Let go and focus

The most dangerous times on my bike commute aren’t what you might expect. They’re not the moments where a car abruptly makes a right turn in front of me, or a pedestrian on their headphones crosses in the middle of the road without looking. They aren’t even the times when a fellow bicyclist blazes through the red light perpendicular to your green.

The most dangerous times are when I lose my focus.

In drivers ed, I had an instructor who really took to heart the purpose of the course. I don’t remember his name, but he was probably a teacher either retired or off for the summer. He was an older man who carried himself with a hint of military background, and while kind, took his job very seriously. He corrected the small mistakes of all of us student drivers, and told us strategies to stay safe on the road.

The kernel of wisdom that has stayed embedded in my memory was where your eyes should be while driving. Not just on the road. He ingrained in me a habit of focusing on the road most of the time, but flicking your eyes to the rear and side mirrors every few seconds. This way you were able to monitor the area in your car’s general vicinity. If a car came up behind you, you would know it was there, instead of realizing too late it was in your blind spot when you went to change lanes. Constant caution and awareness were the rule.

I’ve carried that lesson on to my bike commuting. I mounted a small rearview mirror on the side of my helmet to increase my range of vision. While biking, I’ll try to look straight ahead with periodic glances to my my sides and behind me. It keeps me safe and aware.

The caveat, of course, is that I have to remain focused. If I get lazy, rushed, or angry at some idiot (and sometimes that idiot is me), it’s harder to maintain my focus. It’s telling that my first bike crash was caused a moment where I was so excited to bike out of work on a Friday that I was going too fast and I forgot about the monster pothole that I’d passed numerous times before.

If a car door gets kicked open right in front of me, if a commercial truck cuts me off like a crazy person, I can’t dwell on the “wrong” handed to me. Holding on to anger, however justified it may seem, will only hurt myself in the end.

Originally published on We May Bike.