Bumpy Ride

posted: 04/11/12
Read more Read less
As seen in "MythBusters: Shattering Subwoofer."
Thinkstock |


Explanation Certain parched, unpaved roads in Australia are known as washboards because of their bumpy surfaces. In the 1960s, nuclear physicist Keith Mather determined that the uneven Outback terrain develops through a combination of wheels displacing loose sand and grit and the weight of the tires indenting the roadway with rivets.

Anecdotal evidence has suggested that driving faster over the washboard thoroughfares makes for a smooth ride, because swifter wheels should glide across the washboard peaks instead of dipping into troughs. Speed-loving MythBusters Kari Bryon, Tory Belleci and Grant Imahara took to the road to test this hypothesis.

The trio constructed a washboard surface to drive across and set up high-speed cameras to monitor the tire motion. Grant cranked up a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme and cruised across the corrugated surface at 5 miles per hour, then at 70 miles per hour. The high-speed camera footage revealed that the faster-moving wheels literally move across bumps in the road, and Grant concurred that the speedier test run felt much smoother.

The MythBusters did warn that if a driver encounters a major bump - say, a pothole - along a normal paved road, slowing down for the sudden bounce is a wise idea for the vehicle's suspension. But if you find yourself cruising on a washboard road in the Australian Outback, put the pedal to the metal and enjoy the ride.

More on