To ride safely, skill is not enough – you need a good attitude to define your relationship to the world. New skills are easy to get by mechanical practice but to get a new attitude you must personally embrace it. You have to open the door and let it in. Unless you want it, it wont happen. Decide now what you want your attitude to be. It isn’t easy to overcome attitudes like fear, hurry or anger. You can’t stop fear by just saying “I wont be afraid”. You cant “delete” fear, hurry or anger, because they are built in! The only way to change a negative attitude is to put something positive in its place. That something is attention!
Put something in its place
Suppose you want to ride, but are afraid, arrogant or impulsive – or any or any one of a number of negative emotional states. What do you do about it? Common responses are:
- Ignore it – just ride anyway. It then becomes your permanent safety handicap.
- Run away – stop riding entirely. You then miss out on the fun of it.
- Try harder – do whatever you are doing more. Doing what you are already doing more doesn’t help.
These methods dont work. The only way to deal with a negative state is to put something else in its place. Negative goals, aiming to not do certain things, don’t work. People need positive goals. If you try to say deny fear, the opposite negative state will jump in, and you become foolhardy. This is called the “swing of the pendulum”, and is common in people. The pendulum swings you from fear to carelessness, and both are just as bad. Yet “Nature abhors a vacuum”, so to stop something you have to put something else in its place.To ride safely, the best thing to replace any negative emotion is full attention. Make getting on the bike your wake-up call.
Inattention is thinking about anything other than what you are doing right now – riding! Thinking how cool you look when you ride is inattention. Thinking what you will do when you arrive is inattention. Thinking some driver was bad to you is inattention. Most of the time, our attention is not unified but dissipated all over the place. We are like a leaky sieve, rather than a barrel with one bung-hole. We only usually only give half our brain or less to any particular thing. Normally that is OK – you don’t need your whole brain to make a cup of coffee. But on a bike, you cannot afford to be like this. You need your whole brain to ride a motor-cycle. Inattention is the main cause of accidents. Inattention makes you accident prone. People talk about speed or drink, and these are all factors, but the real number one road killer is inattention.
Attention is being all there
One antidote to fear, hurry and anger is attention. Fear is a distraction. Hurry is a distraction. Anger is a distraction. Attention is when you center yourself mentally. If you give attention to everything around you, you can’t also be fearful. If you give attention, you can’t also be worrying about other things. If you give attention, you don’t worry what other people think of you. Hence the first rule of getting on a bike is to be all there. The enemy is inattention. The goal is full attention – or the best awareness you can muster.
Attention is respect
Worry disrespects yourself and your ability. Hurry disrespects the world and its rules of cause and effect. Anger disrespects the world by wanting it to conform to you. In contrast, attention respects both the world and yourself. It is not doing nothing, though it may seem that way to others. Giving attention takes effort. Every part of you is contributing to being there. When you give attention, you are unified as a person. This awareness makes you mentally ready to ride.
Think about a moment of great danger or excitement, when you really gave attention. That is the state you want when riding – all the time! Just as you center yourself physically to balance a bike, so you must center yourself mentally. The hard part of attention is you can have it one moment and lose it the next. It is an every moment thing, and for a rider, any moment could count.
Your frame rate
There are many ways to improve your attention. One is to increase your mental frame rate, the rate you process input. When you watch a video, the action looks continuous but actually it is a series of static pictures that flick by at 80+ frames per second. You think it is continuous because the frame rate of your eyes is only 60 times per second. You don’t see the gaps in the film because there are gaps in your vision. Your brain processes vision just like a video camera, as a series of picture frames.
Frame rate explains why some people can hit a fast ball in cricket or baseball, and others cant. If you have a low rate, you may see the ball leave the hand and in the next visual “frame” it is upon you, with no time to react. With a higher rate, you may also see it on the way, and thus be able to hit it. Now unlike a video camera, your brain frame rate is not fixed. It goes up and down with your attention. It takes effort, but when you give a lot of attention the rate at which you process the world goes up. Frame rate varies between situations and between people – some people can actually see the frames for low speed video. If you try to be more aware “from moment to moment”, you can increase your brain’s information processing rate, i.e. your attention.
To maintain attention you have to stay awake. Your arousal level comes from somewhere deep in your brain. One way to increase arousal is to drink coffee. Another is to do violent exercise. If you are riding a motorcycle, neither of these ways is convenient. But one way to increase arousal that can be used on a bike is yelling. When you ride, no-one hears you scream. It sounds stupid, but it works. When you yell loudly, your mind wakes up and you focus better. If I feel only half there when riding, I yell “Yeehah!” Try it. It’s invigorating, and no-one will know.