How to: Onboard video

On-bike video is everywhere these days, and YouTube is full of good times, fast memories and crashes, crashes, crashes. Some videos make for rewarding viewing and can even earn some money, but most are just throwaway snippets, interesting only to you and maybe your friends.

If you want to join in and do it right, here’s a primer on motorcycle video, and some advice from the people who know what they’re doing.

WHAT CAMERA SHOULD I BUY?

GoPro cameras are the most popular for shooting onboard video, with cameras starting at $280 and rising to double that. You should seriously consider them for three reasons.

First, they can take top-quality footage. GoPro typically pushes the envelope for video quality, and their high-end models are capable of much more than you need for current web video viewing.

Second, GoPro has superior accessory support, from Polaroid filters to wireless chargers to a mind-boggling selection of mounts and cases, and much more.

Third, GoPro’s market dominance means the company will be around for a while. While other cameras may offer better battery life, better pricing, better accessories, or other perks, what about five years from now? There’s always a possibility the support may not be there.

GoPro is the industry standard if you're serious about moto-filming, but there are many more affordable options.
GoPro is the industry standard if you’re serious about moto-filming, but there are many more affordable options.

This isn’t to say other brands aren’t worth checking out, however, especially if you’re on a budget. Several websites (Gizmag, Cnet, Outdoor Gear Lab) offer in-depth comparisons of the market’s offerings, and Web Bike World has some great motorcycle-specific reviews.

Besides GoPro, there are two other cameras worth mentioning specifically. One is the Sena 10C (reviewed here), an action camera with an integrated helmet-to-helmet communication system. If you want to record onboard audio, or you want a unit that combines communications and video capabilities to cut down on the number of gadgets strapped to your helmet, then you should consider this camera.

A specialized case like this Hitcase can turn your phone into a makeshift action camera.
A specialized case like this Hitcase can turn your phone into a makeshift action camera.

The other camera is the one you already have in your pocket — an iPhone, Samsung Galaxy, Blackberry, whatever. Today’s cellphones are capable of taking HD video, and when paired with a something like the Hitcase or Optrix, can take decent action-camera footage.

A smartphone is also handy for shooting off-the bike footage, although nothing will beat an actual video camera or DSLR for this work. Action cameras are good for using on-the-bike, or in other scenarios where a regular camera would be damaged. Out of the saddle, use proper equipment.

MOUNTS, MOUNTS, MOUNTS

You’ll need mounts to secure your camera for onboard footage. Some riders attach their cameras directly to the bike, others use helmet or chest mounts.

Mounting to the bike may be more comfortable, and looks less dorky. It also means you’re more likely to have vibration interfere with the shot (here’s what that looks like, and an attempted solution). Search YouTube and you’ll see many different mounting positions: swingarm, forks, gas tank. Some areas vibrate more than others, so think carefully about where you stick that mount.

Common camera mounts include helmet mounts, chest mounts, and shoulder mounts.
Common camera mounts include helmet mounts, chest mounts, and shoulder mounts.

You can avoid a lot of vibration by mounting your camera on your helmet or somewhere on your body. However, a helmet cam adds weight, wind noise, and general turbulence to your skid lid. Some people think the idea of adding a camera to a helmet is dangerous, as it’s something to get caught in a crash and cause problems, though that hasn’t been scientifically proven. It can also compromise the helmet if the mount is fixed incorrectly.

Because of the potential drawbacks, some people find a chest mount, or mounting their camera to a backpack strap, also works well. Chest mounts do a much better job of showing handlebar controls, letting the viewer feel like they’re immersed in the action.

WHAT SHOULD I FILM?

First things first: If you film yourself riding like an idiot on public roads, that footage can cost you dearly if police use it as evidence. The most famous Canadian example is the infamous “BC Speeder,” who lost his bike because of a video he posted online.

Otherwise, what kind of story do you want? Are you looking to put together a quick vlog of your ride to work, or tell the story of a longer trip? And do you want to film everything? The more footage you take, the more you’ll have to edit; many riders find  putting their cameras in loop mode allows them to save those crazy moose-dodging moments when they happen, but otherwise avoids racking up hours and hours of video to cut through later.

We asked a few people who’ve already produced successful online video to give us their thoughts on content:

Terry Burt and his friend Peter Oxley rode through Labrador to make their Big Land adventure series. He found relying on onboard footage from his GoPro wasn’t enough to tell a good story – he thinks riding footage alone is boring. “Endless shots of scenery, helmet cam footage, and motorcycles do not make a good video,” he says. “Human interaction, and life experiences is what people want. The viewer wants to picture themselves in the moment.”

Ed March has filmed his rides around the world for years, and recently topped one million YouTube views. He agrees with Terry Burt: the secret to telling a good story about a trip isn’t long stretches of riding footage. If you watch his films, there’s plenty of off-the bike footage, and he tries to film shots that “when you’re watching it you know there’s a person doing it.” Inserting himself and his commentary into footage lets the viewers feel like they’re also there, he says.

Mark Stanford is behind ADV Stealth, a new YouTube channel that shows the ins and outs of stealth camping. He’s always ready for the shot that might go viral. “I never put it into loop as I want more control,” he says. “I am often just stopping and starting the recording as I go. Yesterday we were doing a stealth run way in the woods and we came across this flooded area, I just reached up and pressed record and caught my buddy and I crossing through water that was just shy of two feet deep.” If he passes something like an antique tractor pull or mashed potato wrestling (his words!), this method means he’s ready.

Jason Pincombe and friend Kristen Fletcher recently filmed their trip from Canada to California’s Born Free custom motorcycle show, aboard vintage choppers. “Before we left,” Pincombe says, “we had agreed to try and record as much as possible – the good, the bad.” They also made a point to focus on filming the back roads as they went along.  “We knew that would add time to the trip but some of the places you see and people you meet are from a time long forgotten, which really adds to the experience of the trip.”

EDITING!

A reasonably-priced editing program like Premiere Elements, or even the free ones offered by Windows, Apple, or YouTube, should get you started.
A reasonably-priced editing program like Premiere Elements, or even the free ones offered by Windows, Apple, or YouTube, should get you started.

Your ride is over, and now it’s time to edit the film.

There are hundreds of video editing programs available (The Windows Store lists 151 alone), but there are a few programs commonly used: Windows Movie Maker (free) is a standard. Apple’s counterpart, iMovie (also free) offers a few more options, and is well-regarded by many enthusiasts, particularly for its ease of use. YouTube even has a web-based editor that you can learn in an evening, although its capability is limited.

You can edit video on your smartphone or tablet; searching the Google Play or iTunes stores will show you dozens of highly-rated possibilities.

If you’re getting serious about filmmaking, there are some other standards, particularly Adobe Premiere Elements and Adobe Premiere Pro.

Premiere Pro is, as the name suggests, pro-level software that you purchase by paying a monthly fee to Adobe for a licence to use it. Premiere Elements is a version with less capability, but also a lower cost – an up-front price tag that often goes on sale. If you’re a fan of Apple products, Final Cut Pro is used by serious filmmakers.

Another program that helps with editing is SonicFirePro. It offers very handy sound-editing capabilities, although it’s also pricy, at approximately $200 US.

For most filmmakers, there’s a happy medium between capability and cost. The simpler programs are easier to master quickly, because of their lack of features, and they’re also cheaper or free, so iMovie and Windows Movie Maker are probably good choices for beginners.

Remember, content is key; a fancy editing program can’t solve the problem of bad footage, and it won’t make it easier to cut material if you have too much. Ed March says YouTube pays him $1 per 1,000 views (other users earn less or more, but usually in that ballpark). Most content creators probably won’t make enough money to cover the costs of expensive software; find more details on making money on YouTube here.

POSTING

Now it’s time to post your video. If you’re using YouTube, they have a pretty decent how-to here. If you’ve decided to go with Vimeo instead (the smaller, but less cluttered competition), its walk-through is here.

Congratulations! If you’ve done everything right, you’re on your way to becoming an Internet video star, and if not, at least you can watch your own adventures on re-run.

6 thoughts on “How to: Onboard video”

  1. Another important detail is your computer. If you plan to edit in HD you had better have something with ” horsepower ” behind it. An I7 or equivalent processor is best, as much RAM as you can fit , a higher speed hard drive and a good video card. A lot of the entry level PCs and laptops will either drop a lot of frames or just freeze completely.
    Sound is also a pain. If you want to Vlog a good microphone with some type of wind sock is the way to go. Lots of testing. Where you mount the action cam, wind protection, exhaust location and loudness has a big effect on how and if you hear engine sound over wind noise. My Versys for example sucks producing nothing but wind noise when using a helmet mounted GoPro. On the other hand the same mount and camera worked quite well when I test rode the Yamaha R3 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WVhBUtFAgq8 Again down to testing and some luck. * A separate digital sound recorder also can be strategically placed and provide cleaner sound that can be edited in during post processing.
    Currently motorcycle content on You Tube is getting badly saturated so if your goal is to become a star with big cheques ( Yeah right ! ) coming in, it will be an up hill battle. A good story, good content , good editing need to be packaged with a savvy social media promotion. Keep in mind some of the biggest names on You Tube rose to fame back when it was possible to “game” the hits, likes and comments ( and earnings ! ) with marketing software that would auto “promote” your channel and videos 24 / 7.

  2. I would have really liked to have seen something about how to record sound… I can’t tell you how many videos I have stopped watching after a minute or two because of the hideous wind noise.

    1. Not to go too far into it, but … you need a mic that is set up for it, basically, and that can cost you mucho denaro. Or you can be cute about how and where you film. It is true that wind noise is pretty ruinous.

    2. For sound, the obvious solution is to overlay some hideous dub-step.
      But if you are the sort that wants people to watch more than 10 seconds of your video… You could experiment with some DIY foams, furs, socks, n duck tape you have around the house. Create some kind of wind protection over the mic you have. If one were smart they would record any v/o after the ride at home. Turn down the volume of the ride recording… Etc

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