Better by Bike – Cycling on Film

Our ‘Better by Bike’ series, allows us to share stories of local residents and their experiences on their bikes. This week, Teddington resident Mathieu shares his personal experiences of cycling with a helmet camera along with a selection of his videos. Mathieu’s experiences on film have been used to good effect to capture the current problems with Hammersmith Bridge. You can check out his blog here.

If you’d like the opportunity of a guest spot on our website to write about anything local and cycling related, do get in touch.

Why do I ride with a helmet cam? I’ve been asked this question a few times, and yet I never give the same answer. So allow me to explain it fully. I didn’t buy my camera with the initial intention of filming my commutes, but more to film rides in the mountains with my club.

It however became apparent that I could put that little camera to other uses.

I started filming my commute as an experiment to see what films I’d get out of it, and to myself understand why others are doing it. It quickly became apparent that it could highlight several things. I have also done a bit of photography, so the very first intention about using the camera was to capture “live” what I see while on the bike and extract some nice shots like the migrating geese over Teddington lock:

or a misty Richmond Park in the sunrise:

Within days, however, I also had evidence of good and bad motorists (as many would sadly expect to see in helmet cam videos) but also good and bad cyclists, pedestrians and other road hazards. As I post a selection of my films on Vimeo and Twitter, it seems to have caught the eye of a few people and organisations, so I keep filming everyday and extracting things I think are interesting to show.

I would not have expected shaky videos on a helmet to be able to show road states, dangerous junctions and different behaviours from different drivers and vehicles, but it’s clearly visible on most videos I get, and I try to select the best things I’ve got to show online.

From a “let’s see what I get” approach, it evolved into being possibly more engaged with the bike communities in the boroughs I cycle through. Series like the initial videos for the Hammersmith bridge road state and repairs are a great way for these groups to have evidence about road works done improperly or dangerous junctions not designed with cyclists in mind. I started some time back a little project around the Hammersmith bridge barriers. I couldn’t do it without the hard evidence the helmet cam gives me everyday. Hopefully this will be valuable some day in a decision to replace these barriers with something more cost effective.

It’s also about accidents and in case anything happens to me or others while I ride. I’ve had a few chaotic encounters with angry drivers, angry cyclists and even a very uneasy police officer which have all been captured on camera.

Whether or not I was or they were at fault, having a video helps me understand what happens and why people may get in all sorts of  moods. If anything, it has also allowed me to keep cool as everything goes on camera, and to reflect on moments which were a bit risky. That’s unfortunately something that many cyclists and motorists fail to understand and do themselves. To some extent, we’re all responsible for what happens on the road.

It’s difficult to say what is the attitude towards the camera as a whole. I bet it looks mostly funny to have that block on my forehead but I don’t mind that. If anything, I’ve had a few questions, mainly from motorcyclists and moped riders, asking if the camera is “always turned on”. Interestingly, these guys were all without exception using the ASLs on their motorbikes. Yes guys, you are on camera! And so are all the cars I see everyday where cyclists should have space to be safe at traffic lights! So, why do I ride with a helmet cam? Depending on who’s asking and how my ride has been that day, it can be any of the above, but for a complete answer, it’s all of it. Hopefully many little projects could be sparked from helmet cam videos. Not necessarily only bad behaviours (even if it’s mainly used for this, we see too many of them), but more crowd gathering of evidence for improvement of the state of our roads, or of cyclists’ facilities and safety. It’s always difficult to make a judgment on what to keep and what to discard, but with the amount filmed everyday by everyone, there should be enough to draw attention on many things. Next time you see someone with a helmet cam, just give it a wave and smile! You may get on the web as a “nice smile” video!

Now for the technology. I’m now using a go pro hd2, with either the head strap around my helmet, a sticky helmet mount and a clip for the camera, or the special mount on my handlebars or seatube. I find the whole thing on my head a bit heavy to cycle with in summer so I tend to use it there only in winter and cold days when I have a cap under the helmet. It’s comfortably manageable. This camera is also not that great for night cycling, especially through dark areas like Richmond park at night (sometimes the sound makes up for it), but it’s great otherwise and full HD so it’s perfect in good light conditions.

It’s easy to charge up at work on a USB port, and back at home, I quickly edit the films in QuickTime, mostly trimming them, but I’ve done other things like adding captions, created films from photos taken at 10s intervals during a ride etc.

Mathieu acts as our eyes and ears on the road as one of our Veloteers. Let us know if you can help keep watch of your patch of the borough – email us