect
to the change in steer angle:
= K 1 − K 2V 2 (10-8)

Where the coefficients are Patterson’s constants K1 and K2, given by:



 mb cos(β)   k x2 
K 2 = Tm   2  (10-10)
 L2   kx − h2 


K = 2.03







0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
SPEED (m/s)

Figure 10-5  Roll control authority


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The torsional spring constant typically has a positive value at zero speed and
decreases quadratically as speed increases, as illustrated in Figure 10-6. When
the spring constant is positive, the bicycle is unstable. The rider must move the
handlebar one way, while applying force in the opposite direction! This is typical
of most bicycles at very low speeds. As speed increases, the spring constant de-
creases, and at some speed becomes zero. This is the threshold at which the bi-
cycle becomes easy to ride. As the speed increases, the torsional spring constant
becomes much more negative, providing a torque that tends to oppose distur-
bances and stabilize the bicycle.
Figure 10-6 shows the torsional spring constant curve for a long-wheelbase bi-
cycle with a 63 kg rider. The bicycle is a Gold Rush, manufactured by Easy Racers,
Inc. in California. This is a well-known bicycle with very nice handling characteris-
tics and a very light feel to the controls. The plot indicates the initial value of 8.21
N-m/rad. For a long-wheelbase fast cruiser, this is a reasonable value. It should be
lower for a bike designed to spend much time at low speeds. K1 should not exceed
10 N-m/rad, and should normally be smaller for low-speed bikes. Sometimes it
may be difficult to achieve this value. Values up to 25 N-m/rad can be used if nec-
essary, but these bicycles may be difficult to control at low speeds. A more vertical
head tube (smaller b) will reduce the value of K1.


SPRING RATE = 8.21 - 0.27*V






ROOT = 5.47 m/s

0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
SPEED (m/s)
Figure 10-6  Torsional spring constant as function of speed


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The curve in the figure crosses zero at about 5.5 m/s, again an acceptable value
for a bike designed for the open road. For city bikes, a lower value would be bet-
ter. The curve drops off rather slowly, reaching –100 N-m/rad at about 20 m/s.
This indicates a bicycle with a very light feel, a characteristic of the Gold Rush.
The value for K2, 0.27 kg, is toward the low end of the acceptable range. Bicycles
with greater control authority may require higher values of K2. Normally these
bicycles will have higher values for both K2 and K4. Long-wheelbase recumbents
such as the Gold Rush have low control authority and can have very light controls.
The constant K2 given by Equation 10-10 does not include terms due to angular
momentum of the wheels. For lightweight bicycle wheels, the error is not large,
but for heavy or wide tires, there may be a significant discrepancy. Two additional
terms must be added to K2 if angular momentum is to be included. Motorcycle
wheels have substantially more inertia than bicycle wheels, so the additional terms
should be used for motorcycle design. Bicycles designed with large, heavy wheels
should also include these terms. The inertia for light road wheels is small enough
that Equations 10-9 and 10-10 yield acceptable results. If heavy wheels are used or
enhanced accuracy is required, the inertia of the wheels should be measured and
included. The two additional terms, together called DK2, are given by

I f cos(β)  b cos(β) 
∆K 2 =  sin(β) +
LRf  h 

The torsional spring constant with the angular momentum terms included is
then given as

= K 1 − (K 2 + ∆K 2 )V 2

A key factor in bicycle handling and stability is the coupling that occurs between
steering and rolling. If the bicycle is leaned away from the vertical position, the
front wheel and fork assembly will rotate. The moment on the fork assembly that
produces this rotation is known as fork flop. More rigorously, fork flop is the change
in moment on the steering column with respect to the change in roll angle, or:

dQ  mgb 
= −T cos(β)*  
dθ  L 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Patterson divides both sides by the handlebar radius in order to obtain the
force on the rider’s hands rather than the moment. Patterson’s fork flop in terms
of force is given by:

dQ  mgb   1 
FF =
RH d θ
= −T cos(β)*    (10-12)
 L   RH 

As with most of the parameters, there is a range of acceptable values for fork
flop. Riders need some minimum amount of fork flop to provide feedback, or ‘feel’
for the bicycle. Bicycles with no fork flop are very difficult to ride. A disturbance
that causes the bike to lean can not be felt at the handlebar, and there will be min-
imal stabilizing effect on the bicycle. The only practical ways to achieve this unde-
sirable condition are to reduce trail to zero (T = 0), or reduce the front wheel load
to zero   mg = 0. This emphasizes the importance of trail and a good front/rear
weight distribution. Patterson suggests that 225 N/rad is a reasonable maximum
for a recumbent; above that value, riders have more difficulty. For upright bicy-
cles, lower values are typical. For example, a downhill mountain bike with a 64°
headtube angle will have around 60 N/rad fork flop, while a road bike with a 73°
headtube may have as little as 40 N/rad. Recumbents usually require somewhat
higher values. The Easy Racers Gold Rush Replica, which has very light steering,
is at the lower end of the range with around 80 N/rad. Some special-purpose bicy-
cles can exceed 225 N/rad, but the handling becomes more sluggish and control
forces larger. For bicycles that spend very little time maneuvering, such as speed
bikes, this could be an advantage. Some speed bikes do exceed the recommended
maximum, trading maneuverability for straight-line, high-speed stability.
Since fork flop is dependent on trail, the maximum allowable fork flop can
be used to set a maximum acceptable value for trail. Substituting the maximum
value of fork flop into Equation 10-12 and solving for T gives an expression for the
maximum trail:

TMAX = (10-13)
 b  mg 
cos(β)  
 L   RH 

If trail exceeds this value, fork flop will be excessive and the control forces may
be excessive for comfortable riding. This is a very useful design tool.
A bicycle should not be overly responsive to control inputs at any speed.
Patterson considers handling to be the bicycle response to the rider’s intentions,


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where intentions are defined as a weighted sum of handlebar motion and han-
dlebar force. This is perhaps a bit ad-hoc, but it does appear to work in practice.
Note that this definition of intent does not include lateral weight shift, which most
bicycle riders do automatically while riding. A mathematical expression for rider’s
intent is given by

INT = RH δ + K 3 (10-14)

The first term is just the distance the rider’s hands move the handlebar during
maneuvering, while the second term is the force acting on the rider’s hands,
weighted by the proportionality constant K3. Patterson recommends a K3 value of
1/1500 m/N, based on experiments taken with a variable geometry bicycle. (The
value turned out to be very similar to the US Air Force recommendations for the
control spring for jet fighter aircraft, which may provide some additional valida-
tion for this number, at least for healthy men.) This value appears satisfactory
for most bicycle design problems; although it should perhaps be increased when
designing bicycles for small children or people with reduced arm strength.
Control sensitivity is the change in the roll rate of the bicycle with respect to the
intentions of the rider, or . If a bicycle has a large and quick response to a rid-
er’s handlebar inputs, it may be difficult to control. The rider will tend to over con-
trol the bike. That is, the rider will push the handlebars harder than was needed,
and the bike responds too much. This is similar to what often happens when a
child is learning to ride a bicycle for the first time. The child over controls, and has
difficulty controlling the bicycle. As control sensitivity increases, even experienced
riders have difficulty with over controlling the bike. Some people will not be able to
ride a bike with excessive control sensitivity, while others may be uncomfortable
on it. Riding such a bicycle on roads shared with motor traffic is potentially danger-
ous, even for experienced riders. It is thus important to keep control sensitivity at
reasonable levels. However, control sensitivity limit is subjective, and varies from
person to person. The recommended values provided here seem to work for most
people, and permit the design of a bicycle with desired handling characteristics.
Since we have an expression for rider’s intention, we can get the following ex-
pression for control sensitivity.

dWx K 4V
= (10-15)
dINT K 
RH +  3 ( −K 1 + K 2V 2 )
 RH 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The constant K4 is just the control authority constant K multiplied by the han-
dlebar radius.

K4 = KRH (10-16)

Control sensitivity, like control authority and the torsional spring constant, is a
function of velocity. It is non-linear, increasing from zero when the bike is not mov-
ing up to some maximum, and then decreasing. Both the maximum value, and the
speed at which it occurs, are important considerations for the designer. Patterson
recommends a limit of 12 rad/m-s for touring bicycles and 18 rad/m-s for nimble
bicycles that are required to do a lot of maneuvering. Experience indicates that
the 12 rad/m-s recommendation may be a bit low, and difficult to achieve for many
bike designs. The higher limit seems more practical for most bicycles, and may
be taken as a working upper limit unless design requirements specifically dictate
otherwise. Bicycles with values up to 25 rad/m-s can be ridden, but take more skill
and are more difficult to ride. Figure 10-7 shows a typical control sensitivity plot.
The shape of the curve—gradual curvature with smoothly arcing trajectory that
peaks below 18 rad/m-s—is typical of good-handling bicycles. The peak value is a







MAX SENS = 16.3 rad/m-s AT 14.7 m/s
0 2 4 6 8 10 12 14 16 18 20
SPEED (m/s)
Figure 10-7  Roll control sensitivity for typical bicycle


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  Bicycle Handling Performance

reasonable 16.3 rad/m-s. This bicycle has been ridden at speeds exceeding 22 m/s
(48.4 mph) with no handling problems.
Taking the derivative of Equation 10-15, setting it to zero and solving for V
gives the velocity of the maximum sensitivity. Substituting back into Equation
10‑15 gives the value for the maximum control sensitivity. Simplifying the result
and eliminating second order terms yields the following approximation for maxi-
mum control sensitivity:

dWx K4
= (10-17)
dINT MAX 2 K 3K 2

Once an upper limit for the maximum control sensitivity is set, Equation 10-17
can be used to determine the minimum acceptable trail. Designating the control
sensitivity upper limit as CSMAX, expanding K1, K2, and K4, and simplifying gives

 K  b   1 1 
TMIN =  2 3 2     2 + 2  (10-18)
 CS MAX ⋅ 2   m   h kx 

The first term consists of constants, since CSMAX and K3 are determined a-­priori.
These can be grouped into a new constant K5. The expression for minimum trail
then becomes


For a maximum sensitivity limit of 18 rad/m-s and K 3 = , K5 = 1.2. This
value appears to work very well for most bicycle designs. A value of 2.6 corre-
sponds to the lower sensitivity limit of 12 rad/m-s. Higher K5 values should be used
to design bicycles that have very low control sensitivity, such as high-speed sprint
bikes. The resulting bikes will require significant control input for maneuvering,
and would be inappropriate in urban riding requiring high maneuverability. Lower
values of K5 produce bikes with more sensitivity requiring less handlebar input
for maneuvering. These bikes can be effective for everyday transportation in a
variety of environments.


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Table 10-1
Summary of Parameters Used with Patterson’s Method
Parameter Typical Values Comments
K 1/m2 1 to 3 m–2 • K is the slope of the control
authority line.
• Higher values give better
low speed control authority.
(Often for SWB bikes)
• Lower values best for road/
touring bikes (often LWB)
• Increase K by:
• Shortening wheelbase
(decrease A)
• Moving seat Forward (In-
crease B)
• Lower seat (Decrease h)
• More vertical headtube
(decrease b)
• Higher values may make
bike overly responsive
(‘twitchy’) at high speeds.
K1 N-m/rad Less than 10 Nm/ • “Trim” force on handlebars
rad best. during a steady turn
Avoid large values • Minimize K1 for bikes that
greater than spend much time at slow
25 Nm/rad speeds.
• K1 is reduced by more verti-
cal headtube (smaller b)
K2 N-s2/m .2 to .3 Typical Torsional spring constant:
TSC = K1 – K2V2


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K3 m/N 1/1500 • Patterson’s recommendation.

• May need to increase forchil-
dren or smaller and weaker
K4 1/m .15–.5 Max allowable sensitivity de-
pends on K4.
Lower K4 reduces max
K5 Kg-m2 1.2 Kg-m2 • Selected by User
• Determines the responsive-
Range: ness of the bicycle based on
1.2 to 2.6 Kg-m2 limiting max sensitivity.
• Patterson recommends:
• 2.6 for “Normal” Bike
• May be high in practice
• 1.2 for responsive bike
• Works well for many
• 1.8 works well for all-around
• High-speed racing bikes can
have larger values—pilot can
pedal without concern for
controlling the bike.
Trail m Min value depends • Important design parameter
on max a­ llowable for bicycles.
sensitivity. • High speed bikes must have
adequate trail to avoid ex-
Max value depends cess sensitivity.
on limiting fork • As front wheel diameter
flop. decreases, fork offset must
decrease to maintain trail.
• Seat back angle and CG
height affect the minimum
required trail.


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Table 10-1 (Continued)

Parameter Units Typical Values Comments
Fork Flop N 50–225 N/rad • Adequate fork flop makes
the bike easy to control—the
Minimum value: rider can sense roll error and
>200 N/rad Low CG make corrections without
>50 N/rad High CG conscious effort.
• Excessive fork flop makes
225 N/rad Max bike sluggish.
• Minimum recommended
value depends on CG height.
• Max value can be exceeded
for bikes requiring excep-
tional high-speed stability.
Max rad/ Less than 18 rad/ • It may be difficult to achieve
Sensitivity (m-s) (m-s) for smooth 12 rad/(m-s) for some bikes.
control at high Very satisfactory handling can
speed. often result even if this limit is
Patterson recom- exceeded.
mends less than • K5 establishes the maximum
12 rad/(m‑s) for sensitivity limit.
normal bikes and • 18 rad/(m-s) corresponds
less than 18 rad/ to K5 = 1.2 Kg-m2
(m-s) for more • 12 rad/(m-s) corresponds
responsivebikes. to K5 = 2.6 Kg-m2
• Max Sensitivity depends on K2
and K4
• Bikes with higher K4 and
better low speed capability
should have larger K2 and give
more ‘feel’ at the handlebar.
• LWB bikes have low K4 and
can have light feel.


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Function Comments
Control • Control authority is the responsiveness (agility) of the bike,
Authority and varies linearly with speed.
• Control authority is enhanced by:
• Decreasing wheelbase (reduce L)
• Moving CG forward (increase b)
• Reducing CG height (reduce h) larger effect at high speeds
• More vertical headtube (decrease b)
• Decrease handlebar width (decrease Rh)
• Steep line (high K) gives better low speed handling, but the
bike may be prone to overcontrol at high speeds.
• SWB bikes tend to have higher K than LWB bikes.
• Shallow line (low K) has poorer low speed handling, but
higher max speed without over control problems.
Torsional Spring • Positive values are unstable, negative values provide
Constant stable control. (Most bikes are unstable at very low
• Initial value should be low, less than 10 N-m/rad for
easy starting
• Root should be small value for easy starting and low-
speed riding.
• More vertical headtube enhances low-speed stability.
Control • The ‘feel’ of the bike.
Sensitivity • Light feel bikes have higher control sensitivity.
• Heavier feel bikes have lower control sensitivity.
Should be smooth, somewhat flat curve with a maximum
less than 18 rad/(m-s)
Additional As B increases (forward CG) roll control is enhanced.
Comments This facilitates hill climbing and low-speed handling.
More vertical headtube increases responsiveness and
reduces low-speed instability.
Wider handlebars increase the speed at which maximum
sensitivity occurs. This may solve ‘twitchy’ handling


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Example 10-1
A recumbent bicycle design is proposed for a vehicle to be used for touring
on paved surfaces. It should have good high-speed handling qualities. Most
riding will occur on open roads, although some may also be in urban areas.
A medium feel is desired.
Based on the design mission for the vehicle, the standard recommenda-
tions for Patterson’s K3, and max fork flop are appropriate, giving values of
K3 = 1/1500 m/N and max fork flop = 225 N/rad. Since this bike is a touring
bike that will spend some time in urban riding, a mid-range value of K5 =
1.8  kg m2 is chosen. (Note, this value seems good for many all-around
The initial design, completed by a novice designer, included the following

Parameter Value Units

Total design mass with rider 75 Kg
Design CG location forward of rear wheel .62 m
Design CG height .65 m
Radius of gyration about centroidal x-axis .25 m
Wheelbase 1.1 m
Headtube inclination from vertical 19 Degrees
Fork offset (rake) .030 m
Handlebar radius from steer axis to hands .2 m
Front tire size 28-406 ERTO size
Rear tire size 28-622 ERTO size

It is assumed that the inertia of the tires can be neglected.

This bicycle was analyzed with Patterson’s method. The results indicated
an unsatisfactory design. The program output indicated:

Bicycle Handling Program

Analysis Based on Patterson’s Method
Bicycle: QB Bike – First Iteration


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Trail = 0.043 m
Trail is not within Limits of 0.273 to 0.115 m
Patterson’ Constants:
K1 = 4.912 N/rad
K2 = 0.212 N-s^2/m-rad
K4 = 0.820 1/m
Fork Flop = 84.3 N/rad
Maximum Sensitivity = 36.0 AT 16.1 m/s


120 20 40


SPRING RATE = (4.91 - 0.21*V ) N-m/rad
0 35
Control authority (1/ms)


100 K = 4.10
-20 30
-40 25
60 -60 20
-80 15
-100 10
-120 5
ROOT = 4.82 m/s MAX SENS = 36.0 rad/m-s AT 16.1 m/s
0 -140 0
0 5 10 15 20 25 0 5 10 15 20 25 0 5 10 15 20 25
SPEED (m/s) SPEED (m/s) SPEED (m/s)

The control authority K is a high for bike designed to spend much time
on the open road. The spring rate plot indicates a moderate feel, with both
K1 and K2 within the recommended ranges. The maximum sensitivity is very
high,exceeding the limit by more than a factor of two, and the trail is be-
low the minimum trail requirement. Fork flop, at 84 N-m, is low, but within
limits. This bicycle has excessive control sensitivity at speed, and should be
Long wheelbase bicycles tend to have good cruising characteristics, so sig-
nificantly increasing the wheelbase might help. The rider is quite laid back in
a very aerodynamic position. Placing him more upright would not only make
the vehicle more comfortable for long rides, but also increase the radius of
gyration, thus reducing the high sensitivity of the bicycle. It might improve
visibility for the rider, which could be important for touring. Increasing trail
would also help reduce the high sensitivity. For a bike designed for long hours
cruising, a more inclined headtube might be a good means of increasing trail.
The handlebars on a long wheelbase bike can be wider, which will improve


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

control authority. Finally, a touring bicycle might be more comfortable with

larger tires, perhaps 40 mm section width.
Incorporating these changes, and moving the rider aft to fit the crank be-
hind the rear wheel gives the following revised parameters:

Parameter Value Units

Total design mass with rider 75 Kg
Design CG location forward of rear wheel .5 m
Design CG height .7 m
Radius of gyration about centroidal x-axis .4 m
Wheelbase 1.64 m
Headtube inclination from vertical 31 Degrees
Fork offset (rake) .025 m
Handlebar radius from steer axis to hands .29 m
Front tire size 40-406 ERTO size
Rear tire size 40-622 ERTO size

The revised design was analyzed with Patterson’s method, giving the fol-
lowing results.

Bicycle Handling Program

Analysis based on Patterson’s Method
Bicycle: QB Long Wheelbase Bike
Trail = 0.105 m
Trail is within Limits of 0.099 to 0.339 m
Patterson’ Constants:
K1 = 9.718 N/rad
K2 = 0.295 N-s^2/m-rad
K4 = 0.373 1/m
Fork Flop = 69.5 N/rad
Maximum Sensitivity = 13.9 at 19.9 m/s


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The revised design is a long wheelbase recumbent that will handle well
during high-speed cruising, yet it still retains adequate maneuverability for
in town. The revised design is compatible with the mission of the vehicle.
Control authority is reduced, but the value for K is within the expected range
for this type of bike. The torsional spring constant indicates a fairly light feel,
although K1 is near the upper limit and the root is a bit on the high side. This
can be acceptable for a touring bike, however, as most of the time it will be
operated at speeds above 6 m/s. The design could be improved by further
reducing K1. The maximum control sensitivity is below the maximum value,
indicating that the bike will not be overly sensitive at speed. Trail is high, but
within the acceptable range. Fork flop is a bit low, but within the acceptable
range. The controls should feel light to the rider.


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Multi-Track Vehicle Handling
A multi-track vehicle generally has at least one axle with more than one wheel.
Imagine a vehicle riding in a straight line over a few inches of new snow. Unlike
a bicycle, which would leave a single track in the snow, a multi-track vehicle will
leave two or more tracks. Hence the name. Multi-track vehicles include tricy-
cles (three wheels), quadricycles (four wheels) and other, less common wheel
numbers and arrangements. In general, multi-track vehicles exhibit zero-speed
stability. That is, they do not fall over when stopped. At speed, both stability
and performance can vary significantly, depending on configuration, design, and
environmental variables. This chapter introduces basic handling parameters and
stability indices for multi-track vehicles.
Stability and handling are two different, but not unrelated, topics. Stability is
the tendency for a vehicle, under specified conditions, to return to its current
state after a disturbance. For example, a vehicle in a steady-state turn experi-
ences a transient steering input into the direction of the turn. The steering input
is a disturbance that decreases the turn radius and increases the lateral acceler-
ation. If the vehicle is stable, all wheels remain in contact with the ground and
the vehicle continues the turn. If the increase in lateral acceleration due to the
transient input is excessive, the vehicle can roll over toward the outside of the
turn, a form of instability called rollover.
Handling is a general term used to describe the way a vehicle responds to
driver inputs. It includes a diverse set of parameters related to steering, suspen-
sion, weight distribution, and tire/road interaction. There is no single definition
of what constitutes “good” handling: desirable characteristics depend on the mis-
sion and nature of the vehicle. The important handling characteristics should be


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

considered early in the design stage, and incorporated into the vehicle design
specifications. Even so, the handling characteristics of a vehicle are often a com-
promise with other design constraints. A tricycle designed to be sporty and fun
to ride may require very responsive steering, good tactile feedback (good “road
feel”), and a high resistance to rollover. In contrast, steering stability and low
rolling resistance may be more important on a touring trike. It is generally not
possible for a single vehicle to optimize all aspects of handling.
This chapter is devoted to handling characteristics for rigid multi-track vehi-
cles. It includes low- and high-speed cornering, tire stiffness, understeer gradient,
and rollover and pitchover thresholds. Rigid vehicles do not include suspension
other than that provided by tires. All concepts presented here are valid for sus-
pended vehicles, but the formulas become more complicated, as suspension ef-
fects must be included. The interested reader is encouraged to read more in the

Definitions and Nomenclature

Figure 11-1 illustrates several vehicle parameters applicable to handling and
stability. Three wheels of a tadpole tricycle are shown. The wheelbase L is the
longitudinal distance from the rear axle to the front axle. The center of gravity
is located a distance b forward of the rear axle and a height h above the ground.
The castor angle is the projected angle between the steering axis and a vertical
plane, as seen in the side view. The castor angle is positive when the steering axis
is inclined rearward when moving along the axis upwards from the ground. The
kingpin inclination angle is the projected angle between the steering axis and a
vertical plane as seen in the front view of the vehicle. The inclination of the plane

Figure 11-1  Definition of multi-track terms


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

of the wheel from a vertical plane is the camber angle. Camber angle is positive
when the top of the wheel leans away from the vehicle. The scrub radius, also
known as the kingpin offset, is the horizontal distance, measured in the front
projection, from the center of the tire contact patch to the intersection of the
steering axis and the ground. Wheel track is the horizontal distance between the
tire contact patches, and should not be confused with the kinematic track, which
is the horizontal distance between the intersection of the wheel axes and the
steering axes. Kinematic track is significant in the design of steering mechanisms,
but is only applicable when two side-by-side wheels are steered.

Low-Speed Cornering
Ackerman Steering At low speeds, no lateral force is developed, and the
wheels should roll without slipping over the pavement. For this to occur, the ex-
tended centerlines of the axles for all wheels, as seen from above, must intersect
at a common point, as shown in Figure 11-2. The figure uses a bicycle model
to define the Ackerman steering angle. Multitrack vehicles can be modeled as
equivalent single-track vehicles that do not lean while turning. This model is quite
different from an actual bicycle, and is used for illustrative purposes only.

Figure 11-2  Ackerman steer angle and turn radius


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The turn radius is the distance from the center of the turn to the center of
gravity of the vehicle. For the bicycle model shown, the steer angle of the front
wheel is related to the turn radius and wheelbase by

δ A = tan −1   (11-1)
This angle is known as the Ackerman angle, and is the correct steer angle for a
tricycle with only one steered wheel. For multitrack vehicles with pairs of steered
wheels—such as most tadpole trikes and all quads—the inside and outside wheel
angles must differ in order to prevent slip. This is apparent from Figure 11-3. For
true rolling to occur, lines passing through the axles of each wheel must intersect
at a common point. Due to the offset of the front wheels, the inside wheel must
have a larger steer angle than the outside wheel for this to occur. The angles for
the inside and outside wheels depend on wheelbase and kinematic track as well
as turn radius. They are given by

 L 
δi = tan −1 
R− 
 2
−1  L 
δo = tan 
R+ 
 2

Figure 11-3  Ackerman steering angle and turn radius for tadpole tricycle


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Where T is the kinematic track, or the distance between the kingpin axes at
the location of the steering arms. Note that kinematic track differs from wheel
track for nearly all practical vehicles. This is due to both the kingpin inclination
angle and the wheel offset.
The correct steering angles are achieved by the steering mechanism. In prac-
tice, there are only a few mechanisms that are used for steering. They include
the track rod (Figure 11-4), the symmetric six-bar linkage (Figures 11-8 and 11-
9), and rack and pinion (Figure 11-10). None of these mechanisms can achieve
the angles in Equation 11-2 exactly. In general, the angles are exact for only two
steering angles—one for neutral steer (wheels straight) and one at a small turn
radius. At all other turn radii, the actual steering angles deviate from the ideal.
The amount of deviation is known as steering error, and can be minimized with
well-designed mechanisms. The largest deviations occur at large steer angles,
corresponding to small turn radii. The minimum turn radius should thus be speci-
fied before optimizing the steering mechanism for minimum deviations.
Tadpole and quad HPVs require close attention to optimizing steer angle over
the full range of steering. Human-powered vehicles are power-limited, and poor
steering accuracy can lead to increased resistance during maneuvering. The rel-
ative cost of this resistance is higher than for motorized vehicles. Exact steering

Figure 11-4  Track rod steering mechanism, showing neutral steer and 30° steer
angles for a tadpole trike


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

mechanisms that do not deviate from the true Ackerman angle over the entire
range of steering angles are possible, but the complexity outweighs the advan-
tage. The mechanisms described here offer a very good compromise between
complexity and accuracy. Properly designed, the steering errors are quite small.
Three different mechanisms commonly used for Ackerman steering are de-
scribed in this chapter. The mechanisms can be compared on the basis of com-
plexity, accuracy (or the design effort required to obtain a specified level of
accuracy), and sensitivity. Steering sensitivity is the change in steering angle of
the wheels with respect to the change in position of the handlebar. The rider of a
vehicle with very sensitive steering need only move the handlebar a very short
distance to have a significant change in the steering angle of the wheels. Overly
sensitive steering produces vehicles that are difficult to control, while vehicles
with less sensitive steering may be sluggish to respond.
Track Rod Track rod steering consists of steering arms attached to each steer-
ing knuckle which are connected by the track rod, as shown in Figure 11-5. Track
rod steering is simple, provides good Ackerman compensation, and makes toe-in
adjustment easy and straightforward. The track rod simply ensures that the two
wheels steer together to achieve Ackerman steering angles. It requires a separate
linkage for actual steering control. This could be a tie rod from the steering col-
umn to one of the steering arms. Direct steering, in which separate handlebars at-
tach directly to each steering knuckle is also used with track rod steering. Catrike
uses this method, for example. A variety of other methods with more complexity
may also be used.
The track rod is usually placed behind the axle. For the aft mounted track rod,
the steering arms angle inward, and toe-in—used to preload the steering mecha-
nism and eliminate looseness—will place the track rod in tension. Kinematically,
it can be placed forward of the axle, but the track arms must then angle outward,

Figure 11-5  Track rod steering parameters


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

toward the wheels. Interference with the outside wheel usually precludes the
forward arrangement. Toe-in—a slight angling inwards of the wheels—is used
to pre-load the steering linkage. With a track rod behind the axle, toe-in places
the track rod in compression. The track rod must be made larger and stronger to
prevent buckling. (Toe-out—angling the wheels outward slightly—can be used in
this case.)
Figure 11-4 shows a track rod steering mechanism for a tadpole tricycle. Note
that when the wheels are turned, the linkage ensures that the inside wheel turns
more than the outside wheel. The important parameters for designing a track rod
mechanism are defined in Figure 11-5.
An old rule-of-thumb for determining the correct neutral steer angle and track
rod length is to choose the neutral steer angle such that the steering arm cen-
terlines intersect the vehicle centerline at two-thirds of the wheelbase aft of the
front axle. This generally produces a mechanism with small steer errors. The neu-
tral steer angle, qo, obtained by this method is:

 2 
 L
θo = tan −1 3  + π = tan −1  4L  + π (11-3)
1  2  3t  2
 t  
 2 
This angle usually provides a good starting point for steering design. However,
it is not optimal for most vehicles. With the ability to model a mechanism in a com-
puter program, it becomes relatively easy to optimize the steering kinematics in
order to minimize steer error, and thus obtain a much more accurate mechanism
than that obtained by the rule-of-thumb.
Track rod steering is perhaps the easiest to design and optimize. If the ki-
nematic track and kingpin location and orientation are known, then only two
parameters—the steering arm length and neutral steer angle—are required. The
track rod length is then fully defined. As noted, a good start point is to draw lines
from the steering axis to a point on the vehicle centerline two-thirds back from
the front axle. Then draw a line parallel with the front axle that intersects these
lines a short distance back from the steering axes. This generally provides a good
initial guess for the mechanism. A computer program can evaluate, improve, and
optimize the kinematics.
The sensitivity of track rod steering depends on how the handlebars are con-
nected to the system. A very simple method is to attach the handlebars directly
to the kingpins. This usually produces sensitive steering, although sensitivity can
be decreased by increasing the length of the handlebars. Other mechanisms are
possible, and may result in lower sensitivity.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Kinematic Analysis of Steering Mechanisms An optimal steering design in-

volves a kinematic analysis of the mechanism and a comparison to the theoretical
Ackerman angles. Link lengths and angles can be modified until the difference
from Ackerman is minimized over the entire range of steering. The simplest ki-
nematic analyses assume that the entire steering mechanism is planar—that is,
all the links lie in one plane. However, most real steering mechanisms are not
actually planar, but spatial, meaning that the links move in a more complex way
that must be described in three dimensions. For example, a non-zero kingpin in-
clination angle always results in a spatial, non-planar mechanism. Fortunately, the
mechanisms described here can be designed using the simpler planar kinematic
equations with little loss of accuracy. (In some cases, the steering error in the
resulting mechanism is less than predicted by the planar assumption under which
it was designed. This cannot be counted on, however.)
Several solution techniques are available for solving plane kinematic problems.
As an illustration, a position analysis of a track rod steering mechanism using the
Chase equations is presented in Appendix 11-1 of this chapter. Most mechanism
textbooks can provide more details on kinematic position analyses.
Many computer-aided design software packages include motion analysis, mak-
ing a complete three-dimensional spatial solution relatively easy. This may take
more time and effort to model the steering assembly and set up a kinematic anal-
ysis than to use the simpler planar algorithms, although it will likely be more
accurate. One approach is to use programs that solve the simpler algorithms early
in the design, and verify the result with a CAD model and kinematic simulation. In
either case, a procedure to evaluate, improve, and optimize the linkage is useful.
The following outline presents such a procedure:

1. Identify any parameters whose values are known a-priori (such as kine-
matic track, for example)
2. Assume or estimate the remaining kinematic parameter values (track arm
length, steering arm length, neutral steer angle, etc.)
3. Define the minimum turn radius for the analysis
4. Calculate the Ackerman angle for a range of turn radii from the minimum
to neutral steer (infinite turn radius, straight line motion)
a. Also calculate the corresponding inside outside wheel angle
b. Calculate the corresponding outside wheel angle
5. For each radius in the range, set the inside wheel angle to coincide with
that of Step 4a, and use a kinematic analysis to find the angle of the out-
side wheel.
a. Methods such as that in Appendix 11-1 may be used for the solution


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

6. Compare the angle obtained in Step 5 with the theoretically correct out-
side wheel angle given in Step 4b. The difference is the steering error.
a. A plot of the error as a function of turn radius may be helpful
7. If desired, calculate the mean square error to obtain a single estimate of
the steering error over the entire range.
a. The max error at any turn radius may also be of interest
8. If the error is too large, adjust the values in Step 2 and repeat
a. Iterate until the error is sufficiently small

A Matlab program, Ackerman_TR.m, is available with this text for analyzing

track rod steering mechanisms. It uses the method outlined above to evaluate the
kinematics and plot the steer error as a function of turn radius. The correct inside
wheel steer angles di and the corresponding steering arm angle qi is calculated for
a range of turn radii, starting with the minimum turning radius of the vehicle. The
actual outside wheel steering arm angle for each position is then evaluated based
on the mechanism kinematics. The actual values are compared with the correct
angles corresponding to di of Equation 11-2. Two figures of merit for the steering
accuracy are provided—the mean squared steering error and the maximum devi-
ation of the inside wheel from that required for true Akerman steering. The mean
square steering error is given by

∑( θ
MSE = o,true − θo,actual )2 (11-4)
n i =1

where qo is the outside wheel steering arm angle and the summation is over
all turn radii analyzed (the default number of positions is 50). qo,true is the theo-
retically required angle given by Equation 11-2, while qo,actual is the angle that is
actually achieved by the mechanism. The maximum deviation is given by

MD = max (θo,true − θo,actual ) (11-5)


The mean square error provides a global index of merit for the entire range of
turn radii. It is generally the criteria to use for optimization. The maximum devi-
ation provides an index of the worst possible deviation from true steering. Both
should be minimized. With due care, the max deviation can usually be well under
one degree. The program reports the maximum deviation with the turn radius at
which it occurs.
Two version of the program are provided. One is used interactively, allowing
the user to vary the track arm length or angle and see how the steering error


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 








0 20 40 60 80 100 120

Figure 11-6  Track rod steering angle example plot




ERROR (deg)




0 20 40 60 80 100 120

Figure 11-7  Track rod steering angle error example


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

changes. The second version is a function, which can be used for automatic opti-
mization of the mechanism. Similar programs are provided for the other steering

Sample Output



WHEELBASE: 40.00 in
TRACK: 32.00 in




MEAN SQUARE ERROR = 0.1186 deg^2

MAX POS DEVIATION = 0.68 deg AT RADIUS = 8.83 ft

MAX NEG DEVIATION = –0.33 deg AT RADIUS = 5.50 ft

Six-Bar Mechanism Six-bar mechanisms are used on many high-performance

tricycles. The handlebar is often a part of the linkage, so no additional parts
are required for steering control. It is possible to achieve good accuracy with
this type of mechanism, and steering sensitivity can be controlled. Design of
an accurate six-bar mechanism is more difficult, however, because there are
five independent variables involved in the design. The lengths of the steering
arm, control rods, and input rocker, along with the distance along the vehicle
X-axis from the front axle to the handlebar pivot must be determined. Many
design options are feasible, and several different geometries are used in prac-
tice. Two examples are illustrated. Figure 11-8 shows an uncrossed mecha-
nism. This configuration can produce very sensitive steering. Care should be
exercised to ensure that the sensitivity is not excessive. The crossed linkage
is shown in Figure 11-9. Many classic Greenspeed trikes use this mechanism,


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Figure 11-8  Six-bar steering linkage

Figure 11-9  Six-bar crossed steering linkage

which generally provides accurate steering that is not overly sensitive. These
mechanisms are analyzed with the Matlab program Ackerman_6b.m.
Rack and Pinion With rack and pinion steering the steering column turns a
pinion which drives a rack left or right. Tie rods connect the rack with the steering
arms. The steering sensitivity can easily be altered by changing the number of
teeth on the pinion. This in no way affects the steering angles, and is an advantage
of the rack and pinion mechanism.
Rack and pinion steering is not often used on human-powered vehicles. How-
ever, the steering analysis is valid for any type of steering mechanism in which the
inboard tie-rod joint translates left and right, rather than moving in an arc. It is of
intermediate complexity, having four independent parameters. The steering error
can be comparable to that of the track rod, but may be somewhat more difficult
to obtain. The mechanism is illustrated in Figure 11-10, and can be analyzed with
the program Ackerman_RP.m.

Figure 11-10  Rack-and-pinion steering


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

Figure 11-11  High-speed cornering parameters

High-Speed Cornering
During high-speed cornering, the tires must develop a lateral force. “High
speed” is simply any speed at which the lateral, or sideways, acceleration ay and
the lateral tire force Fy are not negligibly small. Any vehicle in a high-speed turn
is subject to centripetal acceleration ay =
V 2 and the associated force F = − m V .
If the tires do not have enough traction to resist this force, the vehicle will slide
out of the turn—imagine a high-speed turn on ice for example. The tire forces
affect all aspects of vehicle handling and stability, from the feel of the handlebar
in a turn to the ability to negotiate a turn without rolling over or sliding. Of course,
turns are not the only situation requiring lateral tire forces. A vehicle traveling in
a straight line along a road with a cross slope in a strong cross wind will also re-
quire forces to resist the sideways push. The mechanisms by which tires develop
lateral forces are the same in each case, either by steering or leaning the tires.
In a turn, vehicle weight and the inertial force are balanced by the vertical and
lateral forces at the tires. The relative locations of these forces determine what
happens to the vehicle as the speed (and lateral load) increase. Weight and iner-
tial forces are body loads, considered to act through the center of gravity (CG) of
the vehicle, while the tire forces act through the contact patch of each tire. This
produces moments that cause the vehicle to turn, but also tend to roll the vehicle
over if speed is too high. Narrow vehicles with high centers of gravity are more


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Example 11-1
A rigid tadpole tricycle has a wheelbase of 1.01 meters and a mass, includ-
ing the driver, of 85 kg. The center of gravity is located .62 meters forward
of the rear axle and .65 meters above the ground. The trike is making a turn
with a 7 meter radius at a speed of 4.0 m/s.
Find the lateral acceleration and the vertical and lateral tire forces for
each axle. If the tricycle will roll over at 4.9 m/s in this turn, what is the max-
imum lateral acceleration it could sustain?


The lateral acceleration (in dimensionless G units) is

V2 42
Ay = = = .233 G’s
Rg 7 × 9.81
The vertical forces on each axle are

b  .62 
Wf =   mg =   × 85 × 9.81 = 511.9 N
L  1.01 
 b  .62 
Wr =  1 −  mg =  1 −  × 85 × 9.81 = 322.0 N
 L  1.01 

The lateral forces on each axle are just the vertical forces multiplied by
the lateral acceleration, or

Fyf = Wf Ay = 511.9 × .233 = 119.3 N

Fyr = Wr Ay = 322.0 × .233 = 75.0 N

The maximum lateral acceleration, in G’s, that the tricycle could sustain
before incipient rollover is known as the rollover threshold, and is
Vmax 4.92
Ay ,RT = = = 0.350 G’s
Rg 7 × 9.81


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

likely to roll over in a turn. Less obvious is the effects of tire forces on steering.
Both rollover and steering effects are described in this chapter.
The individual tire forces depend on the weight and lateral acceleration of the
vehicle, the wheelbase and wheel track, and the location and height of the center
of gravity. The vertical forces are distributed between the front and rear axles in
proportion to the CG location, as described in Chapter 7. The lateral loads are dis-
tributed between the axles in a like manner—that is, in proportion to the vertical
axle loads.
How Tires Develop Forces: Tires develop a lateral force through either of
two mechanisms: slipping or leaning. When a side force is applied to the vehicle,
such as in a turn, it causes the tire to slip in the direction of the force. This causes
an angle, known as the slip angle a, to develop between the direction the tire is
actually moving (considering both the forward rolling motion and the slipping
motion) and the direction the tire is heading (the rolling direction). The slip an-
gle is illustrated in Figure 11-12. Friction between the pavement and the slipping

Figure 11-12  Slip angle as viewed from above looking down on the wheel


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

wheel resists the lateral force in proportion to the slip angle—a greater lateral
force requires larger slip angles. During a turn, all tires contribute to the lateral
force, and hence all tires develop a slip angle. (Do not confuse the slip angle with
the steering angle—the two are quite different. The steering angle is the angle the
steered wheels are rotated from the neutral steer position, measured relative to
the vehicle frame. It is caused by turning the handlebar.)
Camber is the inclination of the wheel relative to the plane of the road, as in
Figure 11-13 (viewed from behind the vehicle). Camber also produces a lateral
force, sometimes called camber thrust, acting on the rolling wheel. Camber thrust
is proportional to the camber angle, but is much smaller than the force produced
by a slipping. Therefore it has less effect on high-speed handling for multitrack
vehicles than does slip angle.
Tire Stiffness The lateral force developed by the tire increases in proportion
to the slip angle a. The constant of proportionality between the force and the slip
angle is known as the cornering stiffness—a direct analogy to the stiffness of a
torsional spring. Cornering stiffness is a key parameter in vehicle dynamics, and
is defined so as to satisfy

Fy = –Caa (11-6)

Figure 11-13  Camber angle, viewed from behind the vehicle


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance


Ca = Cornering Coefficient

The negative sign in Equation 11-6 is based on SAE sign conventions: A pos-
itive slip angle results in a negative lateral force. The tire shown in Figure 11-12
has a positive slip angle. The force would be to the left in the figure, or along the
negative y-axis of the vehicle.
The relationship between slip angle and lateral force is linear for small angles
of a. Figure 11-14 shows the non-linearity of the cornering force at large slip an-
gles. For this reason, the cornering coefficient is defined as the initial slope of the
curve, that is, C α = .
dα α=0
Figure 11-15 shows experimental cornering force data for Ritchy Tom Slick
26X1.4 bicycle tire. The cornering force was measured with 860 Newtons vertical
load on the tire. Note the good linearity, particularly for low slip angles. This is
typical of many bicycle tires. The cornering stiffness was determined from a linear
regression to be 168 N/deg.











0 5 10 15

Figure 11-14  Slip force as a function of slip angle


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 








0 0.2 0.4 0.6 0.8 1 1.2 1.4

Figure 11-15  
Cornering stiffness for Ritchey Tom Slick tire with 860 Newtons
vertical load

Tire cornering stiffness depends on tire design parameters such as tire type,
construction, cross-sectional shape, tread, and material. In addition, operational
factors such as tire load and inflation pressure have significant effects on stiffness.
As inflation pressure increases, Ca also increases, but at a decreasing rate. Like-
wise, as the vertical load on the tire increases, cornering stiffness increases some
maximum value, beyond which it decreases. This is illustrated in Figure 11-16
for the same Ritchey Tom Slick tire shown in Figure 11-15. Note how the curve
flattens out at high vertical loads. The non-linear relationship between cornering
stiffness and vertical load is particularly significant for tricycles due to the lateral
load transfer occurring on one, but not both, axles. This will be discussed further
in the context of the understeer gradient.
A distinction must be made between the cornering stiffness of a wheel and the
axle stiffness. The relationship F = –Caa, as presented in Equation 11-6, applies
to a single wheel. However, within the context of multi-track vehicle handling, the
cornering stiffness of the axle is more important. In this case, the stiffness contri-
bution from each tire on the axle must be combined. In this chapter, the term “tire
stiffness” refers to the cornering stiffness of a single tire, while either of the terms
“axle stiffness” or “stiffness” refer to the cornering stiffness of the axle. The same
symbol, Ca, is used for both cases, except where confusion is likely.


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0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800

Figure 11-16  Effect of vertical load on cornering stiffness for a Ritchey Tom
Slick tire

Camber Stiffness If a rolling wheel is inclined with respect to the ground plane
so as to give a camber angle g, a side force acting at the contact patch is devel-
oped. As with slip, the relationship between the lateral force and the camber an-
gle is non-linear, but is approximately linear at small camber angles. The Camber
Stiffness is defined as the slope of the curve of Fy versus camber angle g at g = 0,
such that if no side slip is present

Fy = Cg  g (11-7)


For most tires, camber stiffness is approximately one tenth the magnitude
of cornering stiffness. For example, a given tire produces a normalized lateral
force = 1.0 at 5˚ of side slip, but requires nearly 50˚ of camber to achieve the
same force.1 Most multi-track vehicles have very small camber change during
maneuvering, and hence camber stiffness is a secondary effect. For these vehi-
cles, cornering stiffness is the primary means of achieving the forces required for
high-speed turns. In contrast, bicycles lean into turns, and can achieve very large

Cossalter, V. et al., “Dynamic Properties of Motorcycle and Scooter Tires: Measurement
and Comparison,” Vehicle System Dynamics, Vol. 39, No. 5, pp. 329–352, 2003.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

camber angles and commensurately greater camber thrust. Camber stiffness is

thus more significant for bicycles.

Lateral Load Transfer and Rollover Threshold

The lateral forces acting on a vehicle in a high-speed turn produce a moment
that tends to roll the vehicle towards the outside of the turn. The moment is
caused by the fact that while the inertial force acts through the center of gravity,
which is at some height above the ground, the tire forces act at ground level. The
moment is the product of the lateral force times the height of the CG, and causes
the vertical load on the outside wheel to increase and the load on the inside wheel
to decrease. This is known as lateral load transfer, and the amount of load trans-
ferred from to the outside wheel is proportional to the ratio of CG height to wheel
track, h . At some point, the weight on the inside wheel is reduced to zero. With-
out corrective action, any further increase in lateral acceleration results in the
vehicle rolling over, or capsizing. The lateral acceleration, expressed in G’s, that
just makes the inside wheel load go to zero is called the rollover threshold. A der-
ivation of the rollover threshold for a tadpole tricycle is provided in the appendix
to this chapter. Equations 11-8 give the rollover thresholds for tadpole and delta
tricycles and quadricycles.

b t 
L  2h 
 b  t 
RTDELTA =  1 −   (11-8)
 L  2h 
 t 
RTQUAD =  
 2h 

In some situations, a vehicle may roll over at speeds well below the rollover
threshold computed with Equation 11-8. Hazards on the road surface can trip
a vehicle, causing an early rollover. During braking, the rollover threshold is de-
creased for delta tricycles, but increased for tadpole tricycles. The opposite is true
for acceleration, but since human-powered vehicles generally are able to achieve
higher braking decelerations than accelerations, the delta is usually somewhat
more susceptible to this problem. Quads are relatively insensitive to longitudinal
acceleration effects on rollover.
Sloped road surfaces affect the rollover threshold, particularly for tricycles.
A cross slope on the road surface reduces the rollover threshold for turns made


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  Multi-Track Vehicle Handling Performance

Example 11-2
Compare the rollover thresholds of the following three vehicles:
A) A rigid four-wheeled vehicle with a wheelbase of 1.0 meters, wheel
track of 0.65 m and a mass, including the driver, of 90 kg. The center of grav-
ity is located .50 meters forward of the rear axle and .70 m above the ground.
B) A rigid tadpole tricycle with a wheelbase of 1.0 m, wheel track of 0.65 m
and a mass, including the driver, of 90 kg. The center of gravity is located
.65 m forward of the rear axle and .70 m above the ground.
C) A rigid delta tricycle with a wheelbase of 1.0 m, wheel track of 0.65 m
and a mass, including the driver, of 90 kg. The center of gravity is located
.35 m forward of the rear axle and .70 m above the ground.


Using Equation 11.8 we get:

0.65  0.65 
RTTADPOLE = = 0.30
1.0  2 × 0.70 
 0.35  0.65 
RTDELTA =  1 −  2 × 0.70  = .30
 1.0  
 0.65 
RTQUAD =   = .46
 2 × 0.70 

If the CG location of the tadpole tricycle was moved to 0.55 meters for-
ward of the rear axle, the rollover threshold would drop to 0.25.

toward the downhill side, and increases it for turns made to the uphill side. This
applies to all vehicles. When the slope is in the direction of travel, quads are not
affected as significantly as tricycles. A tadpole trike heading straight downhill
while making a turn will have a slightly increased rollover threshold. As the trike
continues to turn toward the uphill side, the rollover threshold will decrease to
that on level ground, and then to the worst case when the trike is headed slightly
uphill. Conversely, a delta trike heading straight downhill will experience a slight
reduction in rollover threshold. As the trike turns, the threshold will continue to
decrease to a worst case condition on a slightly downhill cross slope.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Pitchover Threshold Longitudinal load transfer, or shifting vertical load from

one axle to the other, occurs during braking and hard acceleration. It was de-
scribed in Chapter 7. The pitchover threshold is defined similarly to the rollover
threshold—the condition in which the vertical load on one axle just becomes zero.
During acceleration, weight is transferred from the front axle to the rear axle,
while braking transfers weight to the front axle. As noted in Chapter 7, only pi-
tchover due to braking is significant for human-powered vehicles, where it is quite
possible to lift the real wheel off the ground while braking hard. This can be a real
hazard on vehicles with high and/or forward centers of gravity such as upright
bicycles and tadpole tricycles.
On a level road, the pitchover threshold due to braking can be found by sum-
ming moments about the front wheel patch. The result is given by:
ax ,braking L − b
PTb = = (11-9)
g h
The pitchover threshold for acceleration is similarly found by summing mo-
ments about the rear tire patch. The result is
ax ,accel b
PTa = = (11-10)
g h
Understeer Gradient During high-speed turns, the steering angle often varies
with lateral acceleration. For example, a delta tricycle that requires 8 degrees of
handlebar at 1 m/s may only require 4 degrees of rotation for the same turn at
7 m/s. For four-wheeled human-powered vehicles, the difference is usually small,
but for tricycles it can be significant. Good design, including CG location, track
width, and tire selection can ensure adequate handling for any type of vehicle,
including quads, delta trikes, and tadpole trikes.
Recall that in a steady-state high-speed turn, the tires must sustain a force
equal to the vehicle mass times the lateral acceleration, or max. This is accom-
plished through a combination of slip and camber forces. For most multi-track
vehicles, the camber change during cornering is slight, and slip is dominant. (There
are exceptions, however, including leaning trikes.) The following discussion neglects
the effects of camber.
Consider a vehicle slowly increasing speed while in a constant radius turn on
level pavement. At low speeds, the lateral acceleration, and hence the slip angles,
are negligible. As speed increases, the lateral acceleration increases as α y = ,
so the tires must sustain a steadily increasing side load. This is accomplished by
increasing the slip angle on both the front and rear axles. If the slip angle on the


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front and rear axles increase in exact proportion to the static weight fraction on
each axle, no steering angle change is required, that is, the driver will not need to
turn the handlebars as the speed increases. This is known as neutral steer. How-
ever, if the slip angle on either axle increases either more or less than this amount,
the change in lateral load on each axle is unbalanced, and a steering angle correc-
tion is required. The handlebar may need to be turned into or out of the turn. If
the handlebar must be turned into the turn as speed increases, the vehicle is said
to have understeer. Conversely, if the handlebars must be steered out of the turn,
the vehicle exhibits oversteer. The understeer gradient is the amount by which the
steering angle must change as speed increases in a constant radius turn.
The steering angle required for low speed turns is the Ackerman angle dA, given
by Equation 11-1. During high-speed turns, the actual steering angle d deviates from
the Ackerman angle, and the deviation depends strongly on the lateral acceleration.
The lateral force on the vehicle is shared by both the front and the rear axles. This
implies that a slip angle must exist on each axle in order for the vehicle to sustain a
steady-state turn. Figure 8 illustrates the slip angles on the front and rear axles of a
tadpole tricycle in a high-speed turn to the right. Notice that in order to produce the
slip angle on the front wheels, the handlebar must be turned further into the turn,
but the slip on the real axle requires a reduction in steering angle. The steering angle
thus depends on the Ackerman angle and the front and rear slip angles:

d = dA + af – ar (11-11)

It is more convenient to relate the steering angle to the lateral acceleration.

This can be done by noting that the lateral force on a given axle is related to the
slip angle by the axle corning stiffness, Fy = Caa. In a steady-state turn, the lateral
forces on the front and rear axles are simply the axle weight fraction times the
lateral acceleration, or

Fyf = Wf Ay
Fyr = Wr Ay

Substituting and solving for the front and rear slip angles gives

W 
αf =  f  Ay
 C αf 
W 
αr =  r  Ay
 C αr 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Substituting Equation 11-13 into the steer angle equation (Equation 11-11)
gives an expression for the steering angle in terms of the Ackerman angle and a
correction for lateral acceleration.

W W 
δ = δ A +  f − r  Ay (11-14)
 αf C αr 

The term in the brackets is known as the understeer gradient, K. An alter-

nate, and simpler, form of Equation 11-14 is

d = dA + KAy (11-15)

Where K is given by:

W W  (11-16)
K = f − r 
 C αf C αr 

If K is positive, the vehicle exhibits understeer, if negative, it has oversteer. In

either Equation 11-15 or 11-14, the steering angles are given in degrees, cornering

Figure 11-17  High-speed cornering parameters


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stiffness in units of force per degree (N/degree or lb/degree), and the understeer
gradient is given in degrees per G.
For tricycles, the understeer gradient varies greatly with vehicle speed.

Example 11-3
A rigid four-wheeled vehicle has a wheelbase of 1.2 meters and a mass,
including the driver, of 100 kg. The center of gravity is located .55 meters
forward of the rear axle and .70 meters above the ground. The axle cornering
stiffness for each axle is 12°/G.
Find the understeer gradient K, and state whether this vehicle exhibits
understeer, oversteer or neutral steer. Also find the steering angle required
to maintain a level 18 meter radius turn at 0.5, 4, 8, and 12 m/s. The kine-
matic track is 0.72 m.


To find the understeer gradient, the front/rear weight distribution must be

determined using the methods of Chapter 12.
b .55
Wf = W= × 100 × 9.81 = 450N
L 1.2

 b  .55 
Wr =  1 − W =  1 −  × 100 × 9.81 = 531N
 L  1.2 
The understeer gradient is obtained from Equation 11-6 as:

W W   450 531 
K = f − r = −  = −6.8° /G
 αf C αr   12 12 

The understeer gradient is negative, implying that the vehicle experiences

oversteer during cornering. The value is small. Nonetheless, handling could
be improved by increasing the understeer gradient to a small, positive value.
This could be done either by shifting the center of gravity forward or replac-
ing tires on one axle. For example, if the rear tires were replaced with a pair
that had a cornering stiffness of Ca = 15N/°, the understeer gradient would
be positive 2.1°/G.
The Ackerman steering angle is given by:

 180  −1  L   180  −1  1.2 

δA =   tan   =   tan   = 3.8°
 π  R  π   18 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The steering angle at 8 m/s is given by:

V 2   82 
δ = δ A + KAy = δ A + K   = 3.8 − 6.8   = 1.3°
 rg   18 × 9.81 

The steering angles for 0.5, 4.0, and 12.0 m/s can be computed in a similar
manner. The result is

Speed (m/s) Ay (G) Steer Angle (deg)

   0.1 0.00   3.81
   4.0 0.09   3.20
   8.0 0.36   1.34
12.0 0.82 –1.74

The figure shows a plot of the steer angle with respect to the vehicle speed
around the test circle. Note the decreasing steering angle as lateral accelera-
tion increases. This is oversteer. Also notice that the steering angle deceases
to zero at about 10 m/s. This represents an instability known as the critical


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Critical Speed: As lateral forces increase on a vehicle with oversteer, the

steering angle must be reduced. At some speed, the steering angle will decrease
to zero, that is, the wheels will be in the neutral steer position, although the vehi-
cle is still turning. Loss of control of the vehicle is imminent. This represents an
instability known as the critical speed, which only exists for vehicles that experi-
ence oversteer. Recalling that oversteer corresponds to a negative value of K, the
critical speed is given by:

 180  Lg 
v crit = −    (11-17)
 π  K 

In design, the critical speed should be greater than any normal operating speed
of the vehicle. This is particularly important with delta tricycles, which have a
tendency towards increased oversteer with lateral acceleration. In practice, good
handling for tadpole tricycles is usually obtained when the characteristic speed is
only achieved well above the rollover threshold.
Effect of Lateral Load Transfer: Recall that the cornering stiffness of a tire is
dependent on the vertical load on that tire. The relationship is non-linear: as the
vertical load increases, the cornering stiffness also increases, but at a decreasing
rate. Notice that the curve in Figure 11-18, which illustrates this relationship,
is concave down. A very significant consequence of this non-linear relationship

Figure 11-18  Cornering stiffness of a tire as a function of vertical load


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

is the effect of lateral load transfer on axle stiffness, and hence the understeer
gradient K. As lateral acceleration increases, load is transferred from the inside
wheels to the outside wheels. This has a net effect of decreasing the stiffness of
an axle with multiple wheels. For four-wheeled vehicles, the change of stiffness is
typically similar on the front and rear axles and the effect on K is usually minor.
For tricycles, this is not the case. Lateral load transfer occurs only on the axle
with two wheels. Thus, there is a potentially significant change in stiffness on
one axle and none on the axle with only one wheel. It is clear from Equation 11-6
that this can have a significant effect on the understeer gradient. This condition
is exacerbated in practice, because the CG fraction is often greatest for the axle
with two wheels in order to reduce the rollover threshold and balance the static
load on each wheel.
To quantify the effects of lateral load transfer on the understeer gradient, the
cornering stiffness must be modeled as a function of the vertical load. A quadratic
model may be used,2 so that

C α,tire = AFz ,tire − BFz2,tire (11-18)

Table 11-1 includes some values of the polynomial coefficients for several tires.
Note that Equation 11.18 is written for a single tire. For an axle with only one
wheel, the tire stiffness is the same as the axle stiffness, and the vertical load is
just the weight fraction on that axle.
Without considering the effect of lateral load transfer, the stiffness of an axle
with two identical wheels is twice the stiffness of each tire:

  Waxle   Waxle  

C α,axle = 2  A   − B  2   (11-19)
  2    

During high-speed cornering, some axle weight is transferred to the outside

wheel. If the amount of load transferred from the inside to the outside wheel is
W 
DFz, the vertical load on the outside wheel becomes Fz ,o =  axle  + ∆Fz . Like-
 2 
wise, the load on the inside wheel is Fz ,i =  axle  − ∆Fz . Substituting these values
 2 

Gillespie, Thomas D., 1992, Fundamentals of Vehicle Dynamics, Society of Automotive
Engineers, Warrendale, PA, USA.
 Cole, D.J. and Khoo, Y.H., 2001, “Prediction of vehicle stability using a ‘back to back’ tyre
test method,” Int. J. Vehicle Design, 26(5), pp. 573–582.


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Table 11-1
Cornering Tire Properties for Several Bicycle Tires

Tire A B
Schwalbe Durano
0.2718195 0.0000702
Ritchey Tom Slick
0.4214691 0.0002715
26 × 1.41
Tioga Comp Pool
0.4468100 0.0002787
20 × 1.751
Unspecified bicycle tire 2 .2532 .000211
 Measured by the author
 Based on data from Cole and Khoo3

into Equation 11-19 and simplifying gives the formula for the multi-track axle
stiffness of a rigid vehicle, Equation 11-20.

  Waxle   Waxle 

C α,axle = 2  A   − B   − B( ∆Fz )  (11-20)
  2   2  

As the transferred load increases, the axle stiffness decreases by 2B(DFz)2.

The lateral load transfer DFz can be found using the methods of Chapter 12,
and is given by

∆Fz = W Ay (11-21)
For vehicles with two wheels on each axle, the stiffness decrease on the front and
rear axles are at least of similar magnitude, and the effect on K may be small. This
is not so with tricycles, in which only one axle experiences a stiffness decrease. The
axle with one wheel is not affected by lateral load transfer, and the axle stiffness is
simply the stiffness of the tire, Equation 11-18. The axle with two wheels does expe-
rience lateral load transfer, and the stiffness is given by Equation 11-20. Substituting
each expression into the general formula for understeer gradient, Equation 11-16
gives equations for the understeer gradient of delta and tadpole tricycles.

 Wf Wr 
K TADPOLE =  − (11-22)
   Wf   Wf 

ArWr − Br (Wr )2 
 2  Af  2  − Bf  2  − Bf ( ∆Fz )  
       


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

 Wf Wr 
K DELTA =  −  (11-23)
A W − Bf (Wf )2  
 f f  Wr   Wr  2
 2  Ar   − Br  2  − Br ( ∆Fz )  
   2     

Because the lateral load transfer depends on the lateral acceleration, the un-
dersteer gradient of a rigid tricycle cannot be conveniently made independent of
Ay as implied by Equation 11-16. For tricycles, the understeer gradient K is de-
b h
pendent on the CG fraction , the CG height ratio , and the lateral acceleration
L t
Ay, as well as the front and rear stiffness coefficients Af , Bf , Ar, and Br.
The understeer gradient for tadpole and delta trikes are plotted in Figure 11-
19 and Figure 11-20. In each figure, the lines terminate at the rollover threshold
condition. The height ratio was set at a constant value, .67 for the tadpole trike
data and .78 for delta trikes. These values are typical. Increasing the height ratio
shifts all curves to the left, while decreasing it shifts them right. Both figures
assume the same stiffness coefficients for all tires. Using a stiffer tire on the axle
with one wheel will shift the curves vertically. A stiffer rear wheel on a tadpole
trike will shift the curves upward, while a stiffer tire on the front of a delta trike
will shift the curves downward. The curvature in all cases is dependent on the
magnitude of B, the second coefficient in Equation 11-18.

Figure 11-19  Understeer gradient K for tadpole trikes with height ratio of .67


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Figure 11-20  Understeer gradient K for delta trikes with height ratio of .78

It is clear that proper tire selection is critical for optimal tricycle handling. Ide-
ally, tires with a more linear dependence on vertical force (e.g., very small values
of B) should be used on the axle with two wheels. The CG fraction can then be
adjusted to provide near-neutral steer over a wider range of lateral accelerations
along with an acceptable rollover threshold. Unfortunately, data for tire coeffi-
cients is not readily available to the individual vehicle designer.
Other factors also affect the understeer gradient. Most important is the ef-
fect of camber. If the wheels have significant camber, or if the camber changes
significantly due to suspension or steering, the lateral force produced should be
considered when calculating the understeer gradient.

Summary of Multi-Track Handling Characteristics

Tricycles exhibit greater static stability than bicycles but less dynamic stability
than four-wheeled vehicles. Quads resist vehicle rollover much better than either
type of tricycles. Of the rigid tricycles, stability differences exist between delta
and tadpole configurations.

• For equal wheel track, wheelbase, and CG height, four-wheeled vehicles are
less likely to roll over than either delta or tadpole tricycles.
• On level ground, otherwise identical delta and tadpole trikes are equally
likely to roll over if the centers of gravity are the same height and equally
distant from the axle with two wheels.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

• While turning on an inclined surface, a trike is most likely to roll over when
the slope is angled down in a direction normal to the rollover axis: forward
of the lateral plane for delta trikes, aft of the lateral plane for tadpole trikes.
• Braking during cornering will make a delta trike more prone to rollover, and
a tadpole trike less likely to rollover. (Assuming equal brake forces on right
and left wheels.)
• Hard acceleration during cornering will have the opposite effect (but gen-
erally less so, as the deceleration from hard braking is usually greater than
most riders can accelerate).
• For a tadpole trike, a high-speed turn toward the uphill side of a cross slope
while accelerating is the worst case for rollover. (However, in practice a turn
on a down slope may be more hazardous, due to the enhanced ability to ac-
celerate. This is seen in many tadpole rollover accidents.)
• For a delta trike, a high-speed turn toward the downhill side of a cross slope
while braking is the worst case.
• Tadpole trikes are generally more prone to braking pitchover, because the
center of gravity is usually further forward.
• During hard cornering, a tadpole trike will have a significant tendency to-
ward understeer because of lateral load transfer.
• During hard cornering, a delta trike will have a significant tendency toward
oversteer, with the possibility of exceeding the critical speed for poorly de-
signed trikes.

The understeer gradient is strongly dependent on the tire stiffness. The charts
presented in this chapter assumed that the same tires were used on all three
wheels. This is probably not the optimum solution. Tire choice is quite important
for all multi-track vehicles, and in particular for tricycles. Optimal tricycle design
requires proper choice of both CG location and tires. Unfortunately, essentially no
tricycle (or bicycle) tire rate data is available in the public domain, other than that
presented here. A good testing program may be required to optimize performance
of multi-track vehicles.

Appendix 11-1 Kinematic Solution of the Track Rod Steering Mechanism

The track rod steering mechanism, such as that illustrated in Figure 11-5, is
a four-bar linkage, with the first “bar” being the frame of the vehicle, the second
and fourth bars the steering arms, and the third bar the track rod. Each bar can
be represented as a plane vector, with length and magnitude, as shown in Figure
11-21. In the following analysis, vectors are designated with a superscript arrow,


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Figure 11-21  Kinematic vector diagram for track rod steering

such as R1, while scalers
 are shown without the arrow R1, for example. Angles are
given by ∠R1. Thus R1 = R1∠θR1.
 If the kinematic track is known, both the magnitude and the angle of vector
R1 are known. The length of the steering arms R2 can be assumed or estimated.
The neutral steer angle, or the value of the steering arm angle qo corresponding
to riding in a straight line, must be estimated or initially calculated from Equa-
tion 11-3. The length of the track rod can be calculated using trigonometry and

R3 = R1 – 2R2 sin (qo) (11-24)

The loop closure equations are used to represent the linkage illustrated in Fig-
ure 11-21. In this case, they are written as
R1 = R2 + R3 + R4 (11-25)

The goal is to calculate the angle of one steering arm (and hence the wheel
angle) for a given the angle of the opposite steering arm. In this way, the angles of
both wheels can be compared to the Ackerman angles as described in the chap-
ter. With the angle q2 given, the unknowns become q3 and q4, with the latter being
the one of most interest. It represents the rotation angle of the opposite steering
arm and wheel. The loop closure equation can be rearranged to place all the fully
known vectors on the left-hand side:

(R1 − R2 ) = R3 + R4


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

For simplicity, let (R1 − R2 ) = C and note that any vector can be represented
 the product of its magnitude and a unit vector in the same direction, such that
C = CCˆ . Also, the unit vector k̂ is normal to the plane of the mechanism. Thus,

CCˆ = R3∠θ3 + R4∠θ4

With these simplifications, the loop closure equation is in a convenient format

for solution using the Chase equations.4 The solution is

  R 2 − R42 + C 2  ˆ ˆ  R32 − R42 + C 2  ˆ
R3 = ± R3 −  3  (C × k ) +  C
 2C   2C 
  R 2 − R42 + C 2  ˆ ˆ  R42 − R32 + C 2  ˆ
R4 = ∓ R3 −  3  (C × k ) +  C
 2C   2C 

The angle q4 can be easily determined once the vector R4 is known.

Appendix 11-2 Derivation of Rollover Threshold for Tadpole Trike

A quasi-static rollover analysis provides a first-order estimate of the lateral
acceleration required to produce a rollover. The inertial force due to lateral accel-
eration acts through the center of gravity towards the outside of the turn. Since
the center of gravity is located above ground level, but the resisting forces at the
tires are at ground level, a rolling moment is induced. In the case of a tricycle, the
line about which the vehicle will roll extends from the contact patch of the outside
tire to the contact patch of the center tire, shown by axis OO in Figure 1. This
discussion will assume a tadpole configuration, but delta configuration analysis is
The vehicle is assumed to be in a steady-state turn at constant speed and con-
stant radius.
The rollover axis is inclined with respect to the vehicle centerline by an
angle g, as shown by axis OO in Figure 11-22. It depends on the wheel track

See Shigley, J.E. and John Joseph Uicker, Jr., Theory of Machines and Mechanisms,

2nd ed, McGraw-Hill, 1995, Chapter 2 for derivation and examples of the Chase equation
approach to kinematics.


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Figure 11-22  Tadpole tricycle rollover definitions

and wheelbase. For the tadpole trike illustrated, the rollover inclination angle
is given by
 t 
γ = tan −1   (11-27)
 2L 
For a delta trike, the equation is similar except that the angle is inclined in the
opposite direction. For quads with equal track widths on both axles, g is zero.
The inertial force may acts in the radial direction of the turn, which differs
from the lateral axis of the vehicle by a small angle q. The effects of this angle are
small when considering only lateral accelerations, but are significant when both
lateral and longitudinal accelerations act on the trike. Thus, the terms related to
this angle are retained initially in the derivation. Angle q depends on the slip an-
gles of the rear wheels, the CG location, and the turn radius. It is given by

b 
θ = α R − sin −1  cos(α R )  (11-28)
 R 


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Where ar is the slip angle on the rear tire, b is the longitudinal distance from
the rear axle to the center of gravity, and R is the turn radius. The angle ar is con-
sidered positive if the turn center is forward of the lateral centroidal axis of the
vehicle. Thus, ar is negative as shown in Figure 11-22.
Only the component of the inertial force may perpendicular to the axis OO con-
tributes to rollover. For quadricycles with equal wheel track front and rear, axis
OO is parallel to the longitudinal axis of the vehicle and the angle l is zero. For
tricycles, the rollover axis is inclined at an angle l to the vehicle centerline. The
component of the lateral force perpendicular to axis OO is given by

λ TADPOLE = γ − θ
λ DELTA = γ + θ (11-29)
λ QUAD = θ
or, substituting for q,

b 
λ TADPOLE = γ + sin −1  cos(α R )  − α R
R 
 b 
λ DELTA = γ − sin −1  cos(α R )  + α R (11-30)
R 
b 
λ QUAD = sin −1  cos(α R )  + α R
R 

Summing moments about the rollover axis, and assuming a level road gives

may(h cos(l)) – mg(b sin(g)) + Fzit cos(g) = 0 (11-31)

Equation 11-31 is valid for all vehicle types—tadpoles, deltas and quads. Solv-
ing for ay and dividing through by mg gives the acceleration, in g’s, required to
produce a given vertical load Fzi on the inside wheel

b sin( γ ) − t cos( γ )
ay mg (11-32)
g cos(λ)h

Incipient rollover occurs when Fzi equals zero. This does not imply that a roll-
over is guaranteed at this lateral acceleration. It is the point at which the inside
wheel will begin to lift off the ground. A skillful rider can maintain control of a
trike on two wheels by leaning into the turn. However, the vehicle is unstable.


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Without corrective action, it will proceed to the point where rollover is unavoid-
able. Setting Fzi equal to zero in Equation 11-32 gives the acceleration required to
unload the inside wheel:

a y b sin( γ )
= (11-33)
g cos(λ)h

The rollover threshold is a common metric used to estimate the propensity

of a vehicle to roll over. It is simply the lateral acceleration required to just
unload the inside wheel on a level surface, and is given by Equation 11-33. The
angle q is generally small, so cos(l) » cos(g). With this assumption and sub-
stituting for tan(g) from Equation 11-27 the rollover threshold for a tadpole
tricycle is expressed as

ay b  t 
= (11-34)
g h  2L 

This provides an easy way to approximate the rollover threshold. In most cases,
the difference between Equations 11-33 and 11-34 is very small.
Rollover thresholds for delta tricycles and quadricycles are derived in a similar
manner. The angles l and g are zero for quadricycles with equal wheel track front
and rear. Delta tricycles have a rollover axis inclined in the opposite direction as
tadpole trikes—the axis slopes toward the centerline moving from rear axle to
front axle. The rollover threshold for each type of vehicle is then given by Equa-
tion 11-8, repeated here for completeness.

b t 
L  2h 
 b  t 
RTDELTA =  1 −  (11-35)
 L   2h 
 t 
RTQUAD =  
 2h 


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T he human rider provides the power. The drive wheels develop the force to
push the vehicle forward. In between is the drive train—the set of com-
ponents that transmit power from human to wheels. While many aspects of a
vehicle affect performance, comfort, and effectiveness, few do so as much as the
drive train. Cadence, force, and stroke must be set correctly to prevent fatigue,
discomfort, and even injury. However, the torque and speed of the drive wheels
generally differs substantially from the optimal values for the rider, described in
Chapter 5. Good drive train design bridges this gap, and does so with very little
loss of energy.
Simple drive trains—known as single speeds—have only a single velocity ratio
between cranks and wheels. That is, the speed of wheel rotation relative to crank
rotation is constant. This is inefficient for most practical vehicles that must oper-
ate at a range of speeds and under a variety of conditions. Single-speed drive trains
are selected for simplicity, reliability, and low cost, rather than performance. For
some riders, these attributes are most important, and single speeds are very de-
sirable. Most riders prefer the efficiency of multi-speed drives that allow the rider
to maintain an optimal cadence over a wide range of vehicle speeds. Going uphill
or into a stiff headwind, a low gear is chosen, permitting a lower vehicle speed
without slowing to an uncomfortably low cadence. Conversely, high-speed de-
scents are possible by shifting to a higher gear. Riding comfort and efficiency are
improved, and the risk of muscle injury is reduced by using a multi-speed drive.

Gearing is a general term that refers to the ratio of the crank, or power input,
speed to vehicle speed. Humans have a fairly limited range of cadence—cranking
speed—for which power is effectively generated. Effectiveness in this context
includes high efficiency, high power, and minimal damage to joints and muscles.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

The effective cadence range is much smaller than the useful speed range of most
land vehicles, which is why most vehicles have drivetrains with multiple speeds
(commonly, but incorrectly, called “gears”). Single-speed bicycles are not uncom-
mon, and are often simple, light, and inexpensive. They can only match a rid-
er’s optimal cadence at one speed, leading to reduced performance and potential
physiological damage. Vehicles with multiple speeds provide improved perfor-
mance, an extended useful speed range, and reduced likelihood of injury. This is
particularly true for recumbent vehicles, due to the inability to stand up on the
pedals and to the high pedal forces that can be obtained with a firm seat back.
Bicycle gearing is traditionally denoted by the development, measured in me-
ters, or in gear-inches—the unit used more commonly in the United States. The
two measurements are defined differently, and are not simply conversions be-
tween meters and inches. Gear development is the distance, measured in meters,
that the bike rolls forward when the crank is turned one complete revolution. For
a simple chain-driven bicycle with NCHAINRING teeth on the chainring, NFREEWHEEL
teeth on the freewheel or rear cog, and a drive wheel diameter in meters of NDRIVE,
the gear development is


If the drivetrain includes an internal gear hub, the internal velocity ratio of the
hub must be included. If VRINTERNAL is the velocity ratio of the hub in a particular
gear, the development is given by


Velocity ratio is just the ratio of drive wheel speed to crank speed, or

VR =

For a simple chain drive, the velocity ratio is equal to the ratio of driving cog
tooth numbers to driven cog tooth number, VR = N CHAINRING . Regardless of the
complexity of the drive train, the development can be expressed as

GD = VR ´ DDW ´ p (12-1)


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  Drive Train Design

In the United States, gears are measured in gear-inches, defined as the product
of the velocity ratio and the drive wheel diameter, measured in inches.

G = VR ´ DDW (12-2)

Historically, gear-inches were initially used for ordinary bicycles in the late
nineteenth century. These bicycles had direct drive: the pedals were connected
directly to the driving wheel. The only means of changing the gearing was to
change the diameter of the drive wheel. In order to achieve reasonable speeds,
the drive wheels were enlarged to as much as 60 inches in diameter. Since the
gearing was directly proportional to the wheel diameter, it made sense to use
the diameter as a measure of the gearing. As chain drives begin to see more use,
the equivalent direct drive wheel diameter was used so that gearing could be com-
pared directly with the older direct-drive bikes. This convention stuck, and gives
us the rather peculiar unit of gear inches.
Determining the appropriate range of gearing is an important first step towards
drivetrain design. Single speed bicycles built for adult riders typically have gear-
ing around 5 m or 60 inches. This provides a good gear for riding on flat roads at
moderate speeds. At low speeds, the cadence can become uncomfortably low. This
is particularly true when climbing steep grades. Maximum speed is limited to the
rider’s maximum cadence. Cyclists that like these bicycles tend to pedal with low
cadence and must have strong legs to climb hills or accelerate. Table 12-1 shows
the low and high gear, along with the gear range, for several types of production
cycles. The values are for specific models, but are representative of their type.

Table 12-1
Typical Gear Ranges for Various Types of Cycles

Gear Inches
Use Low Hi Low Hi Range
Road Racing 2.9 10.1 36.6 126.7 3.5
Urban 2.0 8.4 25.2 105.8 4.2
Touring 1.8 8.7 22.1 108.5 4.9
Recumbent Bike 2.0 10.0 24.8 125.1 5.0
Recumbent Trike 1.8 10.0 22.0 125.1 5.7
XC Mountain Racing 1.4 7.9 17.2 99.0 5.8


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

For most general-purpose riding, gearing should range between 3 and 7 meters
development (40 and 90 gear inches). For most people, this roughly corresponds
to a comfortable speed range of 3 to 11 m/s (7 to 25 mph), although certainly
lower and higher speeds are possible. Many experienced cyclists are adept at
pedaling at high cadences, and can comfortably pedal at somewhat higher speeds.
Greater gears should be used for vehicles intended for high-speed operation, and
many racing bicycles having top gears around 10 meters (125 gear inches) or a
little more. Speeds up to 17 m/s (37 mph) can be achieved at a moderately brisk
cadence of 100 RPM, and maximum speeds of around 23  m/s  are possible
for cyclists capable of pedaling at high cadence of 135 RPM. (It is important to
note that being able to pedal at a high cadence does not imply the ability to ride
on level ground at 23 m/s. This speed in still wind on level ground requires an
extremely high power output. See Chapter 13) Streamliners designed to obtain
very high speeds often have even higher gears. Vehicles operating in hilly envi-
ronments, touring vehicles and vehicles designed to carry heavy loads often have
lower gearing, particularly tricycles or quads that can ride extremely slowly with
no balance problems. Table 12-2 summarizes gear ranges and typical applications.
In selecting the gearing range for a new vehicle, keep in mind the target rider.
Unless the rider is a trained cyclist or a very strong rider, gears above around
9 meters (113 inches) will not result in higher speeds because of the large pedal
forces required. The exception is downhill or downwind runs, where the rider
receives assistance from nature. Novice designers frequently specify gearing
based solely on desired speeds. This is poor practice, as rider capability and
power requirements should be considered as well.

Recumbent Drivetrains
The difference between upright and recumbent riding positions requires addi-
tional gearing design considerations. In the upright position, the rider is able to stand
up on the pedals, and even pull against the handlebar. In this position, it is easier to
apply large forces at low cadences. Some upright cyclists, preparing for a hard attack
on a hill, will actually shift to a higher gear and then rise to a standing position. In
essence, the gearing range can be extended by standing. This is impossible with re-
cumbent vehicles. Hill climbing on a recumbent requires either hard pushing against
the cranks or spinning fast in a low gear. If the bottom bracket is positioned high rela-
tive to the seat, spinning at high cadences can be difficult with standard length crank
arms. Many riders find that it is easier to spin to high cadences on vehicles with high
bottom brackets if short crank arms are used. As a result, designers should consider
the following additional factors when designing gearing for a recumbent vehicle:


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  Drive Train Design

Table 12-2
Gearing Ranges and Applications

Gear Development Application

(inches) (meters)
<20 <1.6 Extremely low gears for steep hills and heavy
Used on loaded trikes and quads (vehicles
without low-speed balance problems)
20 1.6 Steep hills, usually with loads
30 2.4
40 3.2 Normal Riding for most conditions
50 4.0
60 4.8
70 5.6
80 6.4
90 7.2
100 8.0
110 8.8 High speeds or downhill runs
120 9.6
130 10.4
>130 >10.4 Very high gears for streamliners and speed
Only used if power simulation indicates
speeds in excess of 23 m/s (50 mph) are

• The gearing range on a recumbent vehicle should be greater than that for a com-
parable upright vehicle. Usually, increasing the range by 40–60% is sufficient.
• Recumbent vehicles using standard length cranks (around 170 mm) should
shift the gear range up somewhat relative to comparable upright vehicles.
• Recumbent vehicles, particularly with high crank positions, using short
crank lengths (115–140 mm) should not shift the gear range up, and might
require a slight downward shift in the range.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Any special features or functions of the vehicle should also be considered.

Freight haulers and pedicabs require extra low gearing. In addition, these vehicles
require strong, robust drivetrains. Light 10 or 11-speed drive systems would be
inappropriate for these types of vehicles.
Acceleration performance depends on both gearing and quality of shift compo-
nents. A range of gears with evenly spaced increments is required for good accel-
eration performance. The two goals are to maintain a cadence as close as possible
to that which provides maximum power, while simultaneously minimizing the
number of shifts. Shifts should be minimized because each one interrupts the
power required for acceleration. The two goals are in opposition to each other:
small steps are best for maintaining the ideal cadence, but require more frequent
shifts. For upright bicycles, the optimum cadence is reduced when the rider
stands on the pedals. This in effect gives at least some acceleration advantage,
as a critical shift may be postponed by transitioning from a standing to a sitting
position. (This technique requires practice to be effective, however.)
A good drivetrain also minimizes overlap of gears, reducing the number of
gears required and extra weight and inertia. Many triple cranks have substan-
tial overlap, with many essentially equivalent gears. See the triple drivetrain
graphed in Figure 12-1, for example. On the small chainring, only three out of
the nine sprockets extend the gearing range, while the large chainring extends
the range with only two sprockets. Thus, this 27-speed drivetrain only has 14
effectively independent gears. (Some overlap may be desirable, to minimize
double shifting on both front and rear derailleurs, but not to the extent shown
in the example.)
The Matlab program bikegearf.m computes and plots gearing and speed ranges
for each gear. This is a useful program in the early stages of drivetrain design.
Several sample data files for various types of vehicles are also included for com-
parison. The program requires a Matlab script file (.m file) to be prepared con-
taining drivetrain information. Data required includes the teeth numbers for all
chainrings, tooth numbers for intermediate drives, if any, cassette tooth numbers,
type of hub, drive wheel size, and low, medium, and high preferred cadences. (For
data file format, see the bikegearf.m help or one of the sample data files.)

Drive Train Configurations

The type, number, and layout of drivetrain components define the drivetrain
configuration. Drive trains can be extremely simple, as on a child’s direct-drive
tricycle, or quite complex, as on a back-to-back tandem tricycle. Deciding on a


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  Drive Train Design

Example 12-1
Matlabgear analysis was completed for a tandem bicycle that uses a 700c
drive wheel, 9 speed cassette, and a triple chainring. The crankset is a compact
triple, with a small “granny” gear, or smallest sprocket. A wide-range mountain
bike cassette is specified, with tooth numbers ranging from 11 to 34. No interme-
diate drive is used. Program output provides a summary of gearing information:

Bicycle Gear Calculator

Vehicle: Tandem Mk3

Drive Wheel: 40-622 ISO
Low Gear: 19.5 inches
High Gear: 115.6 inches
Range: 5.92

Chainring Tooth Numbers:

46 34 24

Cassette Tooth Numbers:

11 13 15 17 20 23 26 30 34

Gears (inches)
High Mid Low
115.6 85.4 60.3
97.8 72.3 51.0
84.8 62.6 44.2
74.8 55.3 39.0
63.6 47.0 33.2
55.3 40.9 28.8
48.9 36.1 25.5
42.4 31.3 22.1
37.4 27.6 19.5

This information is presented graphically on two plots. The first plot pro-
vides a logarithmic plot of the gears corresponding to each chainring. A log-
arithmic plot is used to better illustrate gear spacing. Ideally, the fractional


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

increase from one gear to the next should be constant. This means that each
shift feels like the same amount of change. On a logarithmic plot, constant
fractional increases are plotted with equal spacing, so it is quite easy to see if
the gears are evenly spaced. It is also easy to see if different combinations of
gears are redundant. That is, on a 27 speed drivetrain such as this example,
does more than one combination of chainring and cassette cog provide nearly
the same gear? (In this example, the answer is yes.)
The second plot provides an indication of comfortable speed ranges cor-
responding to each gear. The use specifies low, medium, and high cadences
that are used for generating this plot. In this case, 70, 90, and 120 RPM was
selected. This represents a comfortable range for most experienced cyclists.

Figure 12-1  Gear plot for triple drivetrain

Figure 12-2  Speed ranges corresponding to gears in example bike


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  Drive Train Design

It might be a bit high for a recumbent, particularly with full-length crank arms
and/or a high crank.
For this bicycle, the 19.5 low gear permits loaded climbing on steep hills.
The bicycle should have good low-speed stability to ensure it is easily bal-
anced a speeds less than two meter per second. On downhill descents, this
vehicle should be capable of exceeding 18 meters per second.

suitable configuration for a given vehicle is an important, but sometimes difficult

task. Examples of configurations include:

• Simple chain with centerline rear-wheel drive: This is the most common
drive configuration for upright bicycles, upright tadpole tricycles, and some
long-wheel base recumbents. A single chain runs directly from a crank to the
drive hub. This configuration may be used with single or multi-speed drives.
A belt drive can be used in this configuration, but the vehicle must have a
frame designed to accommodate belts. In some cases a tensioner is used on
the slack side of the chain.
• Complex chain drive with centerline rear-wheel drive: This is a common
drivetrain for recumbent bicycles and tadpole tricycles. Power-side idlers or
intermediate drives are used to re-route the chainline from the crank to the
hub (which are usually distant from each other).
• Front wheel drive with fixed crank: This is the most common configuration
for front-wheel drive recumbent bicycles. The crank is attached to the main
frame of the bicycle, and does not swing with the front fork. A single chain
may be routed from the crank, around an idler, and then around the front
hub. Guides or pivoting idlers direct the slack side of the chain back to the
crank. The chain twists during steering, so the guides must be well designed
to prevent chain derailments. Alternatively, two chains are used with an
intermediate drive. The output chain—running from the mid-drive to the
hub—will still twist during steering. This twist is entirely eliminated in some
designs by using a universal joint in the mid-drive, positioned accurately on
the steering axis. In this case one side of the mid-drive is fixed to the bicycle
frame and the other pivots with the fork.
• Front wheel drive with pivoting crank: This configuration is used on some
front-wheel drive vehicles to simplify the drivetrain. The Cruzbike produc-
tion bicycles and the original Flevobike used this configuration. In the United
States, Tom Traylor has designed numerous pivoting crank front-wheel drive
bikes. All of these have the crank attached to the fork (which is usually


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

a larger, more complex structure that for other drive configurations). The
entire drivetrain pivots during steering, so a simple chain drive is sufficient.
Simplicity is achieved, but the vehicles have unique handling, and may re-
quire a bit of experience to ride comfortably.
• Dual wheel rear-wheel drives: Several configurations are used for rear-wheel
drive delta tricycles and quadricycles, which have dual rear wheels. A rigid
axle driving both wheels will always cause some amount of slip during ma-
neuvering, as the wheels are constrained to rotate at the same speed. This
should be avoided in most cases. The simplest viable option is to drive only one
wheel. This can produce a turning moment on the vehicle during heavy pedal-
ing, which can lead to impaired handling under some conditions. For example,
climbing steep grades on wet, slick, or loose surfaces may cause control prob-
lems. It may also be less efficient at high torques due to additional tire slip. For
most situations, however, this design works satisfactorily. (Rigid quads, should
avoid single-wheel drive, as there is a possibility that the drive wheel may have
insufficient vertical load for good traction. Suspension systems can alleviate
this problem.) Using a differential to drive both wheels while permitting differ-
ing speeds during cornering is an alternative to driving only one wheel. Yawing
moments are avoided, and excellent handling is possible. However, this config-
uration is expensive, and suitable differentials are not readily available. A com-
promise is to use overrunning clutches on each wheel, and drive both wheels.
During maneuvering, power is diverted to the inside wheel and the outside
wheel overruns. (Using a split chain drive with freewheels on each drive wheel
is one way to realize this configuration.) This does not really eliminate the yaw
moment in turns, and usually adds weight and complexity to the design.

Drive Train Design

Drive train design includes configuration, layout, and component specifica-
tions. This should be done after body position and gross vehicle geometry have
been established, but prior to frame design, although there is overlap between
these three design stages.
Drive train design depends on the body orientation of the rider or riders, and on
the gross geometry of the vehicle. During the vehicle configuration design stage—
when gross geometry and position are determined—the designer should consider
the drivetrain. Locations for the driving wheel(s) and crank (or crank equivalent
if a non-traditional drive system is used) are determined in this early design stage.
The drivetrain design follows, and includes layout of drivetrain components,
chain routing, gearing requirements and implementation, and consideration for


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  Drive Train Design

adjusting the drivetrain for different size riders. Safety, drive train maintenance,
and operating environment should also be considered at this time. As with most
design, strive for simplicity.
For chain drives, the chain line is important for optimal function. Chainline, in
terms of components, refers to the offset of the chain from the vehicle centerline.
Cranks and hubs require specific offsets for best operation. The correct chainline
can be obtained from the component manufacturer for the specific models spec-
ified. Component manufacturers use chainlines ranging from 43.5 to 51 mm. For
example, Shimano uses either 47.5 or 50 mm for mountain cranks, and either 43.5
or 45 mm for road cranks. When specifying a crank, the correct bottom bracket
must be selected to obtain the desired chainline. For single-speeds and hub gears,
ensure the chainline for the cog matches that of the crank. Refer to the manufac-
turer’s technical specifications or Sutherland’s Handbook for Bicycle Mechanics1
for specific compatibility information.

Drive Train Technologies

The current state of the art in drive train technology is very advanced. Most drive
train component development in recent years has been devoted to making derail-
leur shift systems faster, lighter, and more accurate. There has also been a revival
of interest in internally geared hubs, with several new models appearing on the
market in the last decade. Improvements include improved range and efficiency,
smaller step sizes, and quieter operation. Noticeable improvement in belt drives
has also occurred, and bicycle-specific belt drives are now commercially available.

• Direct drive: The crank axis is collocated with the driving wheel axis. This
option was used on ordinary, or high-wheeled bicycles, and is often used
today for children’s tricycles and unicycles. Schlumpf makes a two-speed
direct drive hub, marketed for unicycles. It would certainly be possible to
make a direct drive recumbent bicycle, and several designers have pointed
out advantages to this design. However, with current hubs the gearing is too
low for most applications.2

Sutherland, Howard and William Horner, 2004, Sutherland’s Handbook for Bicycle
Mechanics, 7th Ed., Sutherland Publications, Berkeley, CA.
Several designers have proposed multi-speed direct-drive hubs, and claim significant
advantages to this configuration. See Kretschmer [1] and Garnet [2], for example. To the
author’ knowledge, however, the two-speed hub made by Schlumpf for unicycles is the
only commercially available multi-speed direct-drive hub.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

• Simple chain drive: The simple chain drive is familiar to all cyclists as the
most conventional drive train used for upright bicycles. It consists of a crank
and drive hub, and may have multiple speeds obtained either by derail-
leurs or hub gears. (Schlumpf and Pinion make multi-speed geared crank-
sets that can replace the front derailleur and multiple chainrings.) Some
mechanism must be provided to properly tension the chain. For drivetrains
with rear derailleurs, the spring-loaded derailleur cage functions as a ten-
sioner. Single-speed and hub-gear drive trains do not have a derailleur: if not
equipped with a separate tensioner, these vehicles maintain chain tension
either by sliding the hub within horizontally slotted dropouts or rotating an
eccentric bottom bracket. Tandems often use an eccentric bottom bracket
to tension the timing chain running between the two cranks. If the distance
between the bottom bracket and the hub is large, additional tensioning
capability may be required, such as a second tensioner.
• Complex chain drive: Many recumbent vehicles have long and complex
chain lines with additional components such as idlers and intermediate
drives. Idler sprockets re-direct the chain to a new direction. This may be
required to route a chain under a seat, for example. Idlers on the power-side
chain must be securely mounted and durable, as considerable force may
be applied from the chain.Intermediate drives, or mid-drives, are used with
multiple chains. They not only re-route the chain, but can alter the velocity
ratio, and sometimes add additional speeds as well.The chain from the crank
is routed to the input sprocket on an intermediate drive. An output sprocket
is rigidly attached to the same shaft as the input sprocket, but a different
chain runs from it to the hub or another downstream component. If the two
sprockets have different tooth numbers, the velocity ratio will be changed.
In this case, the overall velocity ratio is given by:

VR = ×

It is possible to add multiple cogs to the input of a mid-drive unit in order
to obtain additional speeds. This is usually accomplished using a multiple-​
cog freewheel. Figure 12-3 illustrates an example of a bicycle with a complex
chain drive that includes an intermediate drive with a velocity ratio change
and a slack-side idler to direct the chain above the front wheel.
• Belt drives: Belt drives are similar to chain drives, but use a toothed belt in
lieu of a roller chain. Chains are very efficient, but require regular mainte-
nance (particularly in wet conditions), can be noisy, and tend to produce oily


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  Drive Train Design

Figure 12-3  Example of complex chain drive

stains on clothing or skin. Belts are only slightly less efficient than chains—​
98% for belts compared to 99.6% for single-speed or 98–99% for derailleur
chain drives3—but are quieter, cleaner, and require very little maintenance.
Belts cannot be used with derailleurs, essentially limiting multi-speed drives
to hub gears and geared cranks such as those produced by Schlumpf or Pin-
ion. The wide range of components used with chain drives is not available for
belt drives, reducing component selection significantly. Bicycle-specific belts
and components are available from Gates and Schlumpf.
• Other drives: A variety of different drive systems have been used throughout
cycling history, including shaft drives, cable drives, levers, hydraulic trans-
missions, and electric drives. Some, such as shaft drives and at least one
cable drive, are currently used by at least some manufacturers. Almost all
are less efficient and heavier than chain drives. Shaft drives are clean and
low-maintenance, but require internally geared hubs for multiple speeds.
Several shaft-driven bicycles are currently on the market. Cable drives often
require somewhat complex mechanismsfor operation, and generally con-
tinuous rotary motion is not possible. Hydraulic and electric transmissions
convert human power into fluid or electric power, which is then converted
back to mechanical power at the drive wheels. These systems usually have
low efficiencies and are often heavy, making them impractical for most ve-
hicles. They do provide an integral means of energy storage, however. Sev-
eral designers have attempted to exploit this through regenerative braking.
The weight and efficiency penalties of such systems generally override the

Casteel, Elizabeth A. and Archibald, Mark, “A study on the Efficiency of Bicycle Hub

Gears,” ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition, San
Diego, CA, USA, November 2013.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

benefits. Chester Kyle evaluated the feasibility of regenerative braking.4 His

conclusion—that the penalty is greater than the benefit—is still valid to-
day. Hybrid electric vehicles use a more conventional chain drive with an
auxiliary electric power supply. The goal is power assist, rather than power
transmission. Since all elements required for regenerative braking can be
included in the auxiliary system, regenerative braking may be feasible. In
essence, the penalty has already been incurred, so any benefit is a bonus.

Chain drives are the most prevalent technology used for land human-powered
vehicles. The low weight, high efficiency, and advanced state of commercially
available components make chain high-performance systems easily obtainable
and affordable. There is certainly opportunity for proponents of alternate drives,
but a clear advantage must be shown over chain drives. Belts and shafts offer the
best alternatives, primarily due to low maintenance. This is particularly true for
commuters and those that ride frequently in dirty environments.

Efficiency of Chain Drives

The performance of human-powered vehicles is limited to the power capa-
bilities of the human body. It is thus quite important to maximize the fraction
of power generated by the rider that goes into actual propulsion of the vehicle,
that is, the drivetrain efficiency. Competitive cyclists require high efficiency
drivetrains for winning races, particularly time trials. (In time trials, the speed
of the vehicle is paramount, as opposed to road races where strategy, technique,
and teamwork are also important factors.) A reduction in drivetrain efficiency of
2% would have been more than enough to cost Chris Boardman his 1996 world
hour record, or the 1996 US Olympic 4000 meter team pursuit their gold medal.5
Efficient drivetrains benefit all riders—commuters, competitors, and recreational
riders—by using more of the body’s power for propulsion.
Drivetrain efficiency is defined in Equation 13-2, repeated here for convenience:

η= (12-3)

Kyle, Chester R. 1988, “The Mechanics and Aerodynamics of Cycling,” in Medical and Sci-
entific Aspects of Cycling, Edmund R. Burke and Mary M. newsom, Eds., Human Kinetics.
Kyle, Chester R. and Berto, Frank, 2001, “The Mechanical Efficiency of Bicycle Derailleur
and Hub-Gear Transmissions,” Human Power, 52, 3–11.


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  Drive Train Design

Figure 12-4  Typical torque-efficiency curve for a chain drive

Efficiency for chain and belt drives is strongly dependent on output torque.
At low torques these drives are very inefficient, but as torque increases, the ef-
ficiency rises and stabilizes at a relatively high value. The relationship between
torque and efficiency can be modeled as an exponential curve of the form6

η = A − Be −λTO (12-4)

A typical curve is shown in Figure 12-4. Note that efficiency initially rises fairly
rapidly but does not approach its final value until torques are quite large. Typically,
output torque for casual riders is fairly low, often below 20 N-m. Hard sprints and
uphill drives can result in higher torques, particularly for strong riders. In actual
riding, the output torque is not constant, but exhibits high variability due to vari-
able pedal forces throughout the crank cycle and changing ride conditions. This
all contributes to the difficulty in measuring and reporting drive efficiencies, and
probably explains discrepancies between different studies.
Casteel and Archibald measured the efficiency of several drivetrains, including
derailleur, belt drive, and gear hubs.7 Efficiency of each gear was measured at a
variety of power levels, and the data was fit to the exponential model of Equation
12-4. Table 12-2 summarizes the results. The efficiency shown is the average over
all the gears in each drive. (There are typically notable variations between gears
in a given drivetrain.) Chain drives are exceptionally efficient. Geared hubs are

Casteel, Elizabeth A. and Archibald, Mark, “A study on the Efficiency of Bicycle Hub
Gears,” ASME 2013 International Mechanical Engineering Congress & Exposition, San
Diego, CA, USA, November 2013.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Table 12-3
Average Efficiencies for Various Drive Trains

Num. Average
Drivetrain Speeds Efficiency
Single-Speed Chain 1 99.6%
Single-Speed Belt 1 98.1%
7-Speed derailleur 7 98.9%
Roholoff 500/14 Speedhub 14  
  Low Range, Speeds 1–7   96.5%
  High Range, Speeds 8–14   98.5%
  Overall average   97.5%
Sturmy-Archer X-RK8(W) 8 91.1%
SRAM Dual-Drive 3 99.0%
Shimano Alfine 11 11 93.2%
Summarized from Casteel, Elizabeth A., and Archibald, Mark, “A study
on the Efficiency of Bicycle Hub Gears,” ASME 2013

generally less efficient than derailleur systems, although there is a wide spread
between models.
There are many factors that affect efficiency in addition to the type of drive-
train. Increased chain tension improves efficiency. Larger cogs improve efficiency
relative to smaller cogs at the same speed and power. Minimizing the number of
friction points—tensioners, idlers, etc. in the drivetrain will improve efficiency,
although this can be difficult in some recumbent vehicles. A clean and properly
lubricated system will also improve efficiency.
Several researchers have investigated bicycle chain drive efficiency, including
Kyle and Berto, Spicer et al.,8 and Rohloff and Greb.9 Unfortunately, none of these
papers report standard deviations or include a statistical analysis. Only the Rohloff
paper indicated ranges of data. This lack of statistical analysis calls into question
at least some of the conclusions, particularly as it is very likely that variability in

Spicer, James B. et al., On the efficiency of bicycle chain drives, Human Power, 50, Spring
2000, 3–9.
 Rohloff, Bernhard, and Greb, Peter, 2004, “Efficiency Measurement of Bicycle Transmission—​
A Neverending Story?,” Human Power, 55, Winter 2003/2004, 11–15.


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  Drive Train Design

the data is on the order of some of the differences between drivetrains.10 Spicer
et al. investigated the efficiency of bicycle transmissions both analytically and
experimentally with the goal of determining the factors that affect efficiency.11
They found that efficiency is strongly dependent on the tension in the chain. As
chain tension increases, so does the efficiency. Specifically, efficiency decreases
linearly in proportion to the inverse of chain tension, or η ∝ 1 . This relationship
holds true regardless of power or speed. For a specified chainring/cog combina-
tion at a constant speed, this implies that as power increases, so does drive train
efficiency. They also found that larger sprockets are more efficient than smaller
sprockets with efficiency improvements of 2 to 5% when changing from a 52-11
chainring/cog combination to a 52-21 chainring/cog. The effects of three differ-
ent lubricants and of chainring/cog axial offset were negligible in this study. A
large number of chain lubricants are available on the market. It is probable that
maintaining a clean and properly lubricated chain is much more important for
good efficiency than the particular lubricant selected. (The susceptibility of the
lubricant to environmental factors such as water, mud, dirt and road salt may vary
significantly between products, however.) Modern narrow multi-speed chains are
designed to be laterally flexible. This probably accounts for the insignificant ef-
fect due to chain offset. More rigid single-speed chains would probably show a
reduction in efficiency with offset. The overall efficiencies measured in the Spicer
study ranged from 80.9% to 98.6%. Most measured efficiencies were above 90%.
All efficiencies below 90% were at low chain tensions. Spicer concludes that the
primary factors affecting drivetrain efficiency are the size of the sprockets and the
tension in the chain.
Kyle and Berto12 tested several derailleur and hub gear models using a custom
dynamometer. Each transmission system was tested in all or most available speeds

 A lively debate between Chester Kyle and Bernhard Rohloff was published Human
Power number 55. The disagreement over proper experimental methods was sharpened
by a discrepancy in efficiency of about 2% between the two studies. Although differing
methods and equipment likely played a role, the argument might have been avoided by
inclusion of a statistical analysis. Rohloff reported a range of values of about 2%, and
Kyle claimed reproducibility within 1%. The 2% difference in efficiency might well be sta-
tistically insignificant. This should be a reminder to experimentalists to include relevant
statistics with published data.
 Spicer, James B. et al., On the efficiency of bicycle chain drives, Human Power, 50,
Spring 2000, 3–9.
Kyle, Chester R. and Berto, Frank, 2001, “The Mechanical Efficiency of Bicycle Derailleur
and Hub-Gear Transmissions,” Human Power, 52, 3–11.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

and at different power levels up to 200 Watts. The crank speed for all tests was set
at 75 RPM. The general trends agreed with the Spicer study: efficiency increased
with increased power and larger sprockets. For all drivetrains, efficiency varied
from one gear to the next. It is interesting to note that the peak efficiency of some
of the hub gears tested did not correspond to the gear with a 1:1 velocity ratio
(which should have the highest efficiency in theory). Specific efficiency values
ranged from 87 to 97%, although the apparatus used included an extra chain and
set of bearings estimated to decrease efficiency by about 2%. Hub gears were
generally less efficient than derailleur gears, although the difference was small—
on the order of 2%—for some hub gears. All hub gears were lubricated with oil,
rather than grease, which probably improved the efficiency.
Rohloff and Greb presented data that, in general, corresponded with Kyle
and Berto. However, they tested at a higher power level of 314 Watts and used
a broken-in Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 in comparison with a Shimano 24-speed
mountain bike drivetrain. They justified the higher power test on the basis of
field tests of chain and chainring wear. Results indicated that the derailleur sys-
tem and the Rohloff hub gear had comparable efficiencies. Rohloff also tested
both systems with new chains and sprockets, and with chains and sprockets that
had experienced 1000 km of field use and were not cleaned prior to testing. The
derailleur system showed a 1% reduction in efficiency, while no measurable effi-
ciency reduction was noted for the Speedhub 500/14.
Specific effects of idlers and chain tensioners are not known, and were not
well addressed in these studies. It can be assumed that any additional compo-
nent in the drivetrain incurs losses, and therefore reduces efficiency. Components
on the tension side of the drive system are likely to incur greater losses. This
is supported indirectly in the Spicer paper. A part of their experimental work
included infrared imaging of the rear cog and derailleur. Bright areas on these
images revealed hot areas, produced by frictional losses. The derailleur pulleys
are quite bright in the images—indicating significant energy losses. (If the pulleys
are plastic, as on many derailleurs, the high temperatures may be due in part to
low thermal conductivity coupled with the small pulley mass.) It is very likely that
other tensioners would incur similar losses. Tension-side idlers are likely to have
even larger losses.
Guidelines for designers based on these studies include:

• Avoid small sprockets for gears that are frequently used.

• Avoid small sprockets on intermediate drives, idlers and tensioners if
• If chainline offsets must occur, use only multi-speed chains.


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  Drive Train Design

• Hub gears are usually somewhat less efficient than derailleur gears, although
the difference is slight in some models, particularly at higher power levels.
• A relatively smaller difference exits between hub gears and derailleur sys-
tems if the drive system is frequently exposed to harsh and dirty conditions.

Chain Drive Design

Design of chain drive systems require identification of gearing requirements,
componentselection, and establishment of satisfactory chain routing. For some
vehicles, such as many upright bicycles, this is fairly straightforward. Other vehi-
cles, such as recumbents, delta trikes, and quads, are frequently more challeng-
ing. Determination of overall gear range requirement is generally the first step.
Table 12-1 may be helpful in determining gear ranges. For example, a touring
vehicle may need to carry heavy loads up steep grades, but also should be capa-
ble of high-speed mountain descents. From Table 12-1, the low gear should be
approximately 2.0 meters development and the high gear should be around 10
meters. The range factor is the ratio of high to low gear, in this case about 5.0, a
value easily obtained using standard drive components. Most mountain bicycles
have gear ranges equal to or slightly greater than five. It is important to check the
gearing range, as that determines the type of components that are required. If
an extremely large range of gearing is necessary, greater than about 5.5, special
components or additional components may be required in the drive train.
Once the overall range is established, the drive train configuration can be laid
out and components selected. Be sure to consider:

• Mechanism for tensioning each chain

• Means of guiding chain onto each cog or chainwheel (preventing derailments)
• Means to retain aderailed chain

Some means of tensioning each chain is required. Tensioning can be ac-

complished with spring-loaded tensioners, eccentric bottom brackets, or slides
such as used on many single-speed and hub gear bikes. Spring-loaded tension-
ers may reduce the drive train efficiency somewhat, but often offer benefits of
convenience. For multi-speed derailleur drivetrains, spring-loaded tensioners
are required to take up the slack as the chain moves to smaller sprockets. De-
railleurs have built-in tensioners to accommodate this. Vehicles with adjustable
cranks, such as sliding booms, can use the adjustment to tension the chain.
This simplifies the drive train, but requires a different length chain for each
position of the crank. If the vehicle is always ridden by the same person, this


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

may not be a factor, but it is certainly inconvenient if riders with different leg
lengths use the vehicle. If this method is used, it is imperative to include a
chain keeper to prevent loss of the chain in the event of a derailment. (If one
end of a chain can come off of a sprocket entirely, a dangerous accident can
occur.) Chain keepers retain the chain in the event of derailment, preventing
the chain from becoming entangled in wheels or other components. They can
be important safety items.
Power-side idlers should be avoided if possible. For some vehicles, a straight
chain line is impossible, and tension-side idlers or intermediate drives are neces-
sary. Ensure they are mounted securely, as tension-side loads can be quite high.
Also use good bearings to minimize friction in the tensioner.
Identifying a chain line that avoids interference with the frame or other com-
ponents can be a difficult challenge. Components such as seats and accessories
may change location. Forks and front wheels move during operation. All of these
factors must be taken into account to avoid chain interference problems. If de-
railleurs are used, the chain location moves, and the entire range of chain motion
must be kept clear. Chains also vibrate, which takes up additional space require-
ments. Longer chains need greater clearance than short chains due to larger am-
plitudes of vibration. The chainline should be checked for interference at each
step in the design process, including design changes.
Be sure to consider guards for chains and sprockets that are exposed. If a rider
can reach a sprocket, his or her hand can get caught between the sprocket and
chain—a very painful and dangerous accident. Chain guards can prevent such
accidents, and also prevent grease marks on clothing or skin. Some recumbent
vehicles use tubes to prevent the latter. Tubes may be incorporated with guards
over sprockets to provide both safety and cleanliness.
In summary, drive train design consists of the following steps:

1. Determine the gearing requirements required for the vehicle, including

low, high, and range.
2. Determine the drive train configuration.
3. Select component types and sprocket tooth numbers to ensure gearing
requirements are met.
4. Lay out the chain line, ensuring that chain interference is avoided.
5. Determine and select secondary components such as tensioners, chain
keepers, and chain guards.


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T he frame is the essence of a human-powered vehicle. A well-designed and
fabricated frame will be strong enough to withstand all normal service loads,
stiff enough to ensure good handling response and efficient power transfer, yet
light and comfortable for the rider. These are stringent requirements, demanding
much attention during design.

Functional Requirements
The vehicle frame must support the weight of the rider and any cargo, pro-
vide mounting locations for fairings, components and accessories, and resist drive
train forces and forces induced by maneuvering. In many cases, it must also pro-
vide at least some degree of safety in the event of an accident. For efficient power
transfer, the frame should be longitudinally stiff along the chain line. Chain forces
can be quite large, and often the chain is offset laterally from the supporting
frame member. This induces bending as well as compression in the frame, so
resistance to flexure in the lateral direction is required as well. Lateral stiffness
is also required for good, crisp handling. Excessive lateral flexibility can result in
poor control during hard cornering. In the vertical direction, compliance is some-
times included by design to provide a more comfortable ride. This is particularly
applicable to recumbent vehicles since the rider cannot stand up and use legs as
shock absorbers as the upright cyclist can. Some advanced upright bicycles tune
the stiffness of the chainstays to provide high longitudinal and lateral stiffness,
with lower stiffness in the vertical direction to provide a smoother ride. Tapered
forks also provide a bit of vertical compliance, which can be good for bicycle han-
dling as well as comfort.


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Design of Human-Powered Machines 

Frame design should start with known loads and reactions. This generally means
that vehicle gross geometry and rider position should be determined prior to de-
signing the frame. Preliminary vehicle handling and stability analyses should be
completed first, as these dictate gross geometry of the vehicle. The chainline should
also be established—at least tentatively—prior to frame design. Chain loads can be
large, and must be considered in the frame design process. With known gross ge-
ometry and drive train, the loads acting on the frame can be estimated for a variety
of scenarios, called load cases. Tentative geometry is then developed to resist the
loads in each load case. Failure modes associated with the different load cases are
identified, and the frame is analyzed to predict performance and weight. Usually,
the finite element method is used for the analyses. Initially, the goal is to establish
a frame geometry that meets the structural requirements for the vehicle—that is, it
has the required life and will not fail under expected or design operating conditions.
The ultimate goal is to design a frame that meets the structural requirements with
minimum weight, yet is easy to manufacture—quite a challenge.

Frame failures are due to several different mechanisms. Most metal frames are
made of ductile materials such as steel or aluminum, which deform plastically, or
yield, prior to fracture. The resulting permanent deformation is noticeable, and
provides warning that the frame is damaged prior to catastrophic failure. Yielding
is essentially a static failure mode, in which the single application of a large exter-
nal load deforms the frame. Normal operation of a vehicle should never result in
permanent deformation, which is considered a failure mode. The frame should be
designed such that all stresses are below the yield strength of the frame material
under all design operating conditions. Given the material yield strength Sy and the
required factor of safety n, the maximum allowable Von Mises stress is given by:
σ′ < (13-1)
(Von Mises stress is a scaler stress equivalent, and is reported by many FEA
programs. For more information see any good strength of materials text.)

Fatigue failures are caused by repeated cyclical loads applied to the frame. De-
sign for fatigue is an important—and difficult—task for the frame engineer. After
many cycles of a load that produces relatively low stresses, a member can abruptly


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  Land Vehicle Frames and Structures

fracture. The failure usually occurs rapidly and with little warning, and can occur
even if the stresses are well below the yield strength of the material. The fatigue life
of a material is the number of cycles of a specified alternating stress that produces
a fatigue failure. The fatigue strength is the stress level corresponding to failure
at a specified number of cycles. Unlike yield strength or tensile strength, fatigue
strength cannot be stated as a simple, single number. The number of cycles must be
specified. For most materials, including aluminum, there is no lower limit to fatigue
life—any cyclical stress can eventually result in a fatigue failure. In practice, the
fatigue strength at a large number of cycles is used, say 500 million cycles. Steel and
titanium exhibit an unusual but fortuitous property known as an endurance limit.
This is the lowest stress level that will produce fatigue failures—cyclical stresses
less than this limit will not produce failure no matter how many cycles are applied.
(Assuming the absence of extraneous factors such as corrosion, wear, etc. that can
combine with stress loading to produce failures at lower than expected stress levels.)
There can be two stress components in fatigue analyses—alternating and mean
stress. The mean stress is the average stress magnitude, while the alternating
stress is the variable component. The modified Goodman formula is often used to
determine the factor of safety for such problems.
1 σm σa
= + (13-2)
n Sut Se
Where sm is the mean stress component, sa is the alternating stress compo-
nent, Sut is the ultimate tensile strength, and Se is the endurance limit or fatigue
strength of the material. For example, the weight of the rider produces a mean
stress in the frame. Pedal loads produces alternating stresses that are superim-
posed over the stress due to weight. (Road vibrations also produce alternating
stress, although they are more difficult to predict and quantify.) Figure 13-1

0 0.5 1 1.5 2 2.5 3 3.5 4 4.5 5