Nov 18th, 2015 — Physical Science • Physics

Mechanical Bull Riding

We had a great time at CAST in Fort Worth, Texas last week. We had some fantastic BBQ and Tex Mex, but to really experience the cowboy scientist’s lifestyle we decided to investigate Forces and Motion by trying our hand at mechanical bull riding. To make things more interesting (and scientific!) we decided to measure the time and acceleration changes that a person experiences during the wild ride.

We already had the full version of SPARKvue on our phones, so all we needed to complete our mission was a 3-Axis Accelerometer and an AirLink2— and a friendly mechanical bull.

We collected the materials and we were on our way! Based on a little internet research, our first stop was Billy Bobs in the famous Fort Worth Stock Yards.

We went inside and asked to ride the mechanical bull. “No mechanical bulls here— we only ride real bulls.” This was NOT the place for us. Checking the sign outside, we noticed it said Pro Bull Riding. Just goes to show you, a little internet research can be a dangerous thing! This group of Californians learned that when you Google “bull riding” with “restaurant/bar”, you should also remember to include “mechanical” in the search.

We were redirected down the street to where we could find a mechanical bull. Along the way we did run into a live bull that was moving at our speed, so we couldn’t resist the photo-op.

Back to our experiment. We have to admit, we didn’t create proper lab procedures to follow and instead we devised different strategies to stabilize the sensor on the fly. Some of us held the sensor with a free hand …

… others, held the sensor close to the bull …

… and some people managed to find a way to keep the sensor a little closer to their heart.

After a couple of successful runs (and a couple of amusing falls) it was time to check the data!

We can see that Rider 1 lasted the longest, while Rider 4, at 10.0 m/s/s, had the lowest maximum acceleration in the Z-direction.

Since we were using the 3-Axis Accelerometer, we can even look at a particular rider’s acceleration in all directions by creating a multiple-y axis in SPARKvue.

So, how did this group California cowboy scientists compare to Texan riders managing to hold on past the famous 8 second mark? Some studies suggest that a bull rider experiences 250+ m/s/s and a bare-back rider can experience an even greater acceleration of 450 m/s/s. That is impressive, and apparently very dangerous.

After learning that and having our own initial mechanical bull experience, we decided to find something more our speed…

Isaac, the one Texan native among us, had a great time showing the California crew how it’s done. If you want to explore the forces and motion of one of his bull ride with your class, you can use the video below. Use the video to discuss pushes and pulls, force and motion, Newton’s laws and acceleration in the x-, y- and z-directions and how that motion might appear on a graph of acceleration vs time.

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