“Races can’t happen without motos,” says, Stephen Chang, CRCA’s moto coordinator. Chang’s a lifetime member of the CRCA and has been part of the club for over 25 years. As both an avid cyclist and motorcyclist, organizing motos for CRCA is something he does to help give back to a community he loves.
I sat down with two seasoned CRCA motos to find out more what goes on behind the scenes with the folks on the motorcycles that ride ahead of and behind us during races. As a cyclist, motos are a fact of life, much like the officials who sit at the finish line, but I’ve never really considered the preparation, training, and the time it takes to be one of the people on motorcycles, or what they have to think about and do in order to keep hundreds of racers safe and upright in the early morning hours of our competitions.
“In the early years, the person organizing motos wasn’t a club racer, so sometimes you would show up to a race and have no motos.” That’s changed, in large part due to Chang’s work, but sourcing motos for races is an ongoing process. Largely, CRCA finds its motos through word-of-mouth amongst racers and others in the NYC motorcyclist community.
Richard Echenagucia, a fellow CRCA moto pacer, also took up the role to support the club. He also likes to be able to watch his friends race as he paces them - an added bonus (and a great way to get a view of the action in a circuit race as long as Central Park.)
Echenagucia says that a typical day for a moto pager consists of showing up early so that you have time to do a lap of the course and survey for any road hazards and plan for the best places for passing and neutralization during the race.
“I’m not a morning person,” Chang laughs, “and getting up early is not something I love, but I still love the sport and ride every day.” Chang is a longtime USAC member (justifiedly boasting about his 4-digit license number to me). “Club races in Central Park are easier than Open races, too, particularly something like Bear Mountain,” Chain adds.
While moto pacers are paid for their time, they supply all their own support for a race, including food, clothing, and gas for their motorcycles. When riding out to Bear Mountain, some pacers have a 40 mile commute before getting to the race, and sometimes they have to bring extra fuel on their bike to resupply before they start their moto shift. In addition, they need to bring food, warm clothing for the colder weather, and sometimes blankets or seats for when they are off the bike. In the end, it’s a passion for these motos. To be able to share the joy of riding - both a bicycle and a motorcycle - is what drives them to continue supporting CRCA races.
And what goes into actually being a moto? There are two kinds: Officials, who can also make rulings on the race itself, and non-officials, who are there for support, awareness, and pacing, but do not have USAC licenses enabling them to judge races.
“As a pacer, you need to warn people. You really need to clear a path for them in the park, maybe rev your engine to get pigeons of the way,” Echenagucia says, describing the most essential duties for the lead moto, who rides ahead of the peloton and acts as the eyes and ears of the racers. Lead motos signal the arrival of the racers, enabling marshals along the road to keep other park traffic safely out of the way of the race, and ensure the race can continue safely along the road.
As for the moto at the back of the field, that’s where most of the officiating is done. The biggest issue officials in this position deal with are racers who go into the joggers lane (which is a violation that will result in disqualification from the race.) Officials have taken to using GoPros as a second set of eyes to help them officiating these races and make better determinations of what’s happening in the peloton in order to make better rulings.
“Motos can see more [than an individual racer] and make the call that they see [when officiating a race],” Chang says, describing the difficulties of being an official. “Remember that motos are doing this because they love the sport and want to do the right thing, not because they want anything or are making a fortune,” he continues. Like most competitors, racers can be anxious, particularly when judgments negatively impact (or disqualify them) from a race, but Chang urges members to be patient and flexible and work with the officiating crew and the motos if they ever think a ruling is incorrect.
“People really do appreciate what we do,” Echenagucia continues, “at the end of the day they thank us after races. They know we keep them safe and get people out of the road. Central Park can be tricky because of all the people in it, and we keep racers out of harm’s way.”
Both moto positions come with different sets of challenges. Ahead of the peloton, “the most difficult aspects of the job are judgment calls - when to neutralize a field and when to insert yourself when there’s a break,” Chang says. “The administrative part can be a pain,” he adds, “all pacers have to submit background checks and get training including sexual harassment and get permits for all the motos. The process starts in February and you can’t wait until the week of the race to decide to pace.” This is another reason Chang is always on the lookout to get more folks interested in pacing and help them get their training and paperwork completed early, since the process can feel daunting to a newcomer.
In the back, Echenagucia says the challenges center mostly on the management of accidents. “The rear bike stays when an accident happens and makes sure everyone is okay. We figure out if they need an ambulance and that they are out of harm’s way. I carry two radios so that I can tell officials how many people were involved and which race numbers they have.”
And parting words of advice from two veteran pacers and long-time cyclists to our active CRCA racers? “Stay out of the rec lane and move over when you are neutralized,” says Chang. “The quicker you let the field pass, the quicker you can resume racing. When you pass a field, keep the pace high and pass definitively.” As for Echenagucia, he says, “use common sense when we advise racers to stay safe during passing and tell them to avoid road hazards.”
Motos are a staple of racing for any CRCA member. We see them so often and probably all have a familiar feeling of excitement to hear the sound of a moto’s engine starting up, but we don’t often think about what goes into becoming a moto and the time, effort, and coordination it takes to get so many motorcycles out to the park to keep us safe. Without them, races simply could not happen, and because of them, we are able to smoothly run multiple fields around one of the busiest parks in the world and keep all cyclists safe, rain or shine - from the coldest months in March to the most humid and hot in the depths of August.
If you are interested in becoming a moto or know a motorcyclist who would enjoy getting involved - non-official or a licensed official - please reach out to email@example.com and we’ll get you in touch with Stephen Chang. And if riding a motorized two-wheeled vehicle isn’t your thing, find your motos at the end of your next race and thank them for helping make more than a dozen races in the New York City area safe, fast, and fun.