As I’ve discussed here on Bicycle Universe a few times before, I recommend running cameras on a road bike as insurance in case you are involved in a crash or need to prove instances of harassment or threats to the police. I don’t like that I need it, but sometimes that’s the reality of sharing roads with the motoring public.
Today I’d like to break down a few mounting options you may have when using action cameras with your bicycle. I’ll talk about where you can mount them, pros and cons regarding that position, and will show what the footage can look like with a screenshot.
All of these options are assuming you’re using a small action camera like a GoPro or another brand/model that uses the same style mounting system as GoPro (I believe at this point nearly all action cameras use the same mounting system anyway).
Light/Camera combinations like the Fly 6 and Fly 12 don’t give you as much flexibility for mounting, although some of the screenshots below may still give you a better idea of what to expect with them.
Helmet Mount – Front
Mounting a camera on a helmet used to be the most common way to mount a camera, and it certainly makes having a camera no matter the bike you’re riding easier since you likely use the same helmet from bike to bike. Here I’m using a standard GoPro helmet mount (Amazon link).
Using the helmet mount can be great because the camera always sees what you see, since it points in the direction your head is pointed.
It’s not always reliable for picking up license plates, as your head can bob a bit while pedaling, but it’s probably the best (out of all the mounting options I will be mentioning here) at identifying a driver if you ever get alongside a car and turn your head to look inside.
I would not use a helmet mount if you have an extended battery (such as a GoPro Backpack or a Wasabi battery like the ones I recently reviewed) since the extra weight will make your helmet feel unstable and uncomfortable, and may even cause the helmet to shift into a compromising position if you had a crash.
Handlebar Mount – Front
Mounting on the handlebars makes it easy to get the camera out of the way and frees you from the weight of a camera atop your head.
There are two common ways to mount a front facing camera on your handlebars: above the bars, and below the bars. Here I’m demonstrating a mount from Fotasy, which appears to be an Asian knock-off brand on Amazon. (Link for it is here)
The only real difference between these two options is whether you have other things to mount on your handlebars. The ‘above the bars’ option makes accessing the camera’s buttons the easiest but can clutter up the top of the bars.
The below the bars option keeps the camera out of the way of your lights, GPS unit, smartphone mount, or anything else you may mount on your handlebars; some brands like K-Edge even have mounts that allow you to hold a camera and GPS unit on the same mount.
Having a camera on the bars makes identifying a license plate fairly reliable; identifying drivers is unlikely, though, as the cameras are generally too low to see inside a car. Mounting a camera on the bars also makes the extra weight of extended batteries a non-issue.
Handlebar Mount – Rear
My preferred method of mounting a rear-facing camera on the handlebars is at the bottom of the drops, although it’s obviously only possible on-road bike drop bars; while it looks intrusive, the “riding in the drops” riding position is still accessible and comfortable.
Here I’m using an older style GoPro Handlebar mount, although newer styles should work similarly – like this one on Amazon.
I prefer this position because it gives the best perspective of how close a passing car may get to me, and captures any time I am using my left arm to signal a turn or lane change (which in one instance actually proved my version of events correct to a police officer who did not believe my story).
It’s probably about as reliable at reading front license plates as a front-facing handlebar mount (most, if not all, states in the southeastern US don’t use front license plates, so I don’t have experience there), but I’ve never had luck identifying a driver coming up from behind, not only because the cameras are low but because of windshield glare.
Cameras mounted in this position tend to vibrate a bit more, especially on rough roads, since the ends of the handlebars are so far from a secure mounting point – namely, the stem – so keep that in mind if you riding a lot of bumpy or gravel roads.
This seems to be the method most cyclists use for a rear-facing camera, and may be the only reasonable option for a rear-facing camera if you have flat bar handlebars (like a mountain bike or hybrid).
Here I’m once again using an older style GoPro Handlebar mount. (Here’s the link)
This position gives you the clearest view of what’s behind without being impeded by your legs (like with the handlebar method above), although if you ride with a rack and bags that may take up some of the fields of view.
The ability to identify plates and drivers is about the same as when mounted on the handlebar, which is not great. It may be difficult to mount a camera on your seatpost if you are used to running a bag under your saddle with tubes and tools and don’t have enough seatpost exposed for both, and running an extended battery may not be possible due to the lack of room.
A chest mount is often the position of choice for mountain bike videos as it offers a great view of what’s ahead as well as perspective of your arms and bike to give a better sense of speed. Here I’m using a GoPro Chesty that you can get on Amazon.
For purposes of a dash cam, though, I wouldn’t recommend it. It has visibility limitations thanks to your arms in the way and may not always film what’s ahead if you’re leaning forward in an aero position or sitting up in a relaxed position. It still makes for really cool videos, though, if you are riding on a sweet trail, or doing something completely unrelated to cycling.
A Note About Pivot Arms
A lot of cameras and mounts come with little “arms” that can allow you to tilt your camera at an angle or rotate it 90 degrees. These are great for stationary mounts or for short-term filming, but in my experience, they are not good for regular use on the road.
No matter where your cameras are mounted they will vibrate somewhat, and moving the camera (and its weight) farther from the mounting point using these arms will cause the effects of vibration to be stronger until the arms eventually snap after many hours of use. I’ve snapped many of these arms over the years, but never a mount itself, so I’d be sure to get a mount that puts the camera in the orientation you want without the use of arms for your everyday use.
License Plates and Drivers
I mentioned in each of these the likelihood of reading a plate and identifying a driver, both of which are important if you expect to get any type of response or action from the police.
License plates won’t necessarily be readable in low light conditions, or in poor weather like rain, but you can check out recommendations of how to handle those situations in my previous article (link to previous article here).
As for identifying a driver, that is important because police cannot ticket the owner of a vehicle (whom they can identify based on a license plate) if they cannot prove that person was actually driving, so even if you cannot pick up the driver’s face or profile on video – it’s very difficult to do, I can assure you – try to remember any details you can if possible so that you can relay it to the police.