Building Planes in a Bicycle Shop

The Wright brothers were pioneers of flight. They produced something that was unprecedented in an era when automobiles had been discovered but flight was considered unfathomable. Many before Wilbur and Orville Wright had tried and failed, some even died, but that did not deter the brothers from embarking on something that was branded in their souls. Their father, Bishop Milton Wright planted this seed in his sons when he brought home a toy plane created by a French experimenter. Coming from the obscurity of Dayton, Ohio didn’t help the brothers either. Who would think that anything so great could come from such an insignificant place?

The odds were stacked against the brothers. None of them had any previous experience in anything to do with flight. They didn’t have any financial backing either. In fact, the Wright brothers owned a bicycle shop not too far from their house. That bicycle shop became the place from which they would build a plane.

The absurdity of building a plane in a bicycle shop cannot be overstated but without concern for criticism, they pressed forward with their dream. While other potential aviators focused on creating something powerful enough to overcome the wind, the brothers studied the birds in the air to learn how to use the wind to their advantage. The curiosity with birds drove the insight that led to the revelation for the brothers to create the shape of the plane that we see today.

What was a historic moment in December 17, 1903 in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina (they moved to this location because the winds were favorable and best for testing flight), when they were able to take off, fly, and land all started in a modest bicycle shop. Furthermore, where the United States Government had spent upwards of $50,000 on failed attempts at flight, the Wright brothers had succeeded while only spending about $1,000 which entirely came from their bicycle business. Who would have thought that the planes we see and ride in today all begun in a bicycle shop?

When getting our dreams started, we will not always have everything we need but that should not prevent us from getting off the ground. While I have not set out to make history, I can relate with the concept of a bicycle shop. As a writer, my bicycle shop was a small desk in our bedroom where I practiced writing 300-500 words a day. The desk was small and the space not always inspirational but that was what I had at the time. It’s that bicycle shop of 300 -500 words a day that has aided my writing. I have since graduated from that small desk but had I waited until all conditions were perfect, I probably would have never developed to where I am. I have also had the privilege of speaking on numerous occasions to various numbers of people but it started in the bicycle shop years ago when I volunteered to teach a small bible study group of less than ten people and poured everything I had into it. How do you continue to press to your dream or goal, all the while having the odds stacked against you and the surroundings not conducive? How do you stay focused on building a plane in a bicycle shop? It is this contrast that sparks curiosity in our minds.

With delayed gratification becoming a thing of the past, the Wright brothers are a reminder that doing anything significant often begins in obscurity, not in the limelight. Highlight reels can be defined as hours and hours of behind-the-scenes-footage. I have often found myself guilty of seeking the thrill of flying high but not willing to put in the hard work required in the bicycle shop where no one sees me.

After watching the movie ‘Sully’ which chronicles the heroic feat of Captain Chester ‘Sully’ Sullenberger, who conducted an emergency landing of a commercial flight on New York’s Hudson River after both engines failed resulting from a bird strike, I learned that Captain ‘Sully’ had logged in countless of flight hours. What we called a ‘miracle’ happened because he didn’t panic when the accident happened. Instead his experience of flying since 1975 when no one knew his name (behind-the-scenes-footage) came to bear in that safe landing on the Hudson (highlight reel) in January 2009. Metrics from his website reveal he had logged more than 20,000 hours of flight before that emergency landing in which no one was injured or killed.  It is believed that it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a particular area. We can say that on February 2009 Captain Sully was equivalent to two experts in aviation. Mastery requires practice which often happens away from the crowd.

Great basketball players like Stephen Curry don’t just turn up on game day and shoot with laser like accuracy based on sheer luck. It’s the late nights in the gyms and the repetition of shots with makes and misses that have catapulted Curry to among the elite in the NBA. It’s what you are doing in the ‘bicycle shop’ that will make the difference and separate you from those who talk about what they want to do and those who get out there and do it. A few takeaways:

  1. Make Today Your Masterpiece: Don’t hope for a better tomorrow if you are not giving your best today. Today is tomorrow’s investment. Make today count. Demolish the ‘bare minimum’ mentality and exceed expectations wherever you are. What is the one thing you can do well today as the set up for a better tomorrow?
  2. Endure the Headwinds: When I go running outside, I hope for a tailwind which means the wind is moving in the same direction as I am. I don’t have to put in as much effort in a tailwind. But there are times when I turn the corner and I am heading back home and the wind is blowing in my face. This is called a headwind. I learned that it’s in the headwinds where I develop my endurance and increase my capacity. There will be days that things will fall in place and it will seem effortless but there will also be days when we get punched in the gut or the wind changes directions on us and we still have to keep moving. Can you take a licking and keep on ticking? Learn how to operate in headwinds and tailwinds.
  3. No Risk no Gain: We all fear risk because risk runs through the ‘what if’ of failure. Many times we are more willing to let someone else invest in us than we are in investing in ourselves. If you watch the show Shark Tank then you know that one of the first questions the panel of investors ask the pitching entrepreneur is how much investment have they put in to their idea or business. The threat of failure keeps us from stepping out in faith. To get their plane off the ground the Wright brothers had to overcome the fear of failure and the heat of criticism. They invested in themselves and their dream when no one else was going to do it. If you believe in your dream, I dare you to invest in it and not wait for someone else to come along and do it for you. Investment can be in form of time, money, or energy.

The Scriptures capture this beautifully, ‘Do not despise the day of small beginnings’ (Zechariah 4:10). Are you making good use of your ‘bicycle shop’?

Keep on Keeping On!

Waiyaki M. Waiyaki

Discover Your Treasure

“Live by Design, Not by Default”

2 Comments

  1. Thanks Brother David for the inspiring message you brought forth today. I feel as though I am currently in my bicycle shop working on my masterpiece. Thanks to this message, giving in to fear and doubt is not a option. I always wondered why the early aircraft had bicycle wheels on them, thanks for the answer to that question also. Thanks for sharing some of your wisdom Brother David. God bless.

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  2. Very great article. When we start small we eventually gain confidence. Success doesn’t come in one day. You have to plant,tend to your plant and sow. The story of starting from a bicycle to a plane gives us more confidence. There is nothing impossible but we have to start from somewhere. Most of us expect to achieve our goals in one day. I believe if you start from the smallest to the biggest goal you will finally accomplish. Thanks David for the very encouraging article

    Like

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