Category Archives: Bicycle Theology

Bushes and Pavement Cracks

As we journey through life, we are constantly at risk. Temptations are tugging at us. The evil one is constantly lurking in the shadows. I was told the story of a woman living in Hungary prior to WW II. She had never ridden a bike as a child, but did learn as an adult, at age 40. My friend, the son of the woman, commented that the bike — when ridden by his mother — had a magnetic attraction to certain bushes and obstacles along the wooded bicycle paths in Hungary. It was inevitable that as she would ride her bike on some trail and come along near a bush, she would invariably end up crashing into the bush.

The explanation is clear. She was focusing her eyes and mind on the bush, and not on the road ahead of her and beyond the bush. By focusing on the bush, her motor reflexes, driven by fear, subconsciously caused her arms to apply a steering torque or action away from the bush. The problem is that the act of turning away, even subconsciously, caused her steering action to shift the bike’s ground contact point away (from the bush), and with the result that the bike was now leaning towards the bush. Bikes tend to go in the direction of lean, because this is the only way to restore balance. Moreover, the tendency of a front fork to turn into the direction of lean is an attribute of the intended shape of the front fork. When a bush or other hazard in life menaces you, the best approach is to look beyond, and to set up actions to keep you on that course. When riding a bike, a fearful steering action initially away is seldom the appropriate action. Yet another serious hazard in riding a bicycle arises when the front wheel might fall into a crack in the road surface. This is especially a risk factor for road cyclists as the tires of modern road bicycles are so narrow, and the speed often attained is such that the rider fails to spot the presence of the crack. When the tire, especially the front tire, falls into a crack, the cyclist is at severe risk of injury. The injury happens because the front fork is now unable to turn, which causes the rider to be unable to apply steering corrections. A violent and sudden crash often results. A deep Biblical question that has faced theologians for a seeming eternity is the matter of the capacity of man to have free will vs. predestination as ordained by God? I, for one, am of the view that these two positions or views are not contradictory but rather compatible.

Scripture in Ephesians 1:4-11 tells us “For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfillment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will.”

The essence is that when we ride a bike we have the capacity (freedom) to apply torques onto the handlebars either logically or willy-nilly. When a child is placed on a bike for the very first time, experience tells us that the steering actions are apt to be wrong – to the point that the child crashes. Experience also tells us that the mature rider who has the misfortune of getting the front wheel stuck in a crack can’t steer and also crashes. In contrast, when a child does master bike riding the steering actions are the child’s free will, but they are also compatible with what it takes to stay upright – and to even navigate wherever the child wishes to go.

A favorite hymn has the words which sum up these thoughts, “We are given the freedom to do what is not pleasing to God; until the Holy Spirit changes our will to be God’s will.”

Let Kids be Kids

A commonly heard thought in our American society of today is that our kids are somehow substandard in the areas of math and science. We are forever being told that children in other countries, children in Asian countries in particular, are outperforming American children in critical areas of mathematics and science. The presumption is that we are in the midst of a national disgrace and downfall. Moreover, we are told that urgent corrective action is needed, and now. The usual prescription is to lengthen the school day and calendar, to start kids earlier in school, to spend more time on drill, cram in more academics, and to be continually pushing our kids wherein we strive to emulate the Asian culture as our standard.

The “Tiger Mothers,” to quote a newly coined phrase, are often at the forefront of those agitating for more and more. These anxious Tiger Mothers commonly argue that the primary task of children is to spend each and every waking moment in preparation for adulthood. In essence, according to the anxious class, childhood is a stage of life wherein its only purpose is to become prepared for the next stage in life – in this case adulthood. Moreover, while the goal has possible merit, the means to achieve the goal are misguided at best. I say misguided because the underlying presumption is that our children need an increased dosage of — you guessed it – memorized facts in math and science.

I strongly believe that the primary task of childhood is childhood. Simply stated, we need to let kids be kids. Moreover, important aspects of childhood are achieved through play. Kids, when left to their own accord and devices, take play very seriously. The imagination is sparked. When children play, every act and every thought are directed at becoming or achieving the ultimate – as viewed by the child using a child’s viewpoint. Through the process of playing, children engage their minds and their bodies to emulate adults – at least as they can best view adults.

It is important to distinguish what is meant by “play.” I am not referring to adult directed activities such as adult officiated team sports, spelling bee’s, or even piano lessons. Instead I am thinking of whatever kids do when kids are left to their kid-directed devices and imaginations. What the Tiger Mothers end up reinforcing seems to stress memorization and regurgitation of adult defined fact level knowledge, or possibly adult defined performance standards. This Tiger Mother mania is predicated on the myopic premise that facts, fact level knowledge, and pseudo adult emulation are paramount – and with obliviousness to the realization that knowledge and facts are merely relatively minor precursors to higher levels of creativity – and let me even utter the word “genius.”

Genius is a wonderful thing. Likewise, creativity is a wonderful thing. Genius and creativity are things that self-ignite within a person – and I assert that genius and creativity aren’t things that an adult can teach. The best that adults can strive for is to create and foster a setting or atmosphere that allows genius and creativity to spring forth internally from within the child. Children who are allowed to play, and I mean play by creating devices and associations of their own making, are forever pushing their imaginations and the envelope of what I’ll call the possibility space. When children are forced into an academic mode focused on performance according to adult defined standards, the children are denied the freedom to use and to allow their imaginations to grow. Said another way, it needs to be permissible for children to color outside of the lines. Forcing children to follow adult directives and goals is analogous to tying the brains up like hands tied behind one’s back.

As an illustration of the problem, in academia and at a wide array of levels, courses and course subject matter are designed to prepare the student for the next class in so ‘n so topic. Even at the university level, a level where I taught for three decades, I was and remain simply amazed at how many courses and textbooks have titles such as “Introduction to ….. “ Moreover, once the student takes the next course, its stated goal is – you guessed it – to prepare the student for yet another loftier course. At some point America needs to get real and to start redirecting classes so that the student who finishes the course will exit with skills that make the student useful and functional in the marketplace.

The evidence of the inadequacy of our school graduates confronts us daily. Corporations and businesses that try to hire entry level employees are faced with the costly task of training the new employees to be able to function in the job environment. Moreover, this is the case even when we are considering the better students. The case or situation of the anti-social drop-out from school is yet another grave and serious matter. I recently heard a friend who hires say the following, “I wouldn’t consider hiring anybody who is less than thirty years old.”

Children are not merely adults in training. Children are people with distinctive powers and joys. A happy childhood is measured by the children themselves, and is based on their own perception of themselves. In my case I was born in the ending and wrenching days of what is called the Great Depression – the 1930’s. The Great Depression era years were soon replaced with a 1940’s war that enveloped vast portions of the world.

The adults in that era fought to survive, fought to put food on the table, and fought as well to get back on their feet economically. In my blue-collar working class neighborhood, for example, some neighborhood families were so poor that they lacked amenities such as a car, a telephone, and in some cases – even an indoor flush toilet. The adult society also had to arm for the conduct of war. The Tiger Mothers didn’t exist, or at minimum they didn’t have the benefit of a platform.

My brothers and I, along with most of the kids in our blue collar working class neighborhood known as the Paradise Green area of Stratford CT, had a fantastic time. We were free virtually each and every day (when not in school or past bedtime) to go just outside and disappear from the view of adults. Only when the evening six o’clock whistle blew from the power plant across the Housatonic River we then knew we had about ten to fifteen minutes to hurry home on our bikes – in time for supper.

Those days were vastly simpler and less stressful. As kids on a hot summer day we would wait beside our neighbor’s house for the predictable arrival of none other than the ice man. In those days some of our poorer neighbors had ice boxes – where the family kept things cold. Every other day or so, the ice man would come by in his horse drawn wagon to deliver ice. Upon arrival, he would read the cardboard sign in the window, which was placed to indicate how much ice was desired that day. In the process of chipping a block apart, it was certain that a few chips of ice would break off. As kids we would line up on hot summer days and beg for a piece of chipped ice. Most folks today don’t have the slightest clue as to how wonderful a chip of ice can taste as it melts in the mouth. This was real ice as opposed to modern freezer created ice cubes that are too cold to suck. Moreover, the ice back then didn’t have ‘house-a-tosis’ smells as today’s modern ice has. Our ice back then was watery and smooth – and great tasting.

Another summertime pastime was to drive a nail into the pavement of the street. A long string or twine was then attached to this nail. As kids we would then wait hours by the curb holding the string as need be in expectation that some vender to come along with his horse drawn cart or wagon. Some horses didn’t want to cross over the string – and so the big event would be when the horse would fuss or even rear up. It was worth a half a day’s wait just for that one moment of excitement. Winter days were invariably spent sledding and ice skating. Fall and spring favorite activities included climbing trees, falling into the nearby creek, choosing sides for war games, and so forth. War games were particularly engaging. Words like “Bang-bang — you’re dead,” were commonly responded to with the words “You missed me.” As kids we lived exciting days as imaginary bullets were zipping by us at virtually every moment.

When those imaginary bullets weren’t zipping past us, we were found zipping about on our bicycles. In those days, riding a bike was as common as breathing. A bicycle was the ticket to freedom, as our range of travel was vastly expanded. The age of innocence also meant that we never locked doors and never locked our bikes. The idea of being unable to master bike riding never occurred to us. If we weren’t able to ride a bike it was because time moved too slowly. Our feet and legs didn’t grow fast enough, as the prerequisite to bike riding in those days was to first to be able to reach the pedals.

As a kid in those days I lived by one rule – leave the house and don’t come back unless you are bleeding. Moreover, my father worked a long night shift at a war factory job, so his days were spent sleeping. If my brothers and I made noise around the house or yard we got scolded. Moreover, I lived in an era when it wasn’t uncommon that infants were placed in a basket on a doorstep and left to the mercies of some well-to-do family who would answer the door bell. The idea of a child being abducted was non-existent. Yes, children of wealthy families might be kidnapped, as in the case of the Lindbergh child, but for the masses most parents of the day would almost be relieved if a child didn’t come home as it would be one less mouth to feed.

As kids living in an unsupervised world we became the arbitrators of our own internal disputes. The idea of an adult intervening so as to settle our disputes was unimaginable. Of course, some wimp or cry-baby might get upset at times and run back to hide behind his mama’s apron strings, but that kid in doing so caused himself to be the equivalent of an outcast or leper. Sissies were quickly identified, and we lived in a world where one fought hard to never be labeled as a sissy. If I ever got beat up by somebody bigger or tougher – which did happen — the last thought in my mind would be to go back to admit to anybody, much less my parents, that somebody had beat me up.

When we played street games such as touch football or baseball, there were no adult umpires or referees. From my perspective, I suppose that I was an idealist and altruistic, so if somebody tagged me out in touch football, I just admitted that I had been tagged. The game went on as we were focused on having fun. The idea of arguing a call in a kid’s street game was unheard of. My self-imposed image for being forthright was important to me. Frankly stated, as I watch modern day televised sports the display of some hothead arguing a call is repugnant to me. As such, it should come as little surprise that I watch only miniscule amounts of professional or even college sports on television.

Somehow my brothers and I lived though our childhoods. We have not seemingly been injured or set back by an absence of adults hovering over us every second of our lives. My oldest brother Donald went on to get his Ph.D. in microbiology. He is to this day one of the leading microbiologists in the world. My second brother, Freddie, ended up spending the bulk of his professional life working as a technical specialist for the FAA. In my case, this web site cites a portion of my achievements in my professional life – including the innovation and founding of the world’s only program to teach children with disabilities how to ride bikes.

I’d like to share a few thoughts about the metaphor of mountain climbing – and I mean real mountain climbing. When a team endeavors to scale and climb a mountain such as Mount Everest, the reality is that the real effort goes into what I’ll call the staging. Considerable effort is put into establishing base camps for support, which in turn provide support for camps farther up. The success during the build-up stage is hard to measure as all the effort into establishing support tends to be somewhat obscured. Once the critical support camps are in place, then and only then can the assault on the final peak be attempted. The assault on the top comes about quickly – almost in a flash. The assault on the final peak seems so easy, but it is possible only when the base camps and the lower supports are in place. In my view, this is analogous to many human endeavors where great achievements are realized. I assert, and strongly so, that childhood and play during childhood are the essential elements of building support for adulthood. Any child denied his or her childhood becomes in my view an emasculated nothing.

Failure was something that didn’t exist in my kid defined world of the 1940’s. Virtually every kid directed activity had a positive outcome because what we were doing as kids was fun – by design and intent. Kids having fun exploring their world didn’t have to justify what they were doing to anybody, and certainly not adults. What we did was fun because we were free to decide each and every moment what to be doing. As an illustration, if the activity was to climb a tree or swing on a rope, short of falling it was impossible to go about the activity incorrectly.

What are the blessings of childhood? The first is that children enjoy the gift of moral innocence. The second is the gift of openness to the future. Children are free to imagine whatever might come into their minds. Adults, in contrast, become restricted by their obsession with their own plans and expectations for a defined future. Children alone are free to imagine the most improbable of adventures. A third blessing of childhood is that time is plentiful. Time drags on so slowly in our growing years that it is an impossibility to waste time. Adults, in contrast, who are anxious are deluded into thinking that time can somehow be wasted. For kids, when forced to endure some adult directed activity – and I’ll use school as an example — time is the enemy as the hands of the clock seem to be glued in place. Time seems to stop when having to endure some stuffy teacher expounding on some endlessly boring topic such as sentence diagramming, or conjugating Latin verbs, or memorizing some absurd lines from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. In my mind, the real adventures in life could only start when the afternoon school bell rang signaling the moment of release from an adult imposed prison.

Jesus frequently praised children and welcomed their company. Jesus even commanded adults to emulate children,

“… unless you become like a little child, you shall not enter the kingdom of God.” Matthew 18:3

Many parents today would benefit hugely by taking a reflective time-out from teaching our children dull adult directed dribble to discover how much we can learn from children. A second assignment for parents today would be to take the time out to ride a bike – and I mean really ride a bike. For example, try riding a bike no hands. Once that is achieved see if you have the courage to ride a bike with four people on board. Bikes are social. Bikes are spiritual. Bikes allow us the time to reflect on the physics and mathematics of the world. Bikes allow us to believe in ourselves, to do something perfectly, and to have faith in God’s promises.

As a disclaimer, I do not want to suggest that as a kid I did nothing other than play beyond the eyes of adults. Yes, I had chores to do such as mowing the lawn and tending the garden. As World War II came to a close I can recall being involved in all sorts of patriotic activities such as scrap metal and newspaper collection drives, and even searching in the nearby fields for milk weed pods. Yes, milk weed pods were collected and held for some great secret war related effort. As kids we guessed that it was to fill life preservers, or possibly to make parachutes. Only many years following the war did I read that the milk weed pods were tried as a material to make a synthetic rubber, but to no avail. Our family didn’t pass up an opportunity to stop our family car to pick wild elderberries growing along the roadside, as my mother used the elderberries to make homemade jelly.

What is distinctly different today in the lives of my grandchildren – is that they are burdened with homework exercises and assignments that make me cringe. My grandson Jacob, now in third grade, does more homework in a mere week that I did in perhaps an entirety of elementary school education. My heart goes out for him and the countless other children in today’s world that is driven by what I call the Asianination of Education.

Note: Some of the ideas above are from The Wall Street Journal, Opinion Page, February 9, 2011, article by James Bernard Murphy, “In Defense of Being a Kid.”

The Perfect Rider

Over my years of working with children and their start into biking, I have always adhered to certain protocols. Because children with whom I come into contact are not sure of this big, lurking stranger, I have developed what I call my bedside manner. When I meet and engage a young child for the first time, I need to cause that child to relax and to become comfortable in my presence. As such I have developed a series of routines that I follow. I start by asking the child’s age, often suggesting an exaggerated age, such as 13 when I sense that the child is perhaps about ten. I make a modest deal of being wrong, asking again with a surprised look if they aren’t really older. Once I get corrected by the child and properly humbled, I will proceed by making a few inquiries of the child. My technique is to ask children questions for which the child is able to answer without too much difficulty. I ask if they have brothers and sisters. I ask what is their favorite color. If I am dealing with a typical child, when I suspect that the child is a bike rider, I ask if the child is able to ride a bike. Once they say “Yes,” I ask the next question — “Are you any good (at riding a bike)?”

The amazing thing is that in virtually every case the child smiles and replies with a strong affirmative, “Yes.” I have no recollection of any child who is a bike rider ever telling me that they aren’t good.

When we think about it, is there any child who can ride a bike who also feels that he/she isn’t good? If so, I’ve never encountered one.

In contrast, in the process of instructing children, especially children with disabilities, the parents at times have a different view. This is especially true if the parent is big into biking. I have noted that parents who are into biking tend to be critical of other riders, especially beginning and struggling riders. The usual points made by these self-styled experts focus on things related to the questionable fit of the child on the bike, and possibly foot position on the pedals. In our adapted bike program, we strive to keep the seats sufficiently low so that the child is able to place their feet flat on the floor or riding surface – while still seated on the saddle. Of course, this causes the leg to not achieve proper extension. Because of this obvious lack of proper leg extension, the self-styled experts don’t miss the opportunity to point this out. A second commonly voiced concern, especially for children with cerebral palsy related issues, is that the child’s feet don’t maintain proper placement on the pedals. In many cases the feet will be pointed outward, and at times the foot is placed so that the pedal is under the heel, as opposed to the arch or the ball of the foot.

My response to these parents is to politely acknowledge but then dismiss the concerns. I thank them for their concern, but remark that the child is in the process of learning to ride a bike – and that learning to ride a bike is enhanced if the child is still able to place their feet on the ground. I reassure the concerned parents that proper leg extension will come but only after the child has mastered other critical aspects notably balancing while pedaling. Improper fit on a bike, if there is such a thing, has never been a reason to cause a child to not achieve becoming a bike rider. A classic illustration of this is the child diagnosed with mild hemi-pelagic conditions. My observation is that a person with a strong and properly functioning side, usually described as hemi-pelagic, isn’t prohibited from becoming a remarkably capable bike rider.

The bicycle and rider, once in motion, have an incredible capacity to achieve perfection. Perfection comes as the bike and rider just seem to glide along and in a sense, have the attributes of a bird in flight. The rider seems to just pedal along with amazing ease. The rider experiences the joy that we call the “wind in the face.” Being able to ride a bike, as compared to the days prior to bike riding, were once described by a boy in our program with the few succinct words, “It’s not the same.”

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

My observation is that when a person accepts the grace offered by Christ, that we aren’t told that the rider lacks proper leg extension or improper foot placement. Salvation through acceptance of God’s grace represents a holistic step. There is no graduation or degree of salvation, just as there is no such thing as an imperfect bike rider.

Prepare the Way

When any of us go about merrily riding a bike, few of us take the time to appreciate the smooth and usually paved road or pathway that makes riding a bicycle so much joy. My wife of some 50 years, Marjorie, recalls her childhood having been raised on her parents’ farm in rural Iowa. Bike riding was far more difficult as the roads consisted of loose gravel or she was trying to ride in grassy areas such as lawns and at times, pastures. Avoidance of the occasional “cow-pie” was also a concern. Obviously, it is harder to pedal and balance on a bicycle in such conditions. In Marjorie’s case the choice of transportation either for fun or for getting somewhere at times resulted in her riding her pony, an old pony named Major.

For those who might live in the third world, roads and paved surfaces are not as nearly common or available. The problem boils down to the realization that bike riding for most becomes either difficult or even impossible if the way has not been prepared. In the third world, the means of transportation might be by way of horse, or camel, or just plain walking. There is little wonder that water played such a role in travel, as ships could be used for journeys, often carrying cargo, along a river, or along a coastline or even over open seas from country to country. Even if the river or stream was too narrow or hazardous, the stream provided a path of least resistance, because it would often be easier to walk along the stream, say, as opposed to climbing over rugged terrain.

Even in our modern society, there are times when bicycle riding can be outright dangerous, as bike riders are at risk of being struck down by speeding traffic. Some highways, notably our Eisenhower Interstate Highway System posts signs specifically prohibiting bicycles. Inner cities are yet an additional concern, in that the highway or riding surface might be smooth and paved, but dangers lurk. Said in a few words, a bicyclist needs to select his/her routing with some care to avoid areas where unfriendly people might attack a vulnerable lone rider.

Isaiah speaks prophetic words as he told the ancient Biblical people

“A voice of one calling: prepare a way for the Lord; make straight in the wilderness a highway for our God.” Isaiah 40:3

The meaning of the word “prepare” is to remove all obstacles, hazards, and obstructions. In the days of Isaiah, it was common or understood that if a very important person were to come, such as king from a neighboring kingdom, then the roads would be leveled and made safe. In Biblical days the process of preparation usually meant that the pathway was cleared of physical obstacles and made level. Even today we see such preparation whenever some dignitary of high rank comes, be it the President, the Pope, or a similar dignitary. Nothing is left to chance. Side roads are blocked. Police guards are positioned on over passes. Manholes along the way are inspected in advance and then sealed lest an attacker try to detonate the motorcade. Once all is declared safe and secure, only then the caravan or motorcade in modern times with the dignitary passes. Nothing else even moves or crosses the motorcade route until the dignitary has passed through and is onto his/her designation. The way is prepared and made safe.

Isaiah is saying, in effect, make way in the wilderness a highway by which God would lead the people of Judah back to resettle their land. Through the prophet Isaiah, God spoke

“Every valley shall be raised up, every mountain and hill made low; the rough ground shall become level, the rugged places a plain.” Isaiah 40:4

As way of a metaphor, this imagery points to the need for an ethical and spiritual preparation for the Lord’s coming.

Malichi 3:1 echoed the Isaiah passage by noting that the messenger of the Lord “will prepare the way before” him. Luke 1:17 appears to be referring to the Malachi passage and the coming of the Messiah by also calling for an ethical and religious reformation as the way to prepare. In those Biblical days, it was the custom for a country to call for an ethical and religious reformation – to make ready a people prepared for the Lord. God had even more in mind when He spoke of “every valley” being “raised up” and “every mountain and hill being laid low.” This highway imagery had appeared in Isaiah 35:8, and reoccurs in the Bible. Isaiah was enabled to see that future time when the Lord Himself would appear.

The simple act of riding a bike is analogous to being a very special person – a person for whom the way has been prepared. When a child is empowered and able to ride a bike – on the prepared path – the child is then able to get a glimpse of the power and glory of the Lord.

Other gods?

It is interesting to ask why schools and even major institutions have physical education and sport programs. My understanding is that “physical education” such as in elementary schools is focused so as to provide education to children, for example, so that they can become more physically fit. At least that is what the words “physical education” seem to imply to me. One premise is that the human mind will function better if the body is fit, and hence we strive in education to nurture both the mind and the body. Another premise is that as all of us grow, especially in our early or formative years, that we at times need help in proper development of our motor abilities, just as we need help in developing higher thought processes. Human movement is a complex task. It is a fallacy to think that all humans will somehow automatically become good athletes or even persons with good coordination. As humans grow we learn to perform, first as infants and then as older children, simple things like reach to grasp an object, or to throw a ball, or to walk upright on both legs, to hop or skip or jump, to swim, or even ride a bicycle. Some people seem to have given gifts that make them great athletes, and as such Michael Jordan comes to mind. I suppose that it is possible that Michael Jordan could improve his ability in basketball if he were to be coached and to take lessons, but it defies me to think that anybody could actually be good enough to coach Michael Jordan in terms of development of efficient body movements.

When I reflect on my adolescent years in the 1940’s while attending Wilcoxson Grade School in Stratford, Connecticut, we had “recess” but nothing that I could today call physical education. During recess, if it wasn’t cold or raining, the class would go outside onto the playground for our appointed fifteen or so minutes. Often sides or teams were picked, and a competitive game was played, possibly softball. At other times the game would be a form of dodge-ball throwing where the object would be to hit some other person with all persons standing in a circle or possibly running around, trying to make that person “it.” Yet at other times the children would be free to spend their time as they wished, such as playing jump rope or even shooting marbles, or even standing around talking.

It is possible that I would have then been dubbed a nerd, if we had such a word. In general, as a growing child I was tall and lanky, and had fairly poor coordination. I was never selected to be pitcher of the team, or first baseman, or even shortstop, but rather relegated to some outfield, typically right field. When teams were picked, I was usually among the last of the kids to be selected, although one or two other really uncoordinated kids usually held that distinction. When in right field I actually dreaded the idea that somebody would hit the ball towards me because I feared that I would mess up and not catch the ball. I can recall going out for the football team as I entered high school. At the end of the first drill, the coach had all the new kids line up at one end of the practice field and we then raced to the other end. Obviously, the coach wanted to know who his best runners were. It wasn’t me. I wasn’t best but instead I was last out of about seventy or so would-be ninth-grade football players.

As I now reflect back on sports, physical education, and motor movement, I now realize that one reason why I was a slow runner was that nobody ever took the time to teach me how to run. I say “teach me how to run” because running involves a motor plan, and in fact execution of a motor plan. Although I have never sought the advice of an expert or specialist, my hunch is that one reason why I wasn’t then a good runner is the fact that I neglected to use all of my parts, or at least properly. In particular, I suspect that I ran mostly with my legs and thighs, but that I lacked “spring” in the sense of using my ankles to spring me forward with each stride.

What I am saying is that as we do simple movements, we develop patterns of habitual muscle actions, and not all humans optimize as much as others. That is why some people have a natural gift for athletics, and yet others are, let’s say, clumsy. Let the truth be known, as a kid growing up I was clumsy. I had two older brothers and we played ball in the streets, but I can’t ever recall anybody coaching or spotting me in how to perform any athletic feat better.

One of my favorite movies is “Max Dugan Returns,” script by Neil Simon (1983). In particular I like the scene where the young boy Michael McPhee (the film debut of Matthew Broderick) is doing poorly in Little League. As he walks dejected away after striking out, an older man, a stranger to him, interacts with the boy. It turns out that the stranger is Charley Lau, the batting coach of the Kansas City Royals – hired by the eccentric grandfather (Jason Robards) to teach the boy how to hit. When first introducing himself to the discouraged boy the coach says things like – “Kid, you are lousy. But, it’s not your fault. Nobody ever taught you how to hit.”

Of course the boy does learn how to hit well when coached, and wins the final game of the season and all that.

In my opinion, physical education should be about spotting and working with developing children so as to allow them to be better athletes and hence have better motor coordination. Another aspect of game playing is sportsmanship — something that is in short supply in our society. With the improved motor skills and physical fitness, comes improvements in self-esteem, ability to interact socially, increased speed in processing worldly images as the world as viewed moves (relative to the person), as well as a host of other attributes including the smile factor.

In my case I never went out for any competitive or team sport – other than my brief try at going out for football in ninth grade. Competitive sports were not fun for me, and I only participated to the extent that I was required to by adults, or in cases if the whole neighborhood gang of kids decided to play a ball game. In those cases I was invariably the last kid to be picked to be on a team. In all my years of education from kindergarten to college I have no recollection of any physical education teacher actually teaching “physical education.”

Instead, the typical scenario was that, like in high school, we would quickly change into our gym clothes, scrimmage for most of the period, run a few laps around the practice field or gymnasium near the end of the period, and then be given three minutes to run back to the locker room, undress, shower, and be at our next class. Our activities were a form of exercise and competitive game involvement, but not being coached. Quite frankly, our high school physical education teacher had been in that job when my father was in high school. After three decades of being the PE teacher, the teacher (Mr. Jim Penders) had reduced his level of involvement to that of assembling the kids, checking off names, tossing out a ball, blowing a whistle, and retiring to the teachers’ lounge for coffee and –.

The other aspect to consider about sports is the notion of varsity sports. Varsity sports are dominantly about winning. With winning comes ego building and with some combination of things, the evolvement of a financially solid and self-sustaining sports program. By the time we are in top-tier colleges and universities, winning and dollars are everything. Athletic directors of major schools are in a business – a business of attracting and recruiting star athletes and then keeping the coffers filled with cash coming in from donors.

“Then he entered the temple area and began driving out those who were selling. ‘It is written,’ he said to them, ‘My house will be a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of robbers.’” – Luke 19:45-46

Institutions of education that have constructed sports facilities under the guise of physical education, and yet who manage the physical facilities for the purpose of glorification of the winning sports team are way off mark when it comes to serving the physical education needs of the students. In selecting locations for our adapted bicycling programs, where physical education is our goal, we can’t overturn the tables of the money changers in the temple, but we can and do take our program elsewhere. If athletic directors and coaches refuse or object to permitting adapted activities for the benefit of those still trying to achieve the most fundamental levels of physical skill, we know that we are in the wrong place.

As time permits we will come back to this topic of the theology of the bicycle. It is a deep and rich topic.

The One Track Mindset

In our modern society it seems that we have developed a stigma against people or things that are “one track.” The popular wisdom seems to suggest that we are always better off if we have an open mind, and support from many sides. People with one track minds are thought of as almost irrational to the point of being off-balance.

If we extend this thinking to bicycles and related human powered vehicles, we raise the question as to whether we should have two wheels, three wheels, or more points of support, and thus be “safer.” If we allow the idea of unicycles to be an exception, we can focus on the question — Is it better to ride bicycles or tricycles?

Our position is that bicycles are vastly superior to tricycles. Bicycles are “single track” vehicles, whereas tricycles are multi-track. We will argue that except in the most of extreme of cases, single track vehicles are best – and even safer as compared to multi-track vehicles. When considering the bicycle and its stability, one is faced with an interesting situation. A stationary two-wheeled bike will fall over. A stationary tricycle will remain quite upright. But, when motion is added, a bizarre reversal occurs. Two-wheeler bikes in motion can at times acquire what we can call dynamic stability – where the bike remains upright of its own accord due to the presence of speed. For tricycles, the situation gets to be grim. When speed is sufficiently high, and when speed is combined with adverse conditions, the tricycle becomes prone to being easily upset – and throwing the rider for a spill. Let’s examine why —

The problem with tricycles, and all vehicles using multiple supports, is that all might go well until we face one of a few precarious dynamic situations:
•Rough riding surfaces with potholes, curbs, and bumps
•The need to make sharp turns or maneuvers
In either or both of these cases tricycles are deficient. The rider on a tricycle suddenly faced with a bumpy road or a need to make a sharp turn – can get an unwelcome surprise – usually the sudden loss of stability. The sad reality is that tricycles are prone to severe upsets. Occupants are often thrown off these vehicles and injured. The vehicle in motion is incapable of giving the rider any advance warning that one wheel is about to become airborne. Because the vehicle is usually stable as a static device with three point ground contact, the rider is caught unawares when the trike has suddenly become a two wheeled vehicle – as when one wheel can abruptly lift off the ground. Yes, we are saying that we consider tricycles, when operated at speeds comparable to bicycles, to be considerably more hazardous as compared to their bicycle counterparts.
Any vehicle, be it a bike or a trike, if is going to operate in the real world it has to be judged based on at least three attributes –

•the ability to reject external disturbances
Up to now in this web site discussion, we have focused on stability and maneuverability, as the matter of the ability to reject external disturbances has not yet been discussed. Now is the time.
Tricycles are poor dynamic vehicles in fact precisely because they are multi-tracked. Imagine a bump or disturbance on the road. The frequent result is that the bump is off-center. When an outside wheel of a tricycle hits a bump or hole, the wheel is lifted or dropped, and more significantly, the vehicle is tossed and also rolled. A rolling action is the result of hitting any bump off center – because the wheel being struck or impacted is off-center. When these sudden rollover actions happen, the situation is further compounded because the rider had little or no advance warning of the upsetting action, and the rider has never been conditioned to develop or encode corrective feedbacks.

Bicycles as single track vehicles, in contrast, are amazingly resilient and are relatively impervious to external disturbances. Yes, hitting a bump or a pot hole isn’t much fun for the sedate crowd, but the bike will tend to remain upright as the bump causes a sudden impact that is in line with the frame and the mass of the bike and rider. Yes, the rider may get a jolt, but the jolt is usually in the head-on direction, and the bike makes it past the disturbance. It seems to be that some bike riders even love hitting bumps and otherwise riding over rough terrain. The sales of mountain and off-terrain bikes reflect this pursuit of sport and challenge. Of course the bike industry has invented clever suspension systems to ease the shock of the bumps. The bumps encountered primarily act in line providing an exciting ride, and yet the bikes are quite impervious to being upset.

An old adage says, “Don’t carry all your eggs in one basket.” My sense is that there can be a better adage, “It’s okay, and actually quite wise, to carry all your eggs in one basket so long as you have selected the correct basket, and are vigilant and carefully watch over the basket.” Multi-support point (three or more points) vehicles are notoriously susceptible to upsetting whenever disturbances are encountered, as compared to bicycles (which have two in-line wheels for support). There are times in life when it is the wise decision to be of a one-track mind. Be sure of the firmness of your beliefs, and then place your trust in that belief.

John 14:6 tells us — Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.”

Those who believe that it is better to have multiple supports in place, such as belief in theory X, religion Y, diet Z, make-over Q, or whatever it is that turns them on – these people are more apt to be upset when some disturbance or obstacle is encountered, or should one of their pillars give way. In contrast, if you have the right kind of bike under you, a bike with two wheels like our conventional “safety,” or diamond shaped design, or if you are armed with faith built on a rock, you are on a single track vehicle, but the correct vehicle. Bicycles and faith are also robust, a fourth useful engineering attribute, but we’ll defer going down that path right now.

How Life and Theology Imitate Riding a Bike

Scripture tells us that the body of Christ – the church – is a single body composed of different parts, the individual members. Consider Romans 12:4-5 —

“Just as there are many parts to our bodies, so it is with Christ’s body. We are all parts of it, and it takes every one of us to make it complete, for we each have different work to do. So we belong to each other, and each needs all the others.”

The meaning is clear – each part in its own special way helps the other parts.

When we ride a bike, for example, there is an incredible harmony that exists, and which must exist. All the parts of the body of the rider, as well as the parts of the bike, act in harmony or unison. This happens because a bike and rider act as a mechanism, a collection of parts with joints and hinges. The word “mechanism” is an important word. We must realize that the word mechanism has a precise meaning – in mechanical engineering, at least. A mechanism can be caused to move or to shift. Although a bike and rider are composed of linkages, components, and pivots, and even actuators like human muscles and bones, the bike and rider act as a whole – or as one body. If one moves the upper torso, for example, the result is that there will be adjustments or movements in other parts and simultaneously so.

In aerospace engineering terminology or parlance, we jest saying that the “tail wags the dog.” The meaning of this is that each part is connected and working in harmony or unison with all other parts. The motion of any one part or component isn’t an isolated event. It is not customary for the dog to wag its tail without each and every other part of the body’s body wagging in response. In this sense, a dog wagging its tail is a mechanism.

Does the dog wag its tail, or does the tail wag the dog? It really is one and the same because one can’t occur without the other being true. The dog and the tail are connected together – and thus parts of the same body — and act in unison.

In contrast, a cat perched wherever cats perch might twitch its tail, but only the tail moves. The rest of the body of the cat is rigid or cemented in place, or statically planted to the ground or wherever else the cat might be at the particular moment. In engineering terms, the cat’s body as a whole is a “structure,” something quite different from a mechanism. Yes, the tail might move, but it is only the tail that moves as the tail moves relative to a structure that is held rigid.

Bicycles are analogous to dogs, in that every motion of any part of the bicycle, including its rider, will cause or create, or even manifest, sympathetic and simultaneous motions in all of the rest of the parts. The dog’s entire body acts as a mechanism – all parts act in sympathy or collaboration. Analogously, the bicycle and rider in motion act as a mechanism.

Tricycles as well as bicycles with training wheels, in contrast, are actually rigid structures, or what we can call over-constrained mechanisms. In essence, tricycles and bikes with training wheels act like cats, whereas bicycles act like dogs. For tricycles and bikes fitted with training wheels, the number of constraints is in excess of the number of joints, and as such the pieces don’t sway or move in response to motions of any one part. A cat’s body is fixed although its tail may twitch. In contrast, a dog’s body will whole heartedly participate in the wagging of its tail, hence “the tail wags the dog.” Bicycles are like dogs, because all parts respond to movement when any single part moves.

When children are trying to learn to ride bikes, they frequently adopt behaviors similar to cats. They will move one limb or do a shoulder-shift, but that motion is merely the movement of one appendage superimposed onto an otherwise rigid or static structure. The child’s body is or behaves essentially rigid, and the tricycle as a three point structure is likewise rigid. Because movement is denied in a structure, one can’t develop feedback processes, at least by sensing movement, to help stabilize the structure.

Of course, it may be said that a tricycles does move about, so what is the big deal? The big deal is that the tricycle’s movement is a result of the structure itself being on three wheels (or more), not that the structure is responding naturally to the movement and being an active and graceful participant in the movement. In essence, a tricycle and rider are going along for the ride, as opposed being a part of the ride.

Let’s consider when a tricycle rider, or a rider used to training wheels, goes from a cat-like structure, to a moving or fluid dog-like structure. All sorts of difficulties occur when a rider adopts static appendage moves when they are actually in the midst of riding a mechanism – a dog instead of a cat. The rider in this case, using static strategies, acts in a manner incongruous to the dynamic movement of the bicycle. It comes as little surprise that children with motor and movement problems can benefit from equestrian therapy, as the horse is dog like, thus fluid and moving. Hence, the developmentally challenged rider on a horse is exposed to and thus, is able to acquire some of the fluidity of the horse – or the environment created by a horse. We also note that in both the cases of horses and bicycles, once the challenged rider is successful they acquire and improve in their motor balance and related skills at a rapid rate. A child dealing with training wheels as a solution will often make stingy progress, but when the same child is place on our horse-like adapted bikes, the motor learning occurs at an astounding rate.

Becoming a successful bike rider ultimately requires that the rider act in a fluid manner, so as to become one with the bike. Moreover, the bike is a mechanism and not a static structure. In a mechanism, “each part in its own special way helps the other parts.”

It should come as little surprise that this same holds true for parts of the body of Christ. That is why we can say that “life and theology imitate riding a bike.” Of course, one could argue that riding a bike imitates life and theology, but we see it the opposite way – the bike comes first, and life and theology are imitations of bike riding, not the other way around.

May you be forever blessed as ride your bike through life.

An Addendum

A new Christian going through discipleship is like a rigid child on a bike with training wheels—progress, yes, but very stingy. Only when the young Christian mounts a bicycle without training wheels—becomes involved in ministry or service to others—does he/she improve in his spiritual motor balance and related skills. Sunday School classes and Christian Education offerings are the training wheels of the Christian life. Ministry, leadership and the use of our spiritual gifts to encourage others are the bikes or horses that God calls us to mount and become one with.
This addendum is courtesy of Joe Schluchter, St. Louis MO

Can I Buy a Bike?

One of our colleagues, Dr. Tim Davis of SUNY at Cortland NY wrote – “The question I get all the time from parents who are newly introduced to the therapy is ‘How do I buy a bike like that?!’ Would you consider a parent section (in your web site) of commonly asked questions that lead to the concept of a series of bikes vs. one bike?”

Indeed, it is a frequent and common reaction of parents, and even some professionals to ask, “How might they buy one of these adapted roller bikes?”

We are reminded of the story told in Mark 7:24-30. The story concerns a Syrian woman who approached the Master and besieged Him to cast a demon out of her daughter. The Master replied that His job was to help his own family (the Jews). The woman retorted that “But even the puppies under the table are given some scraps from the children’s plates.”

The Master answered, “You have answered well …”

The reality is that independent of whether you can obtain an adapted bike or not, you have been given a far greater gift. And that gift is the gift of faith. For the first time in a long time, you now realize that your child is indeed capable of riding a bike. The years of doubt and bewilderment are now behind you. Your faith has made you free – because you believe that your child can be taught to ride a bike.

Of course you still want a bike, so now we have to build more upon your faith. It isn’t merely the matter of getting one bike, but rather an immersion in a process. The process inevitably must start with a few difficult steps, and you have now made those steps. You have faith, and you now need to ask what to do next? Already, your relationship, as well as outlook with your child, have changed – and for the better. You believe that your child is capable of riding a bike, and that your anxieties and doubts and apprehensions are in remission. You are able to see your child as a bike rider, and a child being fulfilled with a smiling face.

Now it is only a matter of putting into place some additional steps. We don’t have bikes for you to buy at the moment, but you do have the good news that we work everyday to see that the adapted bicycling program gets replicated. Your child and tens of thousands of other children will receive the benefits of our adapted bike program as the program grows.

In the process of building your faith, you will also next come to realize that you don’t need a bike for yourself, but rather just access to a bike, or better yet, a bike program for a relatively short duration. The process of getting your child to ride a bike is just that – a process. It isn’t a thing. It isn’t just one bike. If it were one bike you would actually be accepting less than your full portion – because having a bike is akin to having your child forever stagnated at that level. We want your child to move on and to progress, as do you.

May the blessings of the Lord be with you.

The Tuesday Question

In the process of conducting adapted bicycle camps across the nation, it seems inevitable that as of the end of the second day, thus usually a Tuesday, an anxious parent, usually a mother, will ask me this question:

“Gee Dr. Klein; I’ve seen so much progress being made by all these children. Some kids are already riding. I can’t believe it. (Note that the question of belief has been raised by the parent – or better yet, the difficulty in believing.) I’ve noticed, however, that my son/daughter (fill in the name _______) isn’t doing as well. Please tell me what we can do after the camp is over to help my child to ride a bike?”

My internal reaction is that if I answer this parent’s question I will end up consuming too much valuable time. When I run bike camps, I focus on the positive, and I spend my time getting kids to ride. I don’t spend my time, especially early on in the camp, holding a parent’s hand and responding to a whole bunch of “what if’s.” In short, I need an answer, and here is my answer. I basically summarize in a few sentences the Sermon on the Mount (See the Book of Matthew). My focus is on Matthew 6:34.

“So don’t be anxious about tomorrow. God will take care of your tomorrow too. Live one day at a time.” (The Living Bible).

All the worry in the world will not add one iota to your lifespan, and it won’t solve any problems, or get any child to ride a bike any sooner. As our bike camps progress I focus on teaching children to ride, not worrying about who won’t ride and what will I do then? On the Friday of the bike camp, typically the last day, the problems which were so central on Tuesday are either non-problems, as the child is riding, or the problem is reasonably well defined and is manageable using a number of standard techniques. These usually amount to prescribing a few procedures and equipment modifications so that the parent can continue and finish the therapy.

I must note that parents are inevitably relieved when we finish “The Tuesday Question” conversation.

Eagles Wings

As we journey through life, we are constantly at risk. Temptations are tugging at us. Yet, if we stop or hesitate matters seem to only get worse, not better. The analogy is clear. If we want to have a good ride in life we must have faith, belief, keep pedaling (applying ourselves to our appointed tasks), and to keep looking forward. It is fatal in riding a bike to look down as to where we are, but instead we must keep looking forward to where we will next be. We can’t influence what is now, but only what lies ahead.

If something defies common logic and everyday experience, we get into matters that involve faith and belief. Faith and belief are somewhat interchangeable words, but we’ll take the position that God gives us, as we are created, a capacity as humans to have faith. Belief is more of an action or attitude on our part, where we cause our inner beings to accept what our faith tells us.

When you ride a bike, you have faith that the bike will work — that is you’ve seen others ride a bike and they remain upright. Bikes seem to work. We see that everyday as we go about our business. Belief is more of a personal thing, as when we ride a bike it is a whole lot more than just observing others. The thrill of riding a bike builds within us our belief. As you gain experience and become comfortable on your journey, be it bike riding or in life itself, your faith will eventually turn into belief. You will soon acquire a positive attitude. Action and a positive attitude keep you moving forward, and keep you upright. The gutters, curbs, tree stumps, and sewage drain covers aren’t any real concern so long as you have faith, belief, keep pedaling, and keep looking ahead.

A colleague, Dr. John Chato, at the University of Illinois told the story of his mother living in Hungary prior to WW II. According to John, his mother learned to ride a bike at age 40, and he also commented that the bike — when ridden by his mother — had a magnetic attraction to bushes and obstacles along the bike path. It was inevitable that as she would ride her bike on some trail and come along near a bush, she would invariably end up crashing into the bush. It is clear to us that she focused her eyes and mind on the bush, and not on the road ahead of her and beyond the bush. By focusing on the bush, her motor reflexes, driven by fear, subconsciously caused her arms to turn away from the bush. The problem is that the act of turning away, even subconsciously, caused her steering action to shift the bike’s ground contact point away, and with the result that the bike was now leaning towards the bush. Bikes tend to go in the direction of lean, because this is the only way to restore balance. When a bush or other hazard in life menaces you, the best approach is to look beyond, and to set up actions to keep you on that course. Obviously, if the bush has wheels like a dangerous car that has pulled out in front of you, certain actions are appropriate – but steering initially away is never the appropriate action.

We’ve hunted in Scripture and even biblical concordances for the word “bicycle,” but somehow the biblical translators left that particular word out — the very common word “bicycle.” One scripture passage we have found is in Deuteronomy 32:11. For completeness, we’ll look at Deuteronomy 32, verses 10 and 11.

In a desert land he found him,
in a barren and howling waste.
He shielded him and cared for him;
He guarded him as the apple of his eye,

Like an eagle that stirs up its nest
And hovers over its young,
That spreads its wings to catch them
And carries them on its pinions.

Other translations suggest that the eagle stirs the nest, and in the process the young eaglets fall from the nest. The adult eagle causes its young to fall from the nest, and yet carefully watches over them. If the young don’t learn to fly in the process of falling, the adult eagle then swoops down and “carries them on the back of eagle’s wings.”

If you are ever going to teach a child to ride a bike, you must push the child off and learn to let go. Of course, there is a skill required in knowing when to swoop down and to catch the faltering child — on the back of eagle’s wings. In our adapted bike camps we’ve taught hundreds of children so our swooping skills and timing are refined. If you are going to be forever holding onto the child or the bike, that child will be denied the opportunity to learn on their own — to acquire wings of their own.