Cameras for Cycling

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Do you want to run cameras on your cycle? There’s a large variety of choice available, from the cheap to the expensive, static view to 360-degrees, and varying in quality and functionality. If you’re looking for advice on what to run on your cycle, take a look at what I’m running – this isn’t definitive, but it may serve as a guide!

The purpose of my cameras is twofold. Firstly (and primarily) they are incident cameras, used for evidence purposes in the case I am involved in a collision or near-miss, or in the case of witnessing dangerous driving or a third-party incident. In this regard, they are similar in purpose to having a dashcam in a car. My secondary reason for the camera is to capture a ride or to record the state of an area at any one time. This is then footage I can use on articles or videos, perhaps to show improvements over time or just how a road has changed, or simply just to grab a still image to illustrate a blog post etc.

Your use case will be a significant factor in what cameras to choose. I am not offering a recommendation here as such, but just giving an insight into my experiences. This is how I find these cameras work for me, their positives, and also their drawbacks.

GoPro Max – Main Incident Camera

GoPro Max 360-degree Camera
GoPro Max 360-degree Camera

The GoPro Max is a 360 degree camara i.e., it captures everything in the sphere around it. To do this, it has two lenses, front and back, with a slightly overlapping field of view that the camera then stitches together. The result is a proprietary 5.7K HEVC video file that can be played back in GoPro’s software.

As an incident camera, this has an obvious advantage – with a regular fixed camera facing forwards or backwards, anything that happens to the side may be missed. But with this one, it doesn’t matter where an incident occurs. Unless there’s something/someone physically blocking the view, it should be captured. I mount my camera above my handlebar so that it gets a good view to the front and sides. The rear is obscured by me, the rider, though some visibility down my side is available. Some people wear 360-degree cameras above their helmets (if they wear one) in which case, the view is unobstructed.

However, there are caveats to this camera.

First is battery life. On internal battery, the camera will only record for maybe an hour, after which it will shut down, beeping to alert the user. There are no beeps to alert the user that it’s about to shut down in a few minutes; it just happens without warning. With my camera mounted to the handlebar, I have it connected to an external USB battery pack to extend running time – but to do this, I had to source a third-party ‘door’ that covers the battery, microSD card, and USB-C socket – the replacement door leaves a gap to that socket where the original one does not. This sacrifices waterproofing and therefore use in heavy rain may be a worry.

Also, when running on external power, it’s important to manually reset the recording roughly every hour. GoPro’s software doesn’t play nice with longer recordings in my experience, so I choose my moment to stop the recording and then start a new one fairly frequently.

A single recording session is divided up into segments of roughly 8.5 minutes. So, a thirty minute recording will result in four video files on the SD card. To my knowledge it is not possible to stitch these together into a single long file without GoPro’s help – this requires an annual subscription to GoPro Plus, for the camera to be connected to that subscription, for video files to be uploaded from the camera (not from a PC/Mac etc.) after a ride, and for GoPro to process the upload after which the online media library will provide the option to download the “original quality – full length” file. It’s an automated process, of course, but heavy in time and data consumption. This is important because if an incident occurs across the splice point of two segments, you will need the full length recording to be able to extract the full incident.

To edit a video file, using GoPro’s software it is possible to isolate a section and create a shorter clip from the broader file. Using that clip, it can be saved and shared as a proprietary file (again, requiring GoPro’s software to playback) or it is possible to extract a regular video file – doing this loses the 360-degree capability i.e., it will be a fixed view video, but before exporting it is possible to edit the video to pan around the sphere, setting keyframes at important view points so that the view moves around in a fixed manner on the exported video.

Make sure your PC/Mac is reasonably powerful in order to cope with the demands that 360-degree video file playback and editing will put on it.

As an incident camera, I like it for the greater field of view, but I am frustrated with it especially given how expensive it is. Given the above it’s important to note the annual subscription and internet data transfer requirements (tens or hundreds of gigabytes), as well as the editing steps required to get a regular MP4 video file out of it which can be shared with the local police force.

Before I ran this camera, I had a GoPro Hero 7 Black located in a similar mounting position. When that camera failed, I changed to the Max because I had missed a few close incidents of drivers pulling on to a roundabout without giving way to me. I wanted that additional field of view to the sides. There’s also the additional benefit (or not, depending on context) of being able to see what you as the rider is doing – evidence of observation, signalling, braking etc. might be useful supporting evidence. My setup also captures my cycle computer and as such records my speed and time of day.

GoPro Hero 9 Black – High Quality Forward View

GoPro Hero 9 Black
GoPro Hero 9 Black

This is my second front-of-bike camera which I often run in addition to the Max. However, I don’t use this primarily as an incident camera (though it may still be useful as one, depending on the incident). My camera is suspended below a stem-mount for my cycle computer, and this therefore offers a clean front view with no part of the bike visible (the front wheel can be if I choose to lower the angle slightly). This means I can get good, clear, high quality footage of where I am riding and it would be this footage that I’d prioritise for general ride videos, street scene comparisons etc.

Given that the viewpoint of this camera is fixed, its image quality is far superior to the GoPro Max. Recording at 4K resolution offers the ability to digitally zoom (crop) into the image whilst still maintaining a 1080P video file. It also allows me to record at 50 frames per second versus 25fps on the Max. If I chose to, I could also record at 5K resolution for even greater detail but whilst sacrificing framerate back down to 25fps.

Another advantage with this camera is the files are much easier to deal with. Recordings are still split into segments but it is possible to join them together locally without the need for a GoPro subscription. So, the hassle of uploading, processing, and downloading is removed here. Files are also standard MP4 videos and can be edited in many video editing packages (I use Lumafusion on the iPad for this).

There may still be a battery life concern, depending on the duration of rides, where I wouldn’t expect the battery to last much more than an hour (not personally tested, mind); an external battery pack may be needed to extend it. Again, a third-party ‘door’ will be needed to make that USB-C socket available without exposing the battery and microSD card, and waterproofing is sacrificed in this case. However, there is not the same problem with recording length that is present with the Max. If you want to record continuously on a two hour ride (for example), assuming you have enough space on the memory card and have solved the battery problem, you can do that.

I like this camera for its exceptional image quality with very smooth stabilisation. Footage is crisp and clear, even on rough surfaces, and the quality and detail means it is more likely that a registration plate and other information can be seen. For non-incident purposes, high resolution recordings are great for general ride recordings, and give the option for extracting single frames as mid-ride ‘photographs’ should the need or desire arise.

This camera was a replacement for the failed Hero 7 Black – GoPro offer a no quibble replacement for cameras if you have a GoPro Plus subscription, so although I had bought the GoPro Max, I also thought I might as well replace the broken camera for a comparitively small cost. The Hero 7 Black was similar to this, but obviously an older model which topped out at 4K resolution. Although I can now run higher resolution (5K) recordings, I still stick to 4K, preferring to maintain a higher framerate and some degree of sense over large filesizes!

Drift Ghost X – Rear View Incident Camera

Drift Ghost X (In Case)
Drift Ghost X (In Case)

My third and final camera currently in use is a cheaper Drift Ghost X which is mounted to the rear of my bike, between the wheel and the pannier rack. This offers a slightly obstructed rear view and is important as an incident camera.

The image quality from this camera is not great. It tops out at 1080P (HD) resolution at 25fps and is not stabilised (or if it is, stabilisation is very minimal). However, it is sufficient to see what is happening – it can capture an approaching vehicle, and can see a registration plate as the vehicle passes. There are questions about its weather resistance, so I keep mine in a waterproof case (available separately) which means sound is next to useless, but that might not be an issue if it’s run in conjunction with another camera elsewhere on the cycle.

The great thing about this camera is its battery life. It will run on internal power for a good number of hours – I’ve never had it run flat from 100%, even on a four hour ride. So, there is no worry about supplying external power through the waterproof casing.

As a general point, I thoroughly recommend a rear view camera. Speaking to an officer at Leicestershire Police, he told me that often the rear view can make all the difference when deciding whether to prosecute a case as the behaviour of a driver on approach can be seen. It might also be that a close pass, for example, is more evident from a rear view than from the front (though this might depend on the exact mounting options).

What about cheaper cameras?

I have only one experience of a cheaper camera – when I first started riding, I used one as my sole camera. Everything about it was poor with regard to battery life, image quality, stabilisation, and audio. However, it was sufficient as an incident camera – noting the caveats of a fixed forward view. Bear in mind though that this was back in 2017 and camera technology has advanced since then, and there will surely be a difference between “cheaper” and “cheapest”.

If possible, I do recommend finding a camera with at least some form of stabilisation – shaky footage might make details difficult to pick out, especially in low light conditions. Mounting options should also be a consideration; with GoPro style mounts being plentiful, compatibility would be a bonus.

Final thoughts

Do give some consideration to how to store footage as especially with higher resolution recordings, they can take up significant space. Even if you don’t archive footage generally, for cases that are reported it will be important to hold on to original recordings until the case is closed. If an incident goes to court, that may take a fair amount of time.

When mounting cameras intended for recording incidents, make sure some of the cycle is visible. This will help provide perspective, for example helping to make it easier for a reviewing officer to decide if a pass was close enough to warrant action being taken. Also, try to make the mount as secure as possible, especially if the camera does not have good stabilisation. Even a slightly loose mount can cause significant camera wobble which can then make footage next to useless!

Have you got any questions about cycle cameras that hasn’t been covered here? Let me know in the comments or get in touch on social media.

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