The Physics of the Tour de France

Credit: Amaury Sport Organisation (A.S.O.)
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About This Episode

Playing with Science hosts Chuck Nice and Gary O’Reilly set their sights on the world’s most famous, most grueling cycling event: the Tour de France. It’s 21 days of extreme physical exertion, covering roughly 2,500 miles through city streets and up and down mountains including the Pyrenees and the Alps. To help them explore the science that makes the difference between winning and losing, Chuck and Gary welcome back physicist John Eric Goff, a major cycling fan who models the outcomes of each and every Tour de France, and who has written the book about physics in sports, Gold Medal Physics: The Science of Sports. But that’s not all. Neil deGrasse Tyson is back, too, and he’s brought with him the legendary, and controversial, cyclist who won the race 7 times, Lance Armstrong. This episode is suffused with science, from aerodynamics and Newton’s Laws, to how drafting works to reduce energy output. You’ll learn about air flow and air resistance, or skin friction, drag reduction, and turbulence. Gary, Chuck, and their guests take us through team strategy, nutrition, power-to-weight ratios, and the dangers of fan participation during the Tour. They even touch a little on cycling frame and helmet technology, although we’re saving most of that discussion for an upcoming episode, just like we’re planning an entire episode on the science of doping, which figures heavily in the history of the race.

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