My neighbour kindly offered my bicycle some TLC and gave the rusty chain and cogs a bath in WD40, a product which lightly oils and lubricates and cleans metal. This bicycle had sat outside in the garden all winter, unused and going rusty and I thought, unusable. I was very pleased and grateful to receive this help. See my recent blog about my practice of unconditional receiving https://lucyascham.com/2018/06/28/lets-talk-about-money/
They recommended that I ride it a lot to get it going and smooth off any left over rusty bits and keep it well oiled.
This was enough encouragement for me. I’d been meaning to get back on my bike again, and what with the lovely warm weather we’ve been having in England recently I was keen. However the habit of getting another thing done before going out to Work and jumping in the car instead was strong and the bike riding hadn’t become top priority.
Today was the day. I set the intention the night before, got out my trouser clip, helmet and keys in readiness. I find small steps like this really helpful. This way its easier to take the next new step, rather than have 3 preliminary steps before I could ride.
I took my bike onto the road and set off. I live on a hill (do you know that Sheffield is built on 7 hills?) Before I got to the bottom of the road I needed to brake. My hands knew what to do, the muscle memory was still there, left hand squeeze brakes for back brake BUT NO, NOTHING HAPPENED!! Fortunately the right hand knew immediately to squeeze and my front brake safely drew me to a halt.
Hmm. It seems that the back brakes weren’t working – at all. Since that was the only bit of downhill on my journey to work, I swiftly decided to continue and then look again after work if I could fix it or take it to a repair shop. I did get off and have a look at the wire from handle-bars to brake. I saw it was slack, but had no idea what should attach to what and staring at it didn’t help. My brain just didn’t know what to look for or understand what I was seeing.
When my neighbour said they had given the chain a bath… I heard “and checked the bicycle over and given it a service”. Did they say that? No. Actually, my brain made that bit up.
For the last 4 years I have taken my bike for a service, so getting on it again for the first time after a break, I had the memory of getting a service. Somehow my brain had tied that memory into this actual experience. When I check what was actually said it was that the chain and cogs had a bath. I hadn’t taken it for a service and should not have added that bit as if it had happened.
As I cycled along carefully I began to notice how soft and spongy the tyres were and how I could feel every little bump, stone and hole in the road surface. Pumping up the tyres was the next thing to do after sorting out the back brake. As I went along, I picked up further information and added that to my journey of information gathering about the earth’s surface.
I got to work safely, riding cautiously and taking a circuitous route as I realised that there was in fact a hill up and then down before I reached work. I parked my bike and did my work and didn’t think about it again until I had finished.
I was able to borrow a pump and was shown how to attach it to the inner tube and lock it. I pumped a little, then squeezed the tyre, it felt firm and was about to release the pump when the person lending me the pump noticed what I was about to do and stopped me. They pointed out the pressure range written on the side of the tyre and showed me the gauge and encouraged me to keep pumping. Who knew that the correct and safe range for a tyre pressure was etched on the side of the actual bike tyre? Not me. Until it was pointed out in clear type for all the world to see. How had I missed it?
Because I wasn’t even aware it could have been there, so I didn’t know to look for it, and if my brain noticed certain ridges and bumps on the side of the tyre, I wasn’t reading it or computing the information.
I felt quite alarmed using the pump. I have never used a double handed pump (like you see in Bugs Bunny cartoons for blowing up dynamite). I was certain the inner tube would blow up at any minute! Under guidance I pumped up both tyres to the higher end of the range and learned to disengage the pump safely. The tyres felt huge, really tight and to my mind, over-inflated and hard.
When I had just left, I then remembered the brake and took a look at the front brake and figured out the back one should be linked up in the same fashion. It now looked quite straight forward now my brain was better able to see an example of this and copy it. I had applied one bit of learning to a new situation.
I set off on my bike again, tyres rock hard (to me, compared to how I was used to them) and the back brake linked up. And then I realised the back brake was rubbing on the tyre. Now the tyres were so much fuller and fatter the back brake didn’t have the same space it had previously enjoyed. It wasn’t much friction, so I decided to carry on to my next visit which was very close and then see about borrowing a screw-driver.
To be honest, I forgot to ask about a screw-driver and so rode home – first up hill then down with the back brake slightly stuck in the ‘On’ position. After a little while I didn’t notice any more. This friction was the new ‘normal’. Yes it was hard work cycling up hill, but hey I was out of practice, it was hot and so I just carried on. Hills are hard work, I thought. There was only a small noise of friction, a bit like a dynamo and so I didn’t go back to my friend’s house to ask for a screwdriver. Partly because I wasn’t sure what I would do with it if I got one. But mostly because I stopped noticing.
I’m an intelligent person. I like to learn how things work and understand things. My expertise is how the human body works in accordance with its natural design for well-being.
I know how to steer humans and often use the analogy of taking the sticky brakes off the human coordination system for more freedom and ease in movement. I have worked with hundreds of people over the last 15 years showing them the simple mechanics of the head and spine movement. This can help them experience and replicate freer movement for themselves. I have helped people be their own mechanic (if we humans were a car or bike) and given them advanced driving lessons (to help steer, know when to put the brakes on, when to release them, how to steer and use the gears most effectively, etc). All this helps the human-vehicle runs with less wear and tear. Self-learning gives more stamina, longevity and pleasure in moving around.
Some of you may wonder how I could have missed or not checked the signs of the bicycle having had a service. The truth is I was never shown or taught any of this. I simply don’t have the understanding in my brain circuits. For whatever reasons my Dad only showed my brothers and not me. I understood from that and many similar lessons that this information wasn’t needed by me and someone else would do it for me. It just wasn’t on my radar.
Some of the learning from today has been to try and mind the gap between what has been said and what I hear. We often add extra things to what has been said, translate the words into what we are hoping for or expecting to hear. Its a useful reminder to check… “So when you say ‘the chain has been bathed’ does that mean you’ve given the bike a fuller check and service?” This kind of thinking is available to me in my Teaching, but it was new to me around the bike today.
I’m very aware how quickly I could adjust to only having one brake. And when I linked up the second one, how quickly my brain re-adjusted to having two brakes available again and returned to prioritising the back brake again. Our brains are so clever and plastic (have the ability to change).
I am reminded that having the brakes slightly stuck on, after re-inflating the tyres, soon felt normal. That extra friction was only noticeable for a short while before I got used to that level of extra effort.
I’m aware that if I don’t adjust the back brake soon so that it doesn’t constantly rub on the tyre that it will start to wear the brake-pad down much more quickly, be less effective when I need it and need replacing sooner.
There is a direct parallel to how we use our human-vehicles. Many of us don’t realise we are going around with the brakes on, our posture and every-day slumping on the sofa, the monotony of sitting at a desk, pulling our head down to our phone or fork, many and various daily activities can be vastly and simply improved to give a smoother and better ride.
If you are intrigued and would like to learn some simple body mechanics, to see where you may unwittingly have the brakes on in your movement patterns and learn to figure out how to move more efficiently, why not have an MOT? I invite you to come and have an Alexander lesson and be shown with great care and kindness where you have normalised extra friction and how to think your way out of it. This is a skill to cultivate for yourself, but I can show you and give you an experience of freer movement. Over time this becomes the new way of thinking and being that you can learn from, refer back to and use as a reference guide for future activities.
Learning to move more easily can be an absolute delight and applying the tools in daily life can be such an eye-opener.
When I eased off the friction of the brakes, the bike was so much smoother and easier to ride. Yes I did that today when I got home. Now its fresh in my mind, I’ve learned quickly today. The fuller tyres give a much easier ride over the bumps and holes in the rode, there was less friction of soggy tyres on road. Tomorrow there will be less friction of the brakes being permanently a little ‘on’ and the back brake is there as and when I need it. As with the bike, so with the human body. We can all learn some simple safety features for life-long benefits.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher in Sheffield and Manchester who loves to help people learn to use their natural design to their advantage, for less wear and tear and more pleasure in simple, healthy everyday movements.