The book Bicycling Science


 There have been four editions of the book Bicyclung Science. Each is a complete revision of the one before.  David Gordon Wilson is the only writer who worked on all editions. 

End 19th and early 20th century scholars had been investigating the science of cycling. But new machines like cars and planes, were more exiting and offered more challenge, more glory and money. Over the next years there was little attention from the scientific world for the humble bicycle. End 60s and early 70s were the "ten speed era". Students embraced the bicycle for everyday use and transportation. There had been research and studies during the sixty years from 1910-1970, but randomly spread over dozens of countries, without oversight and coherancy. Bringing all knowledge together, was the real great contribution of the book "Bicycling Science". It was a new starting point for scientific research and the industry to re-invent bikes and cyclesport. Recumbents and Human Powered Vehicles were an offspring of that new approach.

  David Gordon Wilson was born in Warwickshire, England, on Februari 11, 1928. He lived most of his life in Massachusetts (USA), where he became a professor emeritus at MIT. Although best known as the author of Bicyling Science and as the father of the modern recumbent bicycle, he was deeply involved in other areas of engineering, including turbine design. David Gordon Wilson held some 60 patents and designed the pump used in the world’s first artificial heart. He was also greatly concerned with matters of public health and ecology, proposing an early fossil-fuel tax and actively campaigning against smoking. 

   The basic texts of the first edition of Bicyling Science were written by the English chemical engineer Frank Rowland Whitt around 1970 as contributions to bicyclemagazines like "Cycle Touring" and "Bicycling !".

   The book was edited, reworked and completed, by co-writer David Gordon Wilson, who had it published by MIT-press in 1974 (hardback). It was an unexpected commercial succes. A paperback version was released in 1978.

   The second edition of Bicycling Science was completely revised in 1982, and it had 364 instead of 273 pages. Frank Rowland Whitt suffered a stroke and passed away during the revision. David Gordon Wilson became the main author.

     In 2004 the third edition of Bicycling Science came out (476 pages). Jim Papadopoulos contributed the chapter on equilibrium and steering. It contained  some mathematical equotations, only readable for those who master the art.

   The fourth edition of Bicycling Science, 569 pages, was published by MIT Press in 2020. Co-writer of the fourth edition is Theodor Schmidt. The book is re-written, more readable; an update with attention to recent developments. The hardcore math and science are banned to the "references". The chapter on materials and stresses has been skipped.


    Dr. Wilson died 2 May 2019 at the age 91 of complications from a fall in his Winchester home; shortly before his death, he had finished the fouth edition. Much technical information can be found on the internet nowadays, but Bicycling Science opened the scientific vault for young engineers during the 70s and 80s. It has certainly been an inspiration for this website.


MIT course on pedalpower, based on Bicycling Science

MIT Pedalpower
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