Computer simulations have been carried out with a model flagellum that can bend in three dimensions. A pattern of dynein activation in which regions of dynein activity propagate along each doublet, with a phase shift of approximately 1/9 wavelength between adjacent doublets, will produce a helical bending wave. This pattern can be termed “doublet metachronism.” The simulations show that doublet metachronism can arise spontaneously in a model axoneme in which activation of dyneins is controlled locally by the curvature of each outer doublet microtubule. In this model, dyneins operate both as sensors of curvature and as motors. Doublet metachronism and the chirality of the resulting helical bending pattern are regulated by the angular difference between the direction of the moment and sliding produced by dyneins on a doublet and the direction of the controlling curvature for that doublet. A flagellum that is generating a helical bending wave experiences twisting moments when it moves against external viscous resistance. At high viscosities, helical bending will be significantly modified by twist unless the twist resistance is greater than previously estimated. Spontaneous doublet metachronism must be modified or overridden in order for a flagellum to generate the planar bending waves that are required for efficient propulsion of spermatozoa. Planar bending can be achieved with the three-dimensional flagellar model by appropriate specification of the direction of the controlling curvature for each doublet. However, experimental observations indicate that this “hard-wired” solution is not appropriate for real flagella. Cell Motil. Cytoskeleton 53:103–124, 2002. © 2002 Wiley-Liss, Inc.