Physics of Bowling - the Friction Factor

As the bowling ball rolls down the lane, it will naturally decrease in speed. Just like a car when you let off the gas, eventually it will come to a stop. So why does the bowling ball slow down?

Friction is what causes the ball to slow as it spins toward the pins. When the ball hits the lane, friction immediately comes into play.

Still, there are other issues of the lane that will affect the friction factor. For example, the tension of the floor and the amount of oil on the lane have a lot to do with the friction.

Also, the amount of force that the ball is thrown at and the height at which the ball is released can increase or decrease the force of friction when on the lane. One way to reduce the friction is release the ball close to the floor. The force of friction is how the ball travels down the lane.

The ball reduces speed as it travels down the lane. The fastest travel rate of the ball is when the player releases it. When the player releases the ball, it is usually traveling anywhere from 17 to 25 miles per hour.

If the ball were traveling at 25 miles an hour, it would be considered at the fastest rate of the average ball speed. The average is going to fall in between the 17 and 25 miles per hour.

One would assume that the ball would travel faster if the lane is highly oiled, but this is not the case. The ball will actually be slowed down if the lanes are overly oiled or have not been oiled enough. The oil amount has a lot to do with the amount of friction between the lane and the ball. The average ball will slow between 2.5 and 3 miles per hour as it travels to the pins under imperfect lane conditions.

If you would like to calculate your ball speed, here is how:

You will need a stopwatch. Have your partner start the stopwatch as soon as the ball hits the lane. This may be a bit tricky so you will want to do this a couple of times to ensure that you correctly start the stopwatch as soon as the ball leaves the player's hand. You can stop the watch as soon as the ball comes in contact with the first pin.

In order to calculate the speed, you will need to divide the distance by the time. Since we know there is 60 feet from the foul line to the pins, we would take 60 and divide it by whatever our time on the stopwatch is.

For example: 60/4 = 15 feet per second.

As you progress in your bowling game, your ball will lift some of the oil on the lane and cause some places on the lane to become drier than others. When this happens it can cause your bowling techniques to change. It also makes the sport challenging.

If the ball hits the drier spots, it can cause the ball to hook, leaving you with missed pins. So in order to rectify this situation, you will probably need to learn how to read lane conditions and make adjustments to your playing techniques.