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This question came from an obscure, throw-away sentence in a Terry Pratchett novel...

Imagine, if you will, a bicycle with no pedals, chain, or self-propulsion mechanism at all. A person sits on it and can steer, but that's it.

Instead, it will be pulled forward by a horse.

Could this bicycle actually move forward, allowing the rider to balance? Or would it be impossible for the horse to get it up to speed before it falls over?

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  • $\begingroup$ The rider may (will be) injured during turns. $\endgroup$ – user8718165 Aug 7 '19 at 11:20
  • $\begingroup$ If it can get under way, why would turns matter? Do horses slow down to turn? $\endgroup$ – AJFaraday Aug 7 '19 at 11:23
  • $\begingroup$ @AJFaraday to steer a bike, you have to lean "into" the turn, but to start a turn, you may need to turn the handlebars in the opposite direction so that the bike starts to "fall over" which makes you lean at the correct angle. Since the horse is controlling your rate of turn and not you, doing this successfully (and not falling off) may be difficult. $\endgroup$ – alephzero Aug 7 '19 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ This obviously depends very heavily on the skill of the rider. There are some people who can balance on the bike when it is not moving. For example: youtube.com/watch?v=C_WaUAFn0gI $\endgroup$ – Brick Aug 7 '19 at 13:22
  • $\begingroup$ all you have to do is follow the horse, tie the horse to the steering head, not a moving part of the front end, take off briskly, no problem $\endgroup$ – Adrian Howard Aug 8 '19 at 2:12
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For turning a (not sharp enough) turn that should be okay but for sharp turns the rope has to be sufficiently small or the horse will perform the turn before the bike does which will cause the bicycle to be pulled off sharply by the horse which is now pulling you sideways and that way you might lose control of the bike.

It would be awkward to ride such a bike without braking control because you'd have no control over the speed and you'd have to use your legs for braking. On wet roads it won't be so good.

Moreover, if the horse suddenly stopped running, you'd hit the horse.

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  • $\begingroup$ of course you could have brakes to slow or stop when necessary, all you need is a well trained horse that will follow voice commands $\endgroup$ – Adrian Howard Aug 8 '19 at 2:17
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From the question it is clear that you understand that it is the rotation of the wheels that aids a bicycle rider to balance the bicycle. The second part of your question is key to the answer "Or would it be impossible for the horse to get it up to speed before it falls over?"

Assuming that the power of the horse is, well 1 horse power, and the power of a cyclist is significantly less, there is no reason why the bicycle should not get up to an appropriate speed. Certainly if you watch the start of a horse race horses are capable of tremendous acceleration.

And at speed a horse cannot turn sharply enough for the direction of pull to be a factor.

The real issue is whether the horse will continue going at sufficient speed for you to arrive at your destination, or would it get bored and start eating the local vegetation ...

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You are getting some pretty good answers here, but having a well trained horse that will follow voice commands would be the most important thing. harness the horse to a single pull rope attached to the steering head (the forwardmost part of the frame) so you could lean and turn to follow the horse. Taking off would actually be easier than pedaling to take off, as you could keep your feet on the ground until moving. You could have brakes to stop when needed, the horse drawn wagons usually had braking blocks, but since you have stated steering only, then the pull rope would have to be replaced with a stiff "wagon tongue" attached with a pivot point, to stop you with the horse. I have rode and built bikes and motorcycles for over 50 years, and rode horses when younger, and this seems quite plausible to me.

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