As a self-confessed strongly right-side dominated person, I have had my challenges on the trickier, more technical sections of trail rides. My right foot LOVES to step off my bike first. Anything else simply feels totally unnatural. But this urge doesn’t always serve me well. Take for example the many times I’ve come to a stop on a narrow trail with an obstacle in front of me, a rocky wall on my left side, and a sheer drop-off on my right. Let the image come to your mind, and you will see both the fear in my face and the ridiculousness of my bodily action as I desperately try to balance on …. well, nothing! and clutch at anything to stop the inevitable fall and slide, grazes and prickles.
Even learning to move my weight around on my bike has been a challenge in some respects. For general balance I have no issues, but when it comes to finely tuning the coordination of my left and right sides to safely negotiate tight switchbacks, I feel pretty awkward. Weighting and unweighting my left and right hands has been a journey into tough neurological territory. I’ve spent hours practising drills, telling my left side what to do over and again, with pretty slow progress.
When you stop to think about it, our whole lives are about control issues. As babies, we begin the process of learning to control our bodies from a seemingly simple movement of the hand, shaking and jerking in what appears to be a random fashion, gaining greater control over our gross motor and fine motor skills with practice. Learning control of bodily functions like toileting and speech. Learning to balance on two legs instead of four, most of us then progress towards running, hopping, jumping. Learning to coordinate our mouths and hands to eat with a degree of gentility. Learning to regulate emotions and behaviours. And the most wondrous of joys – learning to balance on a bicycle with just two wheels!
By this stage of life most of us have a preference for using the right or left side of our bodies. As adults we’ve had many years of practice doing things with the same dominance. Some people I know have had injuries that have necessitated learning to use their less dominant side. Watching my son gain competent use of his non-dominant side over several months as he recovered from a complicated break in his elbow inspired me to teach myself some new tricks, like playing sport left-handed and winding the clothes-line up and down with my left hand. The knowledge that our brains have a degree of plasticity gives me hope that on my bike I can, and will, gradually develop skills that will improve my riding, confidence and enjoyment.
Practising is something that I do a lot but I still find it hard. Getting my brain and my left side talking to each other is not something that comes naturally to me and it can be very frustrating. Over time I’ve come to realise that instead of messaging my left side a list of instructions, it’s actually more helpful to simply tell my right side to back off. This leaves space for my left side to do what it already knows, albeit a bit slower. The scenario reminds me of a child whose sibling / parent / friend does everything for them because it’s quicker and easier, and although often done with a loving intent, it prevents the child from developing the skills themselves.
Sitting back and observing the process, I can see these sorts of control issues mirrored in other areas of my life. To facilitate growth, it’s sometimes helpful to cut back, cut off or put firm boundaries up around a part of ourselves or our lives – give space to those parts of ourselves that need space; give time to those parts of ourselves that need time. And with practice, this gets easier too!