Bridges may be classified byhow the forces of tension, compression, bending, torsion and shear are distributed through their structure. Most bridges will employ all of the principal forces to some degree, but only a few will predominate. The separation of forces may be quite clear. In a suspension or cable-stayed span, the elements in tension are distinct in shape and placement. In other cases the forces may be distributed among a large number of members, as in a truss, or not clearly discernible to a casual observer as in a box beam.
Beam bridges are horizontal beams supported at each end by substructure units and can be eithersimply supported when the beams only connect across a single span, or continuous when the beams are connected across two or more spans. When there are multiple spans, the intermediate supports are known as piers. The earliest beam bridges were simple logs that sat across streams and similar simple structures. In modern times, beam bridges can range from small, wooden beams to large, steel boxes. The vertical force on the bridge becomes a shear and flexural load on the beam which is transferred down its length to the substructures on either side They are typically made of steel, concrete or wood. Beam bridge spans rarely exceed 250 feet (76 m) long, as the flexural stresses increase proportional to the square of the length (and deflection increases proportional to the 4th power of the length).