I’m not sure what inspired the thought, yet while relaxing in the comfortable climate-controlled environment of a movie theater, I realized that I’d been sitting in the same spot for quite a while. Between showing up promptly, acquiring snacks, and watching previews, I’d parked in said recliner for nearly two and a half hours. We hadn’t even hit the denouement yet.
A bit of post-film Google-fu revealed that the average runtime of feature films has increased by about 10 minutes every decade since 1981. In 2021, a standard Hollywood movie lasted 131 minutes. Unless I’m completely enthralled with that specific activity, there is a strong chance my mind will wander. That’s why the idea of film lengths developed into a full-fledged desire to confirm my suspicions after exiting the theater.
Focusing on one task for a prolonged period is difficult and takes some discipline. I often need to set goals for myself and attempt to get work or activities done within a specific timeframe. The constant passage of time, coupled with an overwhelming sense of guilt if the task isn’t completed, seems to be a good, albeit probably unhealthy, motivation for me. Yet, it works and allows me to dedicate my efforts to that specific task, and then move on to something else.
A somewhat passive experience like indulging in a film isn’t one of those cases where the aforementioned strategy applies. I am a passenger and simply reacting to the images of a curiously old fighter pilot brazenly committing a litany of crimes that would have landed him in the stockade. Alas, we’re applying real-world logic to fictional film plots, although one can’t help but wonder how different the sequel could have been.
Riding a motorcycle isn’t a passive exercise, even though it can feel that way sometimes. During a recent all-day ride across Angeles Crest Highway and some of the surrounding roads, I did notice that my attention began to wane while the pace slowed and the scenic vistas came into view. It is easy to become distracted by what’s happening around you or let your mind wander to other topics. Did I pay my electric bill? What should I have for dinner? I need to return those pants. Those are just a few examples of things utterly unrelated to operating a vehicle moving at a high rate of speed.
Now, I don’t want to come off as a fun-sponge and Hoover the simple pleasures of riding from anyone. We’re out in the world, skirting along a highway through a tree-rimmed route, an engine pleasantly humming along, and it all seems peaceful. Enjoying the scenery is part of the joy.
Unlike the movie theater, riding a motorcycle will take its toll on your attention span and body, regardless of the discipline. Out on a racetrack, trail, or motocross track, we’re spending loads of energy to will a motorcycle in a particular direction. Commuting, touring, and general pleasure riding don’t present themselves as having the same physical or mental cost. Yet, I’d argue it’s well within the realm because it requires a longer attention span that hyperactive track riding hot shoes typically don’t have.
I employ several things on longer rides to help keep my thoughts centered on riding. The first order of business is taking care of external influences such as hydration, hunger, and comfort. Minor annoyances tend to snowball, so clearing those variables from your mind is worth its weight in gold. Not only that, we must consider that staying hydrated in these warmer winter months can be chalked up as a matter of safety. So, pull over and indulge in any cool beverages if the inkling of thirst begins to knock around your skull. At that point, your body has already turned the proverbial corner down the road of dehydration, and from there on out, your focus will decline.
That’s on the physical side. Mentally, there are other strategies to employ that benefit me. Yamaha Champions Riding School espouses that “have a plan” before even turning the bike’s key. Broadly speaking, YCRS wants riders to have goals and execute them. For the street, we can apply that on a grander scale and set goals that extend to the length of our ride, whatever that is. Having those thought-out confines helps if our riding starts coloring outside the lines too far.
A wonderful course known as Rich Oliver’s Mystery School combines the visceral sensation of sliding around on little dirt bikes with philosophical pinings in the best way imaginable. One of Rich’s teachings is on concentration. Focusing on the race overall is too big a bite to chew. Instead, he would “reset” at the start/finish line to help maintain his concentration lap after lap—what happened before was in the past. Now only what was in front of him mattered. It was a strategy that he used to capture five AMA national titles.
How does that work on a street ride? Well, for me, I look at it as clicking off mile increments. Once 10 miles roll by, we have another 10, and before long, you’ve made a solid dent in your trip.
Focus requires some thought. It’s important to recognize the fairly easy steps to ensure we’re at the top of our game without too much effort. Anything that improves the ride is worthwhile in my book.