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November 24th, 2020
The first person to figure out how to ride a bike must have seemed a bit crazy. Apparently, the first verified person to accomplish this hallowed task was a Karl von Drais. Imagine the sort of trouble people have trying to find their balance on a bike, falling over and over before getting the hang of it.
A cute modern solution to this problem seems to have arisen in the last few years. Take the pedals off the bike, make it lower to the ground and then kids can safely walk the bike and pick their feet up for brief interludes until the balance for it comes online.
This innovation seems perfect and painfully so as someone who had to go through the unfortunate shock of having training wheels removed only to realize there had been no training with those training wheels. It had all been a fraud and oh, there was now scuffed up palms, a bleeding knee and an awkwardly situated helmet to deal with, not to mention the bicycle that seemed to have switched to being on the top position.
It was a rude awakening. So how did the first person manage to push through this learning curve and have faith that something that had never been done before could be done? Well it comes as a somewhat bitter surprise that the very first bicycle had no pedals. It was more like a glider. It had two wheels and it could be steered, but the primary method of getting it to go was either downhill or with one’s feet in contact with the ground, pushing it forward.
Perhaps our Karl von Drais didn’t look so ridiculous after all when that first fateful ride of the bicycle was undertaken. It’s that later innovation, of pedals and gears with a chain that actually got in the way of the first skill needed to ride a bike: balancing. Then the new and improved bicycle with it’s pedal propulsion system was simply shrunken down, pedals, gears and all, and it seems the utility of having no pedals was forgotten.
Does a little kid really need the ability to go faster? Certainly not. But now kids have a mighty hard time figuring out how to ride a bike, and so the truly insidious invention of the training wheel came about. Certainly it could be chocked up to one more way to profit off the enterprise riding bikes, but more likely it’s the result of a far simpler problem: creating something additional as a solution when the better solution is to simply take away the problem.
For the bicycle it requires either a knowledge of the history of the quaint machine or a thoughtful and circumspect understanding of the machine to realize that it doesn’t really need pedals and a chain for someone who is learning it - that is, to see the pedals and chain as an add-on that can therefore be removed.
What’s most important things to highlight about this sly set of developments is that it wasn’t clear how important the original simplicity of the bicycle was until you improve it, make it more complex and cover up the simplicity that made it so much easier to learn to ride in the first place.