Albert Einstein? Walter Isaacson? J. Benson Hamilton? Charles Haddon Spurgeon? Dorothy Tucker? William Whiting?
Dear Quote Investigator: The famous physicist Albert Einstein reportedly used a wonderful simile that compared riding a bicycle with living successfully. Here are three versions:
Life is like riding a bicycle. To keep your balance you must keep moving.
People are like bicycles. They can keep their balance only as long as they keep moving.
It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.
Would you please explore this topic? Which version is the most accurate?
Quote Investigator: On February 5, 1930 Albert Einstein wrote a letter to his son Eduard that included a remark that has been translated in different ways. In 2007 Walter Isaacson published a biography titled “Einstein: His Life and Universe”; the notes section at the end of the book printed an excerpt from the original text of the letter in German together with a translation by the Information Officer of the Einstein Archives. Boldface has been added to excerpts: 1
The exact quote is: “Beim Menschen ist es wie beim Velo. Nur wenn er faehrt, kann er bequem die Balance halten.” A more literal translation is: “It is the same with people as it is with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.” Courtesy of Barbara Wolff, Einstein archives, Hebrew University, Jerusalem.
Further below supplementary citations are presented for alternative versions of the saying ascribed to the acclaimed scientist.
Interestingly, the simile has a long history that reaches back into the 1800s in the English language. The early citations found by QI referred to the religious lives of individuals. Later citations referred to business and secular pursuits.
Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.
- 2007, Einstein: His Life and Universe by Walter Isaacson, Section: Notes, Epigraph: 1, Quote Page 565, Location 10155, Simon & Schuster, New York. (Kindle Edition) ↩