The Day I Learned to Split

Where you put your attention creates your experience

By Samar Habib

I don’t remember what year it was exactly when I first started riding motorcycles. I do know that it’s now been more than a decade and that I’ve owned six bikes in that time.

I live in Northern California. If motorcycles were to create a heaven for themselves on earth, this would be it. The weather is suitable, our freeways are generously lit at night (most of the time), drivers are usually well-aware of us riders, and most importantly our legislators have had the sensibility to give motorcyclists the legal right to split lanes. Lane splitting (or lane filtering) is what you see us do when we ride in the space between two lanes. It is a gift from heaven; research shows that lane splitting reduces the annual number of collisions involving motorcycles.

Between the years 2012 and 2014 I didn’t own a bike. For about 18 months I was living in a country where there were no road rules and the road conditions were poor. My mother made me promise not to ride a bike so long as I was there, and I complied with her wishes. Then in September of 2014 I moved to California permanently and got myself a motorcycle within the first week I was there. We were back together again. His name was Shakespeare because the first three elements of his number plate were: “T,” “0” and “B” and I took it to read: “To be…” the opening two words of Hamlet’s dazzling soliloquy.

Soon enough I was commuting daily from the East Bay to work in San Francisco, crossing the Bay Bridge at least 10 times a week. And I would watch in admiration and confusion as other motorcyclists split lanes, leaving me in their dust trail. I couldn’t understand how they were doing it without hesitation and with such speed. I felt like a novice and I didn’t like it. I still split lanes but I was nervous and slow doing it. And then one day I decided that I would just wait for the knowledge of how to lane split to come to me. I decided to relax and take it easy with not being a good lane splitter, rather than put pressure on my self to do something that made me nervous.

I still remember the exact moment I “learned” how to split lanes. I was heading back home, it was a summery evening, full of natural sunlight when it happened. For the first time I saw not what I usually see when I look ahead of me — which are the cars in front of me on either side, I saw the space between the cars. It was almost like a shiny runway, lit up with a heavenly glow, it was like a vortex, a wormhole that opened up the moment the rider was ready. I realized that in all that time I was lane splitting hesitantly, that I had been focusing on the obstacles (the cars on either side), concentrating on not hitting them. It had never occurred to me to focus on the clear path in between the cars. When you focus on the clear path something amazing happens, the cars on either side stop being obstacles, they become nothing more than either side of the canal where the water flows.

I learned two things from this experience. First, wait until you’re ready. Wait until the answer matures in your unconscious and when the gestation period is over it will come to you: the simple and elegant solution will be delivered to you on a silver platter. Don’t try to rush your progress. Sit in traffic if you have to. Just sit. Sit on it. Sit with it. When the rider is ready, the wormhole will appear.

And the second thing I learned from this experience is not to focus on the obstacles, but to focus on the clear path. This in itself transforms the obstacles.

Where you put your attention matters to your experience and your performance.

Dr. Samar Habib is a writer, researcher and scholar. She lives in California.

Originally published at

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