Sunday, October 5, 2014


Let there be light!

I once ran a short-lived blog about android software, and one post was about apps turning your phone's camera flash into a flashlight.  Super practical.  The title of that post was "Let there be light".  This have nothing to do with it.

5. Use your legs

Riding on a bike, your body should hold on using five points of contact.  The ass on the seat and the feet on the pegs are the obvious ones.  The common error is to use the hands on the handles.  It seems like the obvious way to go, right?  But it's best to tighten the knees on each side of the tank and open the hands.  Best doesn't do it justice.  It's very important, even critical.

 Let's get one thing straight.  As strange as it may seem, the bike wants to go straight.  It may be the engineered-in suspension's rake and trail, it may be the wheels' gyroscopic force, it may be the bike's will or it may be god's will.  Whatever it is.  Even on one wheel, the thing feels like a train.  And at high speed, it handles like one.  That's on a sports bike; and since having a chopper take a turn at low speed take about a meal's worth of energy, I won't try having one change direction at high speed.

My first memory of letting a bike do it's think is from a summer vacation rental scooter.  I was riding and a friend was sitting behind.  Not that I had any experience riding one before that day, we probably either randomly drew riders and backseats at the rental place or went with self-confidence.  So whatever happened, I'm figuring out this thing with a guy sitting behind who's as clueless about it all as I am.  Everything's going smoothly until the road ends and we drop on sand.  Like there's just no asphalt for a little while, just sand.  Not a hard surface, more like a beach, with your feet sinking in the hot surface.  So our scooter, going at a not-really-spectacular speed anyway, start plowing through.  Here's what happens then, in case you've never experienced it before.  The bike comes alive.  Like it doesn't want to go down, or it just figured out you were too dumb to make it go straight and it had to take control back, or some daemon from hell just possessed it to perform some violent ritual.  However you want to see it, the handlebar starts shaking, following it's own rhythm.  A much faster rhythm that you'd rhyme to.  So you become a powerless witness to the bike riding itself in a wild way.  But you know what?  It goes straight.  As incredibly mad as it may sound, that Parkinson machine plows through in a straight line.  Asphalt eventually appears under the wheels and the daemon disappear and the bike, autopilot disabled, just hands control back to you.

But that's not what happened that day; at least not right away.  Back to the point where the machine's going wild under my hands.  Luckily, my young brain of the time gets the sensory feedback from my arms signaling they'd been taken hostage by a brick-filled washing machine on an uneven floor, and from my eyes, saying everything was cool as we were traveling in a smooth straight line under a beautiful summer evening sky.  So my thinking organ figured out that it was best to keep calm, not negotiate ransom for the arms and just go on.

Not so lucky was my riding buddy, who had different information to go on.  Lacking some of the feedback I was privy to, he relied on two pieces of visual feedback: the sand pit we were digging into, and the wild movements of my arms following the handlebar's erratic dance.  Just then his savior side surfaced, born to save us from a most depressing fate, destined to help me steer the thing.  If the guy in front of you can't steer the bike, you'd better grab his arms and use him as a puppet to steer it right?  So he grabbed my arms to help me, keeping them as still as he possibly can.

Who's unhappy now?  Yeah, the bike.  Don't try to visualize it.  And I can't think of a good metaphor either.  Anyway, we got through to the asphalt on the other side of the pit.  We explained ourselves and nobody choked anybody to death.

So let's get back to the point; holding on the bike with our knees.  With the knees holding us tightly coupled to the bike, we get very clear sensation from the suspension and from the road.  And with the hands lightly resting on the handles, we apply light and deliberate pressure.  The other way around, the seat padding and our shoe's soles do their best to limit the feedback we get, and by grabbing the bars we resist the natural way of the bike.  Which gets the bike less stable, which gets you stressed and tensed.  Rinse and repeat.

Slack the grip on the handlebars.  Relax a bit.  More than that actually, relax a lot, relax inside-out.  Open your hands and use the controls with a gentle and sensible touch.  Listening to the feedback as much, and preferable more, than you put strength to impose your will.  Always be ready to do something else, should the front wheel react to an unforeseen event.  Or if the rear one begins to slip and slide.  Or when the front end is high enough to be comfortably balanced.  For the record, I haven`t found the balance point where the bike's in perfect equilibrium and rides on it's rear end forever.  But I haven't given up, and with all that commute time... :-P

Holding tight down low frees up the upper part.  Less death-grab on the future,  less head control, less pushing and pulling, less fighting.  More letting things be and accepting what is.  A smoother, more enjoyable ride.  And the fun of doing things without straining and fighting, by just enjoying it and letting it be.

If you're not already doing your best to ground yourself and free your mind, start doing it.  If you are, already doing it, do more of it.  You're welcome.

Yours truly,

the racebike philosopher

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