Bike mounted camera systems made the main six-o’clock news in Sydney in dramatic fashion late last year, when Northern Beaches based rider Dave Bristow was on the receiving end of what looked like a deliberate intimidation by a local private bus company driver.
Fed up with bullying by motorists, David had taken to wearing a Contour HD helmet camera on his daily commutes to the CBD. After this very close shave, he posted the footage on youtube and wrote to the local newspaper. From there it was picked up by Channel 7 and made their prime time tabloid news slot the following day, much to the embarrassment of the bus company.
However, $450 to $500 for David’s system is beyond the budget of many cyclists and for this reason I hadn’t thought seriously about obtaining a similar system myself. Until recently…
“When you pay rego, then you can use the roads!” It’s unfortunately becoming a common sentiment that is used to justify bullying cyclists among some segments of the driving population. I was reminded of this when I caught the fifty-something unshaven ute driver at the next red light. Not so long ago I had been intentionally knocked off my bike and hospitalised by a similar manoeuvre. I was livid.
When discussing evidence needed to trigger the issue of a Traffic Infringement Notice during the inquiry into the incident in which I’d been struck, the investigating said that Police needed to see the incident.
“Would video footage fit that requirement?” I asked. She responded with a firm “Yes!” before elaborating with an interesting comment: “More and more cyclists are mounting cameras facing front and rear when they commute.”
When I was then asked to take a look at a camera system adapted for bicycle use by Nathan Besh and RigidMount, I was more than a little interested.
While some compact digital video camera manufacturers are starting to address the demand from the cycling market, most of them have not invested a huge amount of time or thought into mounting systems. This is especially true of the lower-cost end of the market, where you will find some outstanding affordable mini cameras that have suitable image resolution and enough weather resistance to do the job well. The main weakness tends to be that the mounting systems are just not strong and stiff enough to keep the camera stable while riding over bumps in the road.
This is where Nathan Besh has seized the opportunity. He has trialed a large number of cameras, and being hands-on DIY type of person, he turned the hassle he went through of finding a workable solution into creating a cheap and reliable system for others wanting to do the same.
Let’s be clear: Nathan’s camera mounts are not commercial products. He is a typical suburban commuting cyclist with a full time job who, like so many of us, enjoys tinkering in his garage. The camera mounts are hand made, almost like your neighbour who is great with his hands finding solutions to everyday problems with readily available parts from the hardware store. Except Nathan has taken away the pain of trial and error and lost hours in having to work it all out yourself by offering these mounts for sale.
The heart of the system is the Otek DVS digital video camera, which Nathan has found to be simple, robust and reliable.
It is a small camera, about the size of a medium mobile phone. Capable of 720p High Definition recording straight to an SD memory card, the unit is weather resistant, so it can safely be used on rainy rides. For approximately $100, it is impressive value for money.
Nathan’s $15 mounting system transforms this camera into a turnkey “independent witness” system for cyclists that works. The camera is quite intuitive to use. About 15 minutes experimentation was enough to work out what the buttons did, how to toggle between the various resolutions and "stills" options, zoom in and out, and turn the camera on and off.
The first experiment was on my 5″ travel dual suspension mountain bike at Kiwarrak State Forest.
The results were better than expected. There seemed to be very little flex in the mounting system, and the camera stayed pretty much where it was pointed. Some of the more serious pounding did see the camera move its aim very slightly, but this was because I had mounted the clamp on the tapered section of the bar. Removal of the Ayup light mount would have resolved this easily by enabling me to get the camera mount off the tapered section. Since this session was just a (pardon the pun) shakedown cruise, I didn’t try to resolve it.
An alternative solution would have been to use the 22mm adapter sleeve and mount the camera slightly inboard of the brakes.
On the smoother trails the footage was very good, but on the rough stuff the movement of the bike made it harder to watch.
I trialled the seat post mount, facing forward to get a view through the handlebars, but did not use it on any rides. In this position I found the camera mount was just a little wide and my inner thighs brushed it each pedal stroke. Taking footage from this location would be better with a narrower camera.
Resuming bike commuting the following week, I swapped the mount to the handlebar on my hardtail. The swap was accomplished in a few short minutes, with no need to move or remove any of the other hardware from my handlebars.
On the road, the footage was smooth and stable, with no sign of camera mount flex. Field of view is excellent. There was some evidence of road noise being transmitted up through the frame and handlebars, but it was not enough to be intrusive. A piece of fluff supplied with the mount that Nathan recommends you glue over the microphone aperture on this camera did an excellent job of damping wind noise. There was no movement or change in camera aim and vehicle registration plates are quite legible.
Facing the camera rearward on the seatpost worked well on the road, there were no issues of my legs bumping against the camera which was mounted high up on the post under the seat. This meant I needed to find somewhere else to stash my under-saddle bag, though I suppose that becomes a question of priorities.
The seat post set up made accessibility to the control buttons with gloved fingers a little challenging. The cutaway part of the mount that makes accessing the buttons so easy when it is mounted on the handlebars is now on the opposite side of the camera in when it faces behind.
When mountain biking, the violent movement transmitted by the bike over rough terrain made the footage much less viewable, as soon as I got into the rough stuff and needed to move off the back of the saddle, I found I was bumping it with my inner thighs again.
I’m not particularly concerned by this as Nate isn’t really promoting this system for mountain bike use – it is instead aimed squarely at the commuting market.
One interesting little quirk of the Otek DVS digital video camera was to do with the length of footage captured. Probably because of the limitations of the FAT32 file allocation table in 32-bit operating systems, there is a maximum file size limit of 4Gb. With the Otek in 720p mode, this translates to about 37 minutes and 30 seconds of continuous recording before the camera stops. Unfortunately there is no option to automatically continue recording with this camera, you need to remember to press the record button again yourself. With the 126 model tested, there was also an upper limit of 8Gb SD memory (ie. 2 x 4Gb recorded sessions), but the newer 550 model this is increased to 16Gb. This would be enough to cover my 60km round trip daily commute.
The file size limitation can be worked around by dropping the resolution to 480p, at the price of car registration plates being less legible. A second option would be develop the habit of stopping and restarting the recording each time you come to a stop at traffic lights.
The finish on the mounts shows the handmade nature of their manufacture. Glossy, slick and mass-produced they are not, but that is not their point. These units are designed to do a job and be functional, stable and bullet-proof – and in this aim they definitely succeed. They turn a general-purpose camera into a bike-specific unit for just a few dollars, and I think Nate’s initiative in making these available is outstanding.
Nathan’s website, rigidmount.com is also worth a mention. All the instructions required for effective use and installation of the camera are fully detailed, along with the fruits of many hours of research and trial and error in locating suitable free video editing software, filters, masks, and overlays. The camera reviews are illuminating.
For $15 Australian these mounts turn a cheap $100 digital video camera into an excellent tool for capturing the facts in any interaction with other road users. There are almost zero no ongoing costs of operation and the camera units are easy to use, mount and remove. The RigidMount kit contains everything you need – just add the Otek DVS 550 camera.
While being less suited to mountain bike trail use, for on-road use the combination is perfect. The file size limit is a minor inconvenience but can be worked around.
Human witnesses can be unreliable, but this mount and camera system enables you to capture the story from your point of view and retell it in compelling detail. This alone could make the difference between being out of pocket and recovering your costs in an accident – or between having the policeman roll his eyes and getting him motivated to get that menacing driver taught a vital safety lesson.
In addition to camera mounts, Nathan also manufactures solid and reliable mounts for bike tail lights and handlebar mounts for the new generation of compact, high power LED torches. These latter provide an inexpensive way of significantly increasing your road presence at night and some units are even stong enough to funtion as headlights – check them out: www.rigidmount.com
Highly recommended for the budget conscious cyclist.
– Very affordable and takes the pain out of DIY
– Does the job really well – clearly the fruit of experience
– Great resource for video tools and camera reviews on the Rigidmount website
– Finish a little unrefined, but then it is a hand made product