Episode 039: Biomechanics of Riding and Balancing a Bicycle with Dr. Stephen Cain

SCainDr. Stephen Cain is a research investigator in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. His research interests include: human/bicycle dynamics; the development and use of novel experimental methods and instrumentation to quantify changes in biomechanics that accompany learning, adaptation, or fatigue; human gait; human balance; sports biomechanics; and MEMS inertial sensor applications. He shares his passion for cycling and enlightens us in his field of biomechanics and how it relates to riding and balancing a bicycle.

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Bio:

Stephen Cain is a Research Investigator in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at the University of Michigan. His research interests include: human/bicycle dynamics; the development and use of novel experimental methods and instrumentation to quantify changes in biomechanics that accompany learning, adaptation, or fatigue; human gait; human balance; sports biomechanics; and MEMS inertial sensor applications.

 

Recommended Book:

“Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen.” by Christopher McDougall.

 

Inspirational Quote:

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” by the Chinese philosopher Laozi

Glimpse into the interview:

ES: What are you the most excited about in your field of work and why?

SC:Riding a bicycle is something that many people can do with ease and with seemingly little mental effort. However, we as scientists only have a basic understanding as to how the balance process is taking place. What information do riders care about? How do riders use the information? What might it take to make riding easier or more difficult? I am most excited about uncovering the details that allow scientists to fully understand how humans interact with the bicycle, which has important implications for understanding balance and how humans interact with machines.

ES: Tell us about your most recent project/research?

SC:In my most recent research project, my colleagues and I used an instrumented bicycle, a force platform (typically used for gait and balance research), and motion capture to study how riders of different skill levels (novice versus expert) maintain balance of a bicycle while riding in a straight line. We found that expert riders use smaller magnitude control inputs (steering and body movements) and use significantly less steering effort than novice riders. Expert riders are better at using subtle body movements to help maintain balance while riding, which therefore allows them to use less effort.

ES: What is the next big obstacle that you see in this field and what implications will this have on the world of science or your study in particular?

SC:I believe the next big obstacle is working to understand how bicycle design can influence the stability of the rider-bicycle system. Bicycles have self-stability, meaning that bicycles can stay upright on their own, and changing the design of a bicycle can change the range of speeds at which it is self-stable. However, it is unclear how a bicycle’s self-stability is related to the stability of the system with a rider. For example, can a bicycle be designed that makes it more difficult for an elderly rider to crash? Understanding how the design of a machine (e.g., a bicycle) can affect the performance of a human-machine system (e.g., rider-bicycle stability) has important implications for the design of any machine that humans interact with. Knowledge about how information is used when interacting with a simple machine (a bicycle) can be used to improve the design of more complicated machines (airplanes, cars, etc.).

 

 

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