In The Western Star Chief Inspector Japp replies to Poirot “As true as I’m riding this bicycle”. I was so nonplussed by the expression, that I didn’t even get the context of it; I do believe he was making a point of it not being true, because when Poirot looked at him incredulously, Japp showed with his hands there not being a bicyclce.

What is the origin of that expression, and what does it actually mean?

Examples of usage by others:

  • Lynn Connolly, 2008: Close Encounters … of the Shirley Kind, p. 59.
  • Deric Barry, 2014: Innocent on the Run, p. 74
  • Bonkworld: Howon Howay, 21.9.2001.
  • John Breeds Magic: “Funny Talk! For Kids’ Magicians”, undated.
  • Googling it revealed it as such to me; I got multiple hits on pages using it, and even some Spanish–English language courses including the phrase.
    – Canned Man
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:19
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    Is Insp. Japp actually riding a bicycle when he makes the statement? I would guess not and it may mean that whatever is being discussed is actually untrue. Can you give a longer quote for context?
    – Spagirl
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:25
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    Examples of usage added.
    – Canned Man
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:34
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    Is this quote from the TV series with Suchet, or the original Christie? I am looking for the phrase in context. Mar 2, 2017 at 17:12
  • 1
    @Cascabel It is from the Suchet dramatisation.
    – Canned Man
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:14

4 Answers 4


TL;DR: It's a common twist on a different common idiom; in this form, it means "What you just said is clearly false."

As sure/true as I'm [fill in the blank of what I'm doing or am] is a common idiom used to mean that something is definitely true.

The blank can be filled in lots of different ways; [as sure] as I'm alive is the earliest form I can find, for example in this ostensibly 17th century work (snippet view), this "Epilogue" from 1756, and this English-Swedish dictionary from 1757.

The most common formulation today might be the (usually American English) [as] sure as I'm standing here (M-W) but it is often shifted for comical effect. For example:

A lot of times, I'll start a sentence with the phrase, "As sure as I'm fat and bald, . . ." (Jud Heathcote & Jack Ebling, Jud: A Magical Journey, 1995)

So long as whatever fills in the blank is obviously true, the original meaning of the idiom remains.

However, if the end of the phrase is patently untrue then the meaning of the idiom is flipped to mean the rest of what I'm talking about is also false.

Some of these "flipped" versions have passed into semi-idiomatic use, such as sure as I'm a foot high (apparently Irish slang) and Inspector Japp's statement, used when one is obviously not riding a bicycle.

While a bicycle or bike is the most common thing (not) being ridden, there are other variants of the form true/sure as I'm riding this [thing I am obviously not riding], such as:

I know, I believe you. As sure as I'm riding this unicycle. ;) (discussion comment, "Re: Outlander...not to be missed IMHO", Calis Beach Forum, 2015)

I’ll tell you of the Queens of the Highway
And believe me I’ll tell you no flannel
It was told me first hand by the lads on the trucks
It’s as true as I’m riding this camel
(Bernard Wrigley & Henry Boot, Queens of the Highway lyrics) (camel might be the second most common thing not being ridden)

Ancient civilianisation discovered this. No it’s true, come on, would I lie to you? As sure as I’m riding this Unicorn, Octopus therapy works. Next time one of your friends feels a little down, a bit saggy at the edges, try slapping them in the face with a 30 pound Enteroctopus dofleini, and I bet you things will start to improve from that point onwards (british-and-bonkers, "Octopus Love", via Tumblr)

Most of the above appear to be UK sources, but sure as I'm riding this bike has also apparently made it at least to New Zealand.

  • 1
    Yep, "as sure as I'm standing here before you" is a fairly common expression, one that I have encountered several times (though mostly, I'm thinking, in British literature of 50-100 years ago).
    – Hot Licks
    Mar 2, 2017 at 18:43
  • As with many idioms, the expression likely originated in the Bible: "As I live, saith the Lord..." or alternately translated (in modern English) to some variation of "As surely as I am alive...". With a quick search I found occurrences in Isaiah 49:18; Jeremiah 22:24; 46:18; Zephaniah 2:9 and over 15 times in Ezekiel.
    – Waylan
    Mar 2, 2017 at 20:30
  • @HotLicks Yes, it looks like it started out British, but nowadays it's mostly current only in the US; the flipped version(s) are much more common in the UK but not what I would call standard in the US. Also, it started out "sure as" everywhere, but now "true as" is more common in the UK while "sure as" also persists in the US.
    – 1006a
    Mar 3, 2017 at 3:04
  • @Waylan Good catch. Possibly the King James "as I live" entered the lexicon purely as a quote-interjection (cf. "Jesus wept"), and was then "rationalized" into "as sure as I live". This "as sure as" version seems to have arisen outside of the bible first; the translations that use this formulation in the quotes you found all date from mid-twentieth-century or later, whereas the idiomatic use is much older. I'll edit to add some of this if I have time.
    – 1006a
    Mar 3, 2017 at 3:09

It appears to be an actual saying. From Irish Sayings with Interpretation:

"As true as I'm riding this bike"

This is said when you're not riding a bike, but emphasises your sincerity!

Or more likely, the complete lack of sincerity.

It would appear to be delivered in an ironic manner, and in this following case it seems to be sincere:

What's that I hear you say? By 1947 no-one was shooting anyone, least of all Geordie holidaymakers on the A66? And your Official History of Tottenham Hotspur gives no mention of a William Butcher, or for that matter of his hat? (strange that, neither does mine). Well, it's all true--as true as I'm riding this bike. And if you'll believe it, well, you'll probably believe about The Songbook as well.

...but then later, the author implies that all is tongue-in-cheek.

we'll remind them of Great Uncle Paddy Flanahan O'Butcher, the famous minstrel of County Cork, and inventor of the boiled potato,

In the transcript from the dramatization of The Western Star, it is quite obvious that Japp does not believe the person he is interrogating when he uses the phrase...

   Japp: Here we are again. Sinister chinaman, little yellow gods, threatening letters.
Suspect: No, it's all true.
   Japp: Oh, yes. It's as true as I'm riding this bicycle.  
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    + 1 Good finding! So you are not riding a bicycle but you say that you are to mean that you are sincere. Irish logic?
    – user66974
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:30
  • Excellent find! Any chance of finding etymological information on it too?
    – Canned Man
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:34
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    I think that the person who wrote the definition on that website was having a bit of fun with their readers, hence their exclamation mark. It does emphasise the level of your sincerity, it emphasises that you are not sincere, at least as regards the veracity of the thing that is as true as your bicycle riding status.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 2, 2017 at 16:54
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    ok, so it is not Irish logic but Irish humour!
    – user66974
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:00
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    Re 'as true as I'm riding this bike. And if you'll believe it, well, you'll probably believe... ' in British English the construction 'if you believe x, you will believe y' always means that you shouldn't believe either x or y, that you are a dupe. In other words, there is no doubt about any of this, 'As true as I'm doing a thing I'm not really doing always means 'not true at all'.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 2, 2017 at 17:32

'As true as i'm riding this bicycle' often found as 'as true as I'm riding this bike' is a jocular phrase used to indicate that the speaker does not believe a putative fact which has been stated by another, or that their own previous statement is not reliable.

Examples of use

Bang Bang Beirut
By Ray Cooney, Tony Hilton

Fred: She's my agent and personal manager.
Farina: get lost.
Fred: It's true.
Farina: yes, about as true as I'm riding this bicycle. And what about that little boy up there, who's he?
Fred: That's not a little boy, that's Jimmy Clitheroe.
Farina: i didn't come up yesterday, you know.

Innocent on the Run
By Deric Barry

Charlie... told Ricky he'd met some beautiful American girls, who were mad for him, but he had to tell them all that he had to get back to his ship, as he was the captain, and noone would know what to do if he wasn't there supervising.
Doc overheard him, and he stiuck his head through the serving hatch. 'Get lost, you grease monkey.' he shouted. 'The only girls you met were in your dreams.'
Charlie laughed. 'It's true Doc, honest. As true as I'm riding this bike.'
'Get back down below, you've been having those funny hallucinations again.'

  • As ever, I'd be keen to hear from the person who downvoted this as to their reason... I can't improve answers if you don't give me a clue.
    – Spagirl
    Mar 9, 2017 at 10:18

The "idiomatic standard" in this case is...

As true as I'm standing here (that's 74 written instances in Google Books)

The chance that you will be standing wherever you need to "swear to" the truth of some assertion is obviously much higher than the chance of you making such an assertion whilst riding a bike. Unsurprisingly, OP's cited variant gets no hits at all - it's just a one-off "local" variation on a theme.

The above (and OP's cited variant) seem to me to be completely transparent and only slightly "quirky". But dwarfing all variants on that particular theme is my grandmother's sure as eggs is eggs (with almost 5000 hits in Google Books).

  • Am i being dim or are you saying it means the thing is true?
    – Spagirl
    Mar 2, 2017 at 20:33
  • @Spagirl: <assuming you've got one! ;> - you bet your sweet bippy! But I must admit I've never really cottoned to sure as ninepence - so far as I know there never was such a coin, so it's a bit like queer as a nine-bob note (with overtones of rare, odd, fictional as well as homophobia). Why would you believe something simply because it's unlikely? Mar 3, 2017 at 0:35
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    I've always heard 'nice as nine pence', but even if it's 'sure' there is nothing in the phrase that requires it to be a single coin. As to the rest, i'm giving up, i'm still not 100% sure what your answer means, but people like it so other folks must be sure. :)
    – Spagirl
    Mar 3, 2017 at 1:05

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