Thursday, June 11, 2015

The Art of Balance

Or is it a science? I'll leave it to you to decide.

Of the hundreds and thousands of things that you learn in the course of your life, how many do you still remember after a certain point of time? Here’s something that you'll never forget. Even if you've never done it for many years. And it takes less than a week to learn. Maximum. Many eons ago, I learned it myself. And there was not a soul to teach me.

Last week, I helped my daughter learn and in the process, I realized that there are some simple techniques to understand the art of balance. Quickly.

Now, you could learn how to cycle without knowing any of this, just by sheer practice. Brute practice. But keep a few of the pointers discussed below, and I promise you a journey that is shorter and less painful. Besides, knowledge is BHP (power). And if you are into documentation, you’ll know that the ‘How to cycle’ question is often asked in many technical writer test papers. And it’s usually written to an alien audience. So all you hiring managers out there, here’s an answer that you could use not just to evaluate the candidate's writing skills, but also find out if that alien flew back, or did it use the cycle track back :)

What you’ll need first - The right sized bicycle. Duh! Don’t complicate things by trying to learn on the first available bicycle. You need one that is the right size – for you. There are several parameters that you need to evaluate before selecting a bicycle. And Google is your best friend to find more. But to learn, here’s one that is very important. Once you’ve managed to settle your butt on the seat, your toes should just touch the floor. Your feet were intended to be on the pedal, not on the floor, and that’s where they’ll be most of the time. 

Note to Aliens: Just two feet and two hands are needed. You'd also need a butt that can be placed on a seat, but that I'm sure we can work something out! You could also do it with one arm and leg. But you'll have to be a champ like this guy. 

Simple Rules to Understand
  • At first ignore the pedals: Don’t try to pedal as soon as you get on the bicycle. You learn cycling in stages, one step at a time. Learn the part that you need to do with your hands first, and then move to the legs. Of course, you can disregard this rule if you are this guy, and simply do both!

    Your first aim is to be able to learn how to stay upright, while moving, on two thin wheels.
    Did you know that they actually have bicycles without pedals designed just to help kids learn this part?

  • Don’t ignore the brakes: Keep your hands on the handle bar with your fingers in contact with both brake levers at all times. You might be prepared to fall. But the people in your surroundings aren’t prepared to get struck!
    Remembering to apply both brakes simultaneously, always, will minimize a few embarrassments.
  • Keep your head up: Don’t look at the floor/pedal/feet. Look up, that's where the action usually is.
  • Balance is in your hands: Yes! Not in that big thing you place on the seat! And the most important thing - Remember to swivel the handle gently in both directions, as you move, continuously, till  it becomes second nature to you. No one will tell you to do this. And this is how you will learn to master this art quickly. If you've observed a cyclist, you'll notice how often he/she twists the handle to steady themselves. By twisting the handle you are consciously doing something that will not just correct your course, but also keeps you upright. Watch this interesting experiment to understand balance.

Time to start. Divide your learning into the two parts.

  1. Find a road that is slightly inclined (and preferably deserted), sit on the bicycle, place your hands on the handle, keep your head up and look in front. 
  2. Sit on the seat with both legs on the floor. Once you are ready to move, give yourself a gentle push with your foot to allow the bicycle to begin to roll downhill. Keep twisting the handle to the left and right, in small, gentle movements, continuously, while gravity moves you forward. As the bicycle gathers momentum and starts moving faster, and you begin to feel uncomfortable, remember to clasp the brakes! 
  3. As you move forward, all the while, use your legs to prop the bicycle up, on either side. Use your feet like oars. If you are falling to the right, put your right leg down and vice versa on the other side. You’ll notice that the bicycle will ‘sail’ forward in a smooth zig-zag manner and you will also be bobbing from side to side as you place alternate feet on the ground to steady yourself. Don’t worry about who’s watching;) And it’s also alright to fall a few times. Your objective is to get the farthest distance without touching your feet on the ground.
    Remember, we are still not touching the pedals.
  1. On the return journey (uphill), you’ll need someone’s help. While your friend/dad/whoever, is holding the bicycle upright, rotate one of the pedals up to the 10 O’clock position with your preferred foot. Keep the other foot on the ground. 
  2. Now, while the bicycle is held upright, apply pressure on the foot that’s placed on the pedal. As the cycle begins to move forward, quickly bring your other foot up to the other pedal and start pedaling. 
  3. All the while, as you pedal, don’t forget to continue to move the handle to the right and left. If you feel you are going to fall in one direction, turn the handle a little more in the same direction and then quickly try to straighten yourself again. You'll get this right after a few falls:)
  4. Whoever is supporting you will need to hold the bicycle upright continuously, at least initially. But as you progress, ask him/her to let go for short durations.
Do the down-the-road / up-the-road routine  for 30 to 45 minutes every day. I can assure you that by the 5rd or 6th day, the person who was supposed to hold the bicycle upright for you will be huffing and puffing (and losing a lot of weight) behind you!

You can use these tips to teach your wife (ok, let me not be sexist here) or your husband to ride a scooter. My wife didn’t know how to cycle. But I’m mighty impressed with her that despite not knowing how to cycle, she learned how to ride a scooter. You can read about our adventures here - Teaching the Wife to Ride a Scooter.

And 'adventures', is putting it mildly!

1 comment:

  1. Would love to hear your comments and experiences. And if you like what I've written, don't forget to subscribe!