It’s a gorgeous day. A warmth of sunbeams caress you and your fantastic motorcycle as you arc through an endless series of turns on a twisty back road. Your best gear on, you’re rested and alert, the bike is spotless and mechanically perfect, the pavement is smooth, and all is right with the world. What could possibly go wrong?
As you ride along, you get more and more into the “groove,” or the “zone,” or whatever term you prefer. Points of physical contact between you and bike melt and you become one creation, accelerating, braking, and romping through corners with capability, pace, and skill.
Over time the speed begins to rise. You were going sort of rapidly to begin with, and now you’re really getting on with it. The road is working with you, the bike is part of you, and all of nature is dancing with you for a perfect day.
…Until it isn’t.
You’ve been enjoying a pleasant little fantasy created by your brain. The core seeds that germinated this fantasy were planted long before you ever rode a bike. Remember when you first saw others enjoying motorcycles and imagined what it must be like? Your imagination conjured up images just like this, and now your dream has become reality.
But the engineers who designed the highway were not included in your dream, and may have had different priorities than those of your imagination. Suddenly a corner appears that curves the “wrong” way. A sign marking a 25mph corner has been knocked down. The fellow backing up the trailer with the backhoe on it around the next corner forgot to check with you for permission. Or the deer…
You get the point.
My term for this sort of thing is “bliss hypnosis,” and I’ve been the victim of it more than a few times, or perhaps the potential victim would be more accurate. My first and worst experience of the phenomenon came 20 years ago when I was rocketing along a remote road in the Colville Indian reservation at a less than prudent speed.
We’d been having a great ride for many miles, and things were awesome. Alas, these roads are also used by enormous and long lumber trucks, and on tight corners they will use up both lanes, and in fact have no choice.
I came into a hairpin corner much too fast and with no perception of any potential danger, and there it was. I can still recall a huge blue fender filling my face shield. It was so close and disaster so imminent that I closed by eyes and ducked to the inside, and I have no idea how I missed the truck. The incident still gives me chills to think of it. Yes, the truck was well over the center line, but any rational person would conclude the fault was mine
Bliss hypnosis can also be a problem on long rides on freeways, where you cruise along for hours at a time. After a while you become a character in your own travelogue movie – gliding along enjoying the scenery and presenting the image of motorcycling at its finest, and perhaps paying little attention to risks you would have noticed earlier in the day when you were more focused. The tire carcass from a semi in your lane will mess up your bliss if you do not see it until contact. For that matter, cruising along next to a semi that suffers a catastrophic tire failure is also not pleasant, and can in fact be fatal. People can and will change lanes in their lumbering behemoths, even while you are engaged in thought and your mind elsewhere.
That is not blissful at all.
How to combat bliss hypnosis? First you must accept that it can happen if you are not very aware of it, and then you must admit that there have been times in your riding when you have not been as aware as you should be. Then, once you have admitted that the potential exists, some of these concepts may help you avoid the potential outcomes.
- Frequent stops. “Frequent” will vary from rider to rider, but stopping whenever you first think of it will make the ride more fun, and safer. We often have a tendency to think “Just 50 more miles,” without ever talking back to yourself “Why? I am on vacation! Why do I need to cram in all the miles I can in as little time as possible?”
- Stay hydrated.
- Adjust your layers of gear to keep warm or cool depending on the weather challenges.
- Talk to yourself! When I find my mind sliding toward less than focused, I start a monologue, out loud in, of what I’m doing, seeing, and what risks I can identify ahead and what I’m going to do. If you’ve taken the On Street Course, this is exactly what the instructor was doing for you through the one way radio. Doing it for yourself works wonders.
- Change positions. If riding with someone else, swap the lead back and forth. I rode with a friend for 20 years and we knew each other’s styles so well we’d automatically swap places when the road type changed – he’d lead on roads with fast open sweeping turns, and I took over when the road threw up hairpin turns and lots of braking opportunities.
- No headphones. I know I get a bit preachy about this. I’ll continue to do so as long as people continue to do it. First of all, two ear buds is illegal in this state. One is legal, but not good for several reasons.
Most of us do not drink alcohol when riding. Why? Many riders fear (correctly) the threat of diminished reaction times and diminished judgment capacity, the thought being that operating a motorcycle safely requires the use of all your capabilities, and it is not a smart move to voluntarily lessen your ability.
If that is true, and I firmly believe it is, why would you give away some of your hearing capacity? If you’re over 30, simple ageing (and possibly rock concerts) have lessened your ability to hear, and riding without ear plugs will further damage your ears. Riding with ear plugs may arrest the degradation of your hearing, but also lessens your ability to hear. Is it a good idea to make your hearing worse?
But that is not the worst of it. When you have ear buds on, you are probably listening to music. Music you like. It is all too easy to begin riding to the music, the theme song to the mental movie you’re starring in, and not riding according to the road.
Exaggeration? Not at all. Example A: a national BMW sales manager I think very highly of by the name of Eric. I’ve ridden with Eric and worked events with him, and he is smart, outgoing, and one of those people who pitches in to help before anyone thinks to ask. He’s a great guy and a highly skilled rider. On the Sasquatch Ride three years ago he managed to crash a BMW R 1200 GS hard enough to put a hole in the engine cases – and that’s pretty hard to do. Up to that point he was tearing it up on a rocky trail, riding in a state of oneness and bliss – listening to …. “Highway to Hell.”
There’s an old school way to enjoy music you might try. I made a few cross country motorcycle trips over 40 years ago. Before each one I would play my favorite records, or the new-fangled technology of the cassette tape, over and over – planting a few favorite songs or even entire albums deep in my head. On the road, if I wished, I could “play” the music back to me in a manner that did not distract me from the task at hand. This was so successful that I can still recall entire songs I have not otherwise heard for decades.
It seems ironic that one of the goals of many motorcyclists in our culture is to use our bikes as vehicles in a couple of senses – to get us from place to place literally, but also to carry us away metaphorically. In order to enjoy the best of motorcycling, we have to have some concern that we not get carried away with our own pleasure, lest we end up being carried away …by others.
Ride well, ride often, and ride aware!
Copyright 2012 David Preston