What Does Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle Mean?

Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle Meaning

Definition: Totally unnecessary.

Origin of Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

The feminist leader Gloria Steinem popularized this expression as A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. She meant that women can be happy and successful even if they don’t have a man supporting them. Many people assume she was the first to use this expression. However, she heard it from someone else.

Steinem herself says she wasn’t the first person to coin this phrase—or even popularize it. She credits Irina Dunn, an Australian author who graffitied the phrase in two bathroom stalls at her university as a student.

Although, Irina didn’t coin the idea behind the expression itself either—likening two things, a fish and a bicycle, that do not seem to belong together.

Irina paraphrased a philosophical text from philosopher Charles S. Harris, who wrote A man without faith is like a fish without a bicycle in the year 1958. He meant that religion and God are not a necessary part of life for all people.

People can use this simile to talk about anything that isn’t needed whatsoever.

Examples of Like a Fish Needs a Bicycle

gloria steinem fish bicycle Here is an example that involves two college students discussing whether or not they will actually use their college degree.

Robin: I’ve decided to drop out of school.

Harry: Don’t you want to get your degree?

Robin: No, I decided to pursue a job as a professional soccer player. An athlete needs a college degree like a fish needs a bicycle.

Harry: That’s not true. A lot of athletes get injured and need to find a job that requires a degree.

Robin: Huh. I never thought about that.

woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycleIn this dialogue, two coworkers are discussing the weight loss competition that their company is taking part in.

Mal: I’m so glad this weight loss competition will only last one more day! The team competing against us is trying hard to make us give up.

Xiomara: What do you mean?

Mal: They ordered pizza and donuts and sent it to our office! They thought that would weaken our resolve.

Xiomara: That’s so sneaky! Luckily, I know that I need a donut like a fish needs a bicycle. I’m way more interested in winning the competition than in eating some junk food.

More Examples

This excerpt is from a horoscope.

  • This is a poor day for important discussions with bosses, parents and VIPs because they will disintegrate into nasty arguments and power struggles. You need this like a fish needs a bicycle. Therefore, avoid this. Turn your attention elsewhere. –Chicago Sun Times

This excerpt is about something seemingly unnecessary but is actually very useful.

  • At first blush, it might seem that Amazon needs a retail grocery outlet as much as a fish needs a bicycle. But a closer look reveals an incredible strategic vision. –Daily Journal


The expression like a fish needs a bicycle is a funny idiom to visualize, and it’s easy to figure out when you think about it.

Does a fish need a bicycle? Not at all.

Therefore, like a fish needs a bicycle is a simile that people can use when someone doesn’t need something at all.