Category Archives: Sunday Silly Papers

A new silly academic paper idea every Sunday. We show how everyone can be a scientist by addressing the silly questions we all have.

Sun Paper: why do abandoned bikes get their rims all bent? is it snow plows?

tl;dr “it’s like bird spotting but for bike tacos”

It has come to my attention recently (on facebook) that with respect to the question

why do abandoned bikes get their rims all bent?

there is a lot of pseudoscience, rumors, speculation, passionate eyewitness accounts, and vague theories. take this forum thread:

I notice the same thing a lot on College Campuses and assume its drunk college students limping home after the bars close and deciding to indulge in some low-grade vandalism. Presumably they don’t really need a vice to get it to bend like that though, I think they just brace the wheel against whatever the bikes chained to and then kick/jump on the edges

wild speculation

Unlikely Scenario D: People carry a bent wheel with them and mount that on the bike when chained, and carry the good wheel with them to prevent bike theft.

even some mechanical engineering insight

Bicycle wheels are very strong vertically, and fairly weak horizontally.

here’s a friend of a friend’s thoughts on the matter

Reason I think it’s the snow is the bikes are usually parked a little away from the road. The weight of snow falling plus the weight of snow being pushed into them with plows== all bent up… 

okay, so it _is_ plows, but not that plows are directly touching bikes, they’re pushing ice rocks into the bike? that’s the winner?

but then someone chimes in from Florida

Right, I imagine there’s lots of people kicking bikes or hitting them with cars in florida (people can’t drive in Miami. I’m serious. They’re insanely bad drivers. And this is coming from someone who considers himself a fairly bad driver). This is about why virtually _all_ of the bikes are suddenly completely destroyed after the snow melts. Semi-abandoned bikes that are just left at a pole for a month or so during the summer in Boston may have their wheels stolen (or just be totally stolen), but they don’t get destroyed like this.

As you can see, despite all these rumors go around, there is no actual science on the matter.

We must address this issue with scientific rigor if we want to prove that everyone in the world can be a citizen scientist. I suspect the state of the universal “bike taco” phenomenon may be similar to the “same symptom but vastly different underlying causes” scenario.

The solution is to create a crowdsourced science application. Just like you can participate in science  by reporting sighting of banded birds, or by putting a feeder up and counting birds,


You should be able to report on how, exactly, bikes are getting “taco’d”.

Everyday scientists can

  • submit pictures of an abandoned bike over time
  • reports of what state the bike was in
  • see a timeline of related weather phenomena in that state
  • and submit eyewitness videos of bikes getting taco’d

We must get to the heart of this matter. Our bikes are at stake.

I’m too lazy so just use reddit: