The life (we need) is like riding a bike

We are reaching a moment where our political, environmental and social systems all seem on the verge of collapse. There are desperate cries and a call for action – a need to shift our lives and the structures that support it. At the same time I am trying to encourage people to ride bicycles whenever I get time and space to do it. Without understanding exactly how we need to change our lives, I can’t help but feel that Einstein was onto something when he said life is like riding a bike …. but I think he didn’t go far enough because it’s more than about keeping moving to stay balanced, it’s about how we keep moving – from the way we play, think, struggle, co-operate and act with courage:


A friend of mine says we need to play more with our ideas, our lives and our understandings to move towards a more desirable future. She says that maybe it’s because she comes from an arts background, but I suspect it might also be because she rides a bicycle. A bicycle naturally allows you to play as you move through the streets, testing the way you balance, swerve, spin the pedals and bounce around. You can see the lighter side of life on your bicycle. I suspect that if we incorporate this play into the way we work, do chores, be with our friends, bring up our children and advocate for a better world, we would be more creative, flexible and lighthearted in how we tackle life.

swapping umbrellas on bikes hanoi


Along with my ability to think more clearly on my bicycle, I also have to strategise my path and realise my own agency to navigate my way somewhere between shared paths and busy roads. I need to understand the lay of the land better than the people in the cars and use my intuitions to keep me moving and safe. All these ways of thinking should be crucial as we navigate a world where complacency with the situation of the world and lack of self-direction has put more power in the hands of large corporations and self-interested governments.


Convenience has become the key factor in choices of how we travel, eat, work, play and socialise. However, one has to wonder if we are just aiming for a convenient death of the human spirit (and potentially humanity) with all this convenience. When you get on a bike, you know you may have to take some deep breaths, force your muscles to move when they are resisting and perhaps even sweat a little. This struggle (especially when you live on a hill and have two children), is something we get through and we get some post-struggle satisfaction from. Life is not meant to all be easy, we are meant to have some tough times and perhaps find ways to feel some positives through them, or at least learn from them. I cannot help but feel as a society we need to be prepared to embrace a bit more of a struggle.


On a bicycle, as Einstein noted, you have to keep moving to stay balanced. In Vietnam this movement is continued by a mass-scale co-operative act of look out for each other while continuing to move enough to stay upright, swerving around others where necessary. This act of casually looking out for each other is crucial in moving towards a better future. Caring for those around us without even knowing who they are, is vital to wanting a better community and not entering neo-liberal, individually owned, convenient parcelled, pieces of paradises.


Act with courage

Some people think you are crazy for riding a bicycle, but I think I’m brave. I know that cars are much bigger and they have all sorts of safety devices for their occupants. I know they are driving too fast for the needs of the passengers (and the city) when they are in the centre of cities, where life is concentrated and speed hinders interaction. However, I know that riding my bicycle makes sense and that I am brave enough to get out there and keep riding, improving my skills and powers of negotiation with the rest of the traffic and those that plan our transport systems. Now is a time for us to be brave in our lives. To take risks in the careers we take, in the people we employ, in how we choose to live our lives and who we vote to govern us. We need to back ourselves and trust that it’s for the greater good, if we are going to get the cultural changes we need in our lives, our industries and our governments.

I write this after being rejected from a job and trying to find the courage to get back on my bike and keep pedalling (as I had to also do after my film was rejected from many film festivals). It can be a challenge to live like your riding a bicycle and it can sometimes seem easier to just go with the flow, obeying the advertisements, the norms and the road rules. However, this is when we need to show the most courage and keep riding. Sometimes I feel like I am riding with no destination but at least I keep riding and I like who I am when I’m riding and I like the feeling of riding. So who’s ready to get off the treadmill and on to their bikes?