Was Einstein a cyclist?

Born in Ulm, Germany in March 1879, little is known about Albert Einstein’s early childhood and development. He grew up in Munich. Unable to find a teaching job after graduating from a technical institute in Zurich, Switzerland, he accepted a post as an examiner in the Swiss patent office. Wendy Berliner’s recent article in The Guardian shares interesting insights. Einstein, the epitome of a genius, clearly had curiosity, character and determination. It is said that as a boy and adult, Albert Einstein was a creative, intelligent and soft-spoken person who preferred solitude and immersing himself into elaborate constructions and thought problems over social interactions. He appeared aloof to many, but his concentration was in his work. According to many of his peers and the majority of the general public, Albert Einstein was an enigmatic genius and celebrity scientist.


Those who interacted with him personally often referred to him as forgetful and absent-minded. Einstein would later say that a glass plane existed between him and other people. He sometimes felt out of place at social gatherings and with friends and family.

He felt uncomfortable around them and was never himself. Some scholars have described this as a type of social anxiety. He even felt alienated from his family, always preferring solitude to familial interactions. He struggled against rejection in early life but was undeterred. Did he think he was a genius or even gifted? No. He once wrote:

“It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.
Most people say that it is the intellect which makes a great scientist.
They are wrong: it is character.”


Even Einstein was unexceptional in his youth. Now a new book questions our fixation with IQ and says adults can help almost any child become gifted. The young Einstein was certainly a reluctant talker, but there are mixed accounts of him learning to speak late in his life. He did extremely well in mathematics and creative subjects, but he had no interest in anything requiring only rote memorisation or forcing one particular mode of thought onto students.

According Prof Deborah Eyre, with whom collaborated on the book Great Minds and How to Grow Them, the latest neuroscience and psychological research suggests most people, unless they are cognitively impaired, can reach standards of performance associated in school with the gifted and talented. However, they must be taught the right attitudes and approaches to their learning and develop the attributes of high performers – curiosity, persistence and hard work, for example – an approach Eyre calls “high performance learning”. Critically, they need the right support in developing those approaches at home as well as at school.

So, is there even such a thing as a gifted child?

It is a highly contested area. Prof Anders Ericsson, an eminent education psychologist at Florida State University, is the co-author of Peak: Secrets from the New Science of Expertise. After research going back to 1980 into diverse achievements, from music to memory to sport, he doesn’t think unique and innate talents are at the heart of performance. Deliberate practice, that stretches you every step of the way, and around 10,000 hours of it, is what produces the expert. It’s not a magic number – the highest performers move on to doing a whole lot more, of course, and, like Mirzakhani, often find their own unique perspective along the way.

Einstein did not fit in with the Prussian model of education at the time and spurned it. He did not take to new languages with ease, but Einstein was able to completely master his native German, strongly implying that he was not dyslexic.

Teaching Eduard

Letter to his son Eduard (February 5th, 1930), as quoted in Walter Isaacson’s Einstein: His Life and Universe (2007), p. 367.

Just like Einstein inspired his son, many others report that kids who walk and cycle to school are more alert and ready to learn than those who arrive by car. Some argue that it’s more fun and exciting. Cycling is often encouraged as it offers a way to get to know a local area and feel part of it. Good habits learned young can last a lifetime. By cycling, Einstein contests that we breathe in less pollution from traffic than car drivers but more recent scientists have discovered that cycling also raises our metabolic rate, helping keep the weight off. It is argued that regular cyclists are as fit as an average person ten years younger. One would argued that younger we learn, the better.

But how is life like cycling a bicycle?


What was Einstein´s real message to his son? Was he trying to communicate the fact that it can offer freedom and independence that it offers as well feasibility in getting from point A to point B? Does cycling enable us to gain better perspective? Does it help us understand his theory of relativity? Perhaps he wanted to illustrate the fact that it’s cheaper than other means of transport and that it can improve your fitness and boost your positive mental attitude? Did he want to emphasise the fact that it can help to relieve stress? Could Einstein be trying to demonstrate the importance of communication, understanding, empathy and compassion? Might he be illustrating the importance of distinguishing between perception and reality? Was he trying to highlight the importance of interaction and teamwork whilst improving bonds and relationships with others?


Nowadays, such content-less fame has become common, though there aren’t many out there who match Einstein for resonance. But when he first exploded into public view, there were no precedents. No scientist before or since has so completely transcended the role of expert to become a universal emblem of reason. In April 1955, Einstein died at 76 years of age in Princeton, New Jersey of the United States.


A pure distillate of a celebrity. Dylan’s folk-rock vision of “Einstein, disguised as Robin Hood” is one in which the original man has disappeared into a symbolic fog where more or less any meaning may be found. “Desolation Row¨ and “Masters of War” by Bob Dylan song capture the essence of Einstein. Bob Dylan, 76, is a recent Nobel Prize winner for literature.

There are millions of children trapped on Europe´s borders.

They don´t need bicycles.

They are in desperate need of an education.



For more information, see:






Great Minds and How to Grow Them, by Wendy Berliner & Deborah Eyre. You can order it from the Guardian Bookshop for £14.99, with free P&P. Telephone orders (0330 333 6846) attract minimum p&p of £1.99.