When Albert Einstein was a Visiting Professor at the California Institute of Technology in 1933, cycling was his favourite pastime, although the cleverly contrived photograph of him apparently pedalling away from an atomic explosion is perhaps better not dwelt on. Of far greater interest and usefulness is the comment he had made in a letter to his son on February 5th, 1930: ‘It is the same with people as with riding a bike. Only when moving can one comfortably maintain one’s balance.’ Although this thought has been attributed to others, who had expressed it earlier, in slightly different words, it is no less worth thinking about now, when balance, in a broad sense, is what so many are striving to achieve.
Forty years earlier, cyclists had been among the first to campaign for the high-quality road surfaces that the development of the motor car was soon to make necessary. At the forefront of this movement was another keen cyclist, H. G. Wells, who remarked: ‘When I see an adult on a bicycle I do not despair of the human race.’ Some of Wells’s less well-known novels reflect this interest. In ‘War in the Air’ the hero is a cyclist who used to work in a cycle shop, and his comic novel ‘The Wheels of Chance’, reflecting the cycle craze of the 1890s, contains descriptions of contemporary bicycles and shows how even a poorly paid draper’s clerk (reflecting the author’s own experience) could afford a ‘machine’, even if it was only a second-hand, old-fashioned model. The central character, Mr Hoopdriver, goes on a ten-day cycling tour, and Wells writes: ‘To ride the bike properly is very much like a love affair – chiefly it is a matter of faith. Believe you can do it, and the thing is done; doubt, and for the life of you, you cannot.’
Which brings us back, full circle, to Einstein. Whether scientists and novelists will be among those participating in our next event or not, all participants may regard themselves as the latest members of a club with a long and impressive tradition.