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Old 13th June 2015, 13:26   #1
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Default 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Or is it a science? I'll leave it to you to decide. One thing is certain. Before you ride a bike, you'll need to have more than idea of what balance means. And I'm hoping this post will help you get halfway there.

Of the hundreds and thousands of things that you learn in the course of your life, how many do you still remember after a certain point of time? Hereís something that you'll never forget. Even if you've never done it for many years. And it takes less than a week to learn. Maximum. Many aeons ago, I learned it myself. And there was not a soul to teach me.

Last week, I helped my daughter learn and in the process, I realized that there are some simple techniques to understand the art of balance. Quickly.

Now, you could learn how to cycle without knowing any of this, just by sheer practice. Brute practice. But keep a few of the pointers discussed below, and I promise you a journey that is shorter and less painful. Besides, knowledge is BHP (power). And if you are into documentation, youíll know that the ĎHow to cycleí question is often asked in many technical writer test papers. And itís usually written to an alien audience. So all you hiring managers out there, hereís an answer that you could use not just to evaluate the candidate's writing skills, but also find out if that alien flew back, or did it use the cycle track back

What youíll need first - The right sized bicycle. Duh! Donít complicate things by trying to learn on the first available bicycle. You need one that is the right size Ė for you. There are several parameters that you need to evaluate before selecting a cycle. And Google is your best friend to find more. But to learn, hereís one that is very important. Once youíve managed to settle your butt on the seat, your toes should just touch the floor. Your feet were intended to be on the pedal, not on the floor, and thatís where theyíll be most of the time.

Note to Aliens: Just two feet and two hands are needed. You'd also need a butt that can be placed on a seat, but that I'm sure we can work something out! You could also do it with one arm and leg. But you'll have to be a champ like this guy.

Simple Rules to Understand
  • At first ignore the pedal: Donít try to pedal as soon as you get on the cycle. You learn cycling in stages, one step at a time. Learn the part that you need to do with your hands first, and then move to the legs. Of course, you can disregard this rule if you are this guy, and simply do both!

    Your first aim is to be able to learn how to stay upright, while moving, on two thin wheels.
    Did you know that they actually have bicycles without pedals designed just to help kids learn this part?

  • Donít ignore the brakes: Keep your hands on the handle bar with your fingers in contact with both brake levers at all times. You might be prepared to fall. But the people in your surroundings arenít prepared to get struck!
    And remember to apply both brakes simultaneously. Always.
  • Keep your head up: Donít look at the floor/pedal/feet. Look up, that's where the action usually is.
  • Balance is in your hands: Yes! Not in that big thing you place on the seat! And the most important thing - Remember to swivel the handle gently in both directions, as you move, continuously, till it becomes second nature to you. No one will tell you to do this. And this is how you will learn to master this art quickly. If you've observed a cyclist, you'll notice how often he/she twists the handle to steady themselves. By twisting the handle you are experiencing first hand what happens each time you twist and how you can not just correct your course, but you can also keep yourself upright. Watch this interesting experiment to understand balance.

Time to start. Divide your learning into the two parts.

  • Find a road that is slightly inclined (and preferably deserted), sit on the cycle, place your hands on the handle, keep your head up and look in front.
  • Sit on the seat with both legs on the floor. Once you are ready to move, give yourself a gentle push with your foot to allow the cycle to begin to roll downhill. Keep twisting the handle to the left and right, in small, gentle movements, continuously, while gravity moves you forward. As the cycle gathers momentum and starts moving faster, and you begin to feel uncomfortable, remember to clasp the brakes!
  • As you move forward, all the while, use your legs to prop the cycle up, on either side. Use your feet like oars. If you are falling to the right, put your right leg down and vice versa on the other side. Youíll notice that the bicycle will Ďsailí forward in a smooth zig-zag manner and you will also be bobbing from side to side as you place alternate feet on the ground to steady yourself. Donít worry about whoís watching. And itís also alright to fall a few times. Your objective is to get the farthest distance without touching your feet on the ground.
    Remember, we are still not touching the pedals.
  • On the return journey (uphill), youíll need someoneís help. While your friend/dad/whoever, is holding the bicycle upright, rotate one of the pedals up to the 10 Oíclock position with your preferred foot. Keep the other foot on the ground.
  • Now, while the cycle is held upright, apply pressure on the foot thatís placed on the pedal. As the cycle begins to move forward, quickly bring your other foot up to the other pedal and start pedaling.
  • All the while, as you pedal, donít forget to continue to move the handle to the right and left. If you feel you are going to fall in one direction, turn the handle a little more in the same direction and then quickly try to straighten yourself again. You'll get this right after a few falls
  • Whoever is supporting you will need to hold the cycle upright continuously, at least initially. But as you progress, ask him/her to let go for short durations.
Do the down-the-road / up-the-road routine for 30 to 45 minutes every day. I can assure you that by the 5rd or 6th day, the person who was supposed to hold the cycle upright for you will be huffing and puffing (and losing a lot of weight) behind you!

You can use these tips to teach your wife (ok, let me not be sexist here) or your husband to ride a scooter. My wife didnít know how to cycle. But Iím mighty impressed with her that despite not knowing how to cycle, she learned how to ride a scooter. You can read about our adventures here in an earlier post - Teaching the Wife to Ride a Scooter.

And 'adventures' is putting it mildly.
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Old 14th June 2015, 00:17   #2
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Very nice write-up.

A couple of thoughts I might add.

The rider must remember, when the bicycle is not moving, it is almost impossible to balance the bike and to keep it upright.


Because when the wheels are turning, even very slowly, they create a gyroscopic force.
This force basically makes the wheel not want to change from the plane it is rotating in. That is, if the wheel is upright and rotating, it will not want to fall to the side. This in effect, keeps the bicycle upright.

If the wheel is rotating while it is tilted right or left, it will want to stay tilted right or left.

As I say, a rotating wheel does not want to change the plane it is rotating in but the handlebars can be used to change the plane (direction the wheel is pointed).
When the handlbars are moved right or left, the gyroscopic force in the wheel creates a strong force on the frame of the bicycle (or motorcycle) that causes it to lean.
When the bicycle leans to the right or left, it changes its direction.
When the bicycle handlebars are being turned to the right, the bicycle will turn to the right. When they are turned to the left, the bicycle will turn to the left.
This is what is unconsciously being learned when one first rides a bicycle.
How small movements of the handlebars can change the direction of the bicycle to keep it under the rider rather than letting it toss the rider off into the street.

All of this works very well at low speeds below 30 or so kmph (20 mph) but above this speed, odd things start to happen. Well, they really aren't odd but to the first time rider, they may be unexpected.

On a motorcycle at speeds above 30 kmph, turning the handlebars to the right causes the motorcycle to start to fall to the left. The riders brain will sense this and begin to turn the handlebars slightly to the left which maintains the lean angle.

A motorcycle will turn in the direction it is leaning so, if it is leaning to the left, it will turn to the left.
Once the turn is made to the riders satisfaction, he/she will turn the handlebars more to the left causing the motorcycle to straighten back upright. This will straighten out the path being followed so the motorcycle will again ride straight down the road.

All of this reverse action on a motorcycle is known as "Countersteering".

I mention it because if you are going to ride at speeds above 30 kmph on a motorcycle or a bicycle, knowing and practicing this countersteering may save your life.
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Old 14th June 2015, 00:38   #3
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Never knew that there was so much science involved in riding a simple bicycle.

If only you had posted all this several years ago I might not have fallen off my poor cycle and hurt it so many times.

I am also afraid that our children may not ask us to help them with their bicycles as that would entail a science lecture while we are holding the cycle upright huffing, panting and lecturing.
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Old 14th June 2015, 01:35   #4
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Originally Posted by ArizonaJim View Post

The rider must remember, when the bicycle is not moving, it is almost impossible to balance the bike and to keep it upright.


Because when the wheels are turning, even very slowly, they create a gyroscopic force.
Really, on bicycles the gyroscopic forces are negligible. See http://hyperphysics.phy-astr.gsu.edu...s/bicycle.html

The best way to learn to ride a bicycle? Learn to ride when you are young. As some of you know I'm Dutch and everybody rides a bicycle in the Netherlands.


Every Dutch kid learns to ride a bicycle when they are 4-5 years old. Takes maybe one - two hours max. You put your kid on a bicycle, you hold them whilst you push them, then you let go and they fall over. You repeat this process about 10-12 times and by then they will happily ride by themselves.

see http://rethinkingchildhood.com/2012/...arn-ride-bike/

All our kids rode to school on their bicycles (4-6km) by themselves from the age of about 6 onwards. The Netherlands is very safe and very bicycle friendly. Primary schools will teach kids the rules of the road as well.

Bicycling is also a very healthy activity. You don't need to race. Just an hour on your bicycle every day is a great way to stay fit! The Netherlands is one of the few countries in the world with a very low and even declining obesity


Apparently all down to riding our bicycles!

Enjoy your bicycle!

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Old 15th June 2015, 12:57   #5
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Nice article there. If I may add, for those of you scared of falls, you might use training wheels too.

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However, I personally believe using these will take us longer to learn the art of balance, as we tend to become dependent on these.

As a 5 year old, my dad got me a Hero Hansa with the training wheels fitted. I cycled with these for about a week and quickly learnt that the most efficient way to cycle is to ensure these don't touch the ground. But it was still a problem when taking off or slowing down.

A week later, my uncle, who's old school, comes home sees this and removes the training wheels. He says if I want to cycle, I need to do it without the support of these wheels. Initially I was scared but in the next half an hour, I was cycling away to glory.
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Old 15th June 2015, 15:45   #6
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

I had those training wheels on my BSA Wild Cat as well, when I was 5 which is around the same time I believe @Added_flavour .
As you said, quickly learned if those were touching the ground, it needed more of an effort from me. After some time, removed one on the left and used the right one as a side stand for some time till I was complete set free !
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Old 16th June 2015, 11:05   #7
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Talking Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

May be this is makes a better training wheel:
Gyrobike gyroscopic training wheels help kids learn to ride

The Gyrowheel features a battery-powered spinning disk where the spokes of a wheel are usually found, and a process known as gyroscopic precession helps keep the bike and rider upright

Jyrobike self-balances to keep kids on the straight and narrow

Once the child has mastered the art of balancing on their own, the flywheel component of the Control Hub can be removed, reducing the weight of the Jyrobike by 60 percent

Seems more like using a calculator to do your math homework!
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Old 16th June 2015, 11:52   #8
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Default Re: 2-wheelers & The Art of Balance

Thanks for this. My two year old has just started his interest in cycles, and we have taken a tiny one with training wheels at present. These tips will soon come in handy.
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