Advocacy, Community

Backwards brain challenge

Lee Griggs with his modified ‘backwards brain bike’. Photo: Matt Brown.

A mental health advocate known for his off-the-wall challenges is back on his bike – taking his fundraising efforts in a different direction.

Guinness World Record holder Lee Griggs, from Seddon, has unveiled his latest bid to help highlight mental health.

Using a new ‘backwards brain bike’ the intrepid adventurer will enter two of New Zealand’s most prestigious mountain biking events.

He says the mind-bending bicycle is a physical demonstration of neuroplasticity, or the brains ability to rewire itself.

Turning the bicycles handlebars left turns the front wheel right, and vice versa.

Lee says on a regular bike, your brain knows exactly which direction and with how much force is needed to subtly move the handlebars and pedals to avoid falling off.

“This just shows it all up,” he says.

“I’ve had to relearn how to ride a bike.”

The mechanism which reverses the steering on the ‘backwards brain bike’.
The mechanism which reverses the steering on the ‘backwards brain bike’.

In previous years, Lee climbed Mount Fyffe, in Kaikoura, on a pogo stick and cycled the punishing Molesworth track on a unicycle.

The handlebars on the bike, supplied by Blenheim’s Bikefit, are mounted on a specially designed clamp, designed by Cuddons, with gearing that reverses the handlebars direction.

He says participating in the two mountain-biking events is to show what the human brains is capable of, and its ability to change.

“You can take a really well rehearsed and practiced thought pattern you’ve had through life and exchange it for a new one,” he says.

“We all have the ability to change our thought patterns.

“It takes practice, hard work and consistency.”

Lee says there are two principles of neuroplasticity.

“Two neurons that fire together wire together, and the other is use it or lose it.”

“Like the muscles in our body, you use them and make them stronger, or they atrophy.

“If you don’t use the neural pathways in your brain, they become weaker.”

He says the project is to raise awareness about mental health.

“We are not our mental ill health.

“We can replace those anxious thoughts with constructive, resilient thought patterns.”

Lee wants to compete in the longest-running mountain bike event, the Karapoti Classic, a 50km event near Wellington at the end of February followed by the Motatapu in Otago, a 47km event.

“I want to showcase it at those events to raise awareness about mental health.

“On the smooth stuff, you react calmly but with the rough stuff, your brain flicks back to riding a regular bike.

“That’s the parallel, mental health isn’t something you deal with only when it’s tough.”

Lee and his ‘backwards brain bike’ will be on demonstration, with the opportunity to give it a go, at the Christmas Festival on Thursday.

“I would like to do a school tour afterwards and compete in the cyclocross series on the bike in June,” he says.

“Harcourts, Cuddon and Bikefit have joined the team, but I’m still looking for more sponsors to help us promote the message and get us to the events.

“And I’m looking forward to getting back to riding a normal bike.”

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