The Tao of Road Captainhood


Group motorcycle riding is a sport unto itself, different from riding solo. To illustrate my point please imagine a Blue Angels fighter pilot. He will use different skills and tactics if challenged to a one on one dog fight then when he is flying in formation with the famous 6 plane flight squadron. A group ride is usually planned and lead by a Road Captain. This individual gives his time and takes on the responsibility of leading the group because he enjoys sharing the sport of motorcycling with others. The Road Captain is essential to group riding. He is the warrior leading the tribe through the jungle. He is the strategist predicting what the highway will throw at us and deciding how we will approach the challenge. He is the planner, the navigator and most importantly the leader!

Blue Angels

There are Road Captains of all levels. Each is traveling on their own journey to mastering the art of Road Captainhood. No one starts out from day one as a black belt. Like a Samurai warrior or Kung Fu master, the Road Captain develops his skills over time. Someday I hope to be a wise old master Road Captain who can look up at the sky, listen to the wind and know from the flow of energy in the universe which direction to travel, which road to take, how fast to ride and when to take a comfort break. For those of you who travel solo this might sound strange. For those of you who ride in a diverse group, you understand the challenge of trying to please everyone.

Mr Miagi

For those of you unfamiliar with group riding, imagine the Road Captain as the head of a long snake. He can not dart from one lane to the next between cars like a single motorcycle can because his tail will not be able to follow. He can’t dart through traffic lights without losing his tail. What happens if he loses his tail and then comes to the next turn? He can’t stop in the middle of traffic and wait for his tail to catch up. If he makes the turn his tail may continue straight not knowing he made a turn. At some point he is going to go through a changing traffic light and then he will have to wonder if the riders behind him stopped safely or blindly followed his lead through the intersection. Leading a group is tricky.

Lets take a look at the skills and characteristics of a good Road Captain:

Skilled Rider – the Road Captain is a skilled motorcyclist. He must be able to spot someone who needs help and give instruction. People will ask the Road Captain questions about riding and he will need to know the answers.

Mechanical Aptitude – the Road Captain will make sure his motorcycle is in proper working condition before leading the charge. He will need to spot any problems among his group that could potentially cause harm. Fellow motorcyclists will come to the Road Captain with questions on everything from how much pressure should they put in their tires to what kind of oil to use.

Road Savvy – the Road Captain knows roads that will amaze you and places that will delight you. Over the years he has explored miles of backroads and highways so that he can lead you to places that you would not have otherwise traveled to.

Prepared – the Road Captain must think ahead, study the weather and conduct pre-rides. He must be able to advise his fellow riders on what to expect, what to bring and sometimes what to wear. The Road Captain carries maps, a first aid kit and tools. Many Road Captains are equipped with CB Radio and some have GPS navigation systems. He is the quintessential boy scout.

Planner – the Road Captain maps out routes. He plans rest, fuel and meal stops. He researches hotels, restaurants and places of interest.

Leader – the Road Captain is the leader. This is a dangerous sport and people are looking to the Road Captain to lead them safely to a destination and get them home in one piece. While leading a ride he may have to direct members, road captain prospects, the wingman and his partner the Tail Gunner (aka the Sweep Rider). The Road Captain must set the example when it comes to safety and conduct. If there is an accident the group will look to the Road Captain to take control of the accident scene. Everyone will look to the Road Captain for every possible question thinkable: When will we leave? Where will we meet? How long will we be gone? How many miles to the next gas station? When will we eat? Where will we eat? Can we go faster? Can we stop more often? Do you think it will rain? What if it rains?

Wiseman – the Road Captain will have to make decisions and change plans based on the riders in his group, their motorcycles, the weather and road conditions. He may opt to take a less direct route due to bad weather. He may decide to change the route based on the skill level or size of his group. He may decide to take a backroad rather than a highway because of the types of motorcycles in his group. He may have to push his group a little harder, deprive them of extraneous rest stops or shopping in order to get them to their final destination before dark.

Mystic Jedi Wizard – the Road Captain will need to call upon all of his senses, special intuition and ninja like powers to feel the flow of traffic. He will grow eyes in the back of his head and develop Spidey Sense! He must be in sync with the cosmic living entity known as the open road. There are truckers in tractor trailers, teenagers in souped up cars, soccer moms in SUV’s, drunks coming back from a liquid lunch at the local watering hole, student drivers learning how to drive, children on bicycles, wild animals, domestic animals, dead animals, road debris, traffic lights, bridges, toll booths, emergency vehicles and cops all out there on the road with the ability to disrupt your ride. The Road Captain must see everything in front of the group, behind the group and on both sides of the group to avoid or minimize disruption. When disruption occurs he must react decisively and bring his group back to order as quickly and safely as possible.

Yoda

Now you have to ask “who has all that?”. How many Jedi Knights are there who have mastered the force? Not many! One can only strive to have all those skills and powers, but it is not realistic to be a master of everything. Some Road Captains will be stronger than others in different area’s. They all strive to strengthen their weaknesses on their journey to becoming the grizzled old master. Until we reach that level we can look to our senior Road Captains to teach us the way of the road, we can gain experience by leading rides, we can get out there and explore those hidden roads and we can seek training. Training is available through ERC courses, books and video’s. Bruce Lee did not become The Dragon overnight. He studied, he learned, he praticed and he paid his dues. I’m sure he got knocked down a few times. It was hard work, but in the end he did become The Master!

Bruce Lee

23 Responses to “The Tao of Road Captainhood”

  1. Geez, I think I need to give my patches back. I don’t think I can handle all the expectations! Heheheheheh.

    BTW, I like the Blue Angels analogy.
    I think I’m going to ummm…”borrow” it this weekend.

  2. Thank you, feel free to borrow it. My wife was nit picking that the Blue Angels don’t go into combat. I said that they are Navy and Marine aviators and probably rotate in and out of the Blue Angels squadron and therefore have probably accrued some combat missions. Regardless, I think it is a good analogy to illustrate that we have to ride less aggressively when riding in formation with the group. A lessen I was taught in West Virginia by one of our Head Road Captains.

  3. Wow…And here I thought I took motorcycle riding serious. Welcome to the RoadCapt. Dojo for spiritual moto-enlightenment.

    “When you can ride the dragon’s tail blindfolded, then it is time for you to lead.”

    I have always thought that fighter formations were similar to group riding. Remember the USAF Thunder Birds? The leader hit the ground and the rest followed.

    The exact same thing happens to the pack on the road with a crappy leader.

  4. Nice post. This is a great reminder to all who want to be in front, the responsibility that comes with it. Maybe that’s why I’m happy to be a follower. Thanks for putting things in great perspective.

  5. I don’t know if my mechanical aptitude will ever become widely known or praised, but I do at least carry basic tools for emergencies.

    What works for me is not being afraid to take advantage of my resources. Rarely would I find myself leading a ride of all newbies. Having other RCs there to sweep, ride wing, etc is what I draw strength from. I’m never afraid to ask others who’ve been around for input. So far, the one big ride I led was a great success, with a good turnout, and those who rode really enjoyed it. One skill I don’t need to master – picking a good restaurant to end my ride at!

    I think it takes many rides and at least a few seasons to really earn the respect that goes with wearing the Road Captain’s rocker. Something tells me both of us are going to make out alright.

  6. So, should we call you Yoda now? 😉

  7. I like Yoda but I feel more like Luke. With great power comes great responsibility.

  8. Are you Luke or Peter Parker?

  9. I think he has multiple personality disorder!

  10. Just call me Fung Fu!

  11. OK, Juan Epstien! LOL

  12. Horshak!

  13. I’m sure it’s implied in here, but it bears stating by itself. Leadership is leading by example.

    Do not be in a hurry to “arrive”. When one has completed the trip, where is the satisfaction in the journey?

  14. I think patients is a very important part of group riding regardless of where in the pack one is positioned, although it is definitiely a requirement for Road Captainhood. Thank you for pointing that out.

  15. PATIENTS???? you trying to put your group into the hospital???? geesh I dont want to be a patient after a group ride with YOU!!!

    but I have the confidence that the PATIENCE in you will always win out, except in the mornings when your very cranky and moody….geesh it must be hell around your house in the morning, with Princess and you!!!!

    great ride Sunday, and Diana I have a great pic of you riding solo….ohh and one of you too Yoda!!!

    ride safe, ride often and let those who ride decide!!!!

    Diesel AKA Skip

  16. Here I thought I was being careful by looking up my spelling in the dictionary only to look stupid for using the incorrect word! Geesh!

  17. Skip,
    Luckily I am up & out of the house before Jay’s alarm starts going off…so no one has to deal with anyone else’s A.M. demeanor….and on Saturdays we don’t get out of bed until noon!!!!

    You have to email me the pics. Thanks! I had great fun riding with you too….just like on “that other trip” LOL

  18. Fascinating post, Skip,

    I loved the great analogies, it really helped me to understand the task of Road Captain.

    BTW: I live in Galena, IL, right on Hwy 20, and see biker captains and their groups traveling past my windows on a daily basis.

    As merely a “biker-wannabe” I had no idea what the Road Captain’s job entailed, but you explained it well.

    By the way, a road trip to Galena is something you and your fellow riders might want to consider, next time you decide to head to the Midwest. NW Illinois seem to have become a biker’s paradise, and that’s likely because Galena, IL is a fascinating town with loads of fabulous B&Bs, great restaurants and wonderful winding scenic roads to travel.

    For info on the area, check out this site: http:galena.org

    Hope to see you and your posse around here sometime soon, Captain!

    Anne

  19. Fantastic, now to get my fellow Road Captains to believe in it, and themselves. Excellent, especially the Blue Angles piece.

    Thanks,

    Gizmo
    Road Captain
    Safety Officer

  20. this is a great blog. thank you. I was finally bullied into road captain status after our senioe RC had to move away. My early arguments were that I needed more experience in group riding as 19 years of solo riding doesn’t count for very much. they kept on me, and i finally agreed fo the better of the group. I was online tonight reading articles to find some areas that I need to work on. I do waht to kep my “family” safe but want to entertain them at the smae time. Time will see if I pass or fail.

  21. I led my first ride in July 1977. There were 39 bikes on 100 mile ride. I have led far more rides than I can count. Many of my rides are 10 day 3000 mile rides with every bit of it planned, pre-ridden, and timed. I lead over 40 rides a year. SO! All that shit being said, this was a very interesting description of a Road Captain. Being a detail freak is not enough, I even trained a staff of “Ride Officers”. My club the Twin Cities Motorcycle Club, operate from a Group Riding Primer written by me. But THIS is clever writing. I take being an RC seriously, A Jedi Master, maybe a bit much, but there certainly IS a Zen thing.

  22. Don,
    Thanks so much for your comments. I have just been invited to be an R.C.I.T. (RC-in-training) for my HOG chapter. I am truly honored to be considered in the same league with our veteran RCs. I have yet to lead a ride, but do have one planned on the books. I am excited, but very nervous. It is input from seasoned veterans like yourself that will make me a great RC one day. I wonder if you could send us a copy of your Group Riding Primer? I am quite interested to see what words of wisdom you have to offer.

  23. Glad tohave so many comments from unfamiliar readers. Thanks Don and Carpenter.

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