5.02.2006,1:36 PM
Centered Riding
Spending more time on the bike and the open roads allows me to reflect while surveying traffic, road and conditions. Again, I see the similarities between riding a bike, riding a horse, and, going back further in time, martial arts. It’s more than just ergonomics, biomechanics, kinesiology and motor patterns. It’s a state of mind and body: being ‘centered’.

For those not familiar with the equestrian arts, dressage is an old school of training and riding a horse. Through progressive training methods, the natural athletic ability of a horse is developed and nurtured. Good dressage trainers and riders also develop and nurture the mind of the horse, instilling confidence and a willingness to perform.

The relaxed rider communicates with the horse using minimal aids and encourages the animal to remain relaxed and flexible. Communication is by knowing and ‘listening’ to each other: the rider and the horse. Nearly all communication flows from the riders center and the horses center. The horse detects subtle changes in balance of the rider’s body, pressure by the calves, thighs and buttocks, and light but deliberate movements of the hands, arms and shoulders. A little jiggle of the reins, sitting deep in the saddle and firm but light squeezing by the calves and thighs ‘tells’ the horse to lower its head, round its back and shift its weight underneath itself, moving forward. When the horse responds correctly, the cues are maintained but with less pressure/force. This tells the horse: “Stay this way until I cue you to relax or move differently.”

Likewise, the rider can feel the horse underneath him/her: bending in the rib cage, rounding or hollowing of the back, the lead (which leg, right or left, leads the gait,), nervousness or relaxation, lameness, stiffness or fatigue, and the progression from one movement to another. Astride a well-trained and willing horse moving from being still or a walk, through collection to a canter is a cooperative experience unparalleled. There is tacit trust between rider and horse. A good rider and horse are not separate; they are ‘one’. And they move as one.

In martial arts you learn to find and use your center of gravity: the dan-tien. It is your ‘energy center’. Although that center point varies amongst the many disciplines, a wise martial artist will use a point which best suits the immediate situation and needs, be it near the solar plexus or near level with the heart. The body moves fluidly and smoothly in the three planes: frontal, axial and sagittal. From that center point, the hips, legs and torso move and rotate by shifting weight. Thus yielding and drive are complements, flowing from one to the other. It is a dynamic process.

As in most things in life, plasticity enables our body to better cope with the environment. Even many inanimate materials can undergo deformation under a load, although it is usually permanent. Life evolved and endures because of plasticity, not rigidness. This implies ‘give and take’, push and pull, yin and yang. Yet life is not binary; it is pluralistic. There is no ‘this way or that way’ except for in the mind. There is more than one way to travel from point A to point B, and it is the ‘in-between’, the transition that matters most. It is this which imparts plasticity.

What does this have to do with riding a bike? I’ll reveal that in a moment. Remember, the transition is important.

Being Centered
Many who have learned the martial arts will recognize the transference of centered movement to other activities, especially sports: skiing, skating, weight lifting, gymnastics, etc. The principle of centered movement facilitated my learning of skiing, weight lifting and riding horses. Now as I ride a motorcycle, I am discovering the same applies. And like riding a horse, the center of the bike and my center work together or against each other.

Unlike a horse, I can’t change the center of gravity on my bike. Nor can I ‘tell’ it what to do. I have to learn how to adapt my center of gravity to that of the bike’s and the rapidly changing elements while riding. I have to work with the bike. That all fell into place during last Sunday’s ride.

Centered Riding on a Bike
My bike is a small cruiser with a low center of gravity. I intuitively adapted my posture to combine the two centers of gravity whereby they move with flexibility and fluidity in response to the demands and elements of riding. Referring to plasticity again, letting the bike move under and between me allows it to adapt its own center of gravity to wind and motion. Simultaneously, my torso and lower body use weight or pressure to move the bike in corners and turns according to the laws of physics. Thus the bike and I work and ride in synchrony; it is not a passive relationship. I must be confident in the bike and myself, knowing each other’s limitations and capabilities.

I adapted my riding position on the bike to relax my upper and lower limbs. Leaning slightly forward from the hip with a slight lordosis (curvature) in the low back brought my shoulders up and back, and head up. Tightening the abs, which supports the low back, my core became my center. Arms, hands and shoulders relaxed, so did my grip on the handlebars and controls as well as my legs and feet. Tension from the prior posture disappeared from my traps and neck. This is the plasticity of riding.

Increased preciseness of using all the controls was immediately noticed. Along with the decrease in muscle and body tension was an improvement in alertness and response time. Riding 145 miles that day demonstrated a lack of fatigue as well. The end result was a relaxed but alert body and mind that enjoyed the ride. I could ‘feel’ my bike under me: the engine vibration and sound, the road surface, the direction of the wind, nearby vehicles. The engine and road ‘talk’ to me, and I respond accordingly with the bike: my body position and the controls. When we cornered, all of those elements flowed into my brain, processed, and flowed out to various parts of my body and down through the bike. It was a cyclic communication of myself, my bike and the environment. We were ‘one’.

On the way home, I found myself smiling inside my helmet and behind my sunglasses at the juxtaposition of the same principles of centered riding, martial arts and riding a bike.

Instead of giving it carrots, I’ll change the oil.
posted by Macrobe
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