Handlebar motor prevents bicycles from falling over

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Delft University of Technology and the Dutch bicycle manufacturer Koninklijke Gazelle have developed a bike with steering assistance that may help to reduce the number of accidents. The prototype has a smart motor in the handlebars that kicks in when the cyclist is in danger of keeling over. The system will keep the bike stable at speeds above 4 km/h.

The prototype combines TU Delft’s fundamental scientific knowledge with Gazelle’s practical expertise. The university has spent the last fifteen years studying why bicycles do or do not fall over. A few years ago, Arend Schwab and his colleagues published research on the theory behind bicycle stability in scientific journals such as Science. ‘We developed a mathematical model with some 25 physical parameters that successfully predicted the stability of a bicycle design at various speeds. We also experimentally proved that the insights behind the theory were correct.’

This fundamental knowledge gave them the idea to provide cyclists with active support in the form of a steer-assist system that makes the bicycle more stable. ‘It’s actually technically quite simple,’ says Schwab. ‘You need a sensor that detects when the bike is falling over, a motor that can adjust the steering and a processor to control the motor. The hardest part is finding the right algorithms for the processor, which was where our scientific research into bicycle stability proved enormously important.’

Photos: TU Delft

Much research is still needed before the steer-assist system can be made available to consumers. The prototype is currently being used to test users’ experience of the steer-assist system and to find out what kind of assistance works best. The first results have already revealed that some people find it easier to keep their bike upright with the system. ‘We now want to study what kind of assistance is appreciated by the cyclist and when, and of course we will also be testing the system’s safety.’

The follow-up research program is already fully underway. In 2016, TU Delft and Gazelle won the National Sport Innovator Award for the development of the steer-assist bicycle (link in Dutch). ‘This was a very important boost for us,’ Schwab states. ‘We have now also received a grant from NWO’s Perspective program Citius, Altius, Sanius to spend the next four years improving the system.’