Tag Archives: video

Monsere, Dill et al. — Not Yet a Review, But…

M. Kary, who prepared a review of the Lusk et al Montreal study, has had a preliminary look at the Monsere, Dill et al. study of barrier-separated on-street bikeways (“cycle tracks”) which the bicycle industry lobby PeopleforBikes is promoting as demonstrating their safety. Dr. Kary has given me permission to publish his comments here.

An Introduction To and Overview Of:
Monsere C, Dill J, et al. (2014) Lessons From The Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes In The U.S. Final Report, NITC-RR-583

To begin with a platitude: traffic accidents are rare events. The totals are large only because the overall volumes of exposure are huge. Therefore, if considering safety in terms of outcomes rather than the underlying mechanisms of operation, any facility, no matter how poorly designed, will appear safe if examined over a short period of time.

But collecting data over a long period of time has its disadvantages too: not just cost and delay, but also the averaging, and therefore blurring, of the effects of various changing causes and circumstances. Nor does it work at all for facilities that are yet to be built. In response to these problems, engineers developed the methods of traffic conflict analysis. They can be seen as based on the following logical and kinematic necessities. First, in order for a collision to occur, the vehicles involved must eventually get on a collision course. Second, in order to get on a collision course, they must first get on a near-collision course. On the other hand, not all vehicles once on collision or near-collision course do end up colliding: their operators make course corrections and avoid that outcome. Such potentially dangerous but often ultimately safe trajectories, i.e. traffic conflicts, occur much more frequently than actual collisions, deaths, or injuries. If there exists a suitable relationship between the former and the latter, then conflict analysis can be used to study road safety at reduced cost, with better timing, and even via simulation modelling of facilities that have been designed but not yet built.

The theory and practice of conflict analysis for motor vehicles has been developed over something like a half a century of research. This has evolved to quantitative methods using not just traffic cameras, but also instrumented vehicles, automated data extraction, and theoretical concepts such as time to collision, gap time, gap acceptance, post-encroachment time, and many others. There is no such corresponding body of research for bicycles. Even if there were, it could never be as important to bicycle or pedestrian deaths and injuries as it is for the occupants of cars and trucks: for example, the latter vehicles never topple over at stops or just slip and fall, so that their occupants fracture an arm or strike their heads on a curb. In fact the majority of bicyclist injuries, even those requiring hospitalization, apparently involve only the bicyclist, making conflict analysis entirely or at least largely irrelevant to them.

On the other hand collisions with motor vehicles are major factors in cyclist deaths and injuries, and they are what cyclists worry most about. And even apparently bicycle-only crashes can be provoked by e.g. general fears or specific intimidations, or avoidance manoeuvres leading to loss of control. Thus there are also dimensions of traffic conflicts applicable to bicycling, but either inapplicable or less so to motor vehicle-only conflicts. Nor is every conflict visible or strictly kinematic: consider for example the effects of sudden and loud horn honking or engine revving.

With these fundamental limitations in mind, obviously traffic conflict analysis is a promising method for investigating important aspects of bicycling safety. The theory needs to be developed, so we can figure out what constitutes a high or low rate of conflicts, what types of conflicts figure what way into which accident types, and how vehicle operators and pedestrians cope with them, such as through hypervigilance, or avoidance of the area and thus diversion of problems to a different one.

Not only does the theory need to be developed, but also the methods of data extraction and analysis: the subjective review of traffic camera recordings, typically of low quality, is a mind-numbingly tedious, labour-intensive and error-prone task, that does not scale well.

The work of Monsere et al. (2014), Lessons From The Green Lanes: Evaluating Protected Bike Lanes In The U.S., should be considered a pilot project in this effort, although the authors themselves do not describe it as such.

Monsere et al. aimed to address six questions:

  1. Do the facilities attract more cyclists?
  2. How well do the design features of the facilities work? In particular, do both the users of the protected bicycle facility and adjacent travel lanes understand the design intents of the facility, especially unique or experimental treatments at intersections?
  3. Do the protected lanes improve users’ perceptions of safety?
  4. What are the perceptions of nearby residents?
  5. How attractive are the protected lanes to different groups of people?
  6. Is the installation of the lanes associated with measureable increases in economic activity?

Apart from noting that, as with most sociological research, their survey response rates were dismally low (23-33% overall, counting even only partially completed surveys as full responses), to produce a socioeconomically skewed sample (e.g. the bicyclists being 89% white, 68% male, 82% having at least a four-year college degree, and 48% with annual incomes over $100,000)— this overview of their work considers only the first part of their question No. 2.

Monsere et al. installed video cameras along short bicycle sidepaths (“protected lanes”, “cycle tracks”) constructed between approximately the summer of 2012 and the early summer of 2013 as part of the Green Lanes Project. These were in four U.S. cities, San Francisco (two 0.3 mile paths), Portland (one 0.8 mile path), Chicago (0.8 and 1.2 mile paths) and Washington (a 1.12 mile path; no cameras were installed in Austin, although sociological surveys were conducted there). They did their video recording chiefly at intersections, six in these four cities in the summer and fall of 2013. This was then presumably while the users were still in a cautious or exploratory state, as they got used to the new facilities.

Only 12-18, or in one case 20, independent hours of video were analyzed from each intersection. As each intersection examined was given a unique treatment, results cannot easily be pooled. These are very small numbers.

(This makes for substantially less than 120 hours total. The authors seem to say they analyzed 144 hours of video at intersections. This would mean that some of this total came from multiple cameras examining the same intersection at the same time. The authors do show frame captures from some of their cameras. This observer would find it difficult to correctly identify the conflicts from the views on display.)

As noted following the opening platitude, any facility, no matter how poorly designed, will appear safe if examined over a short enough period of time.

The six facilities examined were all so new (less than or little more than a calendar year old) that there were no injury or death data available for them. (For comparison, the entire city and island of Montreal, with all its thousands of intersections, averages of late about five cyclist deaths and 25-50 police-recorded serious cycling injuries per year.) Thus, there would not have been a way to use even many more hours of recording to examine for any relationship between the surrogate outcomes (conflicts, violations or errant behaviours) and the outcomes of most interest, deaths and injuries.

Further, as this was neither a before-after study nor a comparison with standard intersections, there is no way to know whether the numbers of observed conflicts, violations, or errant behaviours, were themselves high or low.

As to the actual results from this pilot project, the much touted headline was that there were only six minor conflicts found, out of nearly 12,900 bicycle movements through intersections. The most basic problems with this headline are:

1. It is the wrong comparison. The conflict rate has to be the number of conflicts divided by the number of occasions where at least two users capable of conflicting are present, e.g. a bicycle and at least one other bicycle, pedestrian, or motor vehicle. Thus the authors give figures of 7574 turning motor vehicles, but only 1997 turning motor vehicles with bicycles present. The corresponding conflict rates (which they normalize by the products of bicycle and motor vehicle movements, not by the numbers of bicycle movements alone) they give for the individual intersections therefore vary by factors of approximately 3 to 10, depending on which figures are used.

2. Six is the total of observed “minor” conflicts, not the total number of observed conflicts. There were also 379 “precautionary” conflicts with motor vehicles, 216 with pedestrians, and 70 with other bicycles.

3. Besides conflicts, there were numerous violations or other errant behaviours: e.g. 9-70% of bicycles and 7-52% of turning motor vehicles in the various intersection designs used the lanes incorrectly, 1-18% of turning motor vehicles in the various mixing zone designs turned from the wrong lane, 5-10% of motorists turned illegally on red arrows at intersections with bicycle-specific signals, and 7-23% of bicyclists disobeyed their signals.

4. Without any theory or model of how any of these occurrences or their frequencies relate to death, injury, or property damage, and without any before-after or non-sidepath comparison data— not to mention, with the very small numbers of observation hours— there are almost no safety implications, positive or negative. The only concrete result is that one of the local authorities apparently deemed the problem of motor vehicles turning from the wrong lane (18%), straddling lanes (another 17%), or entering the turn lane early (15%) to be so severe that they later removed the intersection treatment and replaced it with another design (at Fell and Baker in San Francisco).

5. The sociological surveys tell another story: one-third of all bicyclists surveyed said they had been involved in at least one near collision on the paths, while 2% experienced an actual collision. 23% had a near collision with turning cars, 1.8% an actual collision with turning cars; 19% a near collision with a pedestrian, and 0.4% an actual collision with a pedestrian.

In short: this is an interesting pilot project, whose methods are impractical for the amount of data collection needed for meaningful safety results. Even with better methods, conflicts are only one facet of the bicycling, and overall safety picture; while road designers and road users, whether bicyclists or motorists, have to consider more than just safety. Convenience, transit time, cost, and greenhouse gas emissions also matter. A cycle track that, like the downtown de Maisonneuve track in Montreal, lies largely dormant in the winter, but delays motor vehicle traffic in the winter and ties it up spring, summer and fall, will be of no help in reducing CO2 emissions. The much touted headline results from this study are selective, overblown, and misleading. Any facility will appear safe if examined over a short enough period of time, and surely 12 to 20 hours each is short enough

A ride on Comm Ave., Boston, Massachusetts, USA

Comm Ave. Boston: Kenmore Square, Mass Ave. underpass from John Allen on Vimeo.

This is a 4-minute continuous video of a bicycle ride in Boston, eastbound on Commonwealth Avenue through Kenmore Square, to and through the underpass at Massachusetts Avenue. I recommend that you view it on Vimeo site, in full-screen high definition.

Gordon Renkes and I each had a camera, so you can see both a forward and rearward view. We rode safely, and mostly by not using the special bicycle facilities.

Some highlights:

  • The block pavers, bricks and the granite curbstones used as borders for crosswalks made for a very bumpy ride across Kenmore Square and the next intersection.
  • The bike lane for the first block after Kenmore Square was unusable, due to double-parked vehicles. In the next block, it was unsafe, due to the risk of opening car doors and walkouts. One trucker was accomodating enough to park entirely outside the bike lane, inviting bicyclists to run the gauntlet between the truck and parked cars Gridlock Sam-style. We didn’t take the invitation.
  • As we waited for a traffic light, a cyclist raced past us on the right, entering the narrow channel between a row of stopped motor vehicles and one of parked cars. If anyone had walked out, or a car door had opened, the cyclist would likely have had too little time to react, and he would have had no escape route. At least he (and the pedestrian he could have struck) would have been fortunate in that one of the waiting vehicles was an ambulance.
  • There is a bike box along the route, and revealed an issue that I hadn’t noticed before. If the traffic light is red, you’re supposed to filter forward in the bike lane on the right, then swerve across two lanes of traffic to the middle of the 4-lane wide bike box, to be in line with the bike lane which is to the left of 2 lanes — see Google satellite view — note that this is an angle shot from the west. If the light is green, you could merge either before or after the intersection, but there is an advantage in merging before the intersection, as the counterexample of the video shows. You also don’t know when the light is going to change — so in either case, you make a widely divergent choice — merge left, or head for the bike lane at the right — based on insufficient information, and if the light is red, you also could be swerving abruptly across two lanes of traffic just as the light turns green.
  • The buffered bike lane in the underpass makes for an easier ride through the underpass, but where it connects to a narrow left-side bike lane outside the underpass, there is little clearance for motor traffic in the next lane, which is the faster of two travel lanes. There also is a risk of left-hook collisions. I used to ride in the right lane, claiming the lane, and that was simpler and less stressful.

More general comments:

  • The block pavers, bricks and curbstones buried in the street are not bicycle-specific, but certainly not bicycle-friendly. I predict that they will be paved over within a few years as they deteriorate.
  • The attempt to engineer a “bicycle friendly” or “low-stress” solution on busy, crowded Commonwealth Avenue is like ornamenting a pig with lipstick, costume jewelry and a party dress. The bicycle-specific measures, except the bike lane in the underpass, fly in the face of the way traffic works, and the way it uses this street. Experienced, competent cyclists like Gordon and me know how to avoid the hazards, but they worsen our experience anyway — it is in Kenmore Square (during another ride) that I first heard the call “get in the bike lane” in Boston. Less knowledgeable bicyclists garner a false sense of security, following the painted lines, and expose themselves unnecessarily to risk.
  • Meanwhile, other, better solutions beckon. I have long advocated that Boston designate and improve alternative routes on lightly-traveled streets for through bicycle travel. That would be especially easy in Back Bay, with its grid layout. My candidate for an alternative to Commonwealth Avenue would be Newbury Street, the next one to the south, a shopping street which could make a very nice bicycle boulevard, and which, with a little bridge across the Muddy River, would also connect under the Bowker Overpass into the Fenway area. A worse solution also has been proposed: the City is considering a so-called “cycle track” — a bikeway behind a row of parked cars — on the next Street after Newbury Street, Boylston Street. More about these topics later…

Bikes, Cars, Light Rail, E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, Arizona

Build it and they will…wait. Well, at least they’re supposed to wait.

If you click on the title in the image or caption, you can view this at a higher resolution.

Bikes, Cars, Light Rail, E. Jefferson St., Phoenix, Arizona from John Allen on Vimeo.

An intersection with light rail, motor vehicles and bike lanes requires bicyclists to cross from one side to the other of a multi-lane street, resulting in delays of 2 to 3 minutes. Alternative solutions are described.

“Shared space” — longer video and discussion

This post is a companion to my earlier one titled “No Rules.” The video here shows my entire ride on Commercial Street in Provincetown, Massachusetts, with a forward and rearward view, while the one in “No Rules” shows only highlights in a forward view. I discuss the “shared space” phenomenon at length in this post.

Commercial Street is one lane wide and officially one-way, but it is heavily used by pedestrians and bicyclists traveling in both directions, to the extent that motorists can only travel at a very low speed and often must stop. Bicyclists also must take special care, ride slowly and often stop. Some do and others do not. Pedestrians need to be alert to the hazards. Some are and others are not.

“Shared space” has become a buzzword among people who want to “return the street to the people,” meaning, in reality, make the street into a pedestrian plaza — a social space. Pedestrians, then, serve as obstacles to slow down faster modes. “Shared space” advocates regard this as a benefit, and point to a reduction in the rate of serious crashes. This reduction, however, results from the very low speeds at which travel is possible in such an environment. Even so, there are safety problems. Even cycling at a moderate speed is hazardous to pedestrians — and equally, to cyclists who collide with pedestrians. As the video shows, I had to ride slowly and cautiously to avoid colliding with several pedestrians who made sudden, unpredictable moves.

Another buzzword is “no rules”. Sure, pedestrians can bump into each other without usually causing injury. “Shared-space” advocates, however, often consider cyclists to be like pedestrians — a serious misconception. Cyclists traveling at their normal speed can socialize only with each other, and are antisocial, not social, in a pedestrian plaza. Safe sharing of “Shared space” requires cyclists to travel so slowly that there is little advantage over walking. Cyclists and motorists in “shared space” must pay strict attention to the basic speed rule, to go no faster than is safe under the conditions at the time and place. Violate this, knock a pedestrian down, and then hope that you have good insurance. Other rules apply, as well, in many “shared space” installations: yielding before entering the roadway; overtaking on the left; exclusions or limited hours for motor traffic.

The one rule that most cyclists disregard on Commercial Street is established by one-way signs. Cyclists disregard it for a particular reason: there is no comparable street which allows travel in the opposite direction. Bradford Street, one block farther from the harbor, is hilly and carries regular motor traffic. Commercial Street is the location of businesses which appeal to tourists who pile off the ferries from Boston, while Bradford Street has few such businesses.

What would improve the situation here? The first thing I would suggest is to block off the west (up-Cape) end of Commercial street where it separates from Bradford Street so motor vehicles can’t enter, and to install signs directing them to use Bradford Street. I think that many of the motorists who enter Commercial street are tourists who don’t know what they are getting into. If they used Bradford Street instead, they would get where they are going sooner, and would need to travel at most one or two blocks on Commercial street to reach any destination. It might also be helpful to sanction contraflow bicycle travel, and paint a dashed line down the middle of Commercial street to encourage keeping to the right. Moving parking off Commercial street also could help, especially in the few blocks near the center of Provincetown where traffic is heaviest. That could at the very least allow more room for pedestrians without their getting into conflict with cyclists and motorists. There is an abandoned rail line — partly on a lightly-used dead-end street, and paralleling much of Bradford Street and Commercial Street. It could carry the bicycle traffic heading in and out of town.

Beyond that, I don’t see much that can be done. Commercial Street is what it is, a quaint, narrow street like those in many European cities. Short of a horrible disaster — a huge storm or tsunami which would destroy the entire waterfront — Commercial Street isn’t going to get any wider.

No rules?

Quite by chance, I encountered an advocate of “shared space” and had a conversation with him at the start of a ride I undertook to illustrate the concept. The advocate expressed that there are “no rules” in this kind of space, which is dominated by pedestrians. Do you agree?

Why this crash?

The fancy, expensive bicycles and racing clothing are not matched by these cyclists’ bike handling skills.

If you play the video through to the end, you will see that the wheel touch broke 4 of the 8 spokes on the right side of the boutique 16-spoke front wheel.

Detailed explanation:

  1. Boutique wheel, few spokes, spokes necessarily overtensioned, big gaps for things to get in between them.
  2. Rider ahead merged left and slowed (notice backpedaling), oblivious to riding in tight group.
  3. Tri bars and no brake there.
  4. Overlapping.
  5. Spokes broke against QR handle. At this point overlap was by more than half a wheel.
  6. Still a good recovery.
  7. Inability to steer due to unstable front wheel and to need to move hands position to brakes — cyclist heads for ditch.
  8. Attempt to brake on warped front wheel locked the wheel.

Some commenters on the YouTube post have pointed out that the cyclist who crashed was wearing a sleeveless jersey and not wearing socks. This clothing is characteristic of triathletes — who don’t ride in groups while racing and are less likely to learn group riding skills than are road racers. Another point about clothing is that the cyclist wasn’t wearing cycling gloves. He broke his fall with his hands on gravel. Ouch.

A Cyclist Signs Up for Advanced Driver Training

What was an avid cyclist doing in a place like this?

I like to ride my bicycle but sometimes I have to drive.

Over 40 years ago on dirt roads and snow in Vermont, I learned to steer into a turn; to manage the situation when a car loses traction, rather than to blank out or panic.

I shot the video above recently, in a class with hands-on driver training which goes well beyond that. All of the instructors are racers. They test the limits of traction at every turn on the racecourse. But here, they are teaching skills for crash avoidance on the road.

My son took the class with me. He had taken a conventional driver training course and already had his driver’s license, but he had no experience handling a car at the limits of traction.

The InControl course begins with a classroom lecture. Our instructor, Jeremy, explained that driver training is broken in the USA: that over 40% of new drivers have a crash within the first two years; 93% of crashes result from driver error and so, are preventable. He also explained that he would be teaching about steering, braking, hazard perception and avoidance.

Jeremy handed a quiz sheet with 16 questions to check off, true or false. We were told to hold onto our quiz sheets because we would review them later.

The most compelling part of the course is the hands-on practice. It is conducted under safe conditions on a closed course, in a huge, empty parking lot, in cars with a low center of gravity; an instructor is always in the car. As shown in the video, we did the slalom — at first with an instructor driving; then each student took a turn driving. We learned how great the effect of small increases in speed can be on the ability to maneuver. We practiced emergency stops, then swerving while braking; we had the backing demonstration and the tailgating test, as shown in the video.

To learn how to anticipate potential hazards takes time, and experience. The InControl class can discuss this but not teach this. A driving simulator like the ones used to train airline pilots would help to build that experience under risk-free conditions. Video gaming technology is approaching the level that it could do this at a relatively low price. Computers are up to the task, but they would need multiple visual displays and a special “driver’s seat” controller. Lacking that technology, I have traveled many miles with my son, both as a driver and as a passenger, coaching him. His many more miles of experience stoking our tandem bicycle were a fine lead-in.

What did I learn in this class, with my nearly 50 years of experience as a licensed driver? Several things of importance — among them:

  • Despite my decades of experience, I answered several questions on the quiz incorrectly. I’m not going to provide a crib sheet– go take the course.
  • There is a very significant advantage to having different tires for summer and winter use, due not only to snow but also to temperature difference. Winter tires have “sipes” — small grooves –to develop a “snowball effect” — actually picking up snow so it will adhere to other snow, and improving traction. Tires should be replaced when tread is still twice the height of the wear bars.
  • Side-view mirrors should be adjusted wider than I had been accustomed to — so their field of view starts where the windshield mirror’s field of view ends.
  • The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration’s standards for a 5-star safety rating are lower for SUVs than for passenger cars, as a result of industry lobbying (Any surprise?)
  • Importantly, that antilock brakes do more than allow shorter stops. They allow steering during emergency braking, and we practiced this as shown in the video.
  • Most importantly, to me as a cycling instructor, that learning to manage risks is essentially the same for bicycling as for driving a car. The attitude is the same, and hazard recognition and avoidance are similar. One important difference is that a well-trained cyclist’s brain is the antilock braking controller on a bicycle.

As I write this today, my son has driven himself to his classes at the local community college 12 miles away. Like any parent, I cross my fingers every time he goes out the driveway, but I am pleased to report that he has is cautious and calm as a driver and that his driving inspires confidence, with exceptions at a very few times.

I wish he didn’t have to drive. I don’t like the environmental burden it imposes, and I don’t like the risk. If public transportation were at all reasonable, he would be using it. If the college were half as far away, he’d be riding his bicycle at least on days with good weather. For now, his getting a college education wins out over those concerns…

GoPro Helmet Hero HD camera, first impressions

I haven’t used the camera yet, but I have unpacked it.

The video quality, from what I’ve seen online, is superb.

The camera is very compact and self-contained. That’s nice.

Accessories are available to attach it in a wide variety of ways to helmets, bicycles, a car windshield etc. etc.

But: the stock waterproof case encloses the microphone. A back with slots also is supplied but it must be installed by the user.

As another helmet camera user pointed out to me, there is advantage to a camera with a separate recorder that can be carried in a handlebar bag or waist pack, so you can check on what you are recording. You can only see what you are recording with the Helmet Hero with an accessory back and if you mount the camera in front of you.

The camera has only two buttons (in keeping with its having a waterproof shell), and a small LCD display of menu options, and so stepping through menus requires reference to user instructions, or memorization.

The lens of the camera’s protective shell protrudes farther than anything else on the front of the shell and so it is vulnerable. My humble helmetcamera,com “bullet” camera achieves wide-angle coverage while protecting the lens with an inexpensive slab of plastic. (The helmetcamera.com camera has other problems, though.)

The Helmet Hero camera is sold in a plastic display case which is not designed to transport the camera. Optional mounting hardware is supplied in a host of little polyethylene bags, each stapled shut. You’re on your own to assemble a transport case. Compare this again with the helmetcamera.com camera. which is supplied in a rugged, foam-lined, hinged transport case.

Several different copies of the user instructions are supplied with the Helmet Hero, and as they are folded, they all look the same, with the word “Instructions” in English. When I opened the one I brought with me on my first expedition, it turned out to be in Spanish. Good thing I read Spanish!

Bicycle Video Equipment and Software Choices

A friend sent me an e-mail:

Hey, bike video friends,

I’m once again considering buying my own camera, and I know I’ve bugged you before with requests for advice, so I’ll try to keep this short by making it short-answer instead of essay:

Since I spent some time on my answer, I’m posting it on my blog.

Let me start with some comments on questions he hasn’t addressed.

HD or SD?

HD cameras now are available for little more than standard-definition ones, and HD has some special advantages when shooting from a bicycle, even when the final product will be at a lower resolution.

Advantages:

  • You don’t have much control over the camera when riding. You may want to zoom in. Shooting in HD lets you enlarge the image without losing (as much) detail.
  • HD records in progressive (non-interlaced) format, which gives cleaner results if you do almost anything to the image in post production. However, almost any camera that is not intended as a standard-definition camcorder records in progressive — including even digital still cameras which record to standard definition.
  • Vibration is a serious issue on a bicycle — if you record in HD, you can use image stabilization software in post-production and down-res, say from 1080 lines to 720 or 720 to 480, while obtaining full resolution.
  • (You can can mix clips at different resolutions in the same project, too.)

Disadvantage of HD:

  • Much more data and slower processing may require you to buy a new computer.

Computers and Software

Hardware:

Platform choice should be dictated mostly by available software. Generally, the PC offers more bang for the buck than the Mac, but if you are familiar with one or the other, it’s easiest to stick with what you know. You will need, in either case:

  • A powerful enough computer. (You’ll find out soon enough whether your present computer is). Generally, a 2 GHz or faster processor and 4 GB of RAM. Some high-end video packages need more. The computer hould have a big internal HD. Check software’s system requirements carefully.
  • If you use a camcorder that records to tape, it probably will need a Firewire (IEEE 1394) connection to input data into the computer. Macintoshes used to all have this kind of connection but Apple has dropped it recently.  It is available on plug-in cards for desktop computers, and PC Express cards for laptops.
  • Video software runs faster if you keep source video files on a different drive from render files. Video files are huge, and so, you need a 1 TB or larger hard drive for them. If your second drive is external, it should have an External SATA or Firewire connection. USB 2.0 is more common than either of these but it uses the CPU, and so video won’t run smoothly. USB 3.0 will probably be OK but is only just now appearing.
  • While a PC Express card is good enough to make the Firewire connection to  a camcorder, I don’t recommend connecting a hard drive to a PC Express card, because the connection inside the computer is too mechanically flaky, and a broken connection to a hard drive can corrupt it.  If you are using a laptop computer, get one with an integral Firewire, ESATA or USB 3.0 connection.
  • You need another big hard drive for backups. This can connect by USB. I recommend the Seagate FreeAgent drives if you use Windows. The Mac has the Time Machine backup utility; a similar utility, BackInTime, is available in Linux. (You could do your work in Windows and back up in Linux on a dual-boot computer.) These drives/utilities manage backup archives without compressing the data. You can read files right off the backup drive without using the backup software. Drives are cheap. The file compression in traditional backup software, or WD Smartware drives, takes forever (days), hogs you computer’s processor, and is pointless anyway, as video files already use their own compression.

Windows editing software:

  • Windows freebies: this software is sometimes useful for file conversion but is very limited, intended for the “family sitting around the computer with big smiles” market. (Do you ever wear a big smile when using Windows??? What are you smoking, then?)
  • Pinnacle Studio: Moderate price, crashes quite often (though it almost always recovers the file), powerful enough and has a fairly intuitive interface. The main limitation is that there is a maximum of three video tracks at once. Get at least the “plus” version.
  • Avid — a more powerful, multi-track version from the same company that makes Pinnacle Studio, and now with a moderate-priced version. I haven’t tried it.

Cross-platform Windows/Mac:

Mac only:

  • IMovie: free with the computer, simple and easy to use but rather limiting (clips visible only as thumbnails, no hierarchical organization of them, gets unwieldy with a video over 5 minutes long).
  • Final Cut Pro: Very powerful, used by professionals who have lived with it since the beginning — but it has an antiquated, non-intuitive user interface. For example, to enter a title, you learn where the tiny icon is that brings up a dialog box, then adjust its appearance using a number of controls in two or three different tabs of that dialog box, then click on one of those tabs — only one works — and drag the text to the video timeline. There are several “secret” steps here, and you can’t see your work in progress.

Linux:

  • Video editing software is still an evolving product category in Linux. I’m wary, unless/until one of the major software houses ports a package over to Linux or there is a stampede to an open-source product.

Other software you may need:

  • File conversion software (AVS4YOU has a good package in Windows for $80).
  • Codec pack (Windows maddeningly has spotty support for many common formats without this). K-Lite is the ranking name in this field.
  • Image stabilization and frame-rate conversion: may be available in some editing packages. Gooder Video is good under Windows.

About editing at the local public access channel:

  • Typically has nice equipment, usually Macs. You can also take out cameras. May offer classes. May be disorganized and not have good control over access to files. I had a project deleted once. Bring a backup drive. (I have one Mac-formatted specially to use at the cable channel, where I gained my experience with Final Cut Pro…)

Cameras

What’s the best camera you’ve even owned for recording bike video?

Well, my original one, which i sitll used, is the helmetcamera.com camera. The Helmet Hero HD camera looks very impressive — Ipve just bought one and the image quality is stunning, though the audio is poor. In any case, get a camera or recorder that uses a memory chip. The lack of moving parts makes it more reliable, and a chip downloads much faster for editing than a tape does.

What do (did) you like most about it?

The helmetcamera.com camera is rugged, and it allows the use of external stereo microphones though the second microphone is an extra item. The GoPro. again, offers stunning HD image quality.

What do (did) you like least about it?

The helmetcamera.com camera requires a rat’s nest of wires to make an analog connection to a camcorder or digital video recorder, and to a battery, leading to reliability problems with the connections.

How much did it cost?

A bit over $300.

If you’ve owned more than one camera, and the cheapest one you owned is different than the one you answered above, please answer the same questions about it:

What’s the cheapest camera you’ve even owned for recording bike video?

A tiny Vivitar digital still camera which shoots very creditable SD video and records to an SDHC chip. I use this for the rear-facing camera in some of my videos. You really want two cameras running at once, front and rear, to shoot instructional video of interactions with other road users. (Check out the Dual Chase Productions site for more about this tactic.  As the rear-facing camera will generally be used for a picture in picture, you don’t need as much video resolution.)

What do (did) you like most about it?

Cheap and expendable.

What do (did) you like least about it?

Like many cheap cameras, it scans the image rather than capturing it all at once, so vibration can cause geometric distortion. Also, be sure of when choosing a digital still camera for bike videos that it be able not to shut off automatically, so it can shoot long clips.

Digital still cameras eat batteries in movie mode. Some cameras take AA or AAA cells, yet will not run on NiMH rechargeables or lithium long-life batteries, which produce a slightly lower voltage compared with alkaline batteries. You might want to rig up external power supply with a larger battery. Most digital still cameras have an external power input socket.

How much did it cost?

$50, plus about $15 for an 8 GB SDHC memory chip.

And one last question: If you had to pick one consideration as the most important when buying a camera, what would it be? (pixel size, view angle, memory, mount accessories, etc.)

Reliability. Bicycling makes rough use of a camera and you don’t have time to check it during a shoot.

Okay, that last is sort of an essay question, but feel free to make it short. Thanks!

Also note that you need a wide-angle forward facing camera. In the classic movie/video tradition, conventional camcorders don’t offer wide-angle coverage unless you use a special add-on lens. There’s a good reason for this: a wide-angle view causes odd-looking expansion at the edges of the image when panning. Typical digital still cameras offer wider-angle coverage and typical helmet cameras, even wider coverage with a fisheye lens that curves objects at the edges but avoids the expansion.

Wrap-Up

My answers apply to shooting instructional video or travelogues with cameras on the bicycle or helmet, while riding. When shooting from a stationary position, a conventional camcorder is often more suitable.

I avoid talking while shooting video, so I can use the background sound as needed, with a voice-over. That way, I can review the shot and compose my comments. I can’t talk fluently while concentrating on the task of riding. For a different approach to shooting video while riding the bicycle — blogging-style, hand-held camera, conversational, see Lynette Chiang’s advice.

The answer got long. Sorry about that :-)

Classic bicycling instructional film now online

The classic instructional film Bicycling Safely on the Road is now online, thanks to League of American bicyclists instructors Martin Pion and Dan Carrigan.

Bicycling safely on the road, 1979 from danc on Vimeo.

The film is 25 minutes long.

Dan has asked me to compose this announcement, as I know the film better.

Its description in the IMDB online movie database is:

Author: Iowa State University. Research Foundation.

Publisher: Ames: The Foundation, 1979.

Producer, Richard H. Kraemer ; writer-director, Mark Shumard.

Summary: Defines the role of the bicycle rider on the road as that of a vehicle operator. Emphasizes the importance of skill in controlling the bicycle and adherence to traffic laws as prime factors in safe riding. Shows examples of proper riding procedures in various situations.

Narrator: Doug Brown. Based on the effective cycling program of the League of American Wheelmen.

The actual author of most of the content, and director during filming, was John Forester, pioneer in cycling education. He is listed in the end credits.

The motor vehicles, bicycle helmets and clothing shown in this film date it, and some of the lane positioning shown is not as assertive as many instructors recommend today. On the other hand, the video provides a concise and well-structured introduction to bike-handling and traffic-riding techniques.

Especially, check out the unplanned event at 12:40. You couldn’t pay anyone to get a clip like that.

The author and publisher have given permission for posting of the film online. You may use it freely.

The online version is transferred from a VHS tape. Another transfer from an original film print, in HD resolution and with color correction, is in the works. I’ll announce it when it is available.