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My day as a Lantern Rouge

Andrea dressed in riding gear and radio equipment, ready to follow bicycles You probably imagine that I like going fast, since I have called myself a motorcycle racer... and you wouldn't be entirely wrong, I do like going fast. But I've also discovered that going slowly has it's own unique charms. The Scooter Rallies of 2007 and 2009 helped me see the joys of going at a more sedate pace, on 50cc scooters with a top speed just over 60 km/h. But it is now 2021, and it's time I upped my slow game. I spent an entire day in first gear! Well, I did use some other gears briefly, but nearly the entire day was spent at speeds between 10 and 20 km/h. Where was this horrible traffic jam, I hear you wondering... lol. Nope, not stuck in traffic, I was volunteering with a bicycle event!

Vulcan dressed as an official vehicle for the Tour de Victoria 2021 Bicycle event Motorcycles and bicycle racing actually have a shared history from birth, more or less… the Tour de France bicycle race dates from the very early days of motorcycling, and motorcycles have nearly always been involved in various support capacities. These days they carry camera operators to televise the race. Fortunately I didn't have to haul a camera operator facing backwards on the back seat. My role, for the Tour de Victoria bicycle event, was to provide radio support; from the uniquely maneuverable platform of a motorcycle. Part of the bicycle event involved trails that are bicycle only access, so it was a unique opportunity for me to ride my motorcycle on bicycle trails from which motorcycles are normally forbidden. I confess the opportunity to ride the forbidden territory of the 'Galloping Goose' was very appealing. Actually, it's basically the whole reason I volunteered. The thrill of the forbidden is real.

The day started beautifully, with a misty morning ride to Victoria. The road I live on has a lot of wildlife, and fog can hide elk, bear and deer more effectively than things with headlights, so I started out cautiously, which set the tone for the day. The ride over the Malahat mountain pass into Victoria is usually busy with traffic, but early on a weekend it's not too bad, so I slipped into town easily enough. I was assigned to follow the 100km route, with a slower anticipated pace than the longer routes. I started behind a huge pack of thousands of bicycles, but within a km or two the group in front of me was much smaller, down to hundreds, then just a handful of bicycles were in sight for the rest of the day. Making occasional stops to check on bicyclists who had pulled off the course, I radioed for mechanics to come help riders with technical difficulties. This was one aspect of my radio role, to relay requests for assistance, either a medic, a mechanic, or a ride back. Fortunately it was a very safe event, I encountered no need to call for a medic, and the one recently crashed bicyclist I encountered along the route was already being assisted by two medics. Motorcyclists won't be surprised to hear that bicyclists break collar bones with nearly the same efficiency, and more abrasions.

Both Lantern Rouge riders connected to follow the last section of the ride route It takes a few hours of travelling in first gear to get accustomed to the pace but once you'd let go of impatience, it's quite entertaining. You can appreciate subtleties of balance and you have more time to look around and enjoy the scenery. The ride route was very well signed, so I wasn't thinking much about navigation, although I was worried about keeping to the planned timing. I'd attached a watch to the bars of my Vulcan so I could tell time, but the route timing sheet was all street names, so it was often hard to tell where I was on the route sheet - a challenge to solve for next year. The other part of my radio role was to send out a signal that included GPS position information, using a radio mode called APRS. So my position was public information, available to the event organizers, police for road closure planning, etc. So lots of people knew where I was, but frustratingly, I often didn't. That's a technical challenge I'm keen to solve for next year. If you are interested in experimenting with technical challenges, amateur radio is the hobby for you!

My APRS equipment mounted on the back of my bike behind the passenger back rest, with an antenna mounting bracket on the Vulcan's tail rack, holding a mag mount antenna.

Close up of the antenna mounting bracket and how neatly my antenna cable tucked out of the way.
The ride route took us out of the city and into the wooded hills, terrain can be a challenge for radio, but it adds to the entertainment for riders. I was challenging myself to ride very, very, slowly up hills at the same pace as the bicycles, but it occurred to me that was probably pretty rough on my clutch and I was mostly just doing it to show off, and the bicycle riders were too busy panting up the hills to be impressed. Sorry clutch, you suffered for my vanity.

At one point in the morning, my radio net control asked me to try to change position to the front of the race, which, since I didn't know where the lead riders were, or where I was, sounded reasonable. So I spent an hour wending my way through annoyed bicyclists who weren't expecting to be passed by the Lanterne Rouge before my net control realized it wasn't possible to get safely though a traffic jam of thousands of bicycles, so they called me off that task, at which point I had to wait on the side of the road, while being passed by all the bicycles I'd just passed, and wait for the tail to catch-up to me to resume me tail rider role. My apologies to all those bicyclists, sorry, I know I looked like a jerk, sitting there waving at you. It was a bad idea, sending me to the front, but it wasn't my bad idea.

After the back of the ride caught up to me, I connected with the other Lantern Rouge who had been following the other route. On a similarly vintage motorcycle too… a '95 ST 1100. I don't think the bicycles appreciated that they had an 'All Vintage' team of Lantern Rouge riders! And my Vulcan was proud to be older and higher KM's too. As we started back into the city, and tired riders were more likely to need communications support, it was good to have both radio operators at the end. The last few kilometres were the slowest of all, following the last tired bicyclist to the finish line. We were followed by the Victoria Police motorcycle division, who were opening the roads behind us. Burned indelibly into my memory (as fodder, I'm certain, for future nightmares) was the sight in my mirrors of motorcycle police with flashing lights six abreast across the road behind me. Despite being in first gear at a pace close to pedestrian travel, the sight was anxiety producing. It's hard to imagine any time the sight of police with flashing lights behind you is good… (is that a sign I've exceeded the speed limit too often?) …but cops in full road blocking mode with flashing lights behind you is truly alarming. It was like being pulled over but with that nightmare like feeling of endlessly happening without anything happening. Being pulled over for an hour, seemed oddly like endless nightmare running. In retrospect I'm kind of impressed I didn't panic and take off down a side street, lol.

So the ride that started behind thousands of bicycles ended up behind just one. My fellow Lantern Rouge rider and I got to congratulate her at the end of her ride, which was a very satisfying moment!

Equipped with two radios, following bicycles, a novel way for an amateur radio operator who rides a motorcycle to spend her day
Photo Credit: Scott VE7EFZ


This image shows my APRS points along the bicycle event route - this information was available in real time to event organizers, this images shows my full trail at the end of the event.

If you are curious about the radio aspects of this event please see the radio version of this story in my Amateur Radio website www.va7alg.ca

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