All eyes are on moto drivers after a spate of high-profile accidents — but who is to blame?

I am a motorcycle driver on the Vuelta a España.

There. I’ve said it. It doesn’t feel great to be the pariah of the moment.

I’m avoiding social media. Many of us who work on motos in the big bike races are not enjoying our five minutes in the spotlight, after two incidents involving motos in this race and plenty of others in the last year or so.

I used to think riding a motorbike around the peloton took a certain temperament and skillset that a select few ever got the chance, and privilege to experience. Now it might seem that anyone can jump on a bike and knock off a cyclist — but really, it’s not as simple as that.

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For about three years the UCI has implemented a driver licensing system for all car and motorbike drivers in their sanctioned events. There is a seminar to attend and a licence issued annually, which you have to present to race organisers when you apply for accreditation.

There is not a riding test. It would be virtually impossible to replicate the many scenarios that moto drivers find themselves in during a pro race. Even harder to recreate is the stress of working on the motorbike with so much going on around you, and often the pressure to get your particular job done.

Moto drivers also have quite different roles on a race. I drive a stills photographer, while another will have a TV cameraman on the back. Then there are the neutral service bikes, the race officials and a lot of police.

Mark Cavendish receives some close attention during the 2015 Dubai Tour (Watson)

Mark Cavendish receives some close attention during the 2015 Dubai Tour (Watson)

We all come to the job from different backgrounds. Some, like the police, are trained professionally. Some were cyclists, but many are just keen motorcyclists who love the challenge of working on bike races. All are more than competent motorbike riders, and every one us starts each day with the same thought in our head: Don’t knock a rider off!

So how did these accidents happen?

It’s not easy to pass judgement unless you have seen actual footage of the crash or heard testimony from both parties. You might say that the cyclist is always in the right, and that it’s our job to stay out of their way at all times — but that is often not possible in the tight, fluid and sometimes chaotic environment directly in front and especially behind the race.

And inside the race too, as we often have to pass the peloton in very tight situations. You can be minding your own business and still find yourself trying to avoid a crash or a rider suddenly changing direction.

Yesterday’s crash involving a TV bike and Sergio Paulinho was a case in point. We were just ahead and saw the TV bike ahead of the race, possibly filming live, run wide on a tight downhill corner, which incidentally also caught Chris Froome out.

Paulinho cannoned into the TV bike, but was trying to correct his line on that bend and therefore could not avoid the motorcycle? Would he have crashed anyway?

I am not saying that this absolves the motorbike, but consider the case of Geraint Thomas being taken out by another rider in the Tour de France. Thomas was minding his own business and was unlucky to be in the path of a rider who could not make the bend. It’s a very similar scenario.

Without TV there is no pro cycling. Take away the press bikes and there is no visual media coverage of the race.

We have been talking about this spate of accidents and there is no easy explanation. Are the bicycles cornering faster and catching us out? Are moto drivers less competent that before? In one or two cases it could be the latter, and those drivers will not be welcome on a bike race again.

How the UCI tests and registers drivers in the future is a knotty issue. Maybe only ex-professional cyclists can do it. Or maybe there should be a levy from the teams to pay for a team of pro moto drivers who all ride the same bikes and travel to all the races.

That, however, would be costly… and it would certainly spell the end of my own 25-year-obsession with one of the most satisfying, thrilling and challenging jobs around.

Luke Evans is Graham Watson’s moto driver on the Vuelta a España

  • Old Racer

    That’s a good idea. Remote cameras mounted on drones that can fly around the racers but not be competing for road space.

    The big races have become insane with too many motorized vehicles amongst the racers, sometimes holding them up, often endangering them. Reduce the numbers of motorized vehicles including team vehicles. Drones would allow close photos without getting in the way.

  • Malone_LeVeigh

    I have been driving a camera motorbike for TV in bicycle races for over 25 years. I have driven all over the world in races. I have worked with most of these other drivers at some point in our careers ( MotosTV, ASO etc). It is one of the hardest and most technically challenging riding you can do. Most of us have a background racing bicycles and motorbikes. It can happen that you can get distracted for a moment (a dog in the road or a spectator) and loose that sixth sense of where the rider behind you is or not realize he accelerated or changed his line. In that instant, you can become very close to a rider or possibly take his line, or, heaven forbid, make contact. Most of the time it is only a yell or a jester from threader that is forgotten by the end of the race. We are professionals just like the bicycle racers, but we are all human and not perfect. There are no excuses that can be made for taking out a rider, We as professional drivers would rather put ourselves on the pavement before touching a rider or even a spectator. Sometimes there can be a mechanical issue that can surprise us and put us into a situation, but hopefully or skills we prevent effecting the outcome of the race. Our goal it to be invisible to the racers and other cameras. We love the sport and we love to be able to show the race and the subtleties of the tactics to the viewers. We get to watch great racing and we want to share that with all other enthusiasts of the sport. We must juggle the demands and requests of a cameraman on our back, a director in one ear, and the race officials in our other ear! We will never be able to keep them all happy! The cameraman wants to be close enough to the rider that he could touch him and the officials want us far away and the cameraman to just use his lens and zoom into the riders. The director wants to see the riders that are the story. It is always a challenge. Most of the time you will never see us and the riders will never know we were there, but like everything in life, there is always a chance that something may go wrong. We hope it never happens to us or one of our colleges in this very small group of professionals, but it can. We will always try to the best of our abilities to be safe and not effect the race. We can not always control who gets hired as a driver, sometime it is just politics (yes, it is here too). Sometimes a great motorcycle rider does not have the mental skills to be a TV camera bike driver. That is not always known until they are put into that position. We hope that those drivers are not asked back or realize themselves that they are not suited for the job. There is always ego in here too! This profession has been somewhat self regulated for as long as there has been bicycle races. I hope that I have been able to share some interesting facts and insight with you and not been to wordy or rambling. I love this sport and want it to be as safe as possible for all involved.

  • ummm…

    good points. but what about camera drones, as was mentioned by another commentor?

  • Neutral Observer

    What about using drones to fly over the cyclists, not amongst them like motos?

  • David Babcock

    the cyclists line was perfectly fine, he did not appear to turn in too early, the motorbike took up at least 3 or 4 feet of the exit of the corner just where Paulinho was heading to, the motorcycle was placed right at the exit of the corner and teh diff in cornering speed between moto and bike was clearly shown–bottom line is the moto was improperly placed at the exit of the corner.

  • Marius Constantin

    Or the organisers and TV could face it. Cameras have zooms, cameramen can shoot also from a safe distance.

  • Marius Constantin

    It’s absolutely right to feel like a pariah – if motorcycle and car drivers keep behaving like that in a race. In any cycling race the safety of the cyclists is the most important thing. You are there because they ride, they are the race, you are an accessory. Get accustomed to the idea.

  • If you watch old races (plenty of them in youtube), there are less “spectacular” takes. Maybe there were less motorbikes and even less pressure to get THAT 4K LCD TV Set compatible spectacular shoot. Maybe we should just put GoPro cameras on all bikes and that’s it… Ah, we are already doing that!

  • Also MotoGP-like leather padded suit. But all of a sudden we are watching… Moto GP? Don’t they have already motorbikes? But none filming the race.. Let’s put some bikers, with cameras in it!

  • TG

    Legalise EPO, then the cyclists would be in front of the motorbikes!

  • Hugi

    i agree cycling needs good coverage, but moto bikes are not something new ! So why so many incidents recently !? Looks like the problems must be lying in riding those bikes and trying to get crazy close ups. If moto bikers will not address this they will be replaced with drones soon. Maybe drone pilot sitting on moto bike in safe distance from the riders ???

  • blemcooper

    Perhaps the race organizers and TV/photo crews should plan on putting stationary cameras on the outer edge of key/fast corners like the one Paulinho was taking (which they often do on circuit races), and camera motos ease off before the corner and don’t come through until there is a large gap to trailing cyclists.

    But then that would cost more, and perhaps require even more cameras on motos to avoid the trailing motos having to pass the cyclists for more front-on shots.

  • Chris

    I am assuming your tongue is firmly in your cheek so please add airbags and two reverse gears to your list.

  • Adam Beevers

    Perhaps the bikes (cyclists’) should be fitted with anti-collision sensors that automatically brake and steer for them. It would also reduce crashes in the peleton and the rider could spend more time checking out Strava on his smartphone during the stage!

  • Chris

    The cyclist was following the classic wide – clip apex – wide racing line around the bend. The moto should have known that, but was trying to get a good cornering picture. This is a perfect example of where not to position a moto!

  • Nigel Rue

    If you are going to have cars, motorcycles and bikes all sharing the same road there will, from time to time be unfortunate incidents. Nobody wants them, and everyone will try to avoid them, but they will happen.
    So what to do? Well you can accept the current situation and just police it as best you can. Or you could rely on only helicopter and fixed position cameras and put up with inferior TV coverage. As for service the riders would have to carry their own spares and make repairs as best they can.
    I know which I’d prefer.

  • portemat

    It’s also the cyclists job not to take out other riders. Geraint we taken out by some overly aggressive descending by Warren Barguil – I would be upset with people riding like that on a weekend club run… let alone a pro taking those risks!
    I think the moto drivers point is a good one. Without the cameras there is no pro cycling. They are a part of the ‘playing field’ (in much the same way as a ref is in football – the ball hitting the ref is hardly unusual).
    Clearly there have been too many accidents recently, but cycling will lose something if all future coverage is like yesterday’s (where the TV camera was so far from the riders in the breakaway, it was impossible to see who they are!). Not many sponsors will be paying to take space on jerseys when it can’t be seen…

  • Nick

    i know it’s technically hard to achieve but the aim should be to not have any influence on the outcome of the race. Not in the line riders take or where they want to move to on the road or what braking they do. You are always secondary to the riders.

  • Andy

    Lets face it none of us are going to watch tv coverage if cameras are at a completely ‘safe’ distance. Everyone’s under so much pressure in the GT’s these days that’s why we’re getting more accidents.

  • Kasim Charles-walcott

    I think comparing the case of Sergio and the moto to the case of Geraint and the other cyclist isn’t fair because as the motorcyclist its your job to position yourself so that you dont obstruct the riders, and the motorcyclist in Sergio’s case shouldn’t have been in that position with riders coming to the bend

  • I’m sorry, but I think you simply cannot compare a crash involving a motorcycle and involving another cyclist… I mean if it’s because of another cyclist, there’s always a risk, they’re all part of the competition, but motorcyclists are not, they should be ones that observe the situation and record it… It’s as if a track runner was expected to slow down or run around a guy with a camera… or something similarly ridiculous.

    Still, it seems weird how often did this happen this year, and if the moto riders are not being more aggressive this year, then maybe there’s an unnecessarily high number of them… which would be the fault of the organizers or whoever decides these things, I guess…