The Paradox of Bicycles

The Paradox of Bicycles

“Pedal faster!” I keep saying to myself as I watch a mother teaching her daughter to ride a bicycle.

It reminds me of when I was learning to ride many years ago - and of the inherent paradox of bicycles.

When it came time for me to learn to ride, my father, against my wishes and (I thought) better judgement, removed the training wheels from my red, Schwinn 1-speed bike. To me, this was a disaster. With the training wheels, I was a capable, and stable, little 5-year old speed demon. Without them, I knew I’d surely crash within seconds and be maimed or killed in the pileup. I was terrified. I may have also been a little overly dramatic.

Dad got me on the now training wheel-free bike and gave me a supportive push to start me off. With hands tightly gripping the handlebars and tears welling in my eyes (remember, I thought I was about to die) I took a couple of very tentative pedals as I rolled down the driveway. Terror overtook me and I froze. As the bike inevitably slowed, it tipped over and down bike and I went. I knew it - I crashed!

Luckily, I didn’t die and I had no wounds in need of medical attention. In fact, I wasn’t hurt at all. Nevertheless, I pleaded with my Dad to put the training wheels back on. Hadn’t he seen what had just happened? I could’ve been killed out there.

Instead, he got me on the bike again and once more gave me a supportive push down the driveway. “Pedal faster this time!” he yelled after me. I wish I could say I was a quick study and instantly picked up how to ride a bike with only two wheels. It took many attempts, many failures, and steadfast prodding from my Dad before I learned how to balance myself and keep from crashing to the ground. What I eventually discovered was that if I pedaled faster and kept my speed up, I had an easier time balancing and staying upright. When I was fearful and slowed down, or stopped pedaling altogether, I crashed.

And that is the inherent paradox of bicycles: in order to overcome the fear, you have to do more of the thing of which you’re afraid.

Pedaling a bike and making it go faster might seem like it will make a crash worse, but the opposite is true - the harder you pedal and the faster you go, the more stable you are and the less likely you are to crash.

This paradox exists in so many things: asking someone out on a date, public speaking, stepping into a leadership role, etc.

Are there other examples of “the paradox of bicycles” that you can think of?

Leave your thoughts in the comment box below.

L&D Philadelphia Podcast

L&D Philadelphia Podcast