Scientists discover bike riding is incredibly hard

To all the people who’ve made fun of me for never learning how to ride a bike*: Suck it.

Hmmm, why do I have a feeling this will just bring me more mockery?

*Yes, really. Yes, I tried. I have no sense of balance and was never interested enough to put forth the extra effort. My family gave up trying to teach me when I outgrew my bike. My dad would taunt me that I would be the first person to get their driver’s license before learning to ride a bike, in hopes that it would guilt me into learning. I thought this was amusing, so that’s what I did.


  1. says

    That’s “God” punishing you for the whole “boobquake” thing in advance. WAY in advance. In a way that you also probably really don’t care about, and hasn’t affected you in ten or more years. Someday, you’ll be in a position to save the life of a child in a well, if only you can ride a bicycle. Because you can’t, that child will die. That lost life is a necessary sacrifice so that “God” can teach you a lesson about… ummmm… something. Or something else. Sweet Satan, channeling a fundie is hard!

  2. Introbulus says

    Riding a bike…easy? I have never heard that one before. Like riding a bike in that you never forget how to IS something I’ve heard, but never “It’s easy to learn how”. In fact it’s a lot like learning how to walk. That is to say, it takes months, sometimes years of practice before you can even figure out how to get on your own two feet, and then it is a miracle when you manage to move forward, balanced so precariously on two wheels/feet. Though it is still easier to learn to ride a bike, since balance and momentum are already something you are aware of at that point, it is by no means an easy feat. Especially if you aren’t particularly good with balance….Which is, apparently, exactly what the article says….<.<; I shouldn’t post past midnight. I tend to rant and/or rave.

  3. javamann says

    I taught four kids how to ride a bike using my roller blades. I could ‘hold’ them up while keeping up with them.

  4. Karin Vermooten says

    I live in a country of geniuses, science has proven that…Go Dutch, we even are good in football (soccer)!!!!

  5. SamG says

    Neither of my twins were easy to teach. We all suffered through the learning process. Poor kids, I ran beside them singing ‘just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, just keep pedaling, I love you’ over and over. I think they finally got it just to shut me up.They’re glad they know now, but at the time they would have been just as happy never to learn. And, if they hadn’t as soon as they hit driving age it would be pretty moot. Sam

  6. says

    I love cycling, especially when traveling, city, wine, game reserve tours ;all great on a bike, screw walking. If you do try again, get a helmet, elbow and knee pads, remember angular momentum is your friend.

  7. says

    I’m a very big motorcycle enthusiast, although I find it funny how often the language is misconstrued between human powered bycicles and gasoline powered motorcycles….even though they take similar levels of balance and skill to control.Granted, I don’t think you’re talking about motorcycles, but there is a state-legislated training course for motorcycle endorsement. Although dummed down and simplistic, is wildly popular and open to anyone willing to get on the long waiting list. In such high demand, a 3 month waiting list isn’t uncommon.They supply the bike, its a 3 day class, and they teach everything from the very basics….what a clutch is, how to use a kickstand. I talking very serious basics. I’m friends with a few teachers, they always remark what a high number of women are involved in the course…..I find this encouraging mostly because motorcycles are always considered a “man” thing. More power to women, especially those willing to seek out professional help instead of just finding random teachers who may or may not be able to give a good course on defensive riding, let alone how to use a bike properly….let alone know what they are doing to begin with.chicks on bikes are super sexy. There. I said it.

  8. the_Siliconopolitan says

    It’s hard, yes. I have terrible balance too.But I’m too stupid, poor and cheap to drive, so I’ve learnt to live with the occasional toppling overs.

  9. says

    Well, I had some real gross muscle coordination issues when I was a kid (fell down a lot) so I empathize with you about the suckiness of bike riding.However, when you get older (years from now) think about working on your balance. I specifically work on it at the gym to avoid falling (it gets progressively harder to get back up as one ages).http://laughinginpurgatory.blo

  10. says

    I did not learn to ride the bike until a rather late age (I believe I was 8) when I was just fooling around with it on a patch of grass. Suddenly I was able to do it; just for a split second the bike was actually going fast enough to balance on its own and it felt wonderful! Then I fell down.But it was on the grass, so it was okay.

  11. DES says

    I don’t get it. There is no mystery. This must be one of those “scientists discover mathematical formula for happiness” things where something that started off as a lark around the lunch table somehow ends up in a press release.Riding a bicycle is not complicated at all. It’s not a question of balance, it’s a question of willpower—you have to trust the bicycle to right itself, which it always will given sufficient speed. The angle of the steering axis relative to the vertical ensures that if the bicycle starts leaning to one side, the front wheel will turn to that side and the bicycle will move back under your center of gravity.This is well known, and has been for as long as bicycles have existed. That angle, and the resulting “trail” (the distance between the point where the steering axis intersects the ground and the point where the wheel touches the ground), is an essential parameter of bicycle design. Too little trail makes the bicycle unstable, but too much trail makes it hard to steer.Cars have trail too, by the way, it’s what keeps them going straight when you let go of the wheel.

  12. says

    As a hardcore mountain biker (and newbie roadie), I say: don’t worry about it. It’s not for everyone (my wife included). You could do what my friend did, get a recumbent trike! No balancing required and it looks really cool/weird. Check it out:….

  13. Jeremy says

    I was 12 or 13 when I learned, so quite late. But now I bike almost 50km every day (almost 25km commute to work), so I make up for lost time.And Ryan, chicks on roller blades are even sexier. They make the commute to work so much more pleasant.

  14. Kay says

    I just learned recently (and I’ll be 25 in July). It’s possible, but yes, difficult. Two of my friends decided they were going to teach me, so they took the pedals off a mountain bike and let me push myself down a very gently sloping grass hill at my leisure. I progressed to pedals on, then to pavement, in about 45 minutes tops. All things considered, I did enjoy that article. :) Makes me feel better about my severely late-blooming abilities.

  15. Alicia says

    That’s okay Jen, I never learned how to swim and I get shit for it all the time. But seriously, who cares? I can’t swim so I stay out of the water. If you can’t ride a bike, then stay off bikes.

  16. John Sherman says

    I finally learned in high school. I took a long ride in Griffith Park and then never got on a bike again. That was 35 years ago and I miss bike riding about as much as I miss acne.

  17. Rex says

    Managing a condition of controlled imbalance, whether it is walking running or riding a bike, is a very difficult thing. Humans usually master these things young, so we don’t give it a second thought.Honda has been trying to build a walking robot for almost 25 years. They can attest as to how difficult walking is:

  18. Aias says

    Disagree. Biker chix sexier: they lean over to steer and you can check out the cleavage.

  19. Valerie says

    The Pacific NW is home to thousands of super fit cycling elitists! Why would you admit such a thing if you’re going to UW! They’re gonna eat you alive, Jen!!!While running into curbs, getting bruises on your ribs and pelvis was not so nice…the desire to go really fast kind of trumped the pain. Nothing quite like the wind in your hair! Learning to ride was easy for me. Getting me to do my math homework was not. My kid sister gave up too, and I gave her shit about it for years. I’m the adventurous type, but she has always been more creative. I’ve always been short, so I have a low center of gravity, and a pretty high pain threshold too. But for the record…I haven’t been on a bike in over a year, and my sister will probably be a rock star.

  20. Haley K says

    I can’t swim OR ride a bike. I learned to swim (it took three summers of swim lessons) but I have a major phobia of getting water in my eyes/nose/ears. I shower with my eyes shut…)

  21. says

    Not a surprising result at all; riding and racing road bikes is a major hobby of mine, and it turns out that even most people who can ride a bike can’t ride it very well. It takes years to develop the skills and balance that it takes to ride the kind of packs that you see in something like the Tour de France; it takes a minimum of months to develop the skills it takes to be safe and comfortable in the kind of small-scale amateur racing I do.The last paragraph in the article makes me laugh: ““This equation is aimed at enabling a bike designer to change certain features and to see the overall finished effect on the bike, without having to actually manufacture it first.“For instance if you are designing a folding bike with smaller wheels or one with a shorter wheel base this equation allows you to interpret how design changes will affect the stability and behaviour of the bike.””Scientists mostly don’t deserve the reputation that we get for being out-of-touch intellectuals who lack “practical” knowledge, but this is a perfect example of someone who does have this problem; the effects of geometry changes like the ones he describes have been known for over a hundred years; bike design isn’t a crapshoot, the designers know what they’re doing and what certain changes will do to bike handling. And they’ve been doing it without this Byzantine formula. And the idea of going from design straight to production is laughably insane, even with this super-formula. Fun read, tho.

  22. Polyergic says

    OK, riding a bike is fairly complicated… but isn’t it less complicated than walking?… I’m not sure how it compares to the stability systems on highly maneuverable aircraft, but I’d be surprised if it’s more complicated than those.

  23. ckitching says

    If you read the article, it was about figuring out how to mathematically model riding a bicycle. That doesn’t really mean it’s terribly difficult to actually ride a bicycle, only that there are a lot of factors one has to account for. Like bipedal locomotion, it’s very complex to model, yet it is something that almost everyone is able to do.

  24. ckitching says

    I disagree that this is an out-of-touch scientist. First, there was no mention of going straight to production. Second, being able to model the behaviour of a bicycle can save you from having to manufacture as many prototypes before settling on a design. No one is saying that bicycle designers don’t understand how the changes they make to their designs affects their product, however having a model lets you turn turn something that would otherwise have to be expressed as feelings and impressions into something actually quantifiable. Obviously this is not a complete substitute for actually building prototypes, but it should be clear how it can reduce some guesswork (if I adjust a and adjust b to compensate for a, how much do I adjust b?).

  25. Jane-Maree says

    Aha! Maybe that’s why i’m a bit weird! I was a slow learner & had to learn on my little sister’s bike (which she could already ride!) – i remember making one circuit of the small grass patch at the back of our house – then running smack into a veranda post!It probably did something to my head (hehe)..

  26. bcoppola says

    Those trikes are about $1500. You do know that Jen is going to be an impoverished grad student, right?

  27. cathy says

    Yeah, somehow I got the fast part down well enough that the inevitable falling gave deep, permanent scars that I still have as an adult (they are also from more than one occasion, I was a really stubborn child). Having a stable center of gravity while moving is what we call ‘balance’.

  28. Valhar2000 says

    Not necessarily. When traffic is heavy I can get to my office more quickly on the bike than on the car. In addition to that, if parking spaces are scarce, you waste a lot of time parking the car, more than you would parking the bike.

  29. Valhar2000 says

    Well, I’m about as unbalanced and uncoordinated as you can get, and I did learn how to ride. The trick for me was to go fast enough for the bike’s enhanced stability to kick in. If you try to go slow because the speed scares you, you will need the balance of a gymnast to last more than a couple of seconds before falling over. Every now and then I try to practice going as slow as I can without falling, and it is hard!That said, I find that it is worth it to try to become more proficient on the bike, since biking is fun whereas running sucks. However, if you find that running is more fun than biking, then I suppose you don’t to worry about what you might be missing.

Leave a Reply