Split Second Decisions

I just finished reading Blink – The Power of Thinking Without Thinking by Malcolm Gladwell. It is a fascinating book about rapid cognition. Our brain is a super computer and although you make thousands of decisions a day that you are aware of, you also make thousands of decisions everyday that you are not aware of. Within the blink of an eye, or about half a second, you might be able to decide if you like a new model motorcycle you see on the showroom floor. You don’t know why you like it or don’t like it. But your super computer has taken in the data, computed it and made a decision. Some people call that a gut feeling, instinct or prejudging.

Interestingly enough, the more you think about something like this motorcycle and try to think of what you like about it and what you don’t like, your mind can change. You can over think the situation as you take in more information. If you take that same person who on a half second impression likes a certain motorcycle but instead give him a whole bunch more information and more time and ask him what he likes about the motorcycle and why, he might decide to buy something else. But guess what? That first impression was correct and we dismiss it because we don’t trust our brain’s rapid cognition abilities! The psychologists and scientists that have studied this phenomenon have found that when it comes to minor decisions like buying a toaster, we get better results taking in all the data and making an educated decision. On the other hand, they find that when it comes to important decisions where the stakes are high, like buying a new Harley-Davidson, we make better snap decisions than if we over think it. That explains all the Honda sales! Too many people over thinking. Just kidding. Like I said, the book is fascinating!

Our brains rapid cognition isn’t always correct. In fact there are many instances where we can be led astray. I’m sure that many police officers see a leather clad biker and immediately think “this is a criminal”. This is a perfect example of where rapid cognition can be misleading. Understanding good rapid cognition and bad rapid cognition is the key to harnessing The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.

We have the ability to read people’s faces. Since we are not trained in it we probably use this skill at a very limited level, but you could call this skill mind reading. There are experts in the field that study facial expressions that can pick up things and tell what peoples intentions are without hearing a thing about what is going on. Like the fictional character Gibbs on NCIS. He can pick up on things on a person’s face that tell him when someone is innocent, guilty, lying or being truthful. There are situations where people lose their mind reading ability. When we are in a state of arousal (not sexual arousal) our heart rates soar and our adrenaline flows. This is how humans deal with extreme stress, the kind you experience in life or death situations. In these cases our brains shut down a lot of unnecessary functions to increase performance in order to survive. Some situations get so extreme that the brain can shut down muscle control and you mess your pants!

Lets say you haven’t taken your meds today and you go crazy and lead some cops on a wild high speed chase. You’re doing 100mph on your Honda (because in this example you are a nice person) through a residential neighborhood and the cops are on your tail! All of of sudden you come to your senses and stop for the police. You put your hands up and surrender. Guess what might happen! Think of the Rodney King incident and others like it. Those police officers have entered into that state of high arousal. The excitement of a high speed chase has put them in a state where their mind reading ability doesn’t work anymore. They don’t recognize that your intentions are now peaceful. They very well might shoot you! So don’t ride a Honda, take your meds, and if you lead the police on a high speed chase… don’t get caught!

The optimal state of arousal is when our hearts are at 115 to 145 beats per minute. I can think of a few examples of when I have experienced this heightened state of awareness. When I was a teenager I raced in one motocross on my 1980 Yamaha YZ80. I was fourteen or fifteen. I remember entering the first turn after the holeshot. Everything was in slow motion like in a movie where the fireman enters a burning building to save a kid. There was dust everywhere, all the racers were jammed together elbow to elbow. It was bumper to bumper or tire to tire. Other kids were crashing and falling down all over the place. Some right in front of me! Somehow I was able to steer in and out of the chaos and I remember it all in slow motion although we are talking about a period of thirty seconds. Until reading about this state of arousal I didn’t understand that memory or how I was able to do that. Some star athletes are able to function in this state during the key moments in a sporting event. They see everything around them in vivid detail, their senses are keen and they see the action in slow motion. They score!!!

I have another memory like this involving my YZ80. A not so pleasant memory. It was shortly after the above mentioned race when my father told me that was the end of my racing career. He thought if he took me to one race I would get it out of my system. That was my dream! I wanted to be a motocross racer with every once of teenage angst in my fourteen year old body! I lost my mind and I actually did lead some police on a high speed chase through a residential neighborhood and into the local motocross park. No, I did not get shot, but I did get arrested and my parents wanted to shoot me.

From the time the police car turned on the lights and I made the stupid decision to hit the throttle adrenaline coursed through my veins and took over my body.  I got tunnel vision and even though I had crossed into the motocross park where a car could not follow me, I felt like a fox being chased by hunters with dogs. My brain and body reacted to the extreme stress of being chased by police.  I was running for my life! My field of vision narrowed to what was directly in front of me. I couldn’t slow down or stop even though there was no reason to. The police really weren’t going to chase me into the off road park. They couldn’t. I crossed an impossible creek crossing at high speed that involved going straight down five foot ditch into the muddy creek and immediately back up the opposite side. Then I raced through another residential area before coming to my senses and stopping. I started to walk my motorcycle home because if you didn’t know it, riding an unregistered motor vehicle that is meant for offroad use only is illegal on a residential street or any other kind of public road. Especially when you aren’t old enough to have a driver’s license! Of course the same police car that initiated a 5 second chase ten minutes earlier came cruising by, saw me walking and stopped to make the arrest of yours truly. Having racing numbers on my jersey, motorcycle, and helmet didn’t make it too hard to identify me. I didn’t understand from a scientific stand point what had happened until now!

After 145 heart beats per minute bad things happen! Motor skills breakdown and we can’t do simple things like dial 911 successfully. At 175 our ability to think breaks down. Our forebrain shuts down and our mid brain takes over. This is the same part of the brain that all mammals have. Basically we become the equivalent of a frightened animal like a dog. In the above story I didn’t lose my motor skills but I do feel like a primal part of my brain took over. I felt like an animal being chased and my only thought was to flee!

There was another time where I did experience a full breakdown momentarily. I thought it was shock. Maybe it was. I was at the crash scene of a motorcycle accident where my friend was killed by a driver under the influence of drugs. Two other friends were injured in the same horrific incident, one with a broken leg and the other with a broken foot. There were police cars, fire trucks and a medevac helicopter. Motorcycles, parts and luggage were scattered across the highway. Firemen were instructing me on what hospital to go to and all I could hear was “wa wa wa wa” like when the teacher speaks to Charlie Brown. My brain and my hearing could not function at that moment. Another friend was standing with me and remembers the same exact thing. We stared at each other blankly and asked each if the other got that. We both shook our heads “no” and walked away in opposite directions.

What I was really trying to blog about in regards to this book was how it relates to split second decisions on the road. Motorcyclists often encounter situations where a split second decision is the difference between going home or going to the Shock Trauma Center and having a leg amputated or taking a dirt nap at the local cemetery. All the training and practice you do on your motorcycle is data for your super computer. All the reading you do about motorcycle safety goes into your super computer. When your riding and all of a sudden a car illegally enters your path of travel cutting you off you are going to activate your powers of rapid cognition! Some rider’s brains will crunch the data, calculate their options and come up with “lay her down”. Others will subconsciously access the routine for a quick stop. Others might “instinctively” swerve. Worse yet, but not uncommon, are those who come up with nothing! They just freeze and ride straight into the oncoming vehicle because they never learned how to execute a quick stop. This is why it is so important to visualize what you would do ahead of time, to practice ahead of time and to get training and books on how to handle these situations. You’re brain will have a fraction of a second to rapidly access the information in your head and react. It will happen too fast for you to be cognizant of what is going down! In an emergency situation like this your super computer will take over and make a split second decision that will either save your butt or not. I think understanding and harnessing the powers of thinking without thinking are worth reading about.

Read Blink! It’s fascinating!

Skill, Proficiency, Experience and Knowledge

Motorcycling is risky and the proficient motorcyclist knows that most of what matters on the road is what’s going on in the brain. If the saying “only the strong survive” is true, then the strongest biker will be the one with the most intelligence and knowledge! It will not be the motorcyclist with the most years or miles under his belt! It will be the rider with the most skill. In this case skill being the ability to use one’s knowledge effectively. 

A person’s physical strength, speed and size might matter on the football field… but not on a motorcycle! Riding ability can be instinctual but it can also be aquired. How? Most will probably tell you that experience is the best way to aquire skills. They will claim that years of experience results in skillfullness. Is that true? Does a more experienced rider have more skills than a less experienced rider if both are of equal inteligence? If you define experience strictly as time in the saddle then I would say “no”! However if you define experience as any activity leading to increased knowledge and ability then I would say “yes”.

There is a lot to learn when it comes to riding a motorcycle safely on the roadways. There are weather, traffic and road hazzards waiting to trip you up. Small mistakes on the road can cost an arm and a leg! I would rather not have to ride a million miles and experience each and every road hazard in order to gain knowledge of them! A friend might teach a new motorcyclist the fundamentals of how to operate a motorcycle and then say “the only way to learn more is through experience.” This could be good or bad advice depending on the above mentioned definitions of “experience”. I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to wait until I have racked up a million miles before I consider myself a skilled rider. I choose to speed up the process and gain experience and knowledge through additional opportunities.

Look for opportunities to increase your knowledge of motorcycling. Fill your head with information during the cold winter months (if not all year round). Get yourself some good books to read and possibly some training DVD’s you can watch at home. Sign up for training classes at the beginning of the ride season. Then go out and practice. Take some trips and get that much sought after experience. Learn all you can, practice and become a strong rider! Remember the saying: “Only the strong survive!”. I’m sure you want to survive so get strong damn it! Also remember: “Knowledge is power!”

You can click the above banner advertisement to shop for Ride Like A Pro products at my online store: www.RoadCaptainUSA.com

You can also find out if there is a Ride Like A Pro course being taught in your area by clicking this link: www.ridelikeapro.com/locations

You can find a good selection of motorcycle related books at my Amazon store: Click here to see the books I read and recommend and here for other books.

You can go through our previous blog posts that focus on rider skills: www.roadcaptainusa.com/category/motorcycle-rider-skills/

You can visit other blogs that emphasize skills, safety and knowledge such as: http://intrepidcommuter.blogspot.com/


Animals in the roadway are certainly an interesting hazard to motorcyclists.  A friend of mine actually had a vulture pick up its lunch from the roadway, fly it across a lane of traffic, and then drop it on the pavement right in front of her!  And then there was the time she used her foot to point out some roadkill, which turned out to still be alive!

These situations happen to motorcyclists all of the time, though I have not found very much specific information on what to do when it happens to you.  The Delaware Motorcycle Operator Handbook reads:

“Naturally, you should do everything you safely can to avoid hitting an animal.  If you are in traffic, however, remain in your lane.  Hitting something small is less dangerous to you than hitting something big – like a car.

Motorcycles seem to attract dogs.  If you are chased, dowshift and approach the animal slowly.  As you approach it, accelerate away and leave the animal behind.  Don’t kick at an animal.  Keep control of your motorcycle & look to where you want to go.

For larger animals (deer, elk, cattle) brake and prepare to stop – they are unpredictable.”

Period.  That’s literally it.  Now seriously, how helpful is that?

Back in the day when I took my Basic Rider Course there was a class segment devoted to this topic as well.  I will never forget what my lead instructor said regarding the matter:

“When it comes to animals in the roadway, there are the Squishables and the Non-Squishables!”

OK, once again…WTF does that mean???  I mean obviously a caterpillar qualifies as a Squishable and a moose would be Non-Squishable, what what about the in-betweens like squirrels and groundhogs?

eastgraysquirrel.jpg groundhog2.jpg

I came across a turtle in the road the other day and started wondering if the poor little critter would qualify as Squishable or not?  I mean, he was pretty small…but then with the hard shell I don’t know that he would actually “squish” as it were. 


What about a bunny rabbit?  How about a fox? 

rabbit3.jpg red_fox.jpg

Where do we draw the line between the Squishables and the Non-Squishables?  What do you think?  Have you had any experiences with any of these creatures?  What’s the biggest thing you’ve run over?  Was it successful, or did it tear up your bike or cause you to crash?  Do you have any funny stories about critters in the roadway? 

Please share your experiences with Squishables and Non-Squishables by commenting below…

Ride Like A Pro of Maryland

our ride like a pro classmates and staff

Diana and I took the Ride Like A Pro class taught by Dave Russell and his staff in Waldorf, Maryland. This class is ideal for someone looking for more training after taking the MSF or Riders Edge Experienced Rider courses. It is also ideal for anyone having trouble with cornering or slow speed maneuvers.  The instructors teach the same three police officer motorcycle training techniques taught in the popular DVD series Ride Like A Pro by Jerry the Motorman Paladino. To get the most out of this class you can purchase the DVD’s and practice these techniques before attending the class. You can purchase them at my store www.Shop.RoadCaptainUSA.com

jay rocking the cones at ride like a pro

Diana kicking the boys butts

When I met Dave at the 2010 Delaware/Maryland State HOG Rally he encouraged/challenged me to install an engine guard on my bike. The idea is that I will not push my bike to the absolute limit without one. So two weeks prior to the class I ordered on on eBay. That one hit a snafu and I had to order a different one from an outfit close by. It arrived in the nick of time and I installed it for the class. I also removed saddlebags upon arrival at the class. Everyone who could, removed their saddlebags and some wrapped their chrome guards with tape or foam to prevent scratching or scuffs. The premise is that you probably will have a tip over during these exercises and it is no big deal. Tipping over is part of learning how to handle these motorcycles at slow speeds. Dave leaned his Ultra Classic over on it’s guards to demonstrate that the motorcycle manufacturers are putting out good motorcycles that are built to withstand tip overs now and then with little to no damage. In the end the only tip over I experienced that day was on the way home when I forgot to put my kick stand down in a parking lot after Diana informed me that my headlight was out. Good thing I had the new Cobra engine guard. It looks great and protects the motorcycle from dumb moves like that. Diana has a Jardine engine guard on her bike.

Diana coming out of the circle

jay is kicking it at RLAP MD

jay and diana both in the course

jay and diana soaking in the knowledge

The class attracted a wide variety of rider skills. There were riders like me and Diana who could handle these exercises on our own but were looking to move to the next level. There were riders who had never practiced these moves but were glad to learn them. Then there were a few newbies who didn’t know what they were getting into. Some of the guys could barely lean their motorcycles over or do a tight u-turn. I have to hand it to everyone for sticking with it. All attendees graduated at the end of the day. No one gave up. I believe everyone came away from the class a better rider regardless of their level and that speaks volumes.

Diana enjoying the class

jay waiting his turn

Dave, Christine and his staff have succeeded at creating an environment where people are comfortable learning new techniques and are bettering themselves. The class is enjoyable and I’m glad we did it. Check the Ride Like A Pro website to see if there is a franchise near you. If you live in Delmarva look no further than Ride Like A Pro of Maryland.

Ride Like A Pro of Maryland: www.ridelikeapromd.com/

Other Ride Like A Pro locations: www.ridelikeapro.com/locations

Click here to see all the pictures Christine took with our camera and then I cropped and loaded to Flickr. 

Here are my recommendations to become a better rider:

1. Take the Beginner MSF Class

2. Watch Ride Like A Pro training DVD’s

3. Practice, ride and practice continually

4. Take the Experienced MSF Class

5. Take the Ride Like A Pro Class

6. Read as many riding safety books that you can

7. Seek out a mentor, training and anything available to help

8. Practice more, read more, ride more

9. Always check in with us at www.RoadCaptainUSA.com and check this link regarding posts about riding techniques: http://roadcaptainusa.com/category/motorcycle-rider-skills/

Meet Pramod Roa aka Mo

Mo at Ride Like A Pro

Diana and I met Pramod Roa aka Mo last summer at the Delaware/Maryland State HOG Rally. Mo had recently purchased a Fat Boy® Lo and joined the Baltimore Metro HOG Chapter. He wanted to meet people at the state rally so he contacted me in order to volunteer. As the Volunteer Coordinator I can tell you he was a big help and probably the nicest person I have met in years. I even tried to persuade him to join my HOG Chapter in addition to Baltimore Metro. Meeting people like Mo is what makes HOG events fun, so you can imagine my pleasant surprise when Mo arrived on his Fat Boy® for the Ride Like A Pro class Diana and I took on May 1st in southern Maryland.

Mo on the range

I asked Mo if he would write a little something about his experience at the Ride Like A Pro of Maryland class and this is what he was kind enough to put together:

Hi, I ride a 2010 Fat Boy® Lo . I have clocked about 7200 miles on my motorcycle. I completed my Riders Edge Basic course in 2009 and then took the Riders Edge advanced course in 2010. Both the courses were at the local Harley-Davidson dealer at Baltimore and were conducted very well. I learned a lot from the skilled rider course at the HD dealership and wanted to further advance my abilities to become a safer rider (lots of tools driving out there, one has to watch ones back all the time) and also get over my inhibitions over corners. Hence when I heard there was Ride Like A Pro school around my area, I signed up immediately. I got in touch with Dave via email. He was very helpful and gave me all the info regarding the class. He was kind enough to reserve my place and let me pay at a later date due to issues on my end (Thanks, Dave appreciate it). I rode to Waldorf, MD on the may 1st and was pleasantly surprised to see Jay and his lovely wife Diana which made taking the class all the more fun.

The exercises were really fun. All the instructors were extremely competent, very helpful and encouraged everybody to do better all the time. For me it was a great opportunity to improve my skills, especially in the circle and also through the cones. I had a wonderful day riding on my motorcycle, getting to know it better and understanding it better. I walked away a better rider when the class was done.

I must mention that I am really grateful for having done the advanced rider course at the HD dealership which for me was a stepping stone towards the Ride Like A Pro class. I feel everybody who likes to ride and loves their motorcycles should do these courses. It was really great! Dave, Christine and the team at Ride Like A Pro of MD are really great people. I am really happy for doing this course as I have just improved my riding skills and that just made riding my motorcycle more fun. Me and my motorcycle communicate better now 🙂

Look at Mo Go!

Meet Dave Russell of Ride Like A Pro

dave and christine ride like a pro maryland

Diana and I had the pleasure of meeting Dave Russell and Christine Carpenter of Ride Like A Pro Maryland when we attended the 2010 Delaware/Marland State HOG Rally last summer. Christine is a sweetheart! She is the Director and I gather she takes care of the business details while Dave tends to the instructing (and she rides her own Heritage Softail®). Dave is the Ride Like A Pro instructor with an air of southern hospitality who looks great in Hi-Viz orange. He and his staff of rider coaches teach the Ride Like A Pro techniques in southern Maryland. They are friendly people that put you at ease and make learning fun. Dave is an excellent speaker who uses his hands, arms and whatever else it takes to demonstrate the physicality involved with handling your motorcycle in slow tight manuevers.

dave Russell

I asked Dave to put something together for our readers here at Road Captain USA telling us about himself, his riding career and how he got involved with Ride Like A Pro. Here is what he had to say:

I began riding when I was in my teens. But after graduation, work and increasing responsibilities began to take center stage for me. So riding became a thing of the past. Sure, I still thought about it from time to time, but I knew purchasing a motorcycle was out of the question, at least for a while, maybe a long while.

dave instructing

Then one day, many years later I realized that my girls were all grown now and I still have a desire to ride. So I decided to take some time to think about it and gather information, including all the changes that had taken place within the industry over the years.

instructing Jay and Diana
By the end of January 2005 I decided that I was ready and I walked into the local dealership to order a new Road King. It would take up to 3 months to arrive, so I decided to spend the time wisely. I immediately enrolled in the MSF motorcycle classes at the local college and began to read every book and article I could get my hands on. In April the call came announcing the arrival of my new Harley-Davidson motorcycle. I could hardly believe it! I was thrilled! Over the next few months I took my time getting back into riding again and adjusting to the vast differences of the new and heavier machine. I enjoyed each of the classes I had taken and learned a lot of valuable information; but I knew I still had much more to learn. As time past and I logged more miles (12,000 my first year) I began to evaluate my overall skills and abilities. I was still having a huge problem turning at slow speeds.  It seemed nothing I had learned up to that point addressed this specific problem.  I dreaded certain times in slow moving traffic or riding in congested areas or worse yet, the thought of having to make a U-turn on the roadway! I can still recall the awful feeling I would get each time I found myself in a situation like that.  I asked more experienced riders about it but no one seemed to have an answer.  On chapter rides I noticed that all of the other riders were apparently facing the same problems. It was as if everyone duck walking the bikes around corners was an accepted part of riding.  But I could not let it go. I knew there had to be a solution and I was determined to find it.

Ride Like A Pro

Click here to order your DVD from http://www.shop.roadcaptainusa.com/

Then, one day while I was leafing through a magazine, I came across an article by “Jerry The Motor Man Palladino”. In the article Jerry explained 3 simple techniques used by Motor Officers, which when used properly allows them to take complete control of their heavy cruisers at slow speeds, even in tight maneuvers. I could not believe what I was reading! I thought this was the answer to my prayers! I rushed home and poured over the “Ride Like A Pro” web site reading every word. Then I ordered a copy of the DVD and waited anxiously for it to arrive. When it came, I watched it several times in complete amazement! I had never seen anyone ride like that before! I was thrilled to have the information as I studied every detail very carefully. I could not wait to begin practicing the techniques on my own. As often as I could, I would go to the parking lot and set up a practice course as shown in the practice guide. In no time it seemed, I began to see a tremendous improvement in my slow speed riding skills. I also noticed that I was having a heck of a lot of fun too! In fact, I was having more fun in the parking lot practicing U-turns, figure 8’s and circle exercises than I had been having out on the open road. Suddenly all the stress and fear that I experienced before just seemed to melt away. And for the first time, I really knew how to ride and was truly free to enjoy every aspect of motorcycling.

I became so excited about the huge impact that Jerry’s DVD had had on me, I began sharing it with my friends. I told them about it and even provided a brief demonstration by performing a few tight U-turns, circles and figure 8’s right in front of them. They couldn’t believe it! Everyone was amazed to see me riding with such control and confidence. They wanted to know how they could learn to ride like that too. So I told them how to get to the “Ride Like A Pro” web site and began to organize and conduct practice sessions each week for myself and my friends.

Jerry and his “Ride Like A Pro” DVD’s had been so valuable to me. I knew that every rider needed this information too. So I asked the leaders of my local HOG Chapter for permission to provide free classes for our members based upon the RLAP techniques.  After a brief demonstration they eagerly endorsed the idea and the response was overwhelming. We offered classes each month during the riding season. Soon word began to spread and riders began coming from all over the area to take the classes too, so they could also learn the techniques. It was a lot of fun and very rewarding to watch the growth of so many riders, in such a short period of time, come so far. I can’t tell you how many times someone said to me afterwards, “I have been riding for twenty years and I have learned more today than in all those years. I didn’t know what I didn’t know.”

In 2006, while I was at the Tennessee State HOG Rally, I had a chance to meet “The Motor Man” himself and his lovely wife Donna. As I was a big fan, I wanted to thank each of them for the DVD’s and to tell them personally about the enormous impact they had on me and all of the riders that were attending our classes. Jerry and Donna were very happy to hear about the success and popularity of our program. I stayed in touch with them with calls from time to time to ask Jerry a question or two or to just to say hello. 

In December 2009, during another a telephone conversation with Jerry, he asked if I would come to Tampa to help him with an up-coming class. Actually he said  “the main purpose would be to discuss starting a Ride Like A Pro Franchise in Maryland”. I was completely surprised. But after a quick call to Christine (my fiancée) to share the news and run the idea by her, I quickly called Jerry back to accept his offer and to let him know that I would be on my way.   Three days later it became official,Ride Like A Pro of Marylandhad become a reality.

Looking back, I can honestly say that it has been an amazing and rewarding experience. Christine and I feel honored and privileged to be able to do something we both love so much, which is to help others to become safer and to fully enjoy the sport we are so passionate about. We would also like to extend our sincere gratitude to Jerry and Donna Palladino for the opportunity to be a part of the “Ride Like A Pro Family”.  And to our families and closest friends, including Ray & Jan Hart, Mike & Dawn Everhart, Dan & Marie Ford and Ray & Tess Short, we can’t thank you enough for your continued love and support.