I have always been fascinated by pit stops. The efficiency and choreography is a pleasure to watch requiring the levels of skills and strength that can be the difference between winning and not. Auto racing where the timing of what lap to pit is a major strategic challenge.
For Formula 1 racing the benchmark for a successful pit is 3 seconds. Here is an overhead shot that I found of the 20 people, excluding the driver that are used to change all four tires, add fuel.
Nascar is considerably slower where the benchmark is 13 seconds are only 7 people are allowed ‘over the wall.’
As you would expect things are different at the Isle of Man for the SuperBike, the Senior TT 6-lap races, they pit after the 2nd and 4th lap and take on fuel and get a new rear tire.
For the 4 lap events SuperStock and SuperSport 4 lap events, they pit after lap two for fuel.
As with most things at the TT, it is racing is its rawest form. A crew of four is allowed over the wall, fuel is loaded via gravity feed (no pressurized filling), and 1 person to change the rear tire.
Here is local Manx hero Dan Kneen, riding for the Penz13.com BMW team coming in for his first pit stop.
I cannot get an exact time of the stop based on the images, but from rolling in to being pushed out is 50 seconds. I am sure it felt like an eternity for Dan Kneen. For some others, the pits meant they were either on or off the podium at the end of the day.
Sunday morning it was almost a surprise when at sunrise, there was actually sun. The forecast wasn’t great but the first Superbike Race was set to go!
Although there is a law that always the government to close down the roads for an event, this is rarely done on a Sunday and like today, the roads weren’t closed until afternoon after people had gone to church and returned.
I have been up at the Grandstand / Paddock area several times but the energy is different for race day. There is an excitement, a nervous energy in the Parc Ferme. The mechanics are making final adjustments, the pit crews in their Nomex suits are filling the gas tanks and others are bringing tools and tires to the pits.
In practice riders are sent out in pairs. On race day they go one at a time at 10-second intervals. There are numbers on the grid for teams to stage their rider´s bikes. Many of the drivers do not appear until the final moments, trying to avoid the ITV4 TV reporters roving through the grid with microphones.
Davo Johnson is #1 on is the crome Norton Superbike, patiently waiting for the start of the 2017 Isle of Man TT. The top 20 positions are pre-assigned based on prior performance. Numbers 21 and beyond are based not the weeks qualifying times.
Davo is reving is engine, the starter’s hand lifts from his shoulder and he is off! The 2017 TT has finally begun.
One by one they roll up to the line, pause a few seconds under the hand of the starter and then the Superbikes roar to life.
Today’s 6 lap event is 226.4 miles and requires 2 pit stops. Once all the riders are off there is a strange silence over the crowd in the grandstand. There are no big screen TV’s for the crowd to see the race, there is no electronic scoreboard and there are no beer vendors in the stands yelling Beer Here!
There is the announcer on the PA with the same broadcast as people are listening to Manx Radio TT, there is the score board where the times and positions are written by hand and hung by Boy Scouts and in the pits, tanks holding the gas are gravity feed. While the machines are high tech, this racing in the rawest form.
The view from the top of the Control Tower shows there is a very fine line between speed and disaster.
Being a new visitor to the TT can be a challenge. It is a long and complicated course and difficult to get around. Had it not been for the amazing generosity and willingness to help of the Manx, my experience would have been limited at best.
I did not arranged for transportation in advance. I didn’t even really want to rent a car, the thought of trying to find my way around the island in the midst of closed roads, right hand drive and not being able to pronounce the names of the roads I was supposed to follow would be more challenging than shooting.
I was and continue to be extremely lucky. I met some people the first day while I was walking around to introduced me to others and they were helpful beyond description. Also I couldn’t have gotten around without Rob Cummings, long time Isle of Man resident and former work colleague of my good friend Bruno Desrochers.
Rob gave me a tour of the course on his BMW and as a marshal, he took the week off from his day job and each race day he would drop me off on the course and then pick me up at the end of the day when the roads opened.
Monday, I wanted to go to Ballaugh Bridge. We had been there on our course tour, but I have to admit on Monday, somehow it looked different. With the overnight storms it was a challenge to get there. One of the main roads was closed due to an accident. This time it wasn’t some visiting moto tourist pretending he is racing, but during the storm a tree fell on a parked car.
Once the course is closed it is really closed. Even with photo credentials you cannot even walk across the street. Only between races and if they are willing, the Deputy Sector Marshal (DSM) can escort you across the street.
There were a few other photographers there when I arrived. I set up with David Traynor who has been shooting the TT for more than 20 years and knew every spot on the course. During the morning all of the photographers moved around on the same side of the course to get different angles of the riders lifting off over Ballaugh Bridge.
During the break between races, the DSM escorted David and I across the street and give us specific instructions. On the left, don’t go beyond the drain pipe and on the right go no further than the Ballaugh sign.
After shooting with my long lens to get shots of the sidecars lifting off coming over the bridge I moved to get wide shots. I was along the bridge next to the Ballaugh sign. I think it’s every photographer’s natural tendency to unconsciously move around to try to frame the shot and I am no different, but I kept glancing over my left should to make sure that I didn’t exceed what the DSM had told me.
You can hear the sidecars coming for at least 10 seconds before they appear. I would look up see them coming toward the bridge, count to 4 and then start shooting. While the Canon 1Dx autofocus is great, I don’t believe any autofocus is good enough to pick up something going 60 mph 10 feet from you. I set the focus to manual got it dialed in and shot!
I had lots of shot with nothing but bridge. But then sidecar #43, the Lawrance Brothers from New Zealand came be sliding along the wall. Miraculously not only did I get the shot but I got 3! In a truly remarkable moment, David Traynor who was still shooting long, decided to take a shot of me shooting.
Given the speed and movement of the sidecar, my guess is that the shots are within about 1/100 of a second of each other.
I didn’t flinch, I kept shooting and when I stood up the crowd on both sides of the street applauded. The DSM came across the road, put his hand on my shoulder smiled and said ‘bet that cleared up your constipation, eh mate.
I am sure there were a couple hundred people who saw it, a few showed me cell phone snaps of it. Someone offered to buy me a shot of brandy and a couple from the neighborhood invited me over for tea (I am sure it was TT Tea).
David posted it on Facebook and it has been shared over 850 times. I guess that counts as trending somewhere.
I have never had a desire, nor any intention of being part of the story at the TT, but sometimes it happens.
After a short night a Quarterbridge and canceled practice on Thursday due to more heavy rain, Friday night practice was back on track.
Gary Thompson the Clerk of Course, had said that although 2016 had been an exceptionally great year for weather, riders had in aggregate 1,500 laps fewer this year than in 2016. As such the Superbike race scheduled for Saturday would be held on Sunday and a Saturday would be used as a practice day for all classes.
Still traveling on foot, I walked down to Braddan Bridge. I had seen a few photos from there and I had heard the evening light would be good.
I got an earlier start so I would have time to look around, walked by Quarterbridge and then down a straight of almost a half-mile, where they came through with a quick left and then a right.
Whenever I arrive at a location I check in with the race marshals to ask where I can and cannot shoot. Apparently over the years people have argued with Race Marshals about road closure, course access or whatever happened to come up that was an inconvenience. To deal with that, in 2016 the Isle of Man established a law that made all trained race marshals the equivalent to a Police Deputy. They were great people with decades of experience and liked to help.
The weather and the position did not disappoint. Although practice times were sparse this week, Ian Hutchinson made an effort to be first in line to get out on the course. He was first out again and first through the turn at Braddan Bridge.
The practice sessions are not only used to regain a crazy high speed familiarity of the course, but to test the equipment under near race conditions.
The riders line through the turn and body position vary greatly, each one trying to find their fastest way through the turn and back out.
Riders will often do a lap, pull off into the pits, get a different bike and head out again. Adjustments, if necessary, being made all along the way.
Hillier pulls of the road, checks a few things and then screams back onto the course.
In addition to the blinding speeds of the rider, one of the amazing things about the TT is how close the spectators can get to the action. Even though the viewing areas are carefully planned to be as safe as possible, here fans which TT favorite Michael Dunlop go by right in front of them.
Both fans and photographers can get close. I was tucked in by a gate to the church as the riders accelerated away from Braddan. I had set the focus to a point that I hoped they would come by and started shooting at when I saw them about a block away. Even shooting at 14 frames / second, at 140 mph the would go 15 feet between shots. I at lots of shots of nothing but landscape.
After the solo riders had completed their sessions, the sidecars were back out for practice and heading into the evening light.
It is now mid-morning on Monday June 5, and we are on a 2-hour weather delay, waiting to see if there will be racing today.
I am still very much in learning mode here at the TT. Learning my way around, learning how to focus when something is coming at you at 160 mph and learning that you don’t ask for bug spray for mosquitos and flies, but you do ask for repellant for mozzies and midges. I am hoping as we get into race week I will not have to be learning quite so much each day. It’s been great fun everyone has been a great help. All in all everyone has been very polite and not once, at least to my face, referred to me as that Yank Photographer. Actually I think most are laughing at some of my questions and my accent.
From my homestay I had about a mile walk downhill to Quarterbridge. Easy walk, which unfortunately at the end of the evening the walk would be uphill. Except along the shore, I haven’t found many flat spots on the Isle of Man, you are either going up or going down!
Quarterbridge is just over a mile from the start at the grandstand and is the first turn on the course with a downhill right of more than 90 degrees. Roaring down Bray Hill at over 160 mph, braking, leaning hard and accelerating on to the short half mile straight to Braden Bridge and a quick flick on the round-about.
My plan was to shoot from Quarterbridge and then walk down via the back roads to Braden Bridge get a variety of shots and at the end of the session I would be able to walk back along the course on the way home.
I had a great view of the first turn and a few minutes after I moved to the outside of the turn to shoot from a different angle, the session was ended due to rain and fog on the course.
Tonight’s practice is also a wash out, here is the current radar, with an appropriate massive green blog over Ireland and moving our way.
I am unsure about Friday’s schedule, also doubtful, but additional practices have been scheduled for Saturday and races on Sunday.
I had great intentions of writing several blogs while I was on the road, but as luck who have it, I was more than a bit over optimistic about my available time. I know, like that has never happened before.
Saturday, May 7 was the Ironman St. George 70.3, the North American Pro Championship, with a great field of athletes and truly a championship course. With portions of the course set in Snow Canyon, it is a photo op in waiting. This was the fifth time I have shot there and unlike in prior years the light was less than perfect.
Temperatures in the low to mid-50s and periodic rain is indeed less than perfect. But I felt confident, I was wearing full dress Aerostich Moto gear which makes me look like a cross between the yellow Power Ranger and the Michelin Man. Bruno was driving for me and we were using my BMW F700GS, which we have modified to make it easier to shoot. In addition, I had ThinkTank Photo Rain covers.
Aside from a few random snaps, this was the first field use of my new Canon 1Dx Mark II, with its magical glow-in-the-dark ISOs and 14 frames per second.
First, more as a test of the camera, I shot the following image of Bruno at 40,000 ISO. Below you can see what it was like right from the camera followed by the image with some Lightroom clean up. Not too bad, but the real question might be if you are shooting in the dark, why don’t you just get out a flash? But then like I said, it was a test.
From a practical standpoint my greater concern is shooting with ISOs in the 2000 to 4000 range. Situations where there is low light, not in the dark, and I want to have a reasonable high shutter speed and a bit of depth of field.
Again here are a couple of shots with the unprocessed image first, followed by the Lightroom processed image. Really not too bad.
When I am shooting from the Moto, I typically shoot in burst of 3 to 5 frames and then as part of my edit process I select the image with the best biomechanics. With the 1DX Mark II, I was initially shooting in 5 to 7 frame burst. Certainly overkill, part was the sensitivity of the camera and I am sure part was attributable that I sort of lost the feeling in my hands in the cold rain. Either way the camera is sensitive to the touch. You can adjust the maximum frame rate in the settings but why give up the speed, I am sure by next week, I will get the hang of it.
I was really quite impressed with the quality of the images, particularly the color depth particularly on a fairly dark and grey day. Following are a few shots from the course.
Late Sunday morning, I loaded up the Moto and headed out for 3 days of riding through the spectacular terrain in Utah and Colorado. Some rain, some sunshine, some snow and hot and cold weather is the short version of the story. My final day had to be re-routed due to snow in Monarch Pass.
Here are a few snaps from the road trip, all shot with the Canon 1Dx Mark II and the 24-105 mm, f/4.0 lens. You can judge for yourself.
Tonight we have the USA Track and Field Road 1 Mile Championship and the off to Ironman Texas in the morning.
In yesterday’s blog, I gave my thoughts on what are critical attributes about shooting from a motorcycle.
One thing that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog was that at Oceanside on April 2nd there were only two other motos for the media. One was for a photographer and the other for a spotter. Only having two photographers on the course is pretty rare and while there were marshals on the course, there really wasn’t much traffic for us. More common would be six or more. At the major events, sometimes they are hard to count.
Here is a common view at major events.
In the first image above, there are race marshals, still photographers, NBC videographers, and Ironman Live (streaming) videographers. The 2nd image has much the same but without NBC.
I hope this gives you a better idea of what it is really like and the driving skills required. As well as how badly things might turn out if there is someone without appropriate skills in the moving gaggle at the front of the race.
Oh yes and then there are the crowds.
The above portion of the Challenge Roth for is restricted to the TV motos and the Polizei. My driver dropped me off about 1 km from that point and to get the shots I wanted, I walked and then using a back road, he met me at the top of the hill. FYI – this image was also selected by Triathlon Business International as the Top Published Photo for 2015!
One thing I neglected to mention is that I cannot do my voodoo without a great partner. In addition, since I sit backwards, I only see the race and not really the roadway. To really have the right feel for what it is like to be out there, I have asked Bruno Desrochers, who has been my primary driver for the last 5 years to share some comments, as well as David Ashe who was a first time driver for me at the Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 in March.
I have lost count of how many races Bruno and I have done together, but our range of events is from ITU events in San Diego, USAT Age Group Championships in Milwaukee and the 2015 Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Zell am See, Austria.
As luck would have it, we were able to find a 2015 BMW F700GS to use in Zell am See.
Here Bruno and I are just coming down out of the Alps and back into town to get ready to shoot the run. Although my preference is to sit backwards and shoot from the moto, on this course there simply was not room on the road and particularly the descents to do so. We had driven the course each of the two prior days to pick out our planned locations and to familiarize ourselves.
As we moved from spot to spot, we hit 115 km/hr and in fact dragged our foot pegs a couple of times on our BMW F700GS. I may be frowning on the outside but on the inside I am screaming, holy shit this is so much fun I can’t believe it!
The following shot of 70.3 World Champion Daniela Ryf should give you can idea of the extreme nature of the course.
Now that I hope I have sort of established the environment that we work in, my hope is that comments from Bruno and David will have greater context.
First from Bruno, although he does have a side job as an aerospace engineer, he is as close to a professional driver as I have ever met.
Bruno – I started off by volunteering for the Oceanside 70.3. The beginning of my experience with this type of driving was for race marshals. It wasn’t until the 2011 Ironman Arizona that I met Paul. I’ve read about being a moto driver in these events and spoken to professionals. Part of my motivation was by driving it provided me a way to be involved while my wife Chris was competing. Being a spectator is actually quite hard on the mind and body, especially on full Ironman events
Much of the experience is about riding with a passenger and reacting to what the passenger does. If the passenger moves a lot, this will limit how close I’m willing to get to an athlete. It is definitely more difficult to ride slowly, keeping up with a cyclist or a runner while keeping the bike stable at these speeds. Other aspects of the experience are; what’s expected from me as a rider; and what I have to do during the event – where can I go – knowing the course.
Finally, it’s about knowing the rules:
Don’t put you and your team in a position that will result in an accident for anyone;
Anticipate where the others will be around you. For Age Group athletes, you have to expect the unexpected;
Let the athletes go first – don’t crowd them particularly in the turns;
Get off the course if possible if your position is threatening to others;
Take the time to do what you have to do, but don’t drag along. Give the space to other motos when you’re done;
Know what your role is
Abide by the rules
Anticipation is a key to safety. One time, riding downhill and keeping pace with the cyclists at about 30 mph, I was keeping a fair amount of distance all around between us and the athletes. I didn’t know what was going to happen, if anything, and even though the reaction times are the same, the time it takes for events to happen are longer, as we all know. Next thing I know the cyclist, who was about 30 meters in front of us crashed. Although surprised, I was ready and had plenty of time to swerve around without impacting those behind me. I also had time to see the poor man sliding quite a ways, but didn’t see him stop.
From my perspective, having ridden all types of motorcycles, the best is a relatively upright, not a high performance machine, easy clutch, responsive throttle, and 2-wheeled motorcycle, as opposed to a 3-wheeled Trike models. It also helps to have a short shift lever on the transmission, but obviously not necessary. A more upright position helps relieve the pressure on the wrists. Also, I often find myself slipping the clutch while maintaining slightly higher revs to maintain a really slow speed.
Finally, if a specific course was provided for this purpose, I would gladly take it. One can never have too much training and ultimately, if all moto drivers knew what to do, it would make everyone’s job so much easier and safer.
As Paul pointed out, it all starts with the motorcycle. After all, this is the tool that enables the ideal experience between the driver and the passenger. This team should be comfortable both physically and for communication purposes regardless of the passenger’s job. In addition, the moto is there because of the event, so having a loud motorcycle is not a good feature. The reason is twofold; the first being that if the passenger is a marshal, there’s no point in advertising to the cyclists that the marshal is coming up being them; the second is that even if the passenger is not a marshal, there’s no point in freaking out the cyclist when riding by at greater speeds. So considering that these events are usually half-Ironman or Ironman distances, the moto team will be there for a long time.
I’ve had the opportunity of riding for marshals and photographers. Often times, I have seen volunteer marshals that have had little to no experience on a motorcycle or even as a marshal. I think it’s obvious that this is not advisable. Personally, I am perfectly happy to teach a person on how to ride behind a motorcycle, but doing so at an event is not the place to do so. In this case, the passenger could misinterpret what they were told, and do something inadvertent that could lead to an potentially tragic accident. I’ve also seen an inexperienced person climb onto a motorcycle only to end up on the ground, along with the motorcycle and the rider. However, as these events require volunteers, you don’t get to pick and choose the rider/moto or the marshal.
I agree with Paul’s statement that the moto driver is responsible for the safety of the crew and everyone around it. Having Paul ride backwards is actually a boon as he becomes my eyes-in-the-back-of-my-head, and since we communicate through an intercom system, he can advise me of the status from his perspective. This results in an increase in safety. But the reason I’m there is to help Paul get the perfect shot. Yes, safety is number one! So I will evaluate Paul’s requests and if I can do it, I will. And since we’ve known each other, Paul has acquired his ideal motorcycle for these events and we’ve modified it a lot to help his effort. After all, this is basically his desk while at work.
One point I would like to make. I see the volunteer marshals/spotters, who are often athletes themselves, come to these events. I applaud these folks since without volunteers, there likely will not be an event, and it’s a way to give back to their sport. However, these volunteers should be made aware that dressing appropriately for motorcycle riding is preferable. I’ve seen folks in T-shirt, shorts and sandals. I know that it can be hot at times, but having at least a pair of jeans and a decent jacket with shoes could mean the difference between a road rash and a serious injury. I personally have lost many pounds in water as a result of the gear I wear. Loose/floppy clothing is not a good idea. It is always best to bring your own helmet, a small investment in the most secure and safest fit.
Having experience with both marshals and photographers, I prefer photographers. The simple reason is that the photographer usually wants to shoot as many of the athletes as possible, so we’re not limited to observing a few of them, and you get to see more of the action. Of course, they are usually more experienced passengers, so they are more likely to know what to do and what is expected of them on a motorcycle. I remember driving for Andrew Loehman at Lake Tahoe who liked to stand on the pegs while taking pictures. It wasn’t until the third or fourth time that I realized what he was doing. Although I would have preferred him telling me, he was so well balanced that I just didn’t know he was standing up.
We can be riding along with the pros and are just as likely to see age-groupers, especially on the run. One should note that there are no marshals on motos during the run, but with the right photographer, it is possible to ride with the runners. I must admit though that this is usually the most stressful time of the day. Some photographers like to stop more often and take pictures from different vantage points, which could also be interesting. All in all, for me, this is the best seat in the house.… and I usually get to see my wife somewhere along the way and encourage her, woohoo!
Paul – Thanks to the expansive world of Social Media, I was able to connect with David through the Facebook page for the BMW Club of Puerto Rico. Not unlike Bruno, David has a side job. He is a Private Equity investor, and is currently running one of his portfolio companies in the specialty consumer finance arena.
Remember the moto reserved for the media that I mentioned in yesterday’s blog – the BMW S1000RR? Here is David on his double R, doing what it is made to do.
David – I have been riding motorcycles since I was ten years old, but I have been a motorcycle fanatic since much younger than that. My first tricycle as a toddler was a just a stand-in for the real thing; I just added the engine noises myself. Many years ago, I caught a glimpse of the Tour de France coverage while surfing TV channels. What caught my eye were not the alpine views and the superhuman fitness of the riders, it was the motorcycles. Dozens of motorcycles, carrying photographers and also support crews for the teams, sometimes with several bicycle wheels on hand, weaving in an out of the crowds and the athletes, speeding up to catch the next “peloton”, or stopping to get a shot, or aid a competitor. Now, that looked like a lot of fun, I wondered who these people were, and marveled at their control of their large (mostly) BMW motorcycles, at slow and high speeds, and almost always at close quarters.
So it was a welcome surprise when Paul found me in our local BMW Club Facebook page, and inquired about finding volunteers to serve as his “moto” during the Ironman Puerto Rico 70.3 triathlon. Since my current ride is a BMW S1000RR sport bike (not at all suited to riding with passengers, much less as a photo moto), I cast a net to try to find him a rider with a BMW R1200GS, perhaps the best platform for this purpose. Well, I got caught up in the net, though I didn’t put up much of a struggle. At the end of the day, our local dealer offered up one of their demo bikes, so long as I was the rider.
It was a ton of fun. Most motorcycles with ample passenger seating will do just fine; even one of those large scooters will probably work. As it happened, the R1200GS was a great mount, combining low-speed maneuverability with the power to quickly get in position, to quickly cover ground when needed, and with the brakes to haul two large adults to quick, safe stops when needed. Since part of the time Paul was sitting facing backwards, the rear top case (the side cases will just get in the way and are not needed) was a bonus, allowing him to rest his elbows on it and also giving him additional protection when accelerating hard. And accelerate hard we did, allowing him to get shots of the rear and middle packs of bicycle riders and then speeding off to get to the leaders. This required bursts of speed, at one time reaching 100 mph on the gratefully closed roads, no sweat for the big boxer twin. After chasing down the lead bicycle riders, we then transitioned to the running section, which required some slow-speed riding in tight quarters. This time, the big GS tiptoed her way through the event like the all-around champ that she is.
Do not try this if you are not experienced in carrying passengers your own size and weight, and who will be moving around on the back seat. In fact, this is a job for very experienced riders, as we had to accelerate, brake, and turn, under conditions that might have been taxing to riders with lesser skills. But the real key to a safe and fun day is the quality and quantity of communication between pilot and photographer. It helped greatly that Paul connected his Sena bluetooth communicator to my helmet, and this allowed us to coordinate every move much better than through shouting, tapping, or however else we would have had to manage. In addition, Paul made it very clear that every decision regarding driving the motorcycle would be up to me, and only me. If he said “go”, and I didn’t think it would be safe, we didn’t have to go, even if it meant missing a shot. We also met the day before, went over the route, practiced with Paul sitting backwards and reviewed the plan for the day, which started at 5:00 AM. Having clear expectations up front, and not feeling any pressure to perform made it fun, and safe.
I strongly recommend pitching in and acting as a “photo moto pilot” in an Ironman, or similar event. You will get a chance to be a part of a fun event (without having to swim/bike/run for 70.3 miles!), and feel the electricity generated by these large gatherings of like-minded people. It’s yet another riding experience, and one I look forward to repeating sometime soon.
Paul – In conclusion, I hope yesterday’s blog and this one will provide some insight as to the requisite skills, equipment and safety measures that are necessary on the course, and what the media and drivers deal with.
One final photo, it really doesn’t have anything to do with the blog but it is a shot of me riding my BMW F800R and loving it!
Zalusky Advance Rider School – Thanks Tina Kelly for the snap
I am back home from another great weekend of shooting, this time at the Ironman California 70.3 at Oceanside. Over the years this event has been the unofficial beginning of the North American long-distance triathlon season and as such always draws an impressive international field to appropriately do battle over the rolling hills of the Camp Pendleton Marine Base course.
Probably the one thing that makes me most recognizable to the athletes is that not only do I shoot from the back of a motorbike, but I am sitting backwards.
For the athletes who know me, this is certainly not an unusual sight, but for spectators and others I see around the course, we are constantly getting comments like: You must really trust your driver! And the answer is: YES, as a matter of fact I do. I have to, not only for my safety but also for the safety of all of those around me. Being on the course among the athletes is a skill that should not be understated and is certainly not for the inexperienced. It is hard to imagine anything more risky than an inexperienced driver with an inexperienced passenger.
I sit backwards because I believe there is really less movement than constantly twisting side to side to get the shot. Here is my view of the course:
In late March there was a tragic event at the Flanders Classics Bike Races where a rider who with four other riders crashed was struck by one of the race Motos and later died from injuries. There have been a number of articles including one by Casey Gibson who has been shooting cycling from motos for decades. Included in the articles are comments about limiting the number of motos on the course and about driver training. Although there are a few groups of professional drivers that support races, in the US the drivers at Triathlons are for the most part staffed by volunteers.
Now that the 2016 triathlon season is well underway I feel it is important to talk about the attributes of the types of motorcycles are best suited for race use and even more importantly the skills and communications required to safely work as a team on the course. While my comments are from the standpoint of a photographer, similar issues must be considered for race marshals and spotters.
My hope is that this blog may also serve as guidelines for volunteer Moto Captains as they are recruiting drivers.
There are really two schools of thought on how photographers and drivers interact. One is that the driver is your chauffeur. You tell him where you need to be and he takes you there. The other school of thought, which is how I like to work; as teammates!
I first met Bruno Desrochers in November 2011 at the Ironman Arizona where is wife Chris was competing. The day before the race, we had the meeting to pair the photographers and the drivers as well as to review the race rules. As planned, I arrived early walked around looked at the motorbikes, saw a BMW R1200GS and asked who owned that bike and then started to talk to Bruno and we were paired for race day. I had always been a BMW wannabe, they are smooth and quiet, and their drivers generally care more about the German engineering than the American noise.
In addition to pre-race briefing Bruno and I spent time reviewing how I liked to shoot, a basic communications protocol, drafting rules and most the most important rule of all: No matter what I ask him to do; he is in charge!
There are a few critical rules to keep in mind:
Safety first!! The safety of the competitors, the spectators and our safety;
Don’t be in a position where a cyclist can draft. In other words if we are too close to the riders, they might be able to obtain an unfair advantage. If they are too close to us, they will be assessed a penalty, which at a professional level can be the difference between being in or out of the money.
Lowest on our priority is getting the shot. I take a couple hundred thousand shots a year and to the best of my knowledge not one of them has cured cancer. If we miss a shot, we will take another one!
Finally: Slow is smooth and smooth is fast. We plan, we maintain a schedule and we neither have to rush or panic.
Being both a photographer and now also a motorcyclist, I am very particular about what I ride and whom I ride with. I own two BMW’s and as a member of the BMW Motorcycle Owners Association, I have almost always been able to recruit a great driver from the club with the right moto to work with me on the course. Not only have I had a teammate for the day, but also in most cases have developed friends I have stayed in touch with throughout the seasons.
There is only so much I can do and I start by taking care of my own needs. Having said that the Volunteer Moto Captains, most of which are motorcyclists need to understand the roles on the course and that one size / style of moto does not fit all.
Here is Bruno and my moto, which we used in Oceanside and will use in St. George. Although we have made small changes they are significant for me. The rear passenger grab bars have been removed and the passenger foot pegs have been replaced with platforms, which give me additional stability when I sit backwards.
There were only two other motos available for the Media on Saturday morning at Oceanside, both BMW Sport Bikes, one of which was a S1000RR. Keep in mind the S1000RR was originally built to compete at the 2009 Super Bike World Championship and only later sold as a production bike with a rear seat added. This is not something I would really even want to ride as a passenger around the course, let alone try to shoot from. The image below is from the BMW Motorcycle website. It’s a great bike, but really out of place on a triathlon course, simply the wrong tool for the job. The other moto was a S1000R, a more street friendly version of the above, but still inappropriate for being on the course with triathletes.
Driver competence is my highest priority. After all, I am trusting my life to the guy in front and I want to be sure that I am sufficiently comfortable to do my job and concentrate on getting the shot, without being concerned about my safety;
It is much easier to drive a motorcycle fast, than it is to be smooth and stable when we are going slow, particularly when you have a passenger who may be moving around on the back; and
Finally is the motorcycle, is it practical and comfortable to sit backwards? Is there a top case that I can use both for stability and for a work surface and finally is it relatively easy to mount and dismount during the race so I can shoot both from the moto or get off to get a different position. Three wheeled machines are just as inappropriate as sport bikes. They are just too wide and not sufficiently maneuverable.
Communications is also critical and I use a Sena 20S Bluetooth intercom to work with my driver.
With clear communications, we can easily adjust position for the shot, make sure that we have sufficient distance between an oncoming cyclist and ourselves and truly work together as a team both to stay safe and to get the shot.
There is an element of risk anytime you get on a motorcycle. Combining the normal riding risk, with an inexperienced passenger, possibly inappropriate equipment and 2,000 cyclists on the road further escalates the risk.
The easy answer to this is to only use professional riders. Easy yes, practical no; there very few groups of professional media drivers and the cost would be prohibitive for most events.
I think a great step would be to have definitive guidelines for the moto captains as to what the specific needs are of each group of riders: Media / Spotters / Marshals. In addition, a moto meeting the day prior to the event to pair teams, practice and review race rules and protocols. In addition, to have minimum guidelines for appropriate apparel for passengers, including: long pants, long sleeve shirt / jackets, over the ankle boots, protective eyewear and of course an appropriate helmet. Open face helmets are really the best option for shooting.
In reaching out to the BMW Club of Houston to prepare for the upcoming Ironman Texas, I connected with the race Moto Captain, Jerry Matson. As luck would have it, Jerry is also a past President of the BMW Club of Houston. He sent me a link to complete a very quick Google Form about my experience and needs. Nice work Jerry!
I have been the lead photographer for the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon since 2003 and the number of motos on the course has varied from 1 to as many as 10, I assumed the responsibility as the Moto Captain. My rationale was simple and purely self-serving, I didn’t want someone else’s lack of understanding to screw things up for me.
At the marathon we use 6 BMW GS’s, two for photographers and four for live streaming videographers from USA Track and Field. Each of our drivers has decades and hundreds of thousands of miles of riding experience. In addition, we hold a driver / media meeting the afternoon before the event to pair the teams, discuss protocols, and have a practice ride. On race morning, it’s simple: coffee at the start and then get to work!
In conclusion, it is not about taking risks, it is about understanding and mitigating the risks. Although having motos on a racecourse will never be without risk, it can be minimized with proper planning, the right equipment, training and communications.
All of what I have included above has been derived from my level of trust and comfort. I think the best information regarding riding skills and experience must come from my partner Bruno Desrochers.
Coming up in my next blog will be the thoughts of Bruno who has driven for me since 2011 and David Ashe who drove for me for the first time in San Juan in March.