I tell new riders to assume that everyone on the road is actively trying to kill them. They usually catch on pretty quickly.
Staying alive on a motorcycle balances somewhere between being alert, intuitive and clairvoyant. You have to pay attention to traffic around and in front of you. You need to recognize when traffic starts backing up in the next lane and your lane has some space in it. You KNOW someone's going to jump from one to the other and they may or may not look for you. If they do see you there, it doesn't necessarily matter to them that the space between you and the car in front of you is reserved for braking when your lane inevitably slows down.
Aside from traffic, you also have to keep an eye on the road itself. Debris, potholes, ridges in the pavement.. any of it can be disastrous. That’s not even mentioning animals like dogs and deer. Deer in South Carolina will go bounding across the road in front of your 650 lb. motorcycle traveling at 55+ miles per hour like there’s going to be a winner in that confrontation and they’re sure it’s going to be them. The truth is that no one wins that one.
The clairvoyant part comes in when you need to know what they're going to do without them signaling it in any way. Sometimes, you need to discern what they're going to do without them even thinking about it beforehand. And if you're really good at it, you can sense what they're going to do before they do it when it makes no sense at all.
How many studies have there been on “gifted” children to see if they can read minds and pick the right shape on a card without looking at it? How many clandestine government experiments have been performed with a goal of reading minds? I have an idea... bikers! Wanna win in Vegas? Take a biker and make it a life or death situation. Your odds just went up dramatically. Our skills are honed daily.
What if the psychic hotline was staffed by bikers? Phone rings. “Hey dude, this is Slider. Man, I’m calling you today to let you know that you need to take a different route to work today cause there's a blue SUV that’s going to cut you off on the road. Oh.. and you're gonna spill soup in your lap at lunch.”
When I moved to South Carolina, we had billboards that would announce “Your emergency care is 7 minutes away!” or some such number. That would be very reassuring if I wanted emergency care. A normal person might think to themselves, “Oh good. If I get mangled, help is close by”. But going down the road, I'd prefer to take a pass on the whole thing. I always found myself thinking, “Well then I need to be really careful for the next 7 minutes to avoid whatever impending doom awaits me!”
It's like cruising down some beautiful back road and seeing birds circling in the sky up ahead. Most normal people may not think twice about it. I can't help but wonder if they're waiting for their food to be delivered. “Hey! Biker coming! Let's find a good spot to watch the show before lunch!”. Animals can be intuitive. Okay.. maybe not deer. But maybe the vultures know something I don’t that would lead them to think there will be a meal soon.
Sounds crazy, huh? So why would anyone ride one of these things unless they had some sort of death wish? It’s all in perspective.
One of the perspectives you get in the saddle of a motorcycle is when you leave out early on a summer morning, when the sun is just coming up over the top of the trees and the beams of light break through a light haze as you ride down some country road in the middle of nowhere. In a car, you can see it. On a bike, you’re in it. The motor rumbles underneath you and you glide around gentle corners in a slow motion, poetic dance with gravity and centrifugal force. Trees hang high over the road forming a natural canopy of green and, in that moment, you are alone with yourself. The air is fresh with perhaps a hint of the dew burning off the grass or a freshly cut field nearby. Or maybe it just smells clean and new. It’s like a scene from a movie but you’re not watching it. You are the movie. You see it from a different perspective.
Or.. perhaps you’re riding along the coast. Marsh stretches out on either side of the road. Or maybe you have the ocean on one side. You think to yourself, “If I take a right turn right now, the next gas station is in Europe” (or Asia.. depending on your coast). You can smell the salt in the air and a warm breeze blows over your skin. You spot the occasional seagull who is certainly less foreboding than the vultures circling over another road. And the whole time, your motorcycle growls beneath you, taking you wherever you want to go. She takes on a persona. The wordy ones call it anthropomorphism. Whatever you call it, you know she’s watching out for you as she carries you down the road to your destination. Or is it hers? Could you travel this in a car? Sure. Would it be the same? Not even close. It’s a completely different perspective.
In those moments, there’s nowhere else you need to be. Nowhere else you want to be. You twist open the throttle and the center lines in the road become a single blur that leads to the next horizon. You start to think that maybe that theory is right, the one that says as you go faster, time slows and even reverses. That voice in the back of your head gets quieter and quieter.. the one that tells you it’s time to slow down and act your age.
You don’t have to see the future to know this is where you’ll always want to be. From where you sit, it’s a different perspective that makes all that other craziness worth it.
[P.S. - I had a gentleman call me out to say telling people that drivers were out to kill them was wrong, irresponsible and would probably create a generation of road rage and the downfall of civilization. Outrage and indignation have become our biggest national products. I'm not apologizing but let me clarify... to believe that everyone on the road woke up this morning looking forward to killing you today.. literally.. you'd have to be an impressive, and probably clinical, level of paranoid. Also, I said nothing about retaliation. But.. I still choose freedom, including yours. You're entitled to think I'm wrong. I don't need you to conform to my world. That wouldn't be freedom. That said.. if riding in a state of hyper-vigilence saves one of my friends from getting creamed, then I'm okay with that.]