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Finite Element Analysis of Single Track

Vehicle Build – Head Tube

Ryan Bylard
ME 404-73
March 18, 2013
Professor Schuster

A detailed analysis was performed on how forces acting on a bicycle from the rider
during a maximum pedaling event effect the stresses at the Heat Tube, a critically loaded
connection within the frame. The analysis required two models to ensure accuracy of the
overall results. The first model was used as a validation that FE was correct and was
checked against hand calculations done on the entire frame. This test was to ensure the
structural safety of the bike as well as get an in depth look at how the stress act through
the length of the head tube. The maximum Von Misses stress was checked against failure
criterion on 4130 steel which has a yield stress of 460 MPa or 67,000 psi. The maximum
stress was reported to be 39,743 psi, well under the failure limit of the material.
Maximum bending stress was also checked and is reported as 16,898.4 psi.


My proposed project was to analyze the head tube on the bicycle I have built in single
track seen in Figure 1 below. The head tube is a critically loaded connection in the frame.
I would like to take a close look at the maximum bending stresses as a precaution against
failure. The bicycle is steered from the connection between the head tube and the tire. If
the vehicle were to fail at this connection it would
be a worst case scenario. Other tubes within the
frame, although still critical for proper function,
would not always lead to catastrophic failure if
damaged. This is the main reason why I have chosen
the head tube to do an in depth analysis on.

Model Development: Figure 1, Bicycle Build

The analysis of the head tube for the bicycle had to be split into two separate models. The
first, a model of the entire frame, was used to validate the accuracy of the models results.
The second model is comprised of the head tube and small portions of the top and down
tubes, or the connections to the head tube within the frame. The development and further
explanations are discussed in detail below. The second model uses the displacements
form the first model to generate stress. Table 1details the material properties.

Table 1, Material Properties.

Chrome Moly
Young’s Modulus [psi] 29.7x106
Poisson’s Ratio 0.3
Wall Thickness Head Tube [in] 0.0433
Wall Thickness TT DT [in] 0.0354
– Frame

In order to accurately predict what the head tube would be doing under loading
conditions where loads are distributed over the entire frame, it was imperative to run a
model of the entire frame. My model validation was performed using the initial frame
model as well and is discussed in detail below in results. A bicycle frame is made up of a
series of tubes. Almost every tube within the frame has its own area unique to its
component within the frame.

In order to create an accurate but simple model, 3D wires were used with section profiles
to define each tubes unique profile and thickness. The front triangle was drawn in plane
and then datum points were used to develop the 3D front and rear axle points. In order to
apply the correct stresses from model 1 to model 2, the frame had to be oriented so that
the head tube was parallel with the Y-axis. 3D Beam elements were chosen instead of bar
or truss elements in order to allow for rotation of the tubes in the frame. The model can
be seen below in Figure 2

Figure 2, Frame with Applied BC’s (Left) and Loads (Right).

Figure 2 above shows the boundary conditions and loading case applied to the frame.
All boundary conditions are zero displacement meaning that the arrows above show what
direction the different points in the frame have been constrained to. The front and rear
axles only show constraints on one point or side of the axle but the boundary conditions
have been applied to both sides in the model. The frame is tilted 17 degrees so that the
head tube would be in line with the Y-axis. This means that the U2 boundary condition
on the front axle will not hold it the tire to the ground. I have assumed this displacement
to be negligible. These boundary conditions were taken from a simple frame analysis
done in single track and are tabulated in Table 2 below.

Table 2, Boundary Conditions.

Boundary Conditions
Front Axle Rear Axle Seat Tube
U1 - U1 0 U1 -
U2 0 U2 0 U2 -
U3 0 U3 0 U3 0
All loading on the frame is in the vertical direction. Each force was distributed into
vectors because the frame is tilted forward 17 degrees from the ground. From Figure 2 we
can see where the loads were applied. The axles have the normal force from the ground
acting on them. The negative force at the bottom bracket is due to the max pedaling
condition and was determined by SRAM to be about 250 lbs during a maximum pedaling
event. The positive force and moment on the top of the head tube is to simulate the rider
pulling up on the handle bars in order to produce maximum force at the cranks. Table 3
below displaces the forces applied to the frame.

Table 3, Frame Loading

Front Axle Rear Axle Bottom Bracket Handle Bars
CF1 [lb] 54 CF1 [lb] 34.5 CF1 [lb] -73.09 CF1 [lb] 11.96
CF2 [lb] 88 CF2 [lb] 112.84 CF2 [lb] -239 CF2 [lb] 38.25
CF3 [lb] - CF3 [lb] - CF3 [lb] - CF3 [lb] -
CM3 [in-lb] - CM3 [in-lb] - CM3 [in-lb] - CM3 [in-lb] 120

– Head Tube

It was important to me to capture the full head tube and connections between the head
tube and top and down tubes. Because of this I started by modeling almost the entire
frame in Solidworks which can be seen below in Figure 3.

Figure 3, Solidworks Model of Front Triangle Geometry (Left) and Simplified Head
Tube (Right)..

I decided to do the entire front triangle in order to correctly capture the dimensions of the
joints on the head tube. The tubes are constrained by geometry with each component in
the front triangle as shown above. Without the seat tube, the top tube and down tube
would be able to move vertically along the head tube. In order to analyze just the head
tube and its connections, the seat tube and chain stays were suppressed. The lug set
holding the bike together was also suppressed in an attempt to simplify the geometry for
analysis. The top and down tubes were cut done by 20 and 22 inches respectively in order
to minimize the size of the part.

From here the part was simply imported into ABAQUS as a single part made up of shells.
The 3D Solidworks part was imported as a hallow shell. The excess shells were removed
from the inside of each tube, and the thickness of the new part was set using the section
assignments. Reference points were made and then tied to the ends of each tube using
rigid body constraints. These points were created so that point loads or displacements
from the previous model could be attached appropriately to this model. The final part can
be seen below in Figure 4.

Figure 4, Shell Element Head Tube Model.

Mesh Development & Convergence:

– Frame

The first model was built from 3D wires. For this reason the model mesh was comprised
of 2-node linear beam elements with no reduced integration. This model was used to
acquire the displacements and rotations at the four reference points in the head tube
model. For this reason, the mesh convergence study was done on the displacements U1,
U2, and U3 at these points which can be seen below in Figure 5.

Top Tube Point

Down Tube Point

Figure 5, Mesh Convergence Points.

Table 4, Top Tube Mesh Convergence.

Mesh Convergence Top Tube
Seed Size U1 % Difference U2 % Difference U3 % Difference
0.5 -0.00904916 - -0.0155271 - -5.52E-14 -
0.25 -0.00904929 0% -0.0155266 0% -1.00E-14 82%
0.125 -0.00900546 0% -0.0153705 1% 3.47E-14 447%
The mesh convergence study is displayed above in Table 4. The displacements for both
U1 and U2 converged almost immediately as can be seen by the percent differences. The
U3 displacement however shows a large percent difference that continues to climb as
element size is decreased. The displacement is on the magnitude of 10-17 and can be
assumed to be zero. This displacement seems to be reaching zero infinitely and therefore
will not converge. Convergence is not an issue here because the displacement is
essentially zero. The results for the U1 displacement of the top tube and down tube can
be seen in Figure 5 below. The entire study including convergence for the top tube and
down tube can be found in Appendix B.

Seed Size (in) 0.01305

U1 Displacement (in)
0 0.1 0.2 0.3 0.4 0.5 0.6 0.013
U1 Displacement (in)

-0.00902 0.01285
-0.00903 0.0128
-0.00904 0.01275
0 0.2 0.4 0.6
Seed Size (in)

Figure 5, Mesh Convergence U1 Displacement Top Tube (Left) Down Tube (Right).

From the convergence study, the converged mesh yielded an element size of 0.25 in and
was made up of 750 elements with a DOF of 4488. Mesh quality analysis was not
necessary here because the elements are 2-node beam elements meaning they run along
the beam in increments of the selected seed size.

– Head Tube

The head tube model was imported from Solidworks as a shell. For this reason linear
shell elements with no reduced integration were chosen to mesh this part. The part was
then checked at two different nodes for stress convergence. The two points are on the
front face of the head tube so that bending stress could be checked for convergence along
with Von Misses. The two nodes remained the same with each mesh and can be seen in
Figure 6 below.

Point 1

Point 2

Figure 6, Mesh Convergence Points – Head Tube.

Table 5 and Figure 7 below represent the results of the mesh convergence study for the
head tube. As can be seen from both the table and graphs the stress converged at both
points almost immediately. Very small elements were chosen because the part itself is
small in comparison.

Table 5, Mesh Convergence – Head Tube.

Mesh Convergence - Head Tube
Seed Bending Stress % Diff % Diff Von Misses Stress % Diff % Diff
Point 1 Point 2 Point 1 Point 2 Point 1 Point 2 Point 1 Point 2
0.125 -2434.07 -9200.55 - - 2995.73 8825.17 - -
0.0625 -2411.03 -9217.59 0.9% 0.2% 2911.43 8809.81 2.8% 0.2%
0.03125 -2398.05 -9221.62 0.5% 0.0% 2877.33 8805.24 1.2% 0.1%

Seed Size (in) Seed Size (in)

0 10000
-1000 0 0.05 0.1 0.15 9000

Von Misses Stress (psi)

Bending Stress (psi)

-2000 8000
-3000 7000 Point 1
-4000 6000
-5000 Point 1 5000 Point 2
-6000 Point 2 4000
-7000 3000
-8000 2000
-9000 1000
-10000 0
0 0.05 0.1 0.15

Figure 7, Mesh Convergence – Head Tube: Bending Stress (Left) Misses Stress (Right).

The mesh converges at a seed size of 0.0625 inches. However, an element size of
0.03125 inches was chosen to ensure mesh quality. The smaller seed size yielded oddly
shaped elements on the top and down tubes. Each tube was partitioned and the element
size was reduced yielding the mesh quality results in Table 6 below.

Table 6, Mesh Quality – Head Tube.

Mesh Quality- Head Tube
Seed Size [in] Number of Elements DOF Maximum Angle < 135o Minimum Angle < 45o Aspect Ratio < 4
0.03125 50515 300396 99.99% 100% 100%

FE Analysis:

The frame model was loaded based on a maximum pedaling condition which yielded the
loading shown above in Figure and Table 2. The first run of the model yielded no errors.
The head tube on the other hand was a shell element part that was imported from
Solidworks using a STEP file format. It was imported as a single part even though it was
originally an assembly. Displacements from the frame model at points corresponding to
the four reference points in the head tube model were applied and run in order to yield
stresses in the part. The first run was aborted and a warning appeared that said three parts
were free. I then used tie constraints to mate the edges of the top and down tubes to the
face of the head tube. Once this was done the analysis ran successfully with no other


– Frame

The frame model was used to check the validity of the FE analysis. The results of this
validation are in Table 7 below and are explained in discussion below.

Table 7, Model Validity.

Model Validity
Component Section Force SF1 Axial [lb] Hand Calculation [lb] % Diff
Top Tube -103.5 -75 28%
Down Tube 183.4 202 -10%
Seat Tube 122.3 98 20%
Chain Stays 49.3 49.5 0%
Seat Stays -71.3 -90 -26%

Table 8, Displacements of the Frame

Top Tube Down Tube Head Tube Top Head Tube Bottom
U1 -0.00904929 U1 0.0127828 U1 -0.0110638 U1 0.0137873
U2 -0.0155266 U2 -0.0184545 U2 -0.00902824 U2 -0.00925895
U3 -1.00E-14 U3 -8.91E-15 U3 -1.10E-14 U3 -9.63E-15
UR1 -1.25E-16 UR1 -2.32E-16 UR1 -1.83E-16 UR1 -2.16E-16
UR2 3.48E-16 UR2 2.44E-16 UR2 2.48E-16 UR2 1.63E-16
UR3 0.00148972 UR3 0.00227642 UR3 0.00323238 UR3 0.00519273

Table 8 above contains the displacements and rotations in the frame that correspond to
the input points in the head tube model. These displacements and rotations were used as
deformed boundary conditions in order to translate the original loading case to the
detailed head tube model. By applying these boundary conditions, stress caused from the
maximum pedal loading can be analyzed in the head tube.

– Head Tube

Once the model was determined to be valid, the head tube could be analyzed using
displacements from the validated model. The goal of the project was to determine the
maximum bending stress in the head tube and to check for failure based on a yield stress
of 460 MPa, or 67,000 psi. The deformed plot and table of results can be found below.

Point 1 - Tension

Transition from Compression to


Point 2 -Compression

Figure 8, Head Tube Bending Results Front.

Point 1 - Compression

Point 2 - Tension

Stress Concentration

Figure 9, Head Tube Bending Results Back.

Table 9, Bending Stress Results.

Bending Stress
Point 1 [psi] Point 2 [psi] Stress Concentration [psi]
Front 1297.08 -11575.5 -
Back -6340.86 11801.1 16898.4
Table 9 above corresponds to the two previous figures. The two points are labeled above
in Figures 8 and 9. These points were picked due to their maximum stresses within the
part and a detailed observation is described in discussion below.

Figure and Table 10 depict the results for a Von Misses stress analysis that was done to
predict yielding. From the results we can see that the part does not yield.

Figure 10, Von Misses Stress Results.

Table 10, Von Misses Stress Results

Von Misses Stress
Stress Concentration [psi] Factor of Safety
39743.1 1.69


The initial hand calculations preformed for this model assumed that the bike was a truss
element, effectively turning each tube into a two force member. Section forces given in
the FE results could then be checked against the axial loads from the hand calculations. A
bike is not a truss however because it is fixed at each joint, creating moments that act on
every tube in the frame. To account for this, the model was made up of 3D beam element
to allow for bending within the frame. This means that hand calculations and FE results
will differ from each other. If the difference is relatively small, then the model can be
called valid. From Table 7 we can see that none of the tubes have a difference in result
greater than 30%. From this it was determined that the model was indeed valid.

In checking the maximum bending stress in the head tube it was imperative that the head
tube be in line with an axis. This particular frame has a head tube that is rotated 17
degrees from the vertical. To account for this the frame was rotated the 17 degrees so that
the head tube would be in line with the Y-axis. The loads were then split into vector form
so that they still acted in the correct direction as can be seen in Figure and Table 2.
However the boundary conditions of zero displacement that held the front tire to the
ground could not be achieved any longer with the tilted frame. I assumed the
displacement to be negligible because I could not determine a way around it.
From the head tube model we are able to see exactly how the tube would deflect under
the original loading condition. From Figures 8 and 9 above we get a very clear picture on
what is going on. The front face of the tube seen in Figure 8 is in compression from the
bottom of the head tube to just above where the top tube would intersect. The head tube
then transitions into a state of tension. In the loading condition it was assumed that the
rider would be pulling up on the handle bars, which would create a moment twisting the
top of the head tube back towards the rider. We can also see this reaction on the back side
of the tube in Figure 9 but reversed. The tube is in tension everywhere until it gets past
the top tube where it then transitions into a compressive state.

From the deformed plots dealing with Von Misses stresses we can see that the bike will
not fail under the prescribed loading conditions. Almost the entire tube is in a state of low
stress compared to the yield stress of the material. The portions that are most interesting
are the joints, specifically at the bottom of the connection between the down tube and the
head tube. Here we can see a very large stress concentration, and although it is still within
the yielding limit of the material for this loading condition, it could defiantly be the initial
point of yielding during a crash or a drop from high off the ground which would apply
much higher forces to the frame. Geometry can be tweaked here and there to determine if
there is better placement for the connection. Less concentrated stresses may be achieved
by moving the location of the down tube, top tube, or even by changing the length of the
head tube.

The results that came from the FE model are exactly what I set out to find. I wanted to
know exactly how the head tube would deform, the maximum bending stresses it would
see, and if it would fail during a maximum pedaling event. The deformed plots of S22
stress, bending in the head tube, give an excellent representation of how the head tube

Next I would analyze the lug set used to build the bike. They were disregarded in an
attempt to simplify geometry. However I believe that it would be possible to take
displacements from the head tube model and translate the to a lug model to determine the
stresses seen in the lugs. The two models may even be able to be run as one analysis to
see the variance in how stress concentrations form between a lugged and non-lugged
The results prove that the bike is safe to ride. This particular model is only applicable to
the specific geometry and material that I built my bike from. However, the model may be
used for any bike that built and can even be used to determine the safety of new possible


The head tube of the bike I build in single track was analyzed while under loading from a
maximum pedaling event. To summarize, I have determined that the vehicle I built will
not fail under a maximum pedaling condition. This means that I can crank on the pedals
as hard as I need to, and be confident that the bike will hold together. Furthermore this
model gives insight into how the head tube would deform in extreme cases. This
information can be used to develop geometries that resist the formation of high stresses in
an attempt to give an overall safer frame.
Appendix A: Hand Calculation with Hard Copy.
Appendix B: Frame Mesh Convergence Tables.

Mesh Convergence Top Tube

Seed Size U1 U2 U3
0.5 -0.00904916 - -0.0155271 - -5.52E-14 -
0.25 -0.00904929 0% -0.0155266 0% -1.00E-14 82%
0.125 -0.00900546 0% -0.0153705 1% 3.47E-14 447%

Mesh Convergence Down Tube

Seed Size U1 U2 U3
0.5 0.013003 - -0.01887 - -4.38E-14 -
0.25 0.012782 2% -0.01845 2% -8.91E-15 80%
0.125 0.012782 0% -0.0185 0% 2.59E-14 390%