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secondsummertours.com » Small Victories – sport video cams for cyclists take on a new meaning when it comes to ‘capturing the moment’

Small Victories – sport video cams for cyclists take on a new meaning when it comes to ‘capturing the moment’

SMALL VICTORIES

 

Like many of my fellow cyclists that can never have enough new tech gadgets – especially when it involves our favorite sport – I recently purchased one of the popular ‘sport’ video cameras this past year for my bicycle touring business.   And the camera just paid big dividends in a way I never intended when I first bought it.    More on that later.

 

Many of you are probably familiar with the “Go Pro” cameras being heavily promoted in the media these days.   Even a large number of bike shops are now stocking them, they’ve become that popular and mainstream.  Personally, I prefer the “Contour” line of cameras for their more compact, aero form: doesn’t look like you’ve got a brick sitting on your helmet or handlebars.   But when it comes to a more polished product, with features that perform as advertised, it’s hard to top the industry-leading Go Pro.

 

A quick search of the internet will give you a good starting point for researching the pros and cons of each of the many ‘sport’ video cameras now available – including some recent potential game-changing models from major electronics firms (JVC and Sony, among others) hitting the market.    Sites like Amazon.com offer consumer feedback ratings/comments that I find particularly useful when it comes to making a purchase decision on pricy tech toys like this.

 

While I found my camera to be a fun way to record clients on our tours – after all, who can resist seeing themselves on film? – it didn’t take me long to realize its potential as a defensive cycling tool when out running errands on the bike solo or commuting around town.   Since moving back to Southern California from bike-friendly Eugene, Oregon, drivers have been finding ever new ways to make my life challenging with the ‘car-is-king’ culture prevalent here.

 

Unfortunately, distracted and impaired drivers in a hurry are a part of the Southern California cycling scene: think texting, cell phones, drunk driving, road rage and you get a partial idea of what vulnerable ‘roadies’ face these days.   Hopefully, you’ll never need to document an accident or road rage incident resulting from a driver upset with you for using ‘their road’.   But I’m not counting on it.   Personal experience, based on 40 years and over 800,000 miles of pedaling has taught me otherwise.

 

I’ve found that the best means to protect myself biking is by being proactive whenever I can; assuming that drivers are going to do dumb things (yes, I understand cyclists also make stupid decisions but it’s usually the cyclist that pays the ultimate price no matter who is at fault).    I carry the ubiquitous ‘smart’ phone that comes standard with a camera   but when it comes to capturing the full street environment – especially the driver’s license plate or face at a moment’s notice – nothing beats having a small video camera on the helmet that can be directed exactly where you want it to go.

 

So back to my story, with a few insights about getting it right when you need to document an altercation with a bullying driver that wants to use their car as a weapon to teach you a lesson.   Or, more probably, a confrontation with a driver that isn’t paying attention to the road conditions or is in a hurry to get somewhere.   If my experiences are typical, a minimum of one in four cars are illegally ‘impaired’ in some way – with cell use/texting being the number one infraction I see.   The next time you’re stopped at an intersection or red light (you do stop for red lights don’t you?), do your own informal survey of drivers texting or holding a cell phone as they make turns or cross in front of you.   A scary percentage unfortunately.

 

Here in OrangeCounty (California), like many communities nationwide, lane shoulders and/or bike lanes are being eliminated in favor of squeezing in a second or third traffic lane.    If you’re lucky, you live in a progressive area that promotes safe cycling by using sharrows (special painted markings in the lane) and signage (like “Cyclists May Use Full Lane”) where traffic lane changes have eliminated a safe cycling corridor.

 

Road design changes that eliminate a paved shoulder (or bike lane) without proper driver ‘education’ actually encourages road rage because, from a driver’s perspective, a cyclist appears to be taking a lane that should be for cars only – not caring (or knowing) that this “lane” used to be a shoulder or bike lane that made for safe cycling.   Throw in a distracted driver or someone rushing to an appointment, and you have a volatile mixture that puts a vulnerable cyclist at risk.

 

 

On a recent Monday this past spring, I was about to find out that I wasn’t one of the lucky few that live in a ‘bike-friendly’ community.   When I’m home for a few months after traveling, my normal routine is to make a run – er, cycle – to my second office (Starbucks) to catch up on paperwork, read the local paper, and, of course, to get a caffeine fix.   My normal route takes me on a major road that has a bike lane that runs out about a half mile from my destination (where a third lane has been squeezed in).

 

It’s here, where you have to take part of the lane so that cars don’t try to force you into the gutter, that I usually turn the helmet camera on because the riding environment has deteriorated and become much more hazardous since the road was reconfigured.   I was also getting tired of having one too many cars trying to ‘teach’ me a lesson about who ‘owns’ the road by passing within inches of me, or pointing to the sidewalk (which, I assume, they wanted me to ride on).    Even had a few interesting items tossed at me along the way.

 

About a block from my ‘office’, a SUV, without any kind of warning, sideswiped me at a high rate of speed – hitting my arm with the rear view mirror.  I was able to keep my bike upright, and then catch the driver at the next intersection as the light turned red.

 

When I pulled alongside the vehicle, the driver angrily asks me what I am doing in his lane, shouting at me that it’s “for vehicles”.   Since the driver had made contact with me (actually a good thing I later learned, since it was now a more serious infraction), I asked him to pull over so I could call the police.   Instead, he sped away when the light changed.      The helmet cam – switched on and recording – captured everything … including the license plate number, the driver’s face, and his incriminating statements.  Based on many years of riding experience, I have no doubt that the intent of the driver was to bully and intimidate me with his car by passing within inches – only this time he got too close, and made contact.

 

With the information from the camera – downloaded onto a DVD for the police report – it wasn’t difficult for the officer that took my report to track down the driver the same day at his home nearby. The driver tried to dispute what happened but the DVD made the difference in collaborating my account of the hit and run.   The officer told me, after interviewing the driver in his driveway, that he probably would have used some of the same colorful language I had after being hit – saying, the “driver melted down”, and acted very irrationally when confronted.   If there is one downside to the cameras, it’s that they capture everything, including choice comments that you might make to the driver!

 

If I hadn’t had the camera (especially with the helmet placement) my case wouldn’t have been as solid as it was – especially when it came to contradicting the driver’s claim I was impeding traffic (the video clearly shows little or no traffic before the accident so I was legally entitled to the full lane as I wasn’t backing up traffic).    Eye witness statements – if you’re fortunate to even have anyone come forward – can be clouded or just plain wrong, but a video account isn’t going to lie or have an agenda.

 

If you don’t have a good description of the vehicle and/or license plate number your chances of getting any police action is near zero – and even with this information be prepared for a driver that claims it wasn’t them driving or their car was “stolen”.   That’s why getting a picture or description of the driver – when safely possible – is critical.

 

As it turned out, I was somewhat fortunate to have a policeman writing the report that also rides a motorcycle and knows first-hand the problems of two-wheel travel – having been hit twice himself.   In this particular situation, I really got the impression that the officer was in my corner on all accounts – and the video made the difference of pushing the case to the next level.  He correctly noted to the driver, I later learned, that I had the right to use the whole road in a situation like this where the lane is ‘substandard’ (not wide enough for a bicycle and car to share safely).    But arrogant or road-rage drivers have a way of blaming everyone else but themselves, and a long list of excuses to justify their bad behavior.

 

Here in California there have been some recent, and important, changes made to the California Vehicle Code (CVC) that many law enforcement personnel aren’t even aware of (most just carry a more compact ‘Readers Digest’ version in their vehicles that leaves out many of the important cycling-related details).   Smart phones make it easy to download the pertinent cycling-related sections of your state’s code for easy future reference and verification if you need to cite your rights to a less-understanding peace officer.

 

It’s important, of course, for any cyclist to report dangerous driving behavior because this provides a clear history for any future incidents with the same driver; and, just maybe, discourages repeat road rage behavior on their part.   All cyclists should take the time to make a report when dangerous road behavior is involved – you owe it to your fellow riders.  Hopefully, this information will also get back to the driver’s insurance company so that their policy premiums are adjusted accordingly.

 

If you’re satisfied that the officer has taken your case seriously, make sure to ask them the name of their supervisor so you can send a letter of thanks (and then follow-up with a letter or e-mail).   I guarantee this will pay big dividends on so many levels in the years ahead.   There are few things more valuable to an officer than a favorable letter in their personnel files from a local constituent.    Yes, it takes time to follow-through on any issue like this but that’s the only way change is going to take place.

 

For many Southern California cyclists, much of their riding is done in a group environment so cameras tend to be a less critical ‘witness’ tool.  But if you commute solo or use your bike to run errands in a high-traffic area, this might make a good investment – one of the few new cycling toys that would be easy to justify to your significant other.  The nice bonus is that the camera can be just plain fun when it comes to recording you favorite epic cycling action with buddies.

 

Ironically, the same weekend of my confrontation, I turned on the national news (ABC World News Tonight) to watch a story on another bicycle hit-and-run case in Berkeley, California that had gone YouTube viral.   Cyclists (and police) had used the video from a Go Pro camera, attached to the handlebars, to track down the driver.   The camera captured the car hitting the bike, and sending the cyclist to the pavement.   Most importantly, after enhancing the video, the police were able to capture a license plate number.  The driver claimed the car had been stolen “just that day” but the police didn’t believe the alibi, and he was arrested.

 

And, just recently, the Seattle Times ran a story on sport video cameras becoming a popular bike advocacy accessory for proactive Northwest cyclists looking to document bad driver behavior; citing another case where a camera provided the evidence needed to track down a dangerous driver.   The gist of the article was that if sport cameras proliferate enough through the cycling community, drivers might have second thoughts about trying to use a car to intimidate riders.

 

As for myself, I’ll take any road victory – small or otherwise – that I can get ….

 

Rob Templin

www.secondsummertours.com

 

Rob’s involvement in the cycling community spans more than three decades, ranging from the somewhat traditional (a partner in Burley Design Cooperative for 12 years) to the extreme (four-time Race Across America competitor). He holds a number of long-distance records with tandem partner Pete Penseyres, and has earned a few National Championship jerseys along the way. Rob, for 15 years, made his home in Eugene, Oregon, where the cold and dreary Northwest winters drove him to “discover” exotic locales like New   Zealand and South America where it is, indeed, summer in January and February. And that’s the genesis of Second Summer Tours.     Second Summer Tours offices are now located in Orange County, California.

 

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