A day in the life of a Tour de France motorcyclist

Motorcycles leading the Tour de France
Those TdF photos of the riders flat-out on the front? This is how they they happen...
"You daren't go through the centre of the bunch. That action leads to riders yelling, probably even a few punches thrown, then the race officials would boot you off the race"
  • | by Luke Edwardes-Evans

Ok fellow motorbikers, here’s a skills test for you.

Imagine you’re riding along a country A-road at about 30mph.

In front of you are 200 cyclists in a tight pack, elbow to elbow, gutter to gutter in a blur of colourful ‘jerseys’ plastered in sponsors’ logos.

When the road narrows or goes into a long bend, the pack stretches as far as the eye can see. It’s a fascinating, beautiful, quite awesome sight.

Sitting comfortably on a purring motorbike you’re musing on the way your flat-out top speed on a push bike is a good 10mph slower than this cruising pack of pro cyclists when your pillion – weighed down in camera kit – taps you on the shoulder and indicates that we should be “in front” now.

As he’s the guy paying you to be there, you’d better make it happen.

Three weeks, 5,000 miles

A motorcycle getting out the way of Tour de France cyclists

Breathing in and trying to keep out of everyone's way at the TdF

A Tour de France motorcyclist will also end up riding double the mileage of the actual race, easily clocking up 5,000 miles over three weeks.

There are 18 stills photographers’ bikes in the Tour de France, mostly BMW R1200GSs plus a few big Triumphs and some classics like the BMW K75.

There are the 120 miles of each day’s stage and, with 2,000 journalists following the race, your booked hotel can be another 60-mile ride in the evening.

There’s usually one long ‘transfer’ during the race and that can be 250 miles. Bang goes one of your two days off in three weeks.

The camera pilots aren’t the only bikers here, either.

The immaculately turned out French Garde Republicaine (50 on the race) on their royal blue BMW R1200RTs and a couple of the Tour de France official Kawasaki GTR1400s precede the bunch.

Overhead, the ever-present camera helicopters clatter as the race whisks past like a high-speed train on idle.

Middle of the action


In the thick of it for the road race at the London 2012 Olympics

Back on the bike, you accelerate into a gap in the team cars behind the bunch.

After the official cars there are two team vehicles for every squad in the race (22), most of them driven by former pro cyclists who drive as exuberantly as they used to ride their bikes.

Skoda supplies most of the cars. There are so many team liveried Octavias and Superbs that, on a slow day, it’s quite exciting to see a Mondeo Wagon (Team Sky) or Citroen C5 Tourer (Tinkov team).

The other visual highlight is the legion of fans who line just about every kilometre of an average 120-mile stage.

Many are a bit sozzled, or dressed in crazy outfits. Or just odd, like the old lady on a chair with a huge cabbage leaf on her head. Stops le soleil boiling grandma’s noggin.

Room to manoeuvre?

Motorcyclists following the Tour de France

You filter past and accelerate towards the back of the bunch, trying to figure out which side is best to pass on.

You daren't go through the centre of the bunch. That action leads to riders yelling, probably even a few punches thrown, then the race officials would boot you off the race.

Oh, and it would also be filmed by the helicopter camera and become a YouTube sensation. Not an accolade any moto pilot seeks.

Beeping your horn to warn the cyclists that you are coming through, most of them will budge-up about a foot from the gutter to let you squeeze by.

There’s not much space – in fact, there’s no room at all as your tyres crunch in the kerbside gravel and your handlebars almost brush the expensive backsides of some of the best 200 cyclists on the planet.

But then – the joy! – the road bends and the cyclists, always looking for the shortest line, swarm away from your motorbike, leaving a corridor wide enough to scuttle down.

You go for it, all the while praying the road doesn’t bend back towards you, and with it the riders, pinning you back on the ropes.

You pull it off, breathing a little ‘yes!’ of triumph as you pass the leading riders and escape to freedom.

That’s the challenge, fellow bikers.

Could you do that, several times a day, each time on a different road at speeds from 12mph (mountains, fans letting off flares) to 60mph (descents, vectors of a dog-fight as riders swoop from corner to corner)?

It’s a hard life. But the blokes (there are currently no female camera motorcyclists) who get this gig will ride on some of the most stunning roads in Europe over three weeks.

They play a small part in one of the greatest sporting shows on earth, and admittedly it makes it a bit easier, knowing you’re onto one of the best gigs a biker can dream of.

Motorcycle pilot Luke Edwardes-Evans followed the 101st Tour de France, which started in Yorkshire in 2014

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