Bicycle Murder-Suicide

Oct 28, 2000

RAY: I'd like to give you this Puzzler in the style of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. There had been a terrible accident in a suburb north of London, and Inspector LeStrade had been sent to investigate. Sir Richard Ashcroft was dead, and everyone agreed that it was an accident--although some suspected it was a suicide.

Sir Richard had been found on a rocky slope, his head dashed against one of the boulders and his mangled bicycle at his side. The facts seemed to speak for themselves.

He had lost control of his bike and had crashed. There had been no eyewitnesses, but finally an eyewitness emerged: Nigel--Sir Richard's trusted gardener of many years.

Haltingly, he told his story: "I was walking back from town up that long hill leading to Sir Richard's estate when I saw him riding toward me, sitting straight up in his seat the way he always rode. He was traveling at a high rate of speed. Suddenly, he jerked the handlebars to the left, and off the road he flew to his death.

Later that day, LeStrade is discussing the points of the case with his buddy, Sherlock Holmes, over cognac and a few Arturo Fuentes cigars. Holmes says, "Bring the gardener in for questioning. He's the perpetrator."

How DID Holmes know?

Answer: 

RAY: How did he know?

TOM: OK. Go ahead!

RAY: Well, as is often the case, some Puzzlers have...the question is great. Well, you'll decide.

TOM: I have to say that you have taken a little...a little...

RAY: Unknown fact.

TOM: A little unknown fact, and you've turned it into a little novelette. And when people hear what the little-known fact is, you are going to get so much hate mail, and I just want to distance myself...

RAY: No, no, no.

TOM: From this Puzzler now.

RAY: Well, first of all, I have to roll up my sleeves and spit out my gum for this.

TOM: Yeah. OK. Go ahead.

RAY: When Nigel saw Sir Richard riding down the road at a high rate of speed, sitting straight up on his bicycle the way he always rode, he said that he saw Sir Richard jerk the handlebars to the left, and, as such, make a left-hand turn...

TOM: And, whew!

RAY: And crash.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: Well, everyone who rides a bicycle knows, or almost everyone knows, that that's not the way you turn a bicycle. In fact, what makes the bicycle stable is the gyroscopic action of the wheels. You with me?

TOM: Mmm-hmm.

RAY: Right? And, in fact, the way you make lefts and rights is by leaning the bicycle and changing the center of gravity.

TOM: Oh, that was...for the...sitting upright as he...oh. As he always did.

RAY: Sitting upright, OK? So, he didn't lean into the turn.

TOM: Yeah.

RAY: But you say, "Well, so what?"

TOM: So what?

RAY: But he jerked those handlebars to the left, and that would do it.

TOM: Yes.

RAY: And here's the little-known fact that LeStrade didn't know.

TOM: No, because he doesn't ride his bike like Sherlock does.

RAY: And nor did Nigel.

TOM: Nor did Nigel.

RAY: The perpetrator.

TOM: Mmm-hmm.

RAY: If you're riding at a high rate of speed and you don't lean, but in fact, you decide to make a turn like that, by turning your wheel to the left, the bike goes to the right. Now, my brother, being the incredulous type, decided to try this whilst on vacation on Cape Cod this summer...

TOM: Yes.

RAY: And did spend three rather happy days at Cape Cod Hospital recovering from his injuries. It's true. I'm not sure I know all the scientific principles involved, but the gyroscope wants to keep the bike going straight.

TOM: And so it goes the other way.

RAY: And so it corrects. If you try to make a left-hand turn by turning the wheel, it corrects and actually makes the bike turn to the right.

TOM: The truth is...

RAY: So Nigel couldn't have seen Sir Richard turn the handlebars to the left and exit the road.

TOM: Yeah, well...I mean, I couldn't get it to happen. I tried it.

RAY: Because you weren't going fast enough. But when I towed you with the car, though, you got up to speed. Anyway, who's our winner?

TOM: Well, it's Cheryl Cleveland from Lowell, Mass.

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