On Motors and Bikes: The Next Ride

Every time I go riding, I know I subject myself to masses of cars and motorcycles, each of which has the potential to momentarily occupy the same space my bicycle and I are occupying, a physical impossibility that Nature will resolve via a messy process involving my death. I don’t know very much about the vehicles surrounding me or their drivers, apart from that they likely don’t know how vulnerable a Cyclist is, or how much longer it takes us to stop than it does them, particularly in the wet. I know that they don’t appreciate how fast a bicycle can travel, or that I likely can’t see or hear them coming up from behind, or that I don’t know whether they can see me at all or whether or not they will pull out in front of me even if they do. But I am certain that they don’t appreciate how lethal their vehicle is and I am even more certain that they are likely distracted; they might as well be pointing a loaded gun at me.

This reality comes with the territory of being a road Cyclist, and I accept that. I take every reasonable precaution I can to be safe, apart from not riding my bike in the first place; a life without Cycling on the road hardly seems like a life in the first place. I am also fortunate to have ridden as long as I have and that my experience has allowed me to develop a sort of sixth sense when it comes to recognizing which drivers are about to do something that will put me at risk. I accept the risk, I do whatever I can to control those factors I can, and hope for the privilege to return home safely and ready for The Next Ride.

I am terribly saddened by the death of Antoine Demoitie during Gent Wevelgem after being struck by a motorcycle involved with the race. I understand that motor vehicles are a part of the race, including for the purpose of providing live pictures for us, the fans. But I personally find it unacceptable that riders are being put at the same risk that we encounter on the street when we go out training. A bicycle race is already rife with danger; adding the risk of being hit by a car seems reckless.

I read Breaking the Chain shortly after it was first published. Apart from the shocking tale of drug use in the peloton, the story relays how many stimulants are used by the drivers in the following caravan. The notion that the bike race is packed to the gills with vehicles whose drivers are not only distracted and stressed out but are also intoxicated sends the imagination to dark, dark places. We will never be able to eliminate the risk of vehicles hitting riders, but we can certainly take measures to reduce their frequency. Race vehicles hitting riders isn’t new, but their occurrence have dotted race history with a frequency that makes the individual accidents noteworthy, the 1987 Tour of Flanders being a standout case. But it seems like every recent race involves an incident between a rider and a race vehicle, to the point that these accidents have even influenced the outcome of the race on several occasions. It all points to the fact that we’ve prioritized the publicity of the events over the safety of the riders. That prioritization is perverse and entirely in the race organizer’s control. It is time they take whatever measures necessary to minimize the risk to the riders who already stand to lose their lives without the help of the vehicles in the race.

On Sunday, Antoine was denied his Next Ride. Our thoughts and condolences go to his wife, family, and friends. Changing our approach to the motorcade will never bring Antoine back to life, but it can help us avoid repeating this tragedy. If the solution involves less live television coverage, then I’ll be the first to raise my hand and say I’ll happily give up the privilege of seeing the races live. I hope Antoine is the last rider to suffer his fate.

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67 Replies to “On Motors and Bikes: The Next Ride”

  1. We’ve already established that the poor moto driver in this tragic case was massively experienced, so it was just an awful confluence of events that couldn’t probably be averted no matter how many UCI licences, few outriders and/or official training was involved. @Ted G is right that we can’t possibly eliminate all risk, so a kneejerk reaction isn’t what’s called for here, more of a measured response.

     

  2. While the risk from motos is very clear and has been very thoughtfully discussed here, I also have real concerns about DS’s driving. I watched a ” top ten cycling celebrations” on Watts Eurosport recently and saw various DS/ team managers eating with one hand, operating the radio with the other and steering with their knees. This in addition to watching the dash mounted TV!

    Paolo Salvoldelli in a one to one profile stated that he had not fully understood how dangerous his sport was until he retired and found himself in a team car.

    it is both irresponsible and churlish of teams to be critical of moto pilots when they appear to demonstrate such a flagrant disregard for rider safety themselves.

  3. @ChrisO

    It’s terribly sad but the more I read about this particular incident the more it seems to have been a freak accident that could have happened regardless of all the sensible suggestions made above. It was a race official bike and it happened after the riders crashed and fell, it wasn’t caused by the bike.

     

    A view that is echoed in this article with Kristof Ramon in Cyclingtips.

  4. @gilly

     

    Paolo Salvoldelli in a one to one profile stated that he had not fully understood how dangerous his sport was until he rode into Frank Strack.

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

     

  5. @ChrisO

    @davidlhill

    @ChrisO

    But as pointed out, it isn’t usually TV motos who are the problem, it’s the press photographers. Either you restrict the overall number or you allow a limited number of pool photographers so that shots have to be shared. Then everybody gets what they need and nobody feels pressured to get something nobody else has.

    That however would be a matter for the race organisers and owners, not the UCI, as it affects the commercial rights and licensing.

    I’ll say straight away that I could be wholly wrong, but surely the number of vehicles surrounding the peloton is a safety issue and that is (should be?) the responsibility of the UCI? Say they mandate 8 (pick a number) motorbikes as the limit for a race of 150 riders, then the split between official bikes, TV and press could be down to the organisors.

    I also agree that this looks like a hugely tragic accident, not cause by inexperienced bike riders. I also think it has been an accident waiting to happen as there have been far too many motorbike/bike collisions in recent races.

    Sadly I don’t see the UCI doing much as they are currently fighting with FIFA to be recognised as the worst governing body in sport. In my opinion.

    David

    I’m just thinking of it as realpolitik – the authority may well be with the UCI but the power is with the big race organisers like ASO and RSC. We’ve seen that again and again. Don’t forget how this all started. Races were publicity events for newspapers.

    They hold the commercial rights and if the UCI said “Only 4 press bikes per 60 riders” or something like that, the owners could say their ability to market and commercialise the race was being limited and who was going to pick up the tab.

    Whereas the owners could enforce a pool tomorrow if they wanted. Pools are not unusual – they often take place on government or charity events where there are only X seats on a plane, or where they are trying to avoid having 20 cameras trampling the flowerbeds.

    I’m not saying it isn’t possible with a dialogue between the UCI, organisers and riders but it requires common-sense and compromise on all sides so…

    Exactly, it all boils down to the money-isue and who’s gonna pay.

    Based on the latest incidents I imagine the UCI will be considering setting up a limited number of vehicles/motos based on the event’s ranking and number of participants. In my view this seems to be the best solution for all involved; riders, organisers, commercial interests, couch-riders etc.

    @Teocalli

    The part I’ve never understood is that the photomotos seem to be free to thread as and when they please. I’d have thought that they should be allocated to “ahead” or “behind” and then have clear rules on what position they can take in splits.

    OK I guess they will often want to get ahead to take static shots and then jump back on to catch up but the timing of when they can thread seems to need policing as often they can be seen tooting horns to thread a massed peleton spread the full width of a narrow road. That always just seems to be asking for trouble and in such time they should not be allowed to pass.

    @Teocalli, please see my link to the UCI regulations further up in this discussion. They are not free to move around as they choose. But – as they are generally assumed to know their business (also ref regulations) – we rarely hold them back from moving what seems at random. During meetings we emphasise that they cannot pass a commissaire’s car nor the riders (bunch, escape whatever) unless they have a go ahead from the commissaire and most oblige to this, no problem.

    I should add that regulating this part of the race (motos and vehicles) is quite a daunting task and we do have the obligation to prioritise the race and riders over the motorised entities. And having them pass the bunch can be difficult. As commissaire I rarely know the exact nature of the route; narrow, wide, turning etc and it can hence be difficult for me to anticipate where to allow the passing. I have to rely on the locals in my car.

  6. Not to add fuel to the fire, but check this out. Cars are as much an issue as motos.

    http://www.steephill.tv/players/youtube3/?title=Enough+is+Enough+-+A+retrospective+of+moto+and+racer+incidents+before+today&dashboard=classics/gent-wevelgem&id=TsnZBUkjsx4&yr=2016

    Unfortunately it takes tragedies to see reforms enacted. (NFL head injuries and concussions). After the Skibby incident, cars were banned from the Koppenberg and rightly so. Helmets are now compulsory after Kivilev’s death. Most sports contain some element of danger, you can’t eliminate it. What governing authorities have the responsibility to do is eliminate or minimize the obvious sources of danger.

  7. @ChrisO

    @Ted G

    even with the the limitations and regulations you suggest there is still the potential for tragedy no? We are all falable so there are no guarantees for safety. That begs the question of what is safe enough? Considering the number of professional bike races each year, the number of bike racers I each of those races, and the number of serious and/fatal incidents could it be that despite the risks, riders are more at risk is other parts of their lives then they are when they are racing bikes?

    Nobody is asking for safety guarantees, just an examination of whether current practices pose an unacceptable risk in comparison to the benefit they provide.

    Circumstances and opinions evolve in sport as in life. What was acceptable 20 years ago is often not acceptable today and it is the duty of organisers and authorities to take part in that discussion.

    It’s incremental not absolute.

    The analogy with alpine skiing springs to mind as to the comment what was acceptable once is not acceptable now anymore: bumps are flattened to accomodate higher speeds when racing downhill, nets are put up 3-fold to stop the crashing, loose snow needs to be removed, helmets are mandatory, ski’s radii are changed to make them safer, backprotectors are I think also required but even airbags are now being successfully used to prevent skiers from sustaining life-threatening injuries to head or back. Yet the knee-ligaments of skiers remain the weakest body part and skiers accept that residual risk (even as an amateur!) openly and consciously. If I want to go off-piste, I run the risk of avalanches. If I however stay on the piste, then I would indeed expect that the risk of getting caught in an avalanche is zero.

    Any activity will have residual risks that cannot be mitigated, whether it’s as an amateur or a pro, if there are speed or other uncontrollable influences involved.

    On @Ted G’s comment whether non-pro-cycling activities are more dangerous: as a Life & Health actuary, I should know the answer. Although I do not know it from the top of my head, I would have an idea how to calculate the risk (nr of accidents divided by km’s ridden;this is how motoraccidents or airplane accidents are expressed as well). A simpler approach was to ask an underwriter whether we apply additional premiumloadings for life insurance for pro-cyclists, the answer to which was “no” assuming they are healthy.

     

     

  8. @Oli

    We’ve already established that the poor moto driver in this tragic case was massively experienced, so it was just an awful confluence of events that couldn’t probably be averted no matter how many UCI licences, few outriders and/or official training was involved. @Ted G is right that we can’t possibly eliminate all risk, so a kneejerk reaction isn’t what’s called for here, more of a measured response.

    While this incident does appear to have been unavoidable, given the number of rider/vehicle incidents over the past 12 months alone (8 based on that cyclingtips article I posted above), I don’t think any form or review could be described as knee-jerk.

     

  9. @ClydesdaleChris

    Such fantastic insight. Thank you for sharing!

    @RobSandy

    @gilly

    Paolo Salvoldelli in a one to one profile stated that he had not fully understood how dangerous his sport was until he rode into Frank Strack.

    Sorry, couldn’t help myself.

    Solid. Fucking. Gold. +1 badge!

  10. @Teocalli

    The part I’ve never understood is that the photomotos seem to be free to thread as and when they please. I’d have thought that they should be allocated to “ahead” or “behind” and then have clear rules on what position they can take in splits.

    OK I guess they will often want to get ahead to take static shots and then jump back on to catch up but the timing of when they can thread seems to need policing as often they can be seen tooting horns to thread a massed peleton spread the full width of a narrow road. That always just seems to be asking for trouble and in such time they should not be allowed to pass.

    And that’s my fear as well. They do WTF they like….

    FML I turn around and there’s a million* replies!

    @everyone, thanks for the positive comments. There has been a number of very similar thoughts to mine put forward here (which is encouraging and pleasant to see), but also mirrored from Kristoff Ramon, Mr Hair himself- Marcel Kittel and others I cant think of right now.

    And as for team cars- OMFG!

    I say lets take a step back, review the WHOLE race autobus and see if anything can be done to improve safety such as training, simple driving rules and limits on journalist vehicles.

     

    (*ok so I exaggerated)

  11. @ClydesdaleChris

    @Teocalli

    The part I’ve never understood is that the photomotos seem to be free to thread as and when they please. I’d have thought that they should be allocated to “ahead” or “behind” and then have clear rules on what position they can take in splits.

    OK I guess they will often want to get ahead to take static shots and then jump back on to catch up but the timing of when they can thread seems to need policing as often they can be seen tooting horns to thread a massed peleton spread the full width of a narrow road. That always just seems to be asking for trouble and in such time they should not be allowed to pass.

    And that’s my fear as well. They do WTF they like….

    FML I turn around and there’s a million* replies!

    @everyone, thanks for the positive comments. There has been a number of very similar thoughts to mine put forward here (which is encouraging and pleasant to see), but also mirrored from Kristoff Ramon, Mr Hair himself- Marcel Kittel and others I cant think of right now.

    And as for team cars- OMFG!

    I say lets take a step back, review the WHOLE race autobus and see if anything can be done to improve safety such as training, simple driving rules and limits on journalist vehicles.

    (*ok so I exaggerated)

    Chris, these insights are so helpful; we all watch from outside and while I’m (pleasantly) surprised that the tele camera bikes are not the issue, I am feeling very melancholy that our armchair quarterbacking doesn’t seem to be too far off the mark. I wish we were more wrong than that.

  12. @frank

    This week’s episode of the Cycling Podcast has coverage of this issue. They’ve an interview with a guy who pilots a motorbike for a photographer, and also with Mick Bennett, who runs both Tours of Britain. I’ve not listened to the whole thing yet, but one thing I have taken away is that it’s not a total wild-west out there: there are restrictions in place on what the photo bikes are allowed to do.

  13. @Gianni

    The two worst crashes I’ve had were in a bike lane (broken drainage grate…5 broken ribs), and on a bike path (dog took out my front wheel, I separated my shoulder on impact).  I’ll take the road!

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