Friday, 4 February 2011

Using A Cycle Cam

First of all I want to make clear I think cycling with a 'video' camera (AKA 'bulletcams', 'cyclecams', 'helmetcams' and 'headcams') is just a tad geeky and maybe even a little sad. However, I am also sometimes a little geeky (although rarely sad) so it kind of fits.

I have been prompted to write this post after a question from Andrew about my cam' as well as reading a  few recent blog posts by Nigel at 4 Wheels Good 2 Wheels BetterTlatet and cyclingjim at The Low Fidelity Bicycle Club and a recent BBC news article all on the general theme of cyclecams.

I first thought of getting a helmetcam while preparing for the Pennine Cycleway ride in 2010. I had visions of making a great little web movie to demonstrate what I wonderful time I'd had and some Point of View (POV) footage would constitute just one element of my movie masterpiece. I also knew some cyclists were using cams' in the battle with other traffic and after a few close calls I'd decided to join them. The final justification for the purchase was my brother and I could use it while skiing (hence calling it a helmet rather than cycle-cam). While I did have a great time on the Pennine ride I didn't even take the cam', never mind made a movie and I haven't been skiing since I got it. I do use it while cycling locally and find it cathartic to replay and post some of the crap driving I came across. Such are the plans of men!

My ContourHD cam
So I bought a secondhand ContourHD bullet cam from eBay for about £160.00. I chose this one as it has good reviews, is self contained, robust, weatherproof and has a variety of mounting attachments. I didn't use it on the Pennine ride mainly because I found the charging and memory issues too much of a bind. With an 8Gb card I can record for about 120mins and the battery gives a similar length of time before it gives out. So on a 6 day trip I would obviously need to download the footage and recharge the battery frequently. Both things done via the same USB lead which requires a laptop or similar device plus regular mains electricity access - something I was not prepared to countenance. 

Using it locally is not too problematic as I am able to recharge it at home, save any files I want to hard drive and then format the card. It records files in the MOV format and I have found these very cumbersome to edit. I've tried the Contour edit software (very basic), Windows Movie Maker, Adobe Premiere Elements and AVS Video Editor and struggled with them all. It is not my computer or the software but I think related to the codecs the MOV files utilize. I have hit upon a nice piece of free software called MPEG Streamclip from Squared5 which allows speedy viewing of a file as well as trimming and saving the required section but have given up trying to edit sections together for the time being. 

The mounts advertised for the cam' look impressive but not all come as standard. I got a vented helmet mount as an extra and it wasn't very good. While the mount could be secured tightly to the helmet, the camera moved on the mount and so picked up any vibrations. The mount and camera also stood quite proud of the helmet and so I ended feeling a bit like a Borg while I was cycling the streets of Manchester. Not a good look! The mount was also easily broken which is what happened in the end. I found with my current helmet I could achieve a much sleeker look with no vibration by strapping the camera directly to the helmet and so this is how I use it at the moment.

The camera does capture some good wide angle footage, is simple to use and quite weatherproof. I am generally happy with it. Would I recommend getting a cyclecam far all cyclists? Not at all. Would I recommend the ContourHD? It's good but there are a growing number of devices available and it really depends on what you plan to use it for. Horses for courses I believe is an appropriate expression!

So the main ups and downs of cycling with a cam' as I see it are:

The ups
  • illustrate the generally atrocious conditions on the roads i.e crap cycle lanes, facilities, potholes, etc
  • show nice scenery and great cycling to amaze your friends, colleagues, family and blog readers
  • capture idiotic driving behaviour to amaze your friends, colleagues, family and blog readers
  • secure video evidence to potentially enable prosecution of some of the above said behaviour
The downs
  • You look like a geek
  • Time consuming (charging camera, editing footage, uploading to web, mounting cam' adequately)
  • £££ outlay (varies)
  • Something extra to remember when cycling
  • Limited power and memory for longer journeys
That kind of covers it really. If you want to ask questions feel free to do so. Thanks for reading.


  1. Looks like a nifty bit of kit Darryl.

    I've seen some really entertaining videos out there on Youtube & thereabouts...what we are able to do these days with some of this geeky technology is pretty amazing :>)

    One in particular on youtube was a guy on a recumbent riding down what looked like an Alpine pass, hairpin bends you name it. It was over 10 mins long & was he going some?!

    What I find worrying though is that the day in day out 'Cam users ride around with a camera fixed to a piece of kit they expect to protect them in a bump to the head! Now & again to make a movie maybe, but doing it as a matter of course everyday is asking for trouble.

    I've seen a pic of one set up with one of those narrow upright camcorders wedged the the vent of the helmet - youch! At least yours has a chance of shearing off.

  2. Ian.

    I don't like wearing a helmet and don't find the evidence compelling from a safety aspect either. I use one simply because it makes my wife happy and that makes it worth every penny. It is also a great cam' mount platform!

    If I'm in an RTC and land on the helmet I know the camera will either sheer off or depress the helmet before damaging my skull. The chances of me coming off worse from an RTC because I am using a helmet with a cam' attached compared to going bear headed really don't worry me.