by Eli Post
Concentration, the act of focusing all one's attention on the task at hand, is essential in sports, and distractions can lead to trouble. Though not exhaustive, the list below includes several potentially dangerous distractions cyclists may encounter. Train yourself to recognize and respond to these so that you maintain control and avoid injury.
Cell Phones – These are invaluable in emergencies and/or for obtaining directions. Responding to a ring when moving, however, is asking for trouble. It is far better to stop the bike before answering or, as many believe, not to answer out of respect for fellow riders. Texting on a cell phone while riding is one of the most dangerous distractions imaginable. When stopping, find a safe area, signal your intentions well in advance, and slow gradually.
Dropped objects – We've all seen or had the experience of cue sheets flying off the bike, objects popping out of an open saddle bag or a water bottle that is jolted out of its cage. Our first instinct is to stop immediately and retrieve the object, but that may put the riders behind (as well as you) in jeopardy. Keep moving, signal that you are slowing, and stop gradually after you have made your intentions clear to those behind you.
Missed Turns – Sometimes riders are distracted and, therefore, see arrows too late or miss a turn, and then stop short. This situation has caused several crashes on CRW rides as the fast-moving group does not have time to respond when there is a sudden stop or abrupt change in direction. Keep moving, even if you have gone off route, until you can safely stop and reverse course.
Music Players – Despite the pleasure of hearing music, we recommend that you not use a portable music player. It reduces your awareness of traffic noise and your ability to hear signals and warnings from other riders. In fact, in Massachusetts it is not legal to use headphones with a music player when driving an automobile. The club totally agrees with that and goes further in recommending that a cyclist not use a music player at all. Moreover, it makes little sense to ride with a group if you are going to completely ignore everyone else to listen to music.
GPS Instruments – GPS navigation is becoming ever more popular, but we caution about the danger of watching the screen instead of the road, road hazards, and other riders. There have been crashes due in part to the rider being distracted by his or her GPS. At 15 mph you are traveling at 22 feet per second and in about 4 seconds you cover the length of a basketball court. A lot can happen and/or go unobserved over that distance, and problems can arise over much shorter distances.
Socializing – There are times when we want to enjoy the company of others on a ride. Even then, we should not get so caught up in conversation that our concentration and awareness suffer. Your safety and that of those around you depend on your knowing what is going on around you.
Crashes are usually caused by a convergence of factors. While you are distracted, another cyclist, a dog or a car could move into your path. Sometimes you may have only a fraction of a second to react. If your attention is diverted during that period, you could crash. Understanding when a distraction could do you harm is the key to avoiding injury to yourself and others. Whether you are crossing the street, driving a car, or, to the point of this article, riding a bike, you should be on alert for potential accidents. Recognize when hazards are present and stay focused on them, a more difficult task when confronted with multiple hazards. Also, watch for others who may have become complacent or preoccupied. It would not be out of line to politely remind them of the importance of paying attention for the sake of the group.
Concentration is one of the major areas of emphasis of sports psychology. Cyclists sometimes focus on unimportant events at the expense of more critical ones and/or become distracted. Although developing concentration requires practice, once it is achieved it can become a habit that requires less conscious effort. It will serve you well in your riding.