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Using Bicycles to Teach System Dynamics

Richard E. Klein
ABSTRACT: This paper reports on an innovative approach, based on open-ended design questions related to bicycles, for the teaching of dynamic systems concepts in an undergraduate mechanical engineering environment. The paper outlines needs for improved classroom learning, pedagogical methods and underlying philosophy, how the bicycle was introduced as a main portion of the instruction, steps as to how the class was managed, supporting materials used, and a summary of major benefits achieved. In recent decades, the teaching of systems theory has become increasingly based on mathematical underpinnings, and thus systems courses often resemble courses in mathematical topology rather than an elements-of-machinery course. A relevant concrete example of a dynamic system that the student can address and confront is needed. The concrete example should encompass or use a full range of systems-theoretic tools so as to be challenging, but not yet overpowering, to the student. Even the tuned mass damper (TMD), in spite of its elegance and sophistication, just does not serve as a strong motivation for students. A hardware demonstration of a laboratory TMD is examined, equations are derived, Bode plots are discussed, the students place their hands on the stationary mass when driven at the resonant frequency of the tuned mass and are briefly amazed, but then the experience appears to be forgotten by the students as they pass on to their next class. Could the failure of the TMD to ignite the students interest lie in the fact that the students remain as passive observers to a sterile problem that is neatly packaged and solved, and presented as a clinical demonstration of established fact and not as a current challenge? In the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois, the author uses bicycles to involve and motivate students in a junior-level first course in dynamic systems. The result is a lively, hands-on course that produces an array of unusual bicycles that prove, or fail to prove, a number of systems-theoretic questions related to the bicycle and its associated dynamics and control. Questions examined include open-loop stability, impulse response behavior demonstrating the bicycles nonminimum-phase characteristics, rider control laws, parametric influences such as altering mass distributions, augmented steering control laws, and the effect on dynamic response due to variations in the steering control law. A foundation concept in systems theory is that the design options include: (1) simple parameter changes, (2) inclusion of dynamic compensation or equalizers, and (3) alteration of loop structures in a block diagram sense. Experiments with bicycles permit all three levels of synthesis
0272 1708/89f0400 0004 S O 1 00

A perennial task that plagues engineering faculty is that of keeping students interested in a rigorous introductory class in dynamic systems modeling and automatic control. As the students progress from sophomore-level courses, such as differential equations, and up to advanced-level systems classes, the question before educators is when and how to bring some relevancy to the typically theoretical and abstract mathematical treatment associated with systems theory. Sophomorelevel courses introduce simple elements such as springs and dashpots, however, the motivational value at that level is questionable. Junior- and senior-level courses often use somewhat more complex devices as physical examples, such as liquid-level control of tanks. Few students, in this authors experience, seem to get excited about the relevancy and scientific challenge presented by a passive toilet-water closet where a float controls the water flow in. Advanced courses may utilize high-tech examples, such as aircraft autopilots and fly-by-wire concepts, but the students who continue on in the systems area to see these illustrations are usually a minority. Those students who acquire an interest in systems theory often d o so because of its mathematical elegance and not necessarily because a meaningful application stimulated their interest. This is a modified version of a paper presented at the 1988 American Control Conference, Atlanta, Georgia, June 15-17, 1988. Richard E. Klein is with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering at the University of Illinois, Urbana, IL 61801.

methodology, which the students do naturally, and which the professor later points out that three synthesis alternatives were actually used. The bicycle is a dynamic system in every sense of the word, and it follows that any attempt to examine the bicycle objectively requires a simultaneous usage of dynamic systems language and methodology. Thus, by studying the bicycle, the students ultimately are exposed to systems-theoretic language and thought processes. The pedagogical experience is enhanced because the correlation, or lack thereof, between theoretical and physical is readily accomplished and thus made real to the student. Moreover, the students embrace the abstract methods of systems theory when complex and opaque topics become clear as a result of application of the systems-theoretic tools. The bicycle has been in existence for over a century but yet many mysteries presently surround the bicycle. Issues that complicate the bicycle include the nonholonomic constraints, algebraically coupled higher derivatives, the vague nature of the lateral tireroad forces, the fact that different riders often use different inputs (control laws) based on some individualized combination of kinematic steering and body articulation, the presence of both soft nonlinearities (such as trigonometric terms associated with the inverted pendulum) and hard nonlinearities (such as the sudden onset of slippage at the tire-road interface), and the often misunderstood (and frequently overstated) role of gyroscopic effects. The bicycle is dynamically coupled because of the kinematic constraints present in its mechanical structure. The kinematic coupling means that an acceleration, in any given component of the bicycle (for example, the front fork), is algebraically coupled to accelerations in virtually all other components of the bicycle. As an additional subtlety, the rider is free to exert a torque on the handlebars so as to accomplish steering, and yet a feedback loop internal to the rider usually monitors and dictates a kinematic (positional) input as opposed to a force or torque input. The bicycle is not a trivial topic, as one might suppose at first glance, but it is a rather formidable subject worthy of study. Fortunately, for pedagogical reasons, the students

1989 IEEE

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naively assume at first glance that the bicycle must be "easy" because of their obvious familiarity with the bicycle. From that point on. the bicycle serves as an illusive target that resists solution attempts and becomes inore complex with each successive try. The bicycle adopts a role much like the errant broom in P. A . Dukas' n e Sorcwer's Apprenticx,. Each repeated attempt to grasp the bicycle usually results in a fractured problem and for which the issues become more illusive and multiplied. The students. as apprentices. become increasingly motivated to acquire more and niore theory so as to overcome this common object. the bicycle. When the students thirst for niore knowledge and eagerly grab the body of systems-theoretic material, then the pedagogical victory is assured. The usc of bicycles as a teaching vehicle at the University of Illinois evolved over a period of approximately five years. At first, the introduction of a baseline or "generic" bicycle was somewhat incidental and involved only modest analysis and simulation. This stimulated student interest. but few questions were really resolved. However. within the last two years the students undertook the building of prototypes capable of parametric variation so as to test specific hypotheses. The students' interest and the educational gains increased dramatically with the introduction of hardware inquiry. Certain fundamental issucs extant to the bicycle tended to become resolved, as opposed to remaining vague. For example. several groups of students took on the construction of zero-gyroscopic bicycles in an effort to answer the assertion from certain well-intended but misinformed scientists that it is the gyroscopic effect of the rotating wheels that keeps a bicycle upright. Experiments demonstrate that the zero-gyroscopic bicycles are ridable. as shown in Fig. 1. thus refuting the assertion. After several seniesters of addressing parametric variations. the result is a laboratory full of funny-looking bicycles. all of which prove. or disprove. a range of theories or ideas concerning the dynamics of bicycles. As a consequence of experimenting with modified bicycles. a connection emerges between the hardware prototypes and thc theoretical aspects and methodology of dynamic systems and controls. As an example, several rear-steered bicycles were built and tested. The first rear-steered bicycle incorporates a seat mounted over the steering head, and then an extra steering head is welded into the frame in the fomier position of the seat post, and a conventional bicycle chain connects, via sprockets, the handlebars

Fig. 1. Students t n i n g o u t f i ~ u r bikes, from right to left: ,-crogyroscopic bike 11, the "naive" bike Mith no feedback effects 011 the ,front ,fork. zero-gyroscopic bike I , mid the front- and renrsteered hikc.

to the steered wheel in the rear. Thus. the bike is rcvcrscd completely: handlebars in the front turn the rear wheel and the pedals drive the front whccl. It is an annual challenge with students to ride this bicycle. but nobody has mastered this particular rearsteered bicycle. The author is depicted in Fig. 2 as he attempts, unsuccessfully, to ride this bicycle. The power of analysis and synthesis techniques i s made vividly clcar to thc students

as related to the rear-steered bicycle. Specifically, analysis of the equations of motion, based on an idealized rigid mass inverted pendulum and an appropriate kinematic ground track model. suggests several design changes. including shifting of the center of mass forward and upward. and use of a shorter wheelbase. This design modification yields conditions suitable for stable closedloop control assuming a first-order controller. Students also have investigated the use of pole-placement techniques in order to stabilize the inherently unstable rear-steered bicycles. The discussion of pole-placement techniques then triggers a need for the discussion of observability and controllability of state equation models. The class really starts to believe in the power of systemstheoretic techniques when class members report that they experimentally modified a rearsteered bicycle, as suggested by analysis of the equations. and that the bicycle is ridable. although challenging to ride. See Fig. 3.

Fig. 2. The author demonsrrating the futility o f a proportional steering control / U N $ on rear-steered bike 1.

Fig. 3. University of Illinois undergraduate demonstrating his rearsteered bike II.



Pedagogical Issues
A number of innovative teaching techniques are employed, all of which are designed to act in concert to bring about a pedagogical environment conducive to learning. The word learning is interpreted in the sense of Bloom [ l ] , and thus involves, as per Bloom, the six-level hierarchy of knowledge (at the fact level), comprehension, application, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation. In response to the pedagogical evidence that horizontal relevance and problem solving are needed (see [2]), the course in dynamic systems is applied such that the bicycle is the central tangible example. The learning is enhanced, in part, because the student becomes an active participant in an open-ended design, analysis, and synthesis question. The method, where the professor is hunting for the answer along with the class, is commonly described as shared inquiry. In addition to the bicycle, other hardware applications are considered during the course, including flyball governors, hydraulic servomechanisms, dynamics of raw eggs, passive R-L-C circuits, a TMD, and the task of backing up a vehicle with a trailer. However, the bicycle application remains the dominant thrust. In spite of the complexity of the bicycle mathematically, the pedagogical emphasis is to first address the bicycle problem in physical terms, and then present any essential theoretical tools and/or concepts as the need dictates. The philosophy in the introductory course is to (1) use and/or introduce a minimum of tools and only tools that are reliable and well understood, and ( 2 ) avoid muddying the waters with redundant or nonessential theoretic methods. In essence, only one method is initially introduced to solve a given problem, and discussion of the fact that various other methods are available is deferred. Broad exposure to parallel theoretic approaches is reserved for later in the course and in elective courses in systems theory. At the University of Illinois in the Mechanical Engineering curriculum, the students were deemed to have the following prerequisite skills and understanding: (1) matrix algebra up to the point of linear algebraic equations including Cramers rule, ( 2 ) modular thinking in the use of subroutines as a result of computer science courses and general computer background, (3) the calculus, (4) acceptance of and firm trust in Heaviside derivative operator (D = d/dt) techniques, and (5) some basic exposure to dynamics associated with Newtons Second Law. These five basic tools were identified

and are used as the foundation skills, although students usually have, of course, other skills in addition to these five. At the start of the course, the students are exposed in lecture to Lagrangian dynamics. Next, they are introduced to the use of integrator (simulation) block diagrams as a means of representing dynamic systems, which rests on the recasting of dynamic problems as integral equations rather than differential equations. Additional instruction includes simulation skills, block diagram algebra, and state-variable representation (taken directly from the integrator block diagrams and including systems with numerator dynamics). The students are introduced to the procedure of combining block diagram models, Heavisides derivative operator, transfer functions, and Cramers rule. A FORTRAN subroutine called PERSEUS (see [3]) is the computational tool that permits the students to obtain transfer functions in a single-step process from either raw equations or any (linear) block diagram independent of the degree of coupling, the number of equations, the respective orders of each of the individual transfer-function blocks, the presence of numerator dynamics, the presence of derivative blocks, and/or interlaced loops. The student is first exposed to this approach using hand calculation in order to obtain a transfer function. The logic and methodology of using PERSEUS rests solidly on the five foundation skills cited earlier so that the student readily accepts PERSEUS as a working tool and as a conceptual step. As the semester progresses, the student comes to rely on the subroutine PERSEUS as its use eliminates the toil and abstractions associated with block diagram algebra reduction and/or Masons gain rule. Block diagram algebra reduction is a multistep procedure, and Masons rule is single step; however, the task of identifying all of the forward paths and all of the loop paths can be formidable, even in problems of just modest complexity. Also, the calculations associated with application of Masons tule may become tedious. It is true that state-ofthe-art programs such as MATLAB will perform block diagram algebra reduction, but in nonholonomic and kinematically coupled problems like the bicycle, the task of coming up with the initial block diagram representation directly from the kinematically coupled equations of motion is immense. The example used to introduce the student to PERSEUS concepts is that of determining the ground tracking kinematics that relate steer angle of a bicycle to the lateral displacement of the ground contact points, and then amving at a transfer function. This

transfer function is then augmented with two additional transfer functions, one for the inverted pendulum dynamics, and another for a steering control law, so as to achieve a simplified closed-loop model of bicycle behavior. These procedures are detailed in the Appendix. State-variable models are then shown to be obtainable directly from all physically realizable transfer functions, both those obtained by hand calculations and those obtained with the aid of PERSEUS. The methodology of using PERSEUS on more complex systems, such as a set of four kinematically coupled second-order bicycle equations, and also for block diagram systems, is given in [3]. Once the understanding of state formulations and transfer functions is steadfast, it becomes a direct matter to cover root-locus techniques as well as frequency-domain design. Students have access to a number of different computing facilities, and they gain exposure to state-of-the-art synthesis and design packages such as Program CC and MATLAB. It is worthy to note that the transition into the frequency domain is preceded by the study of R-L-C circuits using the Laplace and Fourier domains where the use of phasors is rigorized, and then the replacement of the Laplace variable s with j w follows directly and in a pedagogically sound manner. As such, the transition into the frequency domain is reinforced by the students background in a prerequisite circuits course, and, moreover, the concepts taught previously in the circuits course are also solidified. Additional considerations, such as nonlinear effects, are made evident to the student because of exposure to the bicycle. As examples, the consideration of nonlinearities arises with the need to linearize the trigonometric terms in the inverted pendulum equations; the recognition that excessive lateral inertial loads will exceed the coulomb friction bounds on the tire-to-road interface; and that the steady-state value of the steering control law for no-handed riding is a monotonically diminishing (and thus nonlinear) function of the amplitude of the bicycles lean angle. Other advanced considerations include the presence of unmodeled dynamics, such as frame and/or front fork flexure, tire deformations and associated slip angles, and aerodynamic considerations. In addition, students become exposed to the need for process identification procedures and adaptive control via the clinical study of youngsters learning to ride a bicycle. The laboratory utilizes bicycles with variable parameter adjustments, and experimental ride data are monitored with a SoMat 2000 field

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computer [4]. The SoMat 2000 permits the acquisition of actual ride data, which are then uploaded in a matter of minutes into a laptop computer andlor a mainframe. Thus, students are exposed to data acquisition techniques and the subsequent issues, for example, of model verification, spectral analysis, and process identification.

Course Specifics
The one-semester course, ME 240 (four semester credit-hours), as taught at the University of Illinois, meets three hours per week for lecture, and the students also attend a weekly 2-hr laboratory. The laboratory is taught by teaching assistants, and the activities include digital simulation, use of packages such as Program CC and MATLAB, hardware demonstrations andlor schematic discussions of hardware, oral presentations by students, bicycle testing and/or replay of videotapes of bicycle tests, question-and-answer periods on course material, and oral defenses of student essays. The students are provided prepared handouts for each of the approximately 10 laboratory exercises each semester. The students are required to research and write some form of essay dealing, typically, with some open-ended bicycle-related topic. Theoretical topics covered in lecture, but which have a bearing on the bicycle, include convolution, the Laplace transform, open-loop vibrational problems, stability tests, root locus, proportional-integral-derivative (PID) control laws, and frequency-domain considerations. These theoretical topics follow in a logical manner, and the student comes to view these topics as part of systems theory. Once the notion of the bicycle as a valid system is established in the students minds, additional theoretical tools such as root locus and PID control laws are readily accepted. Essay topics addressed in recent semesters have included the following: Explain how and why a bicycle works. Investigate a bicycle in fractional gravity. Analyze a rear-steered bicycle. Explain how a childs tricycle works. Investigate gyroscopic influences Explain a bicycle ridden with no hands. Design a single track stable trailer. Design and build a robot for riding a bicycle. Design an intuitive steering system. Explain critical velocity of bicycles. The author makes an effort to have a supply of discarded or used bikes on hand. The

cost of raw materials is minimal as the bicycles are often procured economically at police auctions. Any fabrication, typically welding, is performed in the departmental machine shop, but only after the design and drawings have been approved by the professor. Simple tasks such as drilling, hacksaw cutting, and painting are done by the students, often in a student shop that is equipped with a bench, vise, and drill press.

Kinematics and geometry yield the following equations, where 4 is the steer angle and $ the yaw angle of the frame.
drldt = V sin (4 dyldt = V sin $

+ $)

(A2) (A31

= (Ax

+ By)lL

$ = sin- [(x - y)lL]


In overview, the use of the bicycle as a concrete but challenging example of a dynamic system permits students to improve their mastery of the abstractions of systems theory. The students have the experience of working on a meaningful and challenging open-ended design problem. Five years of experimentation and refinement of the approach have been well received by both administration and students. The results to date show that ( 1 ) the notion of using the bicycle in the classroom as a teaching tool and research topic is feasible, (2) the associated economics are attractive, (3) students are able to apply the abstract notions of systems theory to a concrete problem, ( 4 ) the professor is able to improve his or her expertise in a designated area (such as twowheeled vehicle dynamics), (5) the percentage and quality of students electing followup courses in the systems area increase, and (6) students improve their professional confidence as a result of the substantially broadened horizontally relevant educational experience.

Now, linearization of the trigonometric terms utilizing sin 4 = 4, sin $ = $, cos 4 = 1 , and cos $ = 1 yields
drldt = V(4 + $) dyldt = V$

(A61 (A71

= (Ax

+ By)/L

(AS) (49)

$ = (x - yVL

Introduction of the Heaviside derivative operator ( D = dldt) allows Eqs. (A6)-(A9) to be cast in a matrix algebra form, where the steer angle 4 is an assumed or given input





0 -1


Consider the dynamics of the bicycles ground track kinematics as shown in Fig. A l , which depicts a projected top view of the bicycles lateral motion with respect to a centerline. The bicycles forward velocity is V , L represents the wheelbase, A is the horizontal distance from the rear contact point to the center of gravity (CG), and B is the distance from the CG to the forward tire contact point. Thus,
L = A + B

By defining the 4 X 4 matrix in Eq. (A10) as A, Cramers rule may now be invoked to ) obtain Eq. (A1 1 ) for ~ ( tas 0

4 -1
0 - V

Z(t) = AIL 1/L


0 -1

+ 1Al




_ _ _

Reference /Centerline

Fig. A l . Ground contact projection kinematics.

April 1989

Algebra yields the transfer function relating 4 and z(t) as

z(t) _ - (VlL) [V

+ AD]



(A 12)

Now consider the inverted pendulum of the bicycle and the rider as shown in Fig. A2. Using the method of Lagrange, or alternately the method of Newton, the linearized differential equation relating z ( t ) and p(t)-where M is the mass, H the CG height, I,, the mass moment of inertia about the CG, g the gravitational constant, and p the lean angle-is

Fig. A3. Simplijed bicycle block diagram.

+ I,-,)

( d 2 p l d t 2 )- MgHp

= - MH(d zldt2)


The necessity arises to consider a steering control law. Simplicity of the mathematics, combined with some empirical evidence, suggests the initial use of a linear and proportional steering control law, where K is the proportionality constant



Fig. A4. Bicycle simulation block diagram.

As a consequence, the closed-loop bicycle system may now be expressed in block diagram form as shown in Fig. A3. Introduction of simulation diagram techniques, based on Eqs. (A6)-(A9), (A13), and (A14), yields the system shown in Fig. A4. The effect of an impulse input, such as by a jabbing forward thrust on one of the handlebars, yields an initial condition on the integrator that produces the lateral displacement of the front wheel, ~ ( t ) . Values for the necessary constants may be assumed to be the following: V = 6.7 rnisec, IC, = 20.0 kgm2, A = 0.4 m, g = 10.0 mlsec, B = 0.7 m, K = 0.4, H = 1.2 m, and M = 70.0 kg. The system shown in Fig. A4 lends itself to direct simulation, such as with ACSL, Pro-

gram CC, or MATLAB, for example. The student is able to compute the bicycles nonminimum-phase impulse response as shown in Fig. A5. This response agrees with the students experience, especially those students who are experienced on motorcycles, in that an impulse causing a momentary steer to the left, for example, will result in a turn or steer of the vehicle to the right of its initial course. Thus, countersteering is demonstrated in the simulation of the two-wheeled vehicle.

[ l ] B. Bloom (ed.). Taxonomy of Educational Objectives, New York: Longmans, Green & Co., 1956. [2] L. G. Katz and S . C. Chard, Engaging Childrens Minds: The Project Approach, Norwood, N J : Ablex Publishing Co., 1989. 131 B. C. Mears, Open Loop Aspects of Two Wheeled Vehicle Stability Characteristics. Ph.D. Dissertation, Dept. of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Univ. of Illinois, Urbana, 1988. 141 N. Miller, D. Socie, and S. Downing, New Developments in Field Computing Systems, SAE Paper 870804, Apr. 1987.


Fig. A2. Rigid idealized inverted pendulum.

Fig. AS. Impulse response of bicycle due to sudden JAB input.

Richard E. Klein was born in Stratford, Connecticut, in 1939. He received the B.S. and M.S. degrees in mechanical engineering in 1964 and 1965, respectively, from The Pennsylvania State University. In 1968, he received the Ph.D. degree in mechanical engineering from Purdue University. His Ph.D. dissertation

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