Mountain bike suspension systems and their effect on rider performance quantified through mechanical, psychological and physiological responses

Davie, Mark C. (2011) Mountain bike suspension systems and their effect on rider performance quantified through mechanical, psychological and physiological responses. PhD thesis, University of Glasgow.

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Mountain bike suspension systems have been designed to improve riding performance and comfort for the
cyclist. Additionally, a suspension system may reduce fatigue, energy expenditure, and enhance time trial
performance. It has also been proposed, however, that using a rear suspension system on a mountain
bike may be detrimental to the cyclist, causing the cyclist’s energy to be dissipated via the rear suspension
Prior to undertaking the current research, a survey into mountain bike suspension systems was conducted
to establish rider preferences, as well as their perceptions of suspension systems and riding styles. The
resulting responses - that the majority of cross-country cyclists chose to ride a bike with front suspension
only (a hardtail bike), despite the significant advantages that a fully suspended system has to offer – aided
in the decision to address the unanswered questions that remain in this area of research.
This thesis presents an investigation into mountain bike suspension systems and their effect on rider
performance, quantifying the dynamic loads exerted on the bike frame and rider. Both the psychological
and physiological effects of using a rear suspension system on cross-country cycling are additional
considerations of this study.
An initial laboratory experiment was completed to investigate the effects of rear wheel dynamics on a rough
track with a high impact frequency and the consequent impact this terrain has on rider performance,
comparing a full suspension and hardtail bike. Further testing was conducted on a rolling road rig,
specifically designed for the purpose of the current research, which more closely represented the
conditions encountered by a cyclist on a cross-country track. Testing was conducted on the rolling road rig
on both a flat road and rough track, examining the interaction forces between the bike and rider. Greater
resistance was experienced by cyclists when cycling on the rolling road rig compared to the roller rig which
equated to the resistance encountered when cycling uphill or into a headwind. The mechanical results
from both rigs were compared to dynamic simulations as a means of validating and comparing the
mechanical results.
An additional series of tests was carried out on an indoor track which had a similar terrain to that of the
rolling road rig. This set of tests placed fewer restrictions on the cyclist as only physiological data was
collected using unobtrusive portable measurement devices, and provided further results to illuminate
correlations or discrepancies between the roller rig and rolling road rig experiments.
The experimental rolling road rig results indicated that, when cycling on a smooth surface, the hardtail bike
offered no significant physiological advantage to the cyclist; however, more power was required by the rider
to pedal the fully suspended bike. This was also advocated by the simulation results. Conversely, it was
highlighted that the fully suspended bike provided a significant advantage to the rider compared to the
hardtail bike when cycling on extremely rough terrain on the roller rig. This was the case across the
simulation results, mechanical measurements, physiological measurements and psychological
measurements. Similarly, the indoor track tests indicated that cycling on a fully suspended bike provided
significant advantages to a cyclist in terms of rider performance. On the contrary, the experimental rolling
road rig results on a rough surface demonstrated that no significant difference was apparent between
cycling on either the hardtail or fully suspended bike. This result suggests that, when a rider encounters
added resistance to cycling, as is the case when cycling uphill, there is less of an advantage for a fully
suspended bike even on rough terrain.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Qualification Level: Doctoral
Keywords: Mountain bike dynamics
Subjects: T Technology > TJ Mechanical engineering and machinery
Q Science > QP Physiology
Colleges/Schools: College of Science and Engineering > School of Engineering
Supervisor's Name: Whittaker, Dr. Arthur
Date of Award: 2011
Depositing User: Mr Mark C Davie
Unique ID: glathesis:2011-2432
Copyright: Copyright of this thesis is held by the author.
Date Deposited: 17 Mar 2011
Last Modified: 10 Dec 2012 13:55

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