Bone formation was measured in rat tibiae after 12 days of applied loading. Bending forces were applied using a four‐point loading apparatus. Sham loads were applied at the same magnitudes as bending forces but the loading pads were arranged so that bending was minimized. Bending and sham loading were applied to the right tibiae of rats and the left tibiae served as contralateral controls. Loading was applied as a sine wave with a frequency of 2 Hz for 18 s (36 cycles) per day. The peak magnitude of applied load was 27, 33, 40, 52, and 64 N. Woven bone was observed on the periosteal surface in all animals subjected to loads of 40 N or greater. Periosteal woven bone formation occurred in both bending and sham loading groups. Woven bone formation on the periosteal surface was either absent or responded at a maximal rate if the stimulus threshold was surpassed. The amount of new woven bone and the woven bone‐forming surface were independent of the magnitude of applied strain. Bone formation on the endocortical surface was exclusively lamellar. Lamellar bone formation was stimulated by applied bending of the tibia but not by sham loading. Bending strains above a loading threshold of 40 N or about 1050 μstrain increased both bone‐forming surface and the mineral apposition rate and subsequently increased the bone formation rate as much as sixfold. No evidence of increased bone formation was seen for applied strains below 1050 μstrain. Examination of bulk stained sections from animals exposed to the highest applied loads showed no evidence of microcracks. Thus, microcracks have not been implicated as a causal factor for the observed increases in bone formation rate.