Capturing a motorcycle ride on film has been a casual lifelong pursuit of mine. Blame Bruce Brown. He made it look easy in On Any Sunday. My earliest attempts to use Dad’s 8mm were thwarted, but he did shoot a lifetime supply of home movies. My quest began with an early full-sized Panasonic VHS Camcorder bungeed to my forks that provided a glimpse of what could be, but stability issues made the result a motion-sickness-inducing experience. Hanging a thousand-dollar camera from a $2 bungee was also considered crazy at the time by most of my peers.
As the years passed and society reaped the benefits of our space program from digital watches to satellite navigation, the world of videography would also change. I have no idea if the space program is to be credited for the surge in small digital camera development, but it sounds good. Cameras that didn’t even require moving magnetic tape to record were a fascination to those of us raised on 8mm film. The digital Handycam provided a nice compact platform for use on a motorcycle. I even invested $15 at a rally for a bolt-on handlebar mount, which predictably lasted about 15 minutes when I tried it out on my dirt bike. The mount snapped like a twig the first time the front wheel left the ground and returned with a mild impact. Picture stability was also still an issue.
Cue the GoPro, official tool of the adventurer. The GoPro came into our family’s lives last year on Black Friday. We’d picked it up as a gift and prior to giving it, we tested it in a multitude of modes including the “dog cam” and the radio-controlled car cam. Its small size, rugged construction, and simple operation make it perfect capturing the essence of motion.
Sadly, the GoPro disappeared from our lives for a while after we gifted it to our son, but it returned long enough to take a motorcycle ride with me. Mounting a camera to capture motion has always been half the battle, but the small size, and versatility of the GoPro and other cameras of its type have eliminated that concern. For this trip, the camera was mounted high atop my helmet. Sure, you look a little dorky, but not as dorky as you would if you just stuck it directly to your head.
The stability and clarity of the images were stunning, as anticipated, when measured by VHS standards, and the view was spectacular, captured by the camera’s wide-angle lens. Operationally the experience was “fiddle free.” There was no fussing to be sure it wasn’t falling off. Aside from the unusual shadow my helmeted head was casting, I’d truly forgotten I had it on.
But, the most unanticipated benefit of my short street ride with the camera was that it provided me with the ability to critique my ride from a safety standpoint. I was happy to see that I was truly looking both ways at intersections, and keeping a safe distance between myself and vehicles ahead of me. They say the camera doesn’t lie, and the experience proved very insightful to me. It allowed me to confirm that I was indeed riding the way I thought I rode.
In today’s world it seems every agonizing nuance of our movement is tracked, recorded and measured by something from Fitbit to Facebook. Why not put some of that technology to use to evaluate yourself and your riding style? Periodic checkups are good for keeping all types of things working to optimal performance, so why not choose self-improvement and evaluation for keeping our riding performance at its best? This evaluation aspect was truly an unexpected revelation for me when I watched myself ride.
If these things get much smaller, recording your entire riding season could become a reality. Then when the next meteor hits the earth, it could be captured by a biker instead of having to depend on the Russians’ dash-cams for that. Future generations could gather and watch your two-wheeled exploits, and remark snarkily about the enormity of the camera you were using, back before cameras were implanted in our heads and the ability to think in rewind, fast forward and slo-mo existed. And back when you were allowed to provide actual rider input to control your own motorcycle.
In the end, I suppose all old home movies, regardless of format, will always look like just that: old home movies. But, they look so much better today than they did on 8mm and it’s a whole lot easier to get decent results than it was to lash a Bell & Howell camera to your head!