Tuesday, April 3, 2012

Education with bicycles by Prof Yap Fook Fah

Prof Yap Fook Fah, NTU 
I finally met Prof Yap in a strange way. Me and my friends were chatting over coffee at office. The topic was bicycles and how to improve our bikes. As the conversation went on, Wai Yuen recounted a memorable part of his university days which he learnt alot on bicycles and engineering. It was a week long inhouse practical training on Mechanics of Bicycles programme - headed by Pro Yap. Rather than theory lessons, it was a hands-on test of bicycles so that the students can understand what materials, geometry, mechanical components affect the handling and how to measure stresses and so on. So rather that reading about bicycle, the students have to ride them and then document down how they felt on the bike, from the handling to the braking and all small details after completing a pre-determinded circuit.
I was intrigued that Wai Yuen could still remember so much Pro Yap taught and followed on to track him down.
Behind this door.. 
space for carrying out experiments 
We met at NTU car park E, school of engineering. We visited the studio where many mechanical test was demonstrated to show the mechanical principles. From balancing a shaft to understanding the planetary gears of the internal gear hubs to ideas on mechanical bar linkages system and many interesting props on centrifugal forces was organised neatly into the studio space.
Ideas on measuring pedalling forces.. left and right leg! 
Explaining gyroscopic force and what keeps a bike stable. 
1998! Mechanics of Bicycle programme!! 
What was covered in 6 days...
For this interview, he even took out the Mechanics of Bicycle programme and it was dated 1998. That was some time back and the programme went on for a few years and was part of the core subjects. However due to the difficulty in maintaining the bicycles and the amount of manpower needed to run the course, it was scrapped eventually. I detected a tinge of sadness but he covered it up by moving on to more interesting stuff.
Did u know pedalforce.com bikefit was developed in Singapore?  It started as one of his student project 
SG Segway with an equally SG name. 
whhheeeee...  and can stop 
cycling simulator...  I know it looks scary but the idea is great! How to allow people to experience cycling
Fook Fah recounted with a smile that the workshop opened many students eyes and many of them really enjoyed it. He is still as busy as a beaver trying out new ideas to measure the pedalling forces, and ideas to create the ultimate bicycle and other stuff. Like a Segway device..
One interesting work he and his students are embarking was the e-folding bicycle work with collaboration with a German university. I was not too impressed with the industrial design but amazed by the level of engineering and prototyping skills.
Airnimal with wireless shifting by Mavic ..and I thought Mavic does rims only... 
press the yellow button if u want to shift the gears
Fook Fah sharing with me the intricate details of the custom bike and also the frame has a very short step over height. It rides very well. .. I tested. 
Another very cool fact was that Fook Fah was also the designer of Airnimal bicycle! Wow, I didn't know and he being the nice and humble gentle man just quietly shared that when I ask him why he got so many Airnimal bikes.. and he just said quietly... I did the design and some of them are my prototypes. Oh my gosh... and I got to also try his custom made bikes, designed to be packed and travelled.
Nothing on bicycles can be just spoken. Bicycles must be ridden to feel and experience the ride. I got to ride the Airnimal racing version with Mavic wireless shifters. I didn't know Mavic was the first innovatior of wireless shifting... but apparently they have killed the product line..  The hilly terrain was quite a challenge to me as the gearing on the Airnimal was more for racing not hills.  And the ride of the bike was great.. I would say more stable and quick than most mini velo I was used to.
We chatted lots and how bicycle can be a great education tool, esp on engineering principles. From me, I shared more about what we as LCSG are doing to promote cycling and the need to change mindsets. All and all, a very engaging meeting. And yes, he might be joining us for a ride sometime! If you do meet him, say hello and ask him anything on bicycle.
yes.. he rides them too! 


  1. he was our Physics Prof when I was in NTU, but I had no idea he was so into bikes! missed the chance to learn from him.

  2. I graduated from MPE in 1995 and we did not have such a core subject then. Too bad not the right time to learn from Prof Yap.

  3. Sounds like a really cool Prof on wheels! :) I saw Airnimal as one of the premium brands of bikes now, didnt know he's one of the designers, and from SG! ;)

    1. yes! Pro Yap is super knowledgeable about physics and calcuations. It was all too complex for me when he shared more on the variables and conditions. And very very humble guy!