# Bicycle Math. presented to the Olivetti Club. Timothy E. Goldberg. March 30, Cornell University Ithaca, New York

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1 Bicycle Math presented to the Olivetti Club Timothy E. Goldberg Cornell University Ithaca, New York March 30, 2010

2 Abstract Some pretty interesting mathematics, especially geometry, arises naturally from thinking about bicycles and how they work. Why exactly does a bicycle with round wheels roll smoothly on flat ground, and how can we use the answer to this question to design a track on which a bicycle with square wheels can ride smoothly? If you come across bicycle tracks on the ground, how can you tell which direction it was going? And just what was the answer to Keith Devlin s question about the area between bicycle tracks, anyway? We will discuss the answers to these questions, and give lots of illustrations. This talk should be accessible to undergraduates. Only an introductory knowledge of complex numbers and vector calculus will be required. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

3 Outline 1 Bicycle wheels Round bicycle wheels Roulette curves Polygonal bicycle wheels 2 Bicycle tracks Which way did it go? The area between tracks T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

4 Bicycle wheels 1. Bicycle wheels T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

5 Bicycle wheels Round bicycle wheels How does a bicycle roll smoothly on flat ground? Only wheel edge rolls on ground, carries rest of wheel with it. As wheel rolls, center of wheel stays at constant height! With axis at center of wheel, bicycle rides smoothly. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

6 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Roulette curves Model the rolling wheel situation with roulette curves. Definition f = fixed curve, r = rolling curve. r rolls along f without sliding, carrying whole plane with it, (rolling transformations). Roulette curve through point p = curve traced out by p under rolling transformations. Roulettes generalize other curves, like cycloids and involutes. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

7 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Parametrizing roulette curves Recall: C = the plane z C = point or vector in plane z w z = linear transformation of plane (fixed w C) (rotation if w = 1) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

8 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Parametrizing roulette curves Parametrize fixed and rolling curves by f, r : R C. Assume: Curves are initially tangent: r(0) = f(0) and r (0) = f (0). Curves are parametrized at same speed: r (t) = f (t) 0 for all t R. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

9 Bicycle wheels Parametrizing roulette curves Roulette curves R t : C C, the time t rolling transformation T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

10 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Parametrizing roulette curves Definition The rolling transformations generated by r rolling along f are the family {R t : C C t R} of rigid motions of the plane such that: R t matches up r and f at time t: R t ( r(t) ) = f(t). R t maps r so that it is tangent to f at time t: d ds R t( r(s) ) s=t = f (t), or equivalently (DR t ) r(t) r (t) = f (t). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

11 Bicycle wheels Parametrizing roulette curves Roulette curves Each R t is a rigid motion, (preserves distance), so can be written as a rotation and translation: for some a, b C with a = 1. p R t (p) = a p + b Can use above properties of R t to show that Alternatively... R t (p) = f(t) + (p r(t)) f (t) r (t). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

12 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Parametrizing roulette curves R t rotates r (t) to f (t). R t also rotates p r(t) to R t (p) f(t). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

13 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Parametrizing roulette curves Note: Multiplication by f (t) r (t) is a rotation, (since f (t) = r (t) ). f (t) r (t) r (t) = f (t). f (t) r (t) (p r(t)) = R t(p) f(t). R t (p) = f(t) + (p r(t)) f (t) r (t). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

14 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Why round wheels ride smoothly on flat ground Let f parametrize real axis in C and r parametrize circle with radius a > 0 and center ai. Steady Axle Property The roulette through a circle s center as it rolls along a line is a parallel line, and the roulette keeps pace with the contact point between the circle and the ground line. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

15 Bicycle wheels Roulette curves Why round wheels ride smoothly on flat ground R t (ai) is determined: vertically by ai, horizontally by f(t). Steady Axle Equation R t (ai) = ai + Re ( f(t) ). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

16 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels Building a track for polygonal wheels A polygon is made up of edges glued together at vertices. Scheme for building the track Build a piece of track for each polygon edge. Glue the pieces together. Check (and hope) it works. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

17 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels Building a track for polygonal wheels T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

18 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels A piece of track for the polygon s edge Imagine polygonal wheel lying on real axis with axle a > 0 units above ground. Let r(t) = bottom edge of polygon = t, f(t) = track we are trying to find. To keep axle steady, must satisfy Steady Axle Equation: ai + Re ( f(t) ) = R t (ai) = f(t) + ( ai r(t) ) f (t) r (t) = f(t) + (ai t) f (t). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

19 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels A piece of track for the polygon s edge Write f(t) = α(t) + β(t) i. Then Also want f(0) = r(0) = 0, so α(0) = β(0) = 0. ai + Re ( f(t) ) = f(t) + (ai t) f (t) { a α (t) t β (t) + β(t) = a, t α (t) + a β (t) = 0. (system of ordinary, nonhomogeneous, first-order linear differential equations) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

20 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels A piece of track for the polygon s edge Solution: a α (t) t β (t) + β(t) = a t α (t) + a β (t) = 0 α(0) = β(0) = 0 α(t) = a ln (t + ) a 2 + t 2 a ln a = a sinh 1 (t/a). β(t) = a a 2 + t 2 = a a cosh ( sinh 1 (t/a) ). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

21 Quick reminder Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels sinh(x) = ex e x 2 and cosh(x) = ex + e x. 2 T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

22 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels A piece of track for the polygon s edge Above solution gives: r(t) = t, f(t) = a sinh 1 (t/a) + [ a a cosh ( sinh 1 (t/a) )] i. (Note f (0) = r (0) = 1 and f (t) = r (t) = 1.) Reparametrize with t = a sinh(s/a). Then r(s) = a sinh(s/a), f(s) = s + i [a a cosh(s/a)]. This is the graph of y = a a cosh(x/a), an inverted catenary curve. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

23 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels Catenaries! Not actually a catenary. y = A (1 cosh(bx)), where A and B This is a flattened catenary. (AB 6= 1) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

24 Catenaries! Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels Also not actually catenaries. These are canaries. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

25 Catenaries! Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels And these are flattened canaries. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

26 Bicycle wheels How big is the piece of track? Polygonal bicycle wheels If wheel = regular n-gon with axle a > 0 units above the ground: T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

27 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels How big is the piece of track? We reach the end of the first edge when: r(t ) = a tan(π/n), a sinh(t /a) = a tan(π/n), T = a sinh 1 (tan(π/n)). T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

28 Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels The whole track T = a sinh 1 (tan(π/n)). The track is the graph of y = a a cosh(x/a) for T x T together with all horizontal translations of it by integer multiples of 2T. Cool fact! As n gets larger: T gets smaller, each track piece gets smaller, bumps in track get smaller (although more frequent). As polygon circle, track horizontal line! T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

29 Wise words Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels If the world were scallop-shaped, then wheels would be square. Krystal Allen March 27, 2010 T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

30 Things to check Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels Wheel fits snuggly into gluing points of track, i.e. when wheel rolls to end of each edge, it balances perfectly on its vertex. TRUE, by easy computation. Wheel never gets stuck, i.e. wheel only intersects track tangentially. FALSE for triangular wheels! But TRUE for square wheels, pentagonal wheels, hexagonal wheels, etc. (Computation is hard.) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

31 Demonstrations Bicycle wheels Polygonal bicycle wheels T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

32 Bicycle tracks 2. Bicycle tracks T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

33 Bicycle tracks Which way did it go? Key facts about bicycles Front and rear wheels stay fixed distance apart. Rear wheel always points towards the front wheel. Therefore: Key Property of Bicycle Tracks Tangent line to rear wheel track always intersects front wheel track a fixed distance away. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

34 between the wheels on the bicycle. Bicycle tracks If wewhich draw way the did it tangent go? line to the wrong curve or go in the wrong direction on the tangent line, we may still hit the other curve, but the distance between the two points can be anything and will probably vary as we move along. Which way did it go? The following figure shows the track of a bicycle. We ve used different colors for the two tracks and made one of them dashed so that we can easily tell them apart. The picture is roughly ten bicycle lengths long. There are at least three ways we could determine that the green track is the front wheel: Which is the rear wheel track? Which As Holmes way did noted, the bicycle the reargo? wheel track will be deeper, but we can t see that in the picture. As we ve noted, the rear wheel will cross over the front wheel, which is a bit hard to see in the picture. We can use the tangent line idea. If the green track is the rear wheel, a tangent to it will intersect the red track one bicycle length away. Here T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

35 Which way did it go? Bicycle tracks Which way did it go? As we ve noted, the rear wheel will cross over the front wheel, which is a bit hard to see in the picture. We can use the tangent line idea. If the green track is the rear wheel, a tangent to it will intersect the red track one bicycle length away. Here is a tangent that shows the green track cannot be the rear wheel. 2 Is the green (solid) one the rear wheel track? Nope! (Unless the bicycle is GIGANTIC!) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

36 Which way did it go? Bicycle tracks Which way did it go? Now we know that the red track is the rear wheel. Which way was the bicycle moving? Here is a picture with some tangents drawn to the red track. L: If it is moving to the left, then the front wheel will be to the left of the rear wheel. Thus, if we follow a tangent line starting at the red track Is and the red moving (dashed) to theone left the onerear bicycle wheel length, track? we should meet the green track. Yes! R: If the bicycle is moving to the right, then we would move to the right on the tangent line. And it went to the right! It should be easy for you to see that the bicycle was moving to the right. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

37 Bicycle tracks Tracks where this doesn t work Which way did it go? T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

38 Devlin s question Bicycle tracks The area between tracks At the end of his talk last semester, Keith Devlin asked: How can you find the area between front and rear bicycle tire tracks? T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

39 Devlin s question Bicycle tracks The area between tracks T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

40 Bicycle tracks The area between tracks Devlin s question The answer: The area is swept out by the bicycle, i.e. by tangent vectors to the rear wheel track. Rearrange the tangent vector sweep into a tangent vector cluster! T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

41 Devlin s question Bicycle tracks The area between tracks The answer: The area between front and rear bicycle tire tracks is θ 2π π L2 = 1 2 θl2, where L = distance between tires and θ = change in bicycle s angle. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

42 Visual Calculus Bicycle tracks The area between tracks This is an example of Visual Calculus, developed by Mamikon Mnatsakanian. (See the Wikipedia article and notes by Tom Apostol.) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

43 Mamikon s theorem Bicycle tracks The area between tracks Mamikon s Theorem The area of a tangent sweep is equal to the area of its tangent cluster, regardless of the shape of the original curve. T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

44 THE END Bicycle tracks The area between tracks Thank you for listening. (Don t forget to tip your waiters and waitresses.) T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

45 THE END Bicycle tracks The area between tracks Special thanks to The Amazing Andrew Cameron for all of his help with the square-wheel track! And HAPPY BIRTHDAY tomorrow! T. Goldberg (Cornell) Bicycle math March 30, / 45

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