Man or machine

Man or machine

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. 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.

Learning objectives

  • Contact forces: describe factors which affect the size of frictional and drag forces
  • Critique claims: evaluate a claim about how bike design can give cyclists an unfair advantage

Blueprint curriculum link

Lesson 1

  • Unit: Contact forces
  • Concept: Friction: Friction is caused by the interaction of surfaces moving over one another, and acts to resist this
  • Learning stage: Apply

Lesson 2

  • Skills: Explanations: Critique a claim for whether there is evidence
  • Learning stage: Analyse

Activity contents

  • Teachers guide
  • Two powerpoint presentations (lesson 1 and 2)

These lessons are delivered as a zip file. After you checkout, you will be sent an email with the link to download them.



Cycling's a drag, but it doesn't have to be

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.

Forces and speed

More information on the forces involved in cycling.

Wind tunnel testing

Short video clip that shows how a wind tunnel is used to test how aerodynamic a cyclist is.

Air resistance

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.

The physics of cycling

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.