STCC Bike Month Facts #7 Bicycles in Flight

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Bicycles in Flight

If not for the bicycle, there’s a chance there would have been no early airplane – or we might still be jumping off cliffs trying to get enough takeoff speed.

“It is not uncommon for the cyclist…to remark, Wheeling is just like flying!… To learn to wheel one must learn to balance; to learn to fly one must learn to balance.” James Howard Means

Who would’ve ever thought of a link between riding a bicycle and flying? Well, except for those times we find ourselves out in the middle of nowhere on a beautiful country road – with a tailwind. It does feel like you have wings.

In all seriousness, the bicycle played a major role in the development of the early airplanes. Probably best known are the Wright brothers, who not only used the design of the bicycle as the basis for the early conceptualization of the airplane, but actually owned a bicycle shop in Dayton, Ohio, where they manufactured their own line of bicycles.

The Wright brothers became convinced that since humans could power and ride an inherently unstable device like the bicycle, the same concepts could be applied to flight.  The understanding of the need for central balance and control and the use of a lightweight structure were keys, as were common problems of wind resistance and the aerodynamics of the person operating the device.  Additionally, with the introduction of the safety bicycle and the sprocket and chain drive, this provided the basis for propulsion in early flight experiments.

Even today, even though most are treated as novelty engineering projects, there are those developing ways to get your two wheels off the ground.  One interesting concept is the one put forward by a group of Czech engineers in which the cyclist drives a series of fans surrounding the bike, providing lift and propulsion

So when you take your next flight, smile because you have one more critical part of our everyday lives that wouldn't be the same without the bicycle.


Wright Brothers Bicycles and Flight 

Human Powered Aircraft 

Gizmag Flying Bike

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