There are lots of things that can be said about an Ironman Triathlon and the people that race them. From the outside, friends of the triathletes, whether Professional or Age Group think they are Compulsive Obsessives and addicted to their training. Others sit back in awe of what they have or are working to accomplish.
Although my deteriorating knees saved me from ever attempting an Ironman, I have done some pretty absurd things in my long and undistinguished athletic career. But, as the tag line for Ironman says – Anything is Possible, which I believe is what really drives most of the participants. For some it is a statement of what they can do, for many others it becomes a lifestyle.
There are of course the genetic anomalies like Craig Alexander, Jan Frodeno, Mirinda Carfrae and Jesse Thomas that do this professionally and win, but let’s face it; they are not like the rest of us.
Traveling to compete at one of the 40+ Ironman races or other Iron-distance races around the world is becoming increasingly common. Destination races have become part of the adventure of racing, as well as a great way to see the world and involve your family whom has had to be incredibly supportive during your long training.
Each year it seems I am spending increasing amounts of time in Europe covering events. The atmosphere, the charm, the attitude of the hosts keeps drawing me back. Personally I also love the opportunity to explore new places and cultures.
For years, my friends at the ITU kept insisting that I come to the race in Hamburg just to see the crowds. When I finally did, it was amazing. Now I typically spend July in Germany shooting IM Frankfurt, Challenge Roth and Hamburg.
In fact, IM Lanzarote turned out to be the combination of attributes of all of the best events I have been to over the last 15 years. Lanzarote has the volcanic Island and black sand beaches of Kona, the mountainous bike course of Zell am See in the Alps, the welcoming celebratory atmosphere of Roth and crowds of Hamburg! Really it has it all.
Unlike many of the North American events, Lanzarote has a rich 25-year history and certainly reflects the personality of founder Kenneth Gasque. To say the least, Kenneth treats every triathlete and family member as his personal guest.
Kenneth began his Ironman career in 1985 and immediately commenced his efforts to bring a race to Lanzarote. 1992 marked the beginning of Ironman Lanzarote and was the 4th event in the world. The race has a rich history, with some athletes returning for 15 years or more. When you arrive you are neither treated like guests or friends, you are treated like family. With the Club and Event staff doing all they can to enhance your experience.
At first Lanzarote may seem difficult to get to, but since I typically have to make a connection in Amsterdam, Paris or London to get to the race venue, this time I connected in Dublin and then headed south for an additional 3 hours to Lanzarote.
Club La Santa is a training center, in the fall and winter professional cycling teams, triathletes, swim clubs and many others flock here to escape the European winter and enjoy some solid training. On site there are 3 50-meter 8-lane pools, a 400-meter track, soccer field, weight training, gym and almost anything else you can imagine, including Stand Up Paddle boards. While May is not peak training season families from all over Europe arrive to play together. My apartment was simple but quite comfortable and for my 8 day stay, I felt very much at home.
I hope you enjoyed a few my favorite photos from my stay in Lanzarote, judge for yourself, but put this one on your bucket list!
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.
Now 36 hours into the ownership of my new 1Dx Mark II body, I have yet to have time to take it out for a real test, but after sitting with it for a bit on Tuesday evening and just a few shots this morning, I do have some initial impressions to share.
The set up, both physical and the menu content is virtually the same as the 1Dx. Please keep in mind I haven’t been through everything yet, nor have I opened the manual. I will likely find a few differences, as I get deeper into it.
The first noticeable impression is that 14 fps is really fast and that shooting with Live View at 16 fps is REALLY, REALLY fast. I did hold the shutter down to see how many shots I could fire off in a row and it slowed down at about 140 frames.
Having a burst mode of 140 + frames goes into the category of just because you can, it doesn’t mean you should. To translate that into a practical use, as I am shooting in 3 to 5 image burst from the back of the moto, I truly believe that I will never be inhibited by the transfer rate to the CFast 2 card.
Since I have a couple of hours to kill here at the Las Vegas Airport before my ride arrives to go to the race in St. George, this is a good opportunity to check the high ISO capabilities.
The above images are full frame and as shot, with NO post processing and to me they all look pretty good.
To test a bit more, here are some higher crops of the same 3 images.
Again, except for the crop there has been no post processing to these images. Yes 20,000 looks a bit edgy but not too bad and I think the 5,000 looks pretty good.
Now you may be thinking why is this guy shooting at 1/800 in such low light? I sure hope he can hold the camera steady. The fact is that I shoot sports and if I want to stop the action I need a high shutter speed. High ISO and a tripod will not work for me.
In the final image in each series. I dropped the shutter speed to 1/400 to accommodate the reduction in ISO, but still pretty fast.
Finally here is an image where I have done a bit of post in Lightroom.
Just some minor post and it cleans up quite well.
Will I be shooting at 20,000 ISO? Probably not too often. The last time I did was at the Opening Ceremonies for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
It’s not really about being able to shoot in the dark, which I could probably do, it is about shooting in low light. This whole photography is really about the light. The light reflected off of your image, as well as how much image noise is inherent in the image and what you in post.
Although this is very preliminary, I am pretty impressed. I am looking forward to the pre-start shots at the Ironman St. George 70.3 this weekend for the real test.
In about 36 hours I leave for four weeks of travel, which will include 3 National Championship events in 3 different states in eight days, one of the most challenging Ironman races in the world the following week and by my estimate about 17,500 miles of travel, 14 flights and several days on my motorcycle.
I start off with Ironman St.George 70.3, which is the North American Pro Championship, then ride my motorcycle from St. George (May 7) to Boulder, weather permitting, shooting landscape photos for three days. Then a flight home to Minneapolis to shoot the USATF Road 1 Mile Championship (May 12), followed by Ironman Texas (May 14), which is the North American Pro Championship. My final race of this stretch will be Ironman Lanzarote in the Canary Islands (May 21).
After a couple days of editing in Lanzarote, I plan to take a few days off to go to Marrakech and since I will am routed through Dublin, I plan to take an extra day there as well.
Needless to say I am pleased that my long awaited Canon 1Dx Mark II arrived today. Many thanks to Julie Murphy of National Camera Exchange who kept me well informed as to the delivery date and allowing me once again to get the first one in the Twin Cities.
I do wish I had a bit more time to learn about the new camera, but I do have a couple days to figure out what is different from the Canon 1Dx.
I know I am not alone when people ask, Paul – why do you need a new camera? Sure it is alway fun to have new gear to use, it becomes a practical matter. I always shoot with two camera bodies. The current generation and the prior generation. For me this has meant my Canon 1D Mark IV from early 2010, which I love and has served me very well and the Canon 1Dx, which I received immediately prior to leaving for the 2012 London Olympics.
The Mark IV has about 500,000 shutter actuations and then 1Dx is not far behind. These are tools that have well used and appreciated, as is Canon Professional Services, who keep my gear in great shape.
This blog is not an Unpacking the Box Blog. You can go to the Canon Website if you need to know what’s in the box. It will be more articulate and accurate than I will be.
This blog is the kick off a four great weeks of travel and amazing events and venues to shoot, which should be an amazing test of the new camera!
Just one performance note, when set to live view the sound of shooting 16 fps, is a constant whir!
I plan to get something posted every few days with some details of the events, race images and impressions of the new camera – Stay tuned.
In the vein of The more things change, the more they stay the same.
Ok, it is not quite camp, there are no tents or cabins; there are no s’mores and probably no bonfires! In addition, you will not be shooting from the back of a motorcycle and while we will be at events, you will not in an editorial sense be Covering the Event.
You will however have a great opportunity not only to shoot but also to have access at events that you could not do on your own. Well at least not legitimately.
Here are a few snaps from prior sessions.
Although the events change year-to-year depending both on the weather and the calendar, our tentative schedule
Class at MCAD -Tuesday June 7
Liberty Triathlon – Saturday Morning June 11
Capitol City Triathlon Morning – June 12
Class at MCAD Tuesday – June 14
Paul Saints – Wednesday Evening June 15
North Star Bike Festival – Friday Evening June 17
Canterbury Downs – Saturday Morning June 18
Motorcycle racing – Sunday – Mid-day June 19
Class at MCAD – Tuesday June 21
Events Pending – June 25 /26
One on one student sessions June 26 to 27
As you can see, the weekend of June 17, 18 & 19 we have 3 events schedule, which will really give you a real world feel of what it like to be a working editorial sports photographer.
Although your level of photo experience does really not matter to take the course, the more you know the more you will gain. Each year, we have a student or two who comes back for a second session and their work really improves.
What is important is that you are familiar with equipment. Although we do discuss the use of shutter speeds and f/stops, it will be in the context of getting a sports photo and telling a story and not the basic functionality.
One of the traditionally most popular classroom sessions is the detail walk through of my digital workflow from shooting the photo to post processing, using both Photo Mechanic and Lightroom. Efficiency is as critical whether shooting sprint event or an Ironman.
The final few days will be test of how much coffee I can drink! I will meet with each of the participants individually to give you each a more specific critique of what you can work on and where you can take your photography.
The image was shot last July at the Challenge Roth Triathlon and was published in Triathlete.com. In January 2016, it was selected by the industry group, Triathlon Business International as the Top Published Triathlon Photo of 2015.
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.