Is this a good helmet cam?

I get questions regarding helmet cams off and on regarding the various all-in-one and lipstick camera setups.  To start off with here is my current setup and Video How-To Page.  The camcorder mounted on the helmet method described there is what I use. You can not beat the quality you get from using an actual camcorder versus the tiny optics of a lipstick camera.   For me image quality is extremely important.  I want my footage to look good even if I viewing it on a big screen TV.      

The vast majority of people I have talked and emailed with on the subject are mostly concerned with sharing the videos online or viewing it on their computer.    For these users the lipstick cameras and all-in-one setups can work just fine.   If you are not going to use the camcorder mounted on a helmet setup here is what I would consider next.

Lipstick + MiniDV Camcorder

A high quality lipstick camera feeding a miniDV camcorder in your bag via an AV input jack.    The recording quality will be the best possible, 720 by 480 DV-AVI (uncompressed).  You can also use the camcorder for other things such as off the bike stuff or around the house stuff.    Should you later decide to do the helmet mounted camcorder approach you already have a camcorder.   I highly recommend that you get a camcorder and that has a LANC connection.  This will allow you to use wired remote controls so that you can stop and start recording easily without digging in your pack.  (The wireless remotes that come with camcorders are almost exclusively infrared which means the remote and camcorder must seet each other to work.  That won’t happen if it is in your pack)

Hoytech has a nice kit at a pretty reasonable price.  I would get the Professional Helmet Camera Kit.  Thier site also has a good list of compatiable camcorders.

Lipstick + minDVR

The next catergory down I would consider is a high quality lipstick camera feeding a mini DVR vice a camcorder.    Most of the all-in-one and minDVR setups involve recording to some type of flash memory card coupled with video compression.   Don’t be fooled if they say they record to AVI.  It is a compressed form of an AVI.  Most of these setups give you a few options for how much compression you use.  The more compression you select the more time you can record on the memory card but the video quality gets progressively crappier.  Remember you can always increase the video compression later, but if you compress right from the start, it is never going to look any better.   I highly recommend that you record with the highest possible quality setting if you use an all-in-one or minDVR unit.  This however will mean you will need to carry an extra memory card or two with you on the trail.  Considering the price of memory cards today this should not be a big deal.

   There is a nice aspect of the tradeoff of using a miniDVR.   You can use the minDVR for other things such a portable MP3/Video Player. 

If I was going this route I would buy’s HC1 kit with the 560line lipstick camera.   The resolution of the lipstick camera is better than the DVR’s recording ability, but should you later decide to use a camcorder, you will get the full advantage of the better lipstick camera.  While Achros has a miniDVR helmetcam system available, I think the setup from is a better option as you are not forced to use the Achros lipstick camera which is not a particularly good one.  

All-in-One Systems

Before going with an All-In-One system, you also need to assess how much into the video scene you think you are going to get into as the all-in-one units do not “grow” well.   You can not improve the recording capability later.  You also can not easily use this setup for other things that are not Point of View shooting, like filming your kids hockey games, birthday parties or whatever.   They are however really easy to use out on the trail.  

     I think the best model going in this class is the VIO POV1 as it has the best recording capability in the class, however it is still not on par with a miniDV Camcorder .  It is waterproof and it has a remote that can be mounted on your handlebars or on your camelback shoulder strap.  It however is not anywhere near cheap, but if you go this route you will mostly likely be satisfied for a long time.   

The  VholdR is a nice very convenient and tiny package.  It weigh less than five ounces. The videos I have seen from them look alright.

Finally the GoPro Helmet Hero has a lot of bang for the buck.  Okay quality at a great price.   At less than 200 bucks or so it is an okay way to get into doing video, but you can quickly outgrow it. 

Final Words

When deciding on which way you want to go, I think of this along the same lines as someone first getting into mountain biking on real trails and getting their first bike.   If you get a department store bike you will not be happy for long.  If you go buy a boutique brand bike with all the goodies and end up not really into mountain biking you have wasted a bunch of money.   However if you get a well built bike with a mid-range group of components and you get into mountain biking seriously you will be happy for a long time and you can upgrade to top shelf components later.

Tis the Season for Rain

Okay I’m getting a bit stir crazy with having to take some time off the bike as well as all the rain.   Folks please give our wet trails some recovery time after these rains.    Here are excerpts from a couple years of this topic being float around on some the various forums sites.    Most folks think there should be some sort of disclaimer with this type of guideline.     Stuff like the rating depends on how much rain we got.   These ratings are based on a good rain.  What we have have had this last week has been a pounding! Please be cautious and add a few more days at least to this recommendation.

Here is what I’m thinking of for a rating system for the San Diego area trails.

 1 – Could ride there in rain or the day after.
2-5 – Two to five days
6-7 – About a week
8-9 – More than a week upwards to three weeks
10 – Place is a wreak after a rain, can take more three weeks to dry out enough so riding on it will not trash it.
Here are the trails I’m looking at (Most here on the site)
North County
Calvera Lake – 5
Daley Ranch – 3
Elfin Forest – 3
Flightline – 4
Lake Hodges – Northside -7
Lake Hodges – Southside – 7
Nate Harrision Grade – 2 –
Santa Margarita River Trail – 1 – Mostly sandy trails that are best after a good rain packdown.
Tenaja Truck Trail – 2
Mission Trails – 4
Cowles and Pyles Peak –  3
Spring and Oak Canyon – 3
Penasquitos Canyon – Most Trails – 5
Del Mar Mesa – 7 – Place gets some of that sticky clay that will freeze up your tires
Sweetwater – 10 – Probably the worst area in San Diego. Give it a freaking month.
Sycamore Canyon/Goodan Ranch – North End – 4, South End – 8
TriCanyons Area (Rose, San Clemente, Tecolate)
East County
Anderson Truck Trail – 1 – Probably the best in area for after rain riding
Black Mountain in Ramona – 4
Cuyamacas – 6
Lake Morena – 2
Laguna Mountains/BLT – 6
Indian Creek – 3
Noble Canyon -3
Oriflamme Canyon -4

This would also be a good time to gather up some “rules” about San Diego riding after rains. Like:
Give the trails it due time.
Use your brakes wisely, Don’t be a Skidiot!
Ride through any puddles not around it. If you don’t like getting dirty, get a road bike.   This caused quite a bit of discussion.  The general thinking being that if the puddle goes all the way across a trail, trying to go around it is only going to widen the trail and make an even bigger puddle.  Under these conditions it is best to go straight through the puddle.   Now if the puddle does not go all the way and you have room on the orginal trail line, go ahead around it.
Stream crossing – even a small fast moving stream can be very powerful and dangerous.

When in doubt call the land managers to find the full scoop.  SDMBA has a links to them,  or if you can’t get in touch with a land manager, email a SDMBA Liaison, link to SDMBA Liaisons.


To Publish or Not to Publish?

Hey Bill, …  I noticed you do not have any information on the XXX trail. Why is that? I have not yet been there, but I am going with some friends today because it was recommended to him….

I get emails of this theme off and on and it is a really good question. I’ll try to answer it. (And maybe rant at little too)

Not all of the trails I ride end up on my site.  There are usually three good general reasons that cause me to refrain from putting a trail I may ridden on the site.

1.  The trail is “sensitive” in nature – Do not automatically equate “sensitive” to mean illegal.  It may just be that it is not a fully condoned trail system, such as the stuff that is considered social.   Hey, I’m no saint and I may have ridden some questionable stuff to “see what the fuss is about.”   There are some trails that are quite popular but are not fully legit and lots of folks ride them.   These are not limited to the freeride/downhill type trails which seem to get the most flake. There are plenty of XC trails in SoCal that have some property lines  or user conflict issues that do not need to be brought out online.

2. I was asked not to publish it – Yes I know how to keep a secret and if someone who showed me “The Goods” asked me not to publish a trail, even if it is legal, I may not publish it.

3. Trail Sustainability – If I personally do not think the trail could handle a bunch of additional traffic I may not publish it.  I have a few unpublished and legal trails that are great trails comprised of long, narrow and pristine downhill sections that are fabulous.  They are however easily shuttled.   If I published these trails I am quite positive that a crap load of shuttlers would start using these trails and then start trashing them out.  

This is not so much a downhiller or an XC issue as it is an irresponsible riding issue. I have seen plenty of folks on both XC as well as DH/FR rigs being skidiots.  (Skidding IDIOT)   I believe, on average, the folks on the bigger rigs cause more of the trail issues on those types of trails because compared to your average XC rider, they can go faster with the same skill level.  The higher speeds usually requires more skill to slow the bike down and not skid. The longer wheel-base and slacker geometry of the bigger bikes also requires greater skill to navigate switchbacks and tight turns. The same average rider on the bigger bikes is more likely to blow/damage more of those type of turns than a rider on a cross-country rig.   I also subscribe to the idea that Downhiller’s have a tendency to bring the downhill park mindset to the local trails, which is pretty much like trying to mix oil and water.

I’m I talking with my butt cheeks?  I could be,  but let the trails do the talking.  All it takes for me is to look at the poorer condition of some of the trails that are easily shuttled. The San Juan trail is a wreck compared to the Trabuco Canyon.   Both are great downhills but the San Juan Trail is easily shuttled where as Trabuco is not.

         Now before you get all huffy puffy on me because you shuttle and own a DH/FR rig keep this in mind.  I’m generalizing about average riders.  My guess is that if you are excited about my statements, you are most likely not that average rider I’m talking about.  Then again, check yourself and if the shoe fits, wear it and work on becoming a not-so average rider.  

To Publish or Not To Publish?   My going in belief is that any social trails that are kept on the down low have a poor chance of ever being legitimized.   However, to publicize a trail in the wrong manner can certainly bring on an earlier demise to a trail system.   Flightline could have benefited from earlier public awareness of the system, where as the  “Thomas Wolgamont” trail system has an extremely slim chance of being fully legitimized so I think it is best to keep it off the airwaves.  

The bottom line is that if you are wondering about a particularly trail system that is not on the site, please contact me.  I might have some off-site information I can provide.   If I post a write up or pictures and I am vague, it’s intentional.

Now Go Ride!