Why I run cameras when I'm cycling

Road Rage: Car v Bike

A road rage attack on a group of cyclists in the Perth Hills has been caught on camera.

It's as much a part of my preparation as filling my water bottles, checking my tyre pressure and fastening my helmet.

Whenever I go sports cycling, on a ride where I'll be predominantly sharing space with motor vehicles, I attach HD sports cameras to the front and back of my racing bike.

In recent years, on-bike cameras have become increasingly popular among cyclists.

Dual function: the Fly6 rear light and camera.
Dual function: the Fly6 rear light and camera.  Photo: Supplied

They've also become a common feature on news websites, with regular "viral" videos featuring situations where cyclists and drivers get into conflict – often with injurious outcomes.

Take, for example, last weekend's incident involving a group of cyclists and a 4WD on a road near Perth (see video above).

The images are astonishing – the vehicle, which was travelling in the opposite direction, stops suddenly before reversing in the direction of the riders, with one taking evasive action by swerving to the very edge of the road.

It'd be difficult to comprehend without that footage.

There was also shocking footage from the UK this week (video below), where a cyclist was hit from behind and left injured. The driver has not been prosecuted for the collision but the video has allowed the rider to bring attention to his plight. 

Also in Britain, a driver stood accused of deliberately driving head-on at cyclists on three separate occasions, swerving onto the wrong side of the road as he did so. One incident was captured on video, with the driver claiming he had been trying to avoid potholes.

The court did not accept this and last week he was jailed for more than two years.

Road rage incidents aside, video can also be great for clearing up liability disputes in a collision, and not just for cyclists – dashboard cameras are also becoming increasingly popular with motorists, as any number of Facebook pages will attest.

Sydney cyclist Paul Ludlow was able to use footage to prove he had right of way in a Crows Nest collision that sent his bike flying through the air and put him in hospital.

There are many different models of sports cameras that can be repurposed for cycling, such as the Contour Roam and the ubiquitous GoPro. But perhaps the most interesting innovation has been the Australian-invented Fly6 – a combination of rear-facing red safety light and video camera – which captured the incidents in Sydney and Perth.

With a significant percentage of car-cyclist collisions involving cyclists being hit from behind, it could prove vital in identifying what happened.

Pervasive stereotypes

So what are the advantages of running cameras?

First, I'd hope that the increasing possibility of being captured on video will help to deter that very small percentage of people who might want to deliberately target bike riders – or flee after accidentally hitting one. It's not the ideal motivation for doing the right thing - but if fear of being caught dissuades someone from illegal behaviour, that's a good outcome in my eyes.

Second, hard evidence can be a good way of ensuring fairer outcomes for vulnerable road users. Numerous studies have shown that drivers are more often to blame in collisions with riders, but negative stereotypes of cyclists are pervasive, and could prejudice an investigation.

I've known of several incidents where a rider has been unable to counter an incorrect claim of "he swerved into my path unexpectedly". Meanwhile, the stakes are so much higher for cyclists. As I've said before, it's the difference between a trip to the panelbeaters and a trip to the hospital – or worse.

Third, vision of accidents through news and social media will hopefully underline that extra care needs to be taken around vulnerable road users, or the outcomes can be catastrophic.

Gorgeous footage of riding

It's also good to remind oneself that such events are rare enough to be newsworthy, while tens of thousands ride bikes without incident every day. 

I've been running various versions of cameras on my bike for years now, and I'm delighted to say I've only recorded one minor collision, with the driver admitting fault without any need for extra evidence.

I've also recorded a few near-misses and lots of foolish or even illegal activity – especially people texting while driving – but I don't see it as my job to report this to the authorities, and I very much doubt any meaningful action would be taken.

But there is another aspect of the rolling video.

I've captured some gorgeous footage of riding – sunrise routes along beach roads, winding through mountains, rolling along the Brisbane riverside (above), or crossing the Harbour Bridge with my nephew on the Spring Cycle.

I can't see a downside. If I find myself in a situation where I need video footage, and have it – well, that's a good outcome.

And if the most alarming conflict I capture is the footage of a farm dog chasing me and a friend along a rural NSW road in glorious late-afternoon sunlight – well, that's a win, too.

Do you use video cameras when you cycle? Tell us why (or why not) in the comments. 

Fairfax journalist Michael O'Reilly has written the On Your Bike blog since 2011. He has won a Cycling Promotion Fund media award and is a regular voice for cycling on radio and television.

Follow Michael on Twitter or Facebook, email him or read more of his blogs.

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