Paul Andrews

For a Merry Cycling Christmas: Helmet cams explored

In Equipment reviews, Mountain Biking, Videos on December 7, 2009 at 2:52 am

Our first installment on gift ideas for that supremely deserving cyclist on your list involves helmet cams. Everyone on two wheels wants one of these things. On a recent ride at Soquel Demo Forest I counted no fewer than a dozen helmet cams. They’re the hottest thing going for Gen X-treme. YouTube has had to build a new server farm in Sri Lanka to accommodate the explosion in helmet-cam videos. OK I made that last bit up.

I cannot claim hands-on familiarity with the breadth of today’s cammery. Back when I got my first helmet cam, circa 2002, there were two models. It was easy to master the landscape, although both were bulky, incredibly complex to set up and difficult to operate. All that, plus grainy resolution too! But we pioneers were glad to have ‘em, because the alternatives were duct tape with a standard, brickian camcorder, or one-handing your way to certain biffdom.

Today the market is exploding. The good ones come with High Density, which is pretty cool as long as you have plenty of storage and a frame rate (60 fps) to support it. Expect to spend anywhere from two bills to the $700 range.

GoPro makes several popular models, including the HERO HD. I tried an earlier (non-HD) iteration a couple of years ago and found it to be flimsy and less-than-advertised in performance. But the new models look more robust and are getting decent reviews.

Seattle-based Twenty20 has produced the new ContourHD, billed somewhat hyperbolically as the first “wearable HD camcorder”, whose specs look fantastic. I may spring for one and review it, but for now you can check it out in the links below. I do like the idea of wireless, and reviews say the control panel is easy to use even with the camera atop the helmet.

Wireless is a big deal: My original HelmetCamera.com kit had (and today’s models still have) a wired camera. The lens unit was light, bulletproof (you can ride over it with a truck if you’re prone to that sort of thing) and versatile (could mount just about anywhere) but the dang wires were a real downer. VioSport also offers a popular wired camera.

I also prefer rechargeable batteries, but others argue that you’re dead in the water on road trips without an outlet. I carry an inverter in my rig (which uses a cigarette lighter port to provide AC) for just that reason, but it’s a personal preference. Oregon Scientific offers models using conventional batteries.

REI carries a pretty good line in helmetcams. I’d start with the Contour and HERO and work from there. Shopping around is definitely recommended.

A site dedicated to helmet cams.

MTBR.com’s take on helmet cams.

A good mountain biking video making wise use of helmet cam footage from Galbraith Mountain, Bellingham WA

  1. I was gonna write something up about this, but yours is better. Tweeting it now :-)

  2. [...] Helmet cams rock on. We’re seeing these things everywhere, on freeriders, XC epics, roadie rides. The technology [...]

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