What Motorcycle Sports Touring was all about –


Some lessons on the art of motorcycle on-board-video techniques.


There have been lots of trial-and-errors and frustrations until now, when I have a system that almost works.
I will try to tell you everything I know - except how I attach the cameras to the bike: There has been lots of questions about this, and I have chosen not to tell anyone how I do it. Regard this as my “business secret” for the time being .)
Pleas mail me if you have any questions or suggestions.

The road towards the videos you see on this web was long - and there are still miles left.
The first thought was to follow the usual road: Mount the video camera to the tank and film through the windshield - with the speedometer in full sight. This method has clear disadvantages:

  • The view is often/always obscured by a dirty windshield
  • The speed- / tacho-meter is there for everyone to read.. ( some regard this as positive, in democratic Norway it might land you in jail )
  • The camera occupies valuable place on the bike: The tank bag has to go.
  • The mounting is difficult and often has to be prepared by a skilled mechanic

Arizona Motorsports solved the last problem, they sell a beautifully made tank camera mount which you may order here.
If you already have a decent camcorder, this may be your best choice.

The first tries with this on-tank gear was done - but left much to desire.

The breakthrough was the discovery of the Sony Spycams:
These tiny cameras would hook into any decent, modern camcorder and allow the camera lens to be placed almost anywhere. And - best of all - they were not expensive (around 650? and up).

So we started ROADMC-001 with this equipment: A Sony Camcorder PD-150A (their smallest “professional” model with three CCDs - we were not able to find any “Video Walkman”, see below), a Sony Camera CVX-V1P (the smallest one - only 25g), and a Sony Condenser Microphone ECM-44S (very small).

The camcorder even recorded everything in Sony’s semi-professional format: DVCAM. It promised better quality at the cost of only 40 minutes on the tape instead of the usual 60 minutes.

Having no prior experience with video equipment, it seemed the best solution was to rent the equipment. And this solution should work - they said as they all say.

Reality, of course, proved different:

While the resulting footage was acceptable, 8 out 10 shots failed completely. The reason for this is still unclear. While this solution allowed us to also use the camcorder in a normal way, it had disadvantages.

The camcorder was very difficult to operate under these conditions. To start and end a shot you not only had to start and stop the bike. It was necessary to park in a dark area, to get rid of the gloves, and then- cautiously - try to make the tiny buttons work. And even then the recording mode had to be quattro-tested before we drove off.

Add to this that some critical camera controls on the Camera Control Unit (CCU) seemed rather diffuse in their operation and the fact that all contacts had to be taped onto the camcorder all the time, you get the picture:

The USABILITY of this solution soon approached ZERO.

This is the reason for the bitter fact that we didn’t get a single minute of video footage before we reached Col De Vars in France.

Also, we soon learned that a superior camcorder with 3 CCDs and DVCAM didn’t matter much: The camcorder only acted as a passive recorder. Given a camera with only 1 1/4 inch CCD containing 470 000 pixels, the recorder part of the camcorder didn’t matter much.

After days we more or less managed to reach a decent success-to-failure ratio (always make a double flight-check!). The turning point really arrived with our stay in Italian tax-free Livigno.

Sony GV-D900E
The Sony GV-D900E Video Walkman equipped with the CVX-V1P
A rather huge electronics gadget shop had the Sony GV-D900E Video Walkman on display. And the price was even more than 600 Euro below both the German and the Norwegian price.
This device promised USABILITY: Operate even with gloves, no more tape, and a very clear, bright LCD-screen?
Fact is, the acquisition of this fantastic device immediately solved most of our problems.
Only the mysterious “Auto lock” controls on the CCU remained .. this resulted in very bad color in both the Italian Alpe di Sidal and the German Fernpass sequences.
Experience later confirmed that especially the White Balance Auto Lock should be OFF for this kind of filming.

The ride from Livigno on was made with this recorder and the CVX-V1P camera.

After the return home :

It soon became clear that I would have to buy the complete equipment line: I was hooked. At this point it only meant that I had to buy a microphone (the Sony ECM-44S) and the camera.

Sony CVX-V3P Spycam
The Sony CVX-V3P Spycam
This time I went for the somewhat bigger model, CVX-V3P. This camera has a built-in microphone (and it is usable on the bike), a zoom (not too important on the bike). It is, however, splash-proof (important) and seem to offer a better picture quality (most important).

Sony CVX-V18NSP Spycam
The Sony CVX-V18NSP Spycam
PS: There is now another model in the Sony spycam line-up, the CVX-V18NSP:
At the cost of a somewhat larger size, price, and minimum focal length, it offers a still better picture quality, a much better light sensitivity (down to 0 lux), optical stabilization, and wide (16:9) mode.
My present VFR does not allow me to fit this onto the bike without a specially made bracket. Also, the camera is big enough (5X5 cm) to attract unwanted attraction. Perhaps the next time ..

In October 2001, only two needs remained unfulfilled:

  • A way to turn the recorder On/Off or put it into Record/Pause mode directly from the handlebar.
    This is a VIP: This year lots of tape was spoiled and lots of mileage were left uncovered due to this seemingly simple demand.
    ( This problem has now been solved - see below )
  • A way to switch between two cameras attached to the same recorder, for example both front and rear views from the same bike.
    ( See the discussion below, please mail me if you have a solution for this one )

2002 - Two cameras :

The RoadMC trip of 2002 to the Western part of Norway, saw a lineup of new video equipment. This time, I was able to film the videos with two cameras mounted on the bike: One in front and one in the rear. This clearly improves the results but at the same time gave still more problems with the cabling and the ever returning problem of turning the record mode on and off. The setup was as follows:

  • Front: The Sony GV-D900E with the CVX-V3P Spycam and the built-in mic.
  • Rear: The Sony PC 115 with the CVX-V1P Spycam, the Sony ECM-44S mic, and the Sony RM-95 Remote LANC Commander.

Sony RM95 remote LANC commander
This way I was able to get two audio streams too (important to save time in the editing process). More important, however, was the RM-95: With this commander I was able to turn the recording mode on and off in an almost reliable manner. But I still have to push TWO buttons simultaneously to start a recording. THIS IS ONE BUTTON TOO MUCH ON A MOTORCYCLE. The reason for this is the fact that the spycams connect to the analog input on the recorders. This means that the recorders are always in VTR-mode during recording. And in VTR-mode you will have to press two buttons to start recording. With two cameras this means four buttons ... (remember the tape decks from the fifties ??)

2003 - Record on/off from the handlebar :

the Datavision DV Record VTR widgets, click for enlargement
the Datavision DV Record VTR widgets
(click for enlargement)
The RoadMC trip of 2003 (again Western Norway), saw one major improvement: I was for the first time able to switch each camera on/off via switches fixed to the handlebar. This was made possible by the Datavision DV Record VTR widgets. These widgets make it possible to switch the recording on and off in VTR mode with a cable connected to the LANC-socket. Each widget comes with ONE small button and a LED which lights up when the recording is on and flashes when the tape runs out.

In many ways this was an old dream to come true - but only almost: At normal driving speeds and with gloves, the buttons were too small to operate reliably and the LEDs were almost impossible to read in daylight. The small buttons should really have been switches and the LEDs much brighter.

All the same, the hunt for these widgets paid off and yielded a major improvement to my setup. This is a crucial piece of equipment for on-bike video recording.
You may buy these widgets at Datavision.co.uk (but make sure that you confirm with them the start/stop VTR mode controller. It is not listed on their web and will only work with Sony and Canon units).

This now leaves me with only one major problem: It would be far more effective to record both cameras onto the same recorder. This would save not only tape and hardware but also precious time in the final editing process. Today’s setup means in practice that I have to run both recorders simultaneously.
Now, there IS a solution to this problem: Phillip Mace at Highview Electronics has specialized in On Board Bike Camera Systems (!) and offers both 2- and 4-way switches with a remote control. You should really check out their equipment.
So why don’t I use it? The only trouble is that this gear does NOT include a record on-off switch. Without this on/off switch I’m back to square one and will have to stop the bike completely to start and stop any recording ..

The post-production :

After shooting almost 15 hours with raw video, lots of computer work waited: All relevant video had to be transferred to the computer, then mixed, and then compressed into various web-friendly formats. Not unsuspected, this work also summed up to many weeks filled with exciting work and lots of problems. Initially, I suspected to spend most of the time editing video. Looking back, I spent most of the time (besides waiting for the computer!) with tweaking the different compression parameters and the complex HTML necessary to show the different media formats in-page on different browsers and platforms.

To compress videos for the Web is an art in itself. And more movement in the pictures goes with either less compression or less quality in the results. There are not too many static backgrounds in these videos, and the faster we drove the higher the datarate...

Besides 80 GB with fresh hard disk space (each second with DV video takes up 3.2 MB per definition!) I went for this setup:

  • Videotransfer: The Pinnacle DV200 video Firewire card: OK but I soon wished I had spent more money for the realtime DV500 version.
  • Editing: Adobe Premiere v.6.0 for the editing (very OK)
  • Compression:
    • Flash Media: Sorenson Squeeze 3 for Flash MX (very OK but not FREE - $449 for the complete suite, march 2003)
    • Windows Media: Windows Media Encoder v.9 from Microsoft (very OK and FREE)
    • Apple Quicktime: Quicktime Pro v.6.0 from Apple (cheap and OK), or:
      Sorenson Squeeze 3, or:
      Cleaner v.5.1 from Discreet (expensive and OK, but indispensable only if you need batch processing - all basic compression tools are available either free or included with any decent video editing software)
      If you only have Cleaner v.5.0, you will in addition need Sorenson Video Pro version 3. This is the new and much improved codec for Quicktime video. It effectively cuts the file-sizes and the required bandwidth for Quicktime videos in half - bringing Quicktime to the same level as their competitors. Alas, this technology comes at a price: You have to buy the codec from Sorenson Media and the price is not cheap either ($299, march 2003).
      Cleaner version 5.1 includes this codec. So please make the free upgrade to version 5.1
    • Real Media: Sorenson Squeeze 3 from Sorenson or Cleaner v.5.1 from Discreet

I also made some tries with the MPEG-format but soon gave up due to the very large file sizes. Perhaps later.

The superior format turned out to be Windows Media combined with the latest version 8/version 9 codecs: While this format put great demands on the recipients computer, the quality is superior and the videos also encrypt much faster than their counterparts. This is the reason I have selected Windows Media as the primary, classic format for ROADMC.

And, contrary to popular belief, the windows Media Player is available for the MAC and MAC OS X.

I originally planned to deliver all videos in all resolutions only in the Windows Media format. However, visitors soon demanded both Quicktime and Real. As a result all videos except the high bandwidth versions are now available in all three formats ( this was a major undertaking !-)

flashLast year, all videos were also made available in the Flash MX format.
This video format may very well be the the dominating web video format in the coming years. More than 90% of all viewers now possess this player, and the format will show with no problems both across browsers and platforms. At the same time, the Flash technology gives the producer new, interactive possibilities (cmp. the switch between noraml (4:3) and wide (16:9) format in the ROADMC Flash videos).
At this time, the disadvantages only seem to be a demand for a relatively powerful processor with the visitor (“last year’s model”), and some problems with the synchronization between sound and pictures.
Future videos on RoadMC will be coded to this format only..

Other links:

Codec Central has got some very instructional pages on video streaming and compression

HELMETCAMERA.COM seems to offer a good alternative (and cheaper) to my Sony Spycams.
(Alas, this solution only works with the American NTSC system - which leaves it next to unusable for Europeans and more difficult to optimize for web distribution)

HIGHVIEW ELECTRONICS offers an almost complete system for on board bike camera systems, complete with cameras, switches, and bike battery powered power supplies.

RF Concepts also offers complete helmet camera systems suitable for on board camera systems, I haven’t tried them but email reports tell me that their systems are both very good and competively priced.

PASHNIT.COM have a whole section devoted to info and discussions Motorcycle Camera Video Mounts, they point to several interesting alternatives

WeFilmU.COM has a very interesting solution for “Xtreme-Sport Vidcam Systems”: Helmet mounting, Sony recorders, spycams, remote, belt-pack - all in one package.
Seems very promising - but I haven’t tried it yet.

In Association with Amazon.comWant to know more?

There is not too many good books on video production and non-linear computer editing out there. Here is a list of books that helped me a lot:

Digital Moviemaking by Scott Billups, 2000

Nonlinear by Michael Rubin, 2000

Creating Web Video with Adobe Premiere by Thomas Luehrsen, 2003

The IFILM Digital Video Filmmaker’s Handbook by Maxie D. Collier, 2001

e-Video by H. Peter Alesso, 2000

Quicktime for the Web by Apple Computer, 2000

Premiere for Macintosh & Windows by Antony Bolante, 2001 (Visual Quickstart Guide)

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Published 21.05.2004
Last update 30.07.2009

ROADMC: World-class motorcycle roads in Europe and Norway on video on-bike, the complete list on European and Norwegian reactions to speeding plus advice on equipment, books, maps, and MC video technology

TERJE ENGE  Storgt 53  N-1555 Son  tel +47 9055 2050
web: www.roadmc.com / www.webtoaster.no /www.enge.no