Learning to ride a bicycle

According to the book Human Scale by Kirkpatrick Sale, the most efficient form of transportation on earth is the bicycle. In terms of converting energy to motion, the book says, the bicycle is more efficient than a horse, fish, bird, mouse, car, helicopter, plane, jet, or any other animal or machine.

Given the increasing cost of gasoline, diesel, LPG, and other fossil fuels, we have all the more reason to shift to bicycles for ordinary, day-to-day transport. We should all ask our local officials to set aside road lanes specifically for bicycles, to encourage everyone to use this super-efficient transport mode for daily commuting or just for leisure.

Bicycles do not only save the rider money and the country dollars. They also reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. In addition, bicycle assembly, manufacture and repair can become a backyard industry. Best of all, a bicycle keeps the rider fit and healthy.

If you (or your children) don’t know yet how to ride a bike, here’s a painless way to learn, minus the usual bruises:

  • Get a bicycle of the right training height for you: that is, when you sit on the saddle, your heels should barely touch the ground.

  • Unscrew the two pedals and take them out, so that your feet can easily move back and forth without obstruction.

  • Find a level or very slightly inclined road with no motorized traffic that can disturb your riding practice.

  • Practice pushing yourself off with your feet, lifting your feet off the ground for as long as you can, and then extending your feet to stop your fall.

  • Try to stay in balance on the bike for as long as possible. One way to stay in balance is to steer the bike in the direction of your fall. You must learn to do this without conscious thought.

  • Keep practising, until you are confident you can keep your balance as long as possible on a slow-moving bike. Get someone to push you off, for greater momentum.

  • When you can keep your balance without conscious thought, practice how to make turns. Turning essentially involves leaning towards the direction of your turn. Again, practice until you can turn without conscious thought.

  • When you can make turns with confidence, install back the two pedals and learn to use them. You may now start enjoying your new-found riding skill!



  1. Posted October 25, 2008 at 10:21 am | Permalink

    These comments are very interesting: While ignoring the question of theory you introduce written practical “instructions” for riding of bicycle -so how do these instructions relate to your earlier remarks on “theory”?

    “Are instructions” a form of theory -or are they the practical implementations of a theory? Were these instructions formulated in theory -or developed from practice? Does “practice” automatically lead to “theory” or does it require some form of “conciousness”?

    So do these various implemtations of “learning and self-discovery” cause you to accept, reject or modify your previous theories about theory? How is the reader to interopret your earlier postings in relation to these later ones? …..And why do you need to refer to a book to justify the pleasures and advantages of cycling? Is the author the only person who understands these things?

    Is “reality” to be found mostly “inside” or “outside” books? Please excuse my confusion.

  2. Roberto Verzola
    Posted October 25, 2008 at 11:21 pm | Permalink

    To Trevor:

    Confusion comes from black-or-white thinking, which is too limited for appreciating the gray scales and colored images of reality. Confusion is compounded when the same black-or-white mindset is ascribed to others, especially if the latter don’t conform to the false image expected of them.

    Regarding the quote from Sale: it is from him that I learned how efficient the bicycle was. It is now my turn to wonder why my acknowledgment of my source of information should bother you.

  3. Posted October 26, 2008 at 12:15 pm | Permalink

    Hi Obet, even here the problems of ‘theory’ and ‘practice’ remain visible under the surface.

    Your text on Sale’s book covers two aspects of cycling:

    a. The general socio-economic advantages.
    b. The specific (personal) technique of learning to ride.

    I’ve no idea of the historical precedence -but (from memory) it seems to me that Sale’s socio-economic arguments are very similar to those of Ivan Illich -who I (perhaps mistakenly) thought was an important pioneer of “low-tech” approaches (in the 1960’s?).

    Although you (as writer) know that both the socio-economic section and the personal pedagogical section both come from the same book -there is no direct evidence for the reader that this is so. Stylistically, a simple “Sale also tells us….” would have removed this ambiguity. My suspected “parallels” between Sale and Illich tend to increase the uncertainty of who should be credited for which idea (in general -I’m not suggesting that Illich teaches people how to ride bicycles -although he might have done). This may be a memory fault on my part -but it may be that Sale (or Illich) are using (attributed or unattributed) material from each other (or others). My own personal experience is not too encouraging regarding these matters. As far as I know ‘copyright’ only covers the “form” of the text and not the content -so I’m not sure what the equivalent of “prior use” in patents is with regards to copyright…. For example, I see many books (and articles) on programming -presumably based on information published elsewhere (although not in the authors words). However, I don’t always see the original source mentioned (except perhaps in a bibliography). In academic circles the rules may be stricter -but this can create its own problems too: How can anything new get into the system from outside -if it always has to have an acreditied source attributed -or appear to be a deduction of the author?

    You as writer presumably know what you mean when you write -but I as reader can only try to puzzle things out based on your words, my understanding of language and my knowledge of the world. I’m sorry if sometimes I cannot make the equations add up. But why are my questions seen as attacks that need to be repulsed? Earlier, you stated that teaching others was a good way of learning -so why can’t answering my questions help us both to learn?

  4. Roberto Verzola
    Posted October 26, 2008 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    To Trevor:

    I attributed to Sale the information that the bicycle is the most efficient mode of transport compared to any animal or machine. The book Human Scale has a nice chart that compares the bicycle to other animals and machines. Sale did explain it very well and I cite him to get more people to read him. The rest of the blog I am not attributing to him. Illich and others could very well have said something similar, but I don’t know.

    I don’t consider questions like “is reality mostly inside or outside books” or “does practice automatically lead to theory” as attacks. They are more like traps — not necessarily intentional — that lead to endless debates because they are formulated in absolute either-or terms.

    My comments on theory should be seen in the context of the specific experiences I cited, like swimming or programming. Whether they extend to other fields is a matter to be determined by those who would apply my lessons about my experiences to their own experience.

    I will try to answer other questions, if formulated more specifically and are within my capacity to answer. No questions about reconceptualizing the whole of mathematics, please. I’ll pass that one.

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