If you ride a motorcycle successfully, you know this–your attention is always immediately around you. Your mind does not wander to the grocery list, the plans for next weekend, or lunch. You are focused on where you are, who is behind and in front of you, and what is happening right now. As you ride in this moment and focus on it, you begin
to know what others in cars are thinking, what they will do. Your circle of awareness expands and you are alert and calm, aware and easy on the bike. As a creative, I know this is a moment of flow that Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about. (Watch Csikszentmihalyi’s TED YouTube video.)
This afternoon, I was on the freeway entrance ramp, accelerating and ready to merge with traffic. Behind me, in the lane I was about to enter, was a gray car. When I clicked the signal light, the car slowly accelerated. I had an instant to make a decision–hit the brakes, hard, or continue to accelerate and merge. Because I was more than two car lengths ahead of the gray car, I hand-signaled and merged. I felt the driver’s flash of anger and although she neither had to brake nor react, she didn’t like my decision. Freed from my own thoughts, I could feel hers.
Although bikes come equipped with turn signals, many motorists don’t see them. When I make a lane switch, merge, or turn left, I make a definite, strong arm movement in which I point to the space I’m going to move to. There is no doubt what I’m going to do. It’s hard to miss.
On the freeway, I changed lanes again, using the passing lane to avoid a turnoff, and joining the speed of traffic, which is fast here in Arizona. Traveling 70 mph on a bike keeps you alert. Traveling 70 mph on a crowded freeway keeps you as alert as you have ever been.
I don’t like to ride in the passing lane, I like to leave it free for cars to pass each other. I crossed into the middle lane, felt the relief of the pickup who swung into the passing lane and edged past me, and knew without checking that the driver coming up on my right behind me was on the phone. It’s amazing what being in the moment tells you. It informs the way you handle the bike, it feeds you information on your position in traffic.
The car on the right behind me pulled even with me, then dropped back. I checked. Yep, he’s on the phone. Impaired driver. Not in the moment. Not fully engaged in driving. On the other side, the gray car was now a car length behind me. I knew what she would do 10 seconds before she started her move. She was going to pass on the left, then cut me off and slam on her brakes. This game is incredibly dangerous, it can cause a multi-car accident, but that wasn’t her intent. In her mind, she was justified in punishing an arrogant motorcyclist who took her lane. Had a car done the same thing, she would not have given it a moment’s thought. You ride on the road with a lot of people, and you don’t get to pick any of them.
I couldn’t change lanes, but I slowed slightly to build a space cushion. She cut in front of me sharply and braked hard, but then accelerated, not looking back. She had achieved what she needed to do. She wouldn’t be a problem, and I had not had to brake hard, risking a skid on pavement that hasn’t seen rain in eight weeks.
On the right, the phone talker passed me. His car was not centered in the lane, he wanted to merge into my lane. I wanted to be out of his way, so I checked my left and saw a white car racing up the passing lane. Although the phone-driving had seen me ahead of him, he was not aware of me. I felt his decision before his wheels crossed into my lane while I was even with his back door. He’d forgotten me. I was in his blind spot, and his attention was on his call, not his car.
But I had the passing lane free, so I hit the horn at the same time I moved to the left of the center lane, ready to pull into the passing lane if I had to. Phone driver swerved back into his right lane, and I passed him. He waved apologetically at me, using his phone hand.
This is what driving a motorcycle is like–a constant awareness of the world around you, the emotions and patterns of drivers. You know what is around you in that moment, and it changes in the next. Your mind doesn’t drift or waver, you know just what you have to know to stay upright and moving forward on your bike. It’s why most bikers ride, it’s a feeling like no other. It’s what being in the moment means, and I learned how from Suzy Lightning.
–Quinn McDonald is a writer, trainer, and creativity coach. She rides Suzy Lightning, her motorcycle, as often as she can when the weather is good.