Four years ago I was assaulted by a driver in Burbank.
While riding legally in the middle of the right lane on Magnolia, a driver dangerously buzzed me with plenty of space on to his left.
I raised my arm in protest and sure enough the driver pulled over.
There was no remorse in his words.
He claimed to be a cyclist and scolded me for not riding all the way to the right like I was supposed to.
Of course, he had no idea that I was riding legally and as any cyclist should avoiding the door zone.
The act was intentional and should be considered a crime, but calling 911 would come down to a he said / she said, especially in Burbank.
My biggest regret of the day: that the camera I ordered arrived later that afternoon.
The reality is that every rider should have one.
Maybe two or three if you can.
You want your camera rolling when these things happen.
I’ve been lobbying for cyclists to make this piece of equipment as necessary as extra tubes because you’ll be thankful when you need it.
While I’ve posted camera columns before, but technology changes and it’s hard to stay on top.
Even if there was a camera I could recommend, I know people have different needs and budgets.
Ultimately, you have to pick what’s right for you, but these are some major points to consider when you’re purchasing a camera.
1. The best camera is the one that you use.
When thinking about getting a camera, the first brand that comes to mind is GoPro because everyone knows their name and their videos looks bitchin’.
They’re great if you’re looking for footage here and there, but using it to document long rides, I’m not so sure.
They lack buttons which means setting up the functions are difficult. And the battery life could be longer.
If this works for you….
I got the Hero 3+ a couple of years ago, and between all the charging it was just not getting used.
Don’t straight Amazon it.
Try a few out and make sure you feel comfortable using a model before you purchase.
2. Buy a camera with 1080p.
If this is your first rodeo, I’m talking about camera resolution (in the y axis).
You’ll find a lot of cameras that shoot in 720p and even some still at 640 x 480, but 1080 is good enough that you have a great shot of making out license plates should something happen, although sometimes I do go up to 2.7k.
You can go even higher up to 4k, but odds are that will eat up you battery and memory card even faster.
Speaking of which..
3. Memory Matters
From my experiences 16 GB is just about enough memory to record what most cams can on a single charge.
Since most cameras start a new file after 20 – 30 minutes of recording, having extra space is useful if there’s something you have to save and still need space to record.
Even 64 GB cards don’t cost that much more than 32s.
Also, make sure you’re running with a current card that can handle the speed of the camera.
In the case of my GoPros, my older cards caused the cameras to overheat and shutdown because they couldn’t keep up with the rate of recording.
Intimidated? You shouldn’t be.
Most cameras have guides to what types of cards to get. (https://gopro.com/help/articles/Block/microSD-Card-Considerations)
4. Beware of plastic camera mounts.
Having a kick ass camera is great and all, but it takes just one bad experience to cut your faith in using it.
You never want to be that person who drops something in the middle of the ride taking another rider out.
I’ve had my camera fall twice and fortunately, no one got hurt.
I also got lucky both times that the camera was still intact and no driver aimed for it to pick up Frogger points.
CiclaValley’s setup allows a light, Garmin and burrito bag with my camera mounted above.
The culprit was using the plastic mounts that came with the camera.
I knew I was playing with house money, so I decided to invest in some aluminum mounts and I’ve had a 100% success rate.
Sure, it may cost a few more bucks and if you have multiple bikes, you’re going to want multiple mounts instead of installing them every ride.
Then again, this is far better than losing your camera all together
5. Helmet cams if you can.
Let me get the worst part about them out of the way.
They feel weird on your dome with the added weight and can look pretty dorky.
On the bright side, this is the 21st century and you can make anything work!
It’s cool when pro racers like Corey Williams are with the program. (photo: Christy Nicholson)
Having a POV recording is great because odds are you’ll capture more intuitively than just what’s in front of you.
I caution though that your camera should have some form of image stabilization as your helmet can be bouncier than you think.
They also act as a deterrent, as I notice drivers are more conscious of their actions around me since it sends more of a signal they are being recorded.
6. Avoid cameras with removable batteries.
What’s the point?
They make your camera heavier and you can get longer charges on USB based cams and still be lighter.
Plus, it’s nice to recharge you battery while at work or in your car instead of buying another expensive unit or slugging it around.
Why did they ever?
7. Sunglass cams are a no too.
Even if you ignore the creepiness of wearing these around for everyday life, I’m still discouraging the use of them.
First, they feel exponentially heavy because all of the force put on your nose.
They have a short battery life and if it shoots in 1080p, then it’s probably even shorter.
You’re also human and sunglasses fall all the time.
These just happen to have delicate hardware involved.
If someone gets you to buy one, then they are underutilizing their skills at sales.
No wonder Google Glass disappeared.
Remember these dorks?
8. The more, the merrier
After you get into the groove of using one camera, adding a second shouldn’t be that much trouble.
Recording in front is pretty vital, but having a second set of eyes behind you can be equally important too.
For me, it’s super difficult to put a mount on the back of my bikes because my seat packs tend to get in the way.
This may be a great opportunity to have a rear facing cam on your helmet, although remembering which direction to orient it might take some getting used to.
Still, the more you have going for you, the better.
9. Read the reviews
This can be intimidating if you’re as lo-tech as me, but the internets are filled with info.
I look for products with plenty of comments and if the write-up is too nerdy, I move onto the next.
Beware if the comment is too short because it may be spam.
***** ***** ***** ***** ***** *****
Lastly, what cameras do I recommend?
At $70, I loved the swivel lens, decent quality and ease use of my Drift Connect so much so, that I bought three.
They’re harder to find now, especially at that price as production has been discontinued, but you can still find them.
Drift also makes a model with many of the same features, but with better picture quality and image stabilization, but it comes at a $299 price tag.
If you’re going to go GoPro, then I’d go with the squarish Hero5 Session.
Although set up is still clunky, it is far easier to use than its boxier cousins.
It costs $199 and is $50 more than the Session X, but it has more shooting capability and image stabilization.
The battery lasts about 100 minutes, so maybe consider a second if need be.
Cycliq makes easy to mount front and rear cameras that also smartly doubles as lights, but I’ve had trouble with the rear one recording although I may be in the minority.
There are other cameras that I keep looking at, but the landscape is always changing.
I’ve typically gone to BH Photo as a starting point as they’ve tend to be inline with selection and great pricing.
Bottom line, don’t be that guy at the beginning of this article.
Get yours now.