5 Life lessons inspired by riding a bicycle

Are you familiar with Einstein’s quote “Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance, you must keep moving”? If this rings true to you, check out our life lessons inspired by riding and teaching how to ride a bicycle:

You can be told the principle of balance, but finding it is up to you.

One of the first challenges of learning to ride a bicycle is to balance on the bike. As a bicycle teacher 90% of our job is to ease students into this challenge and while I spend a lot of time on giving tips how to achieve balancing on a bicycle, it is entirely in students’ hands (or body) to get the feeling for it.

From a technical perspective using the bicycle as a balance bike is the easiest way to teach riding. The student simply sits on the saddle and uses their feet to move the bike. In theory, the more at ease the student gets the longer they can keep their feet off the ground, giving them sufficient time to lift their feet onto the paddle. I prefer removing paddles entirely and get students used to the sensation until they’re ready to put their pedals on themselves.

Most adult students find this process entirely empowering, because they are in control of the process and determine their own progress. Some join classes thinking that their bicycle teacher will hold the bike for them, push them and run along to then let go of the bike and leave them pedalling on their own. This is probably what many parents do when they teach their children, but for two reasons I avoid this is approach. Firstly, I know the word ‘hate’ should be used sparsely, but I will in this context: I hate running. Particularly if it is rather pointless and can be avoided. Secondly, if I hold onto the bike I’m in fact balancing it for the student completely undermining the students learning experience of figuring balance out themselves. Which leads me back to point one: running behind a student and continuing to balance the bike on their behalf is pointless. Hence, no running.

The main point is though, everybody is different. Some will find it easy to balance, some need a bit more time to get the feeling. While we can all theorise about balance, in essence each of us, at our own pace, will work it out eventually.

Going fast is a lot easier than going slow.

Have you ever watched children learn to ride? Have you ever noticed that they have two types of speed? One is fast and one is standing still. It only really occurred to me when I watched adults learn to ride. When adults learn to ride they too will go either really fast or struggling to go at all. From a physiological point of view it makes complete sense and is reflected in Einstein’s famous quote and that if we move into a forward direction it is a whole lot easier to keep our balance. The slower we go the more difficult it is to keep the sideways forces under control. Imagine  you toss a coin. As long as the coin has momentum it will turn beautifully. The slower it gets the more sluggish it turns until it flops to one side and stops.

Isn’t this interesting? Taking a step back and mulling over this observation in a slightly more metaphorical sense I wonder how much this is true for how we are living our lives? As long as we have motivation and focus we feel in control perceive our lives as ‘moving ahead’. If things slow down and don’t seem to ‘move anymore’ are we still feeling in control? Are we still feeling motivated?

I’m not advocating a high-speed life as much as I don’t recommend people on bicycles going fast all the time. Quite the opposite. There are reasons why going slow is vital – in life as much as on a bike. As you would recognise a proficient person on a bicycle who can ride slowly and still keep their balance perhaps it’s worthwhile for us to acknowledge that life simply is a little bit harder to balance at times and to check in what pace we’re going at. Have we gone fast for quite a while or are things slowing down a bit?

Mostly we focus on when we’re out of balance. Balance is the inexplicable joy and ease we usually call ‘living’.

Particularly adult learners are their own most sever critique. I noticed that they love picking on themselves and their lack of skills. Putting myself into their shoes I understand the self-criticism. As adults we don’t like imperfection and we’ve forgotten what it feels like to learn something new. Children learners are accustomed to suck at something, but as long as the process of trying is fun, they’ll keep at it. Adults are a lot harsher and tend to comment on every failure. For a bicycle teacher managing students’ self-talk  is essential – if you keep repeating in your head how much you’re failing you’re shifting your mindset to failure.

What I find particularly interesting is the fact that in subsequent sessions students rarely notice when they do actually meet major milestones. This is even more noticeable further down the track. Joining a riding group where students have started as learners and now riding weekly for several kilometres, but have one situation where they may come off the path once or struggle to ride through bollards they will provide this a prove how little they know. Asking them how they enjoyed the remaining 15 kilometres of their ride they’d look puzzled as if a split second matters more than an hour of blissful bumbling along. Do we value when things go smoothly? Do we feel grateful and acknowledge when we’re balancing life okay?

Many things that make us come undone were creeping up on us long before we cared to notice.

One of the most essential safety skills a person a bicycle can acquire is scanning. Not a bar code, of course. By scanning I mean to turn your head to the left, right and even slightly behind you so that you can get a grasp of what’s around you. Scanning is the ability to look around you and identify anything that may have the potential to be a risk to your own journey and then take the action to keep safe.

Students who start riding on shared paths or parks often become overwhelmed by the potential of stationary or mobile obstacles they could run into or which could run into them. Mostly that’s because they still focus on the basics of balancing, starting or stopping and they don’t have the ability to scan just yet.

Having said that, just because one has the ability doesn’t mean that one uses this ability. On social rides with beginner riders the little things are what makes students come undone – like a dog that charges at them when overtaking, a child erratically jumps into their way, or the jogger runs across the path or a bollard that seemingly comes out of nowhere. Not all situations are foreseeable, but many are, if we had cared to look around us and take notice.

If you focus on the obstacle, you’ll be heading straight into it.

Even the absolute beginner rider can ride with uncanny accuracy. I’ve seen students hit a very narrow bollard, which would take a skilled cyclist serious navigating if they wanted to ride into it.  While it is one of the most frequent problems of beginner riders to avoid obstacles like riding through a set of bollards, narrow paths or bridges, it is one of the best practices that you can incorporate into your daily life.

So, you’ve scanned ahead (well done!), identified a potential obstacle – what happens next? You focus on said obstacle, start panicking, lose balance and control and forgot you could use all your balancing skills (and your brakes) and instead hugged the bollard (handrail, or whatever else it is you were fretting about).

How do you stop this from happening? Focus on what’s beyond the obstacle. Relax, pace your speed, glide through the tight spot and keep riding.

The first part is the hardest – don’t focus on the obstacle –  but if you consider how we live our daily lives I truly believe we tend to focus on issues and problems that we seem to be heading straight into. Metaphorically lifting the gaze and reminding ourselves that there is more to our life than what’s right in front of us feels challenging.

I’m not suggesting to ignore the problem (nor bollard), but I’m proposing to keep it in perspective. Yes, it is there, but there’s also other things we’re heading towards. It helps keeping a balanced life to keep everything in sight, not just the obstacles.

Do you have any treadlie inspired life-hacks to share?

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