How Do Wheels Work?


Quick Answer

The rolling motion of a wheel results from a force causing two points on opposite sides of the wheel's axis to move in opposite directions. Typically when a force is applied to an object, all points move in the same direction, causing the object to slide. When a force is applied to a wheel, however, its shape allows rotation to occur.

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Full Answer

When the momentum of a point crests at the top of the wheel, it then falls toward the ground, much like an ocean wave crashing. The point regains its momentum as it is pushed back up the wheel again because it is fixed on an axis, unlike the water from a wave. Translational movement, such as sliding, causes all points of an object to move with the same force as the center. Rotational movement, as observed in a wheel, allows for the outer parts of the wheel to move in proportion to the axis. The points farthest from the axis travel faster than the points closest to it. This increased speed allows for a more efficient use of energy, greatly reducing the force necessary to move an object. Wheels also reduce the surface area that is in contact with the ground, allowing for less friction and resistance. This makes them an efficient choice for moving objects.

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