I’ve been working on my motorcycle endorsement. In Oregon it’s no longer just a matter of heading on down to the DMV, taking a little ride test, and smiling for the camera.
Now you have to take the Basic Rider Training course, which includes classroom teaching as well as coaching on the range.
For some reason, this became a long and painful process for me. I have good balance. I learn quickly. I’m not a particularly nervous person. Yet I failed. Multiple times. Over two years. You can read more about that adventure here and here.
So far I’ve spent 31 hours with with six different instructors, on top of a whole lot of practice riding. But now all that’s behind me. This past Sunday I passed the test. Now I’m now a trained, endorsed motorcycle rider.
You pay more attention when your life is on the line!
The kind and thoughtful Team Oregon instructors made sure to point out on a regular basis that what we were learning could keep us alive. While I was paying close attention, I learned 4 lessons I want to share with you. They are important if you don’t want to wreck your bike, sure. But they seem bigger than that to me.
Follow these life lessons and I think you’ll go a long way toward keeping out of the ditch.
1. You go where you look.
If you don’t ride a motorcycle, you might think that you turn same as in a car. Just turn the thing in front of you! That’s not how it works at all. Turning has more to do with leaning, posture, and where you aim your head.
One afternoon I was riding in my neighborhood. As I rounded a corner, I noticed one of the new Volkswagon Bugs parked on the curb, the new design that looks like it evolved from a Porsche 944.
It was brand new, dealer tags and all. I hadn’t seen one in real life so I slowed down to take a look. My stomach dropped as I nearly ran into the thing. Without me even noticing, my bike had drifted right where I was looking.
I reacted quickly, but was lucky I didn’t dump the bike, or worse, leave a huge gouge down the side of the Bug. My instructor’s words came back to me: “You go where you look!”
In life we get to choose where we put our attention. Where do we focus our eyes and emotional energy? The object of our attention has an enormous impact on the direction of our lives.
There’s a spiritual principle, drawn from 2 Corinthians 3:18. “By beholding we become changed.” What we give our attention to shapes us and the direction of our lives.
So, where are you looking in life? Is your attention on others? Is it on the past? Is it on how you were wronged or hurt? Is your attention focused on worry and fear? Wherever you are looking, that’s where your life will head.
2. Accidents develop in front of you.
One of my instructors asked, “Where do accidents happen?”
There was a long silence as we all tried to figure out what she meant. On streets? On motorcycles? On days that end in Y? Nope. Accidents are developing in front of you.
We were taught to constantly scan ahead, looking for potential hazards: On-coming cars, pedestrians, animals, intersections, drive-ways where someone might back out. While you’re riding, you are constantly thinking about what’s about to happen in front of you.
I’ve noticed people tend to live with most of their emotional energy stuck in the past or in the future. People who are living with regret or bitterness are stuck in the past. People who are living with fear are stuck in an imagined future.
But real life is happening right in front of you. That’s where you build relationships, where you can be connected to God. If you aren’t paying attention to that space, accidents are surely coming your way.
3. Safe riding requires thinking about others.
Learning to ride a motorcycle showed me how self-centered I am when I drive a car. I get in and just go, without much concern for the people around me. You can’t do that on a motorcycle.
If you’re going to ride safely, you have to be constantly thinking about other people. Can the driver ahead see me in their mirror? Does that lady backing out of her driveway knows I’m here?
People in cars take all of this for granted. Most fender-benders are insignificant. A little money changes hands, an insurance claim is made, no big deal.
On a bike, however, any accident can be a serious one. So you ride well aware that being on the road is choosing to take on an enormous responsibility for oneself and for the people around you.
Most people live their lives like they drive their cars, only thinking about where they are headed. They are shocked and offended when someone else’s life runs squarely into theirs. If you lived each day thinking about the people you’re intersecting with and how to safely and carefully be in relationship with them, the whole journey would be safer for everyone.
4. You must be present.
I can drive disconnected from what’s going on around me, paying little attention to the state of my car, forgetting to signal, unaware of my blind spots.
It’s easy! Kids in the back are fighting, the radio is on, my cell phone rings, I’m caught up in the scenery passing by, or in my own internal emotional dialogue. I can get to my destination without having ever really been present to the journey.
On a motorcycle this is a formula for ending up in the hospital. A safe rider checks out their bike every time. When you’ve only got two wheels, you’ve got to take care of any problems before you leave the house!
Then, there’s the drive. You can’t be anywhere except where you are. Scanning your 20-second path of travel is as far away as you can go safely. You’re thinking about the cars around you, the condition of the road, the intersection coming up, the reason why that car ahead might be slowing. If it’s a long ride, you’re thinking about your energy level. You’re taking the weather and time of day into account.
Honestly, this is one of the reasons I like riding so much. I’ve lived my adult life not being truly present. On a motorcycle you have no choice. You are in the moment. You are where you are. There is no other place you can be.
If you lived your life with this same level of awareness, you would experience so much more. Deeper sorrow, sure, but also deeper joy. Stronger relationships. A deeper sense of God’s presence. Being present is the path to personal growth.