Refereeing Pro Cycling With BMW's R1200GS Adventure

James Carlisle, USA Cycling motorcycle referee talks about his BMW GS

James Carlisle with his 2011 BMW R1200GS Adventure.
James Carlisle uses his personal 2011 BMW R1200GS during his USA cycling referee duties.Madeline Brawley

Bike: 2011 BMW R1200GS Adventure
Rider: James Carlisle
Age: 52
Home: Beaufort, SC
Occupation: USA Cycling motorcycle referee

I got into motorcycles toward the end of my Army career, which lasted 26 years. Someone handed me Neil Peart's book; his stories were really the impetus for buying my first bike. Since then, I've owned six motorcycles, from an F650GS to a sidecar rig and a café R100, and put almost 250,000 miles on them total. But I fell in love with the R1200. In the end, I got two of them. One is a 2009, and it's overseas with my wife, who's still in the Army. The other is a 2011, which I use for work as a motorcycle official for USA Cycling.

BMW GS adventure bike front.
Getting paid to ride. What's better than that?Madeline Brawley

If you watch bicycle racing, you’ll notice us in the background—or the foreground. There are many different kinds of races, and multiple duties within each. You might be a chief judge, traffic control, working the pit lane, or carrying the cameraman on the back of your motorcycle. During the big events, like the Tour de France, there are teams of dedicated motorcyclists for each role. For smaller races, there might still be several motorcyclists, but we’re all working multiple jobs. Especially when you’re riding with the peloton and officiating, it can get complicated.

Often, you have different groups—mens, womens, professionals, amateurs—running simultaneously, in staggered fields. It’s up to us to ensure nobody’s breaking the rules, keep the competitors safe and informed, and manage the race. You need to be decisive. Let’s say the men are running slow, and the women are hammering, closing in on the back. Maybe you isolate the men, let the women pass. Maybe you pause the women, let the men rebuild their lead. But you still need to consider backmarkers and riders working back after a flat tire. Then there’s a wreck, and everything changes instantly. Like I said, complicated.

The author riding his BMW GS adventure bike.
Loaded up and ready to ref.Madeline Brawley

As a motorcyclist, the most exciting race is the criterium. The bicyclists are running on a very short course, often less than a mile, with lots of sharp turns. They’re hitting upward of 30 mph through tight corners, separated from each other by fractions of an inch. When something goes bad, it goes bad very, very fast. The moto refs have to be on the ball. Because the course is so short, it’s only seconds before the front of the field is coming back around. Being on your motorcycle and right in the thick of the action is seriously exciting.

For the longer races, communicating across the course can be a challenge. I’ve hard-wired a HAM radio into the R1200 as well as my helmet, and added a big whip antenna to increase my range. I’m like an old Gold Wing rider out there. I also have professional-style emergency flashers for when I’m handling traffic control. One other thing: I switched to soft bags. Safer for the racers, in case they make contact with us.

There are no modifications required. Anybody can become a motorcycle referee using the bike they’ve got. It’s an amazing part-time job.

The author riding his BMW GS adventure bike.
What can't BMW's GS adventure bike do?Madeline Brawley

But there are no modifications required. Anybody can do this using the bike they’ve got. It’s an amazing part-time job. I also teach elementary school and run Young Scientists of South Carolina, a charitable foundation that provides STEM opportunities for kids in the Lowcountry. Getting involved isn’t difficult. You complete a two-day course through USA Cycling, do some online training to satisfy the U.S. Olympic Committee requirements, and then apprentice under a veteran official. And you get paid, even during the apprenticeship. In the end, you become a full-blown moto referee, sharpen your motorcycling skills, and make a little money too. How cool is that?