The Space Between: It’s Like Riding a Bike . . .


Staff_McDermott, TomI just recently took up bike riding again. After a number of forays into serious riding (Century races and completing a solo, 21-day, 600 mile trip around Ireland), I stopped riding about 10 years ago. I’m not really sure why — got busy or travelling or just got lazy. I gave away several of my bikes (I have had as many as 6, of my own … FYI — the correct formula for a cyclist’s bike inventory is N + 1, where N equals the number of bikes in one’s possession.)

But I’m bike riding again, for a number of reasons, not the least of which is the spiritual lessons it is teaching me.

Einstein once wrote to his son, Eduard (who was struggling in med school at the time), “Life is like riding a bicycle — to keep your balance, you have to keep moving!” Seems just like something a scientist concerned with the laws of gravity and relativity might postulate in the face of life’s challenges.

But it’s also what my father shouted after I’d taken a nasty spill my first time out on my new Schwinn.

Do you remember that first time you learned to ride a bike?

images-1Mine was a Stingray – bright silver steel frame, glistening in the sun, blue and silver striped vinyl banana seat, chopper-style handle bars with vinyl tassels and that awkward 3 speed stick shift on the middle bar!

I was five years old and halfway down the block, laid out in front of my bike, face planted in the sidewalk — but more humiliated than in pain. “You have to keep moving, or you’ll fall!” he repeated.

It wasn’t that I’d lost my balance (that’s hard to do with training wheels). And clearly, I had been moving. I simply didn’t trust the whole experience. I didn’t trust the bike, my dad or the path in front of me. I didn’t trust myself, much less the ground on which I was moving.

Dad gave me a gentle push and shouted, “Keep pedaling!” Ten yards down the sidewalk and everything felt strange. I got scared and my first instinct was “abandon ship”. I needed something concrete, literally.

So my dad helped me up. “First thing we do when we fall off is get back on the saddle.”

Honestly, the analogy of riding a wild, willful horse was not helping my distrust of this mechanical experiment in physics. Nope, I’m not doing that again. Not me, I thought. “Let’s just walk ‘Silver’ back to the stable and call it a day!”

Eventually, my dad coaxed me back onto the bike and pushed it along, this time from behind, running with me and holding on ‘till I had a feel for it. Next thing I knew, I was pedaling on my own and coasting to the end of the block, wild and free!

I was off training wheels in a matter of days and cycling the neighborhood in a matter of weeks. Of course, I fell often — I still do. In some ways, I’m always learning what it means to ride a bike.

But you know what they say… “it’s just like riding a bike.”

So here are some of my own attempts at summing up cycling’s analogous lessons for life (for connecting us a little more deeply to our faith and the One in “whom we live and keep moving and have our being”, as Paul wrote in Acts). I’m sure there are lots more. I invite you to come up with some of your own…

riding-a-bike3“Life is like riding a bike – when you come to a curve, lean into it.”


And its “Keep Austin Weird” cousin — “Life is like riding a bike — sometimes you have ‘stay tilted’ to stay mobile.”


“Life is like riding a bike — it’s all good ‘till you stop paying attention.”


“Life is like riding a bike — sometimes you need someone to push you along.”


“Life is like riding a bike — too fast and you can crash, too slow and you can fall, just the right cadence takes hardly any effort at all.”


“Life is like riding a bike — standing your ground doesn’t usually get you anywhere.”


For me, life is a lot like riding a bike — sometimes the most profound way to be present to God, to creation, to joy and to others, is to let go of what feels safe, to step out of what is insular, to risk finding, being, the balance in an imbalanced world. I think Jesus encouraged folks along these lines, as well (Mark 12:31, Matthew 16:25).

Which brings me finally, at least for now, to this one.

“Life is like riding a bike — ‘the road goes on forever and the party never ends’.” (Robert Earl Keen, Jr)










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