Sports records are continually being broken – balls hit harder, javelins thrown further and bicycles travelling faster – but are these improvements down to the athlete or the engineering? In this activity students apply their knowledge of frictional forces to design a racing bicycle to help team GB smash more records on the cycling track in the 2016 Olympic Games. After a ruling body claims their design gives an unfair advantage they will learn how to critique evidence in order to decide if they agree with the decision.
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Contact forces: describe factors which affect the size of frictional and drag forces (KS3 Science Syllabus)
Critique claims: evaluate a claim about how bike design can give cyclists an unfair advantage (KS3 Science Syllabus)
Try the activity
Man or machine - Lesson 1
Man or machine - Lesson 2
Man or machine - Teachers guide
Running the activity
Engage How has engineering changed cycling?
Review Students review the science of how reducing drag and friction will make cycling faster
Consider Students act as engineers and design clothing and bicycles to help team GB cycle faster. They justify their choices using ideas about drag and friction
Engage Introduction of the claim about cycling
Play Students play a game to learn how to critique claims
Decide Students critique the claim made about cycling before writing a response
For detailed running notes, download the teachers guide.
Article, suitable for teachers, on the different ways engineering is used to reduce drag in cycling. The data mentioned in the article was used in the activity.
More information on the forces involved in cycling.
Short video clip that shows how a wind tunnel is used to test how aerodynamic a cyclist is.
Video clip from BBC Bitesize that explains the science behind reducing air resistance using cycling as a context. Accessible information, suitable for students of all ages.
In this video a sports scientist discusses the ways that engineering can be used to make bicycles faster. Good background information suitable for teachers and older students.