Balance & Bicycles

Professor Andy Ruina states that there is “no one secret” to keeping a bicycle in motion balanced and stable. Apparently there are up to 17 different factors that align for a balanced bike.1 On Thursday, Ruina’s study was published by the Proceedings of the Royal Society, and it appears to be the most definitive attempt at quantifying bicycle riding since the invention of the two wheeled-handlebar chariot in the mid-1800s. While people all over the world have been keeping balanced on the bicycle while commuting, travelling, recreating and competing for around 150 years, explaining the math of it all has been elusive.  Appropriately, this can be applied to balance in life. Ruina’s phrase, “no one secret”, can sum up an individual’s attempt to achieve balance in family, work, recreation, exploration, relationships and a host of other arenas. When it is all going right, and a life is balanced, it may appear to be as easy as riding a bike. Others may observe and wonder how a person with a balanced life can zoom along at such high speeds. Yet, in reality there are a multitude of factors at play.

There is an appropriate summation regarding this analogy: balance is all about achieving flow. It is when we are fixated on the challenges, absorbed in the moment, and unencumbered by distractions – without removing them – that we achieve balance. It is not supposed to be easy, just that it’s supposed to feel easy when we’re there because that means we are entering flow, and experiencing joy. I know that I am a more balanced person when there are many factors and challenges influencing my life. I find everything more meaningful, that I do a better job at tasks, and I engage more fully in relationships when I am zipping along. If it were simple, we simply wouldn’t be able to get so much out of it.

It takes many falls, tears, bruises, and bruises to ride a bike. Then, when we master it, we have many choices ahead. We can use our bike skills to commute to school or work. We can specialize our skills to speed down mountain trails or do tricks on concrete steps. We can train for years to ride in a Grand Tour. We can rent a two-wheeler anywhere in the world to enhance our travels. We can pass on our knowledge to a child and help them overcome the obstacles to riding a bike. The same is true for balance in life. We fall, cry, bruise, and bleed as we try to figure out how we can keep it all together: work, school, family, recreation, relaxation, and much more. Once we figure out the stability we are ready to take on new challenges. We need to remember that we will still fall, just like Tour de France riders still fall, and that’s okay. It doesn’t mean we have forgotten how to balance, or that balance is unattainable. It might not be easy, with so many factors at play, but reaching it is filled with joy. We just need to get back on and keep trying. There might not be one secret to balance, but many times figuring out all the factors at play just takes time, effort, and remembering how we did it for our last challenge – then it will all come back. Just like riding a bike. When all is said and done, the greatest thing we can do with our knowledge of balance – including the fact it will be a lifelong pursuit – is the same we thing we can do with our knowledge of bicycle riding: pass it along to a child.

1. Highfield, Roger. “The Mathematical Way to Ride a Bike”The Daily Telegraph, June 6, 2007.

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