Uncommon Knowledge: What’s the biggest mystery on two wheels?

Letterpress Bicycle by Mitchell Pennell | UncommonGoodsThere is one thing that science has yet to explain about bicycles: how exactly they stay up. You were probably taught in school that gyroscopic force keeps those spinning wheels upright. That was thought to be true until the 1970s, when it was proved that a bicycle wheel simply doesn’t have enough mass for its gyroscopic effect to keep a rider from falling. The next theory was that bikes stay upright through the “caster effect”. Picture how the caster wheels on a shopping cart are always able to turn so that they’re pointing the opposite direction that the cart is moving. In that same way, it was thought that as a bicycle wheel begins to tip out of alignment, the caster effect would cause it to turn slightly and correct itself. But then a team of physicist invented a modified bicycle with special features that cancelled out both gyroscopic and caster effects—and sure enough, it worked just as well without them. Since then, the prevailing theory of how a bicycle works is… nothing. No one knows. It’s a phenomenon so common that a child can learn to control it, yet so mysterious that the greatest minds in the world have yet to figure it out.

Letterpress Bicycle by Mitchell Pennell, $250

Written by Nathan

Nathan is a copywriter, who helps create our product descriptions as well as our weekly emails. He is also a nationally award-winning musical theater writer, whose work includes an adaptation of Lois Lowry’s novel The Giver. Nathan has also been a classical violinist, tutored Kazakhstani jewelers in entrepreneurship, created large-scale games played across entire city blocks, served as a missionary in South Korea, conducted experiments in sonoluminescence, co-founded an exotic fruit-growing business, was a theater critic for Tucson Weekly, and as a teenager composed a women’s jazz quartet that is currently performed around the world.

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