Legal Update and Getting a Bike Camera for Peace of Mind

A still from test video from the Fly6...unfortunately, about half the time it's impossible to read the license plate of a passing car. (Note: this motorist did nothing threatening, although he is out of the lane lines). Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
A still from test video from the Fly6...unfortunately, about half the time it's impossible to read the license plate of a passing car. (Note: this motorist did nothing threatening, although he is out of the lane lines). Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

Streetsblog just learned that Timothy Doyle, who was hit by an SFPD cruiser last May, has filed suit against the city for pain, lost work, and other damages. Readers will recall that Doyle was riding his bike in the bike lane near the intersection of 2nd and Mission when an SFPD cruiser illegally jinked into the bike lane, sending Doyle to the hospital. “It will take years to work its way through the courts,” he wrote in an email to Streetsblog. Meanwhile, “I have healed about as much as possible. I certainly don’t feel as good as I did before May 12th, 2016, but things are passable.”

Doyle will probably win his lawsuit only because a motorist/witness behind him had a dash-camera and captured the incident. The video makes things crystal clear: Doyle was riding in the bike lane at the time and doing everything according to the law.

There’s another, more common outcome–illustrated by the case of Justin Liszanckie–who was waiting to make a left turn and then woke up in the hospital with no memory of his crash. He was handed a citation from SFPD. The police report of that crash didn’t match the physical evidence at the scene, but if anybody captured the crash on video, they have not come forward.

Because of cases such as these, as editor of Streetsblog SF, I have made the point that it’s essential to get video cameras on your bike. That said, until recently, I’ve been a hypocrite–I did not have a camera on my own bike.

But I’ve thought about what happened to Liszanckie, Doyle and Anthony Ryan, who was also fortunate enough that someone had a dash cam going when a motorist tried to intentionally run him over. I’ve had my own share of incidents. There was the time someone threw a bottle at me, where video might have resulted in his prosecution. In grad school, in Pittsburgh, I had a car once “punishment pass” me and then back towards me at high speed, slamming on the brakes at the last moment, to “teach me a lesson.” I was also once doored by a cab in New York City, although, miraculously, only my bike was damaged.

Somehow, though, it was the recent incident I had with an Uber driver in San Diego that finally got me to give up my personal objections to mounting a video camera on my steed. It wasn’t that the run-in with the Uber driver was worse than the other incidents. I was on the way to visit my mother for the holidays. When I got to her house and told her what happened, she said: “Did I raise an idiot! All the reporting you do… are you going to get a camera after somebody hits you!”

Moms have a way of cutting to it.

I started researching. My conclusions agreed with Bike East Bay’s Education Director, Robert Prinz, who, in an email to Streetsblog, mentioned a couple of cameras specifically designed for bikes: “Action cams like the GoPro have been popular for a while, for capturing fast motion outdoor video, but for people who want more of a ‘dash cam’ style product to use as evidence in a crash, other features are more in demand. Some bike-specific products which have been developed recently include the Cycliq Fly6 and Fly12, and the Rideye.”

Prinz listed the features offered by the Fly cameras and the Rideye:

  • long battery life so they can run constantly without having to recharge every ride
  • looping technology so the camera doesn’t stop recording when memory is full
  • impact sensors which automatically save a chunk of video if a crash occurs and the bicyclist is incapacitated
  • easy on-off mounting hardware so the user can take the camera with them when parking their bike
  • wide angle video to capture as much of the street as possible (although wide angle also tends to make objects look further away than they actually are)

I wanted a camera for front and back. After all, a recording from a front-facing camera won’t help if I get hit from behind and visa versa. I’m still of two minds about the front-facing camera. Should it be helmet mounted? Handlebar mounted?

So I decided to solve the rear-facing camera first. The Fly6 had decent reviews and is combined with a red flashing tail light, so it’s not really adding any hardware to the bike. I bought mine at REI because of the one-year, no-questions-asked guarantee. That gives me plenty of time to return it.

It works, but there’s only one mounting option–the seat post. And that doesn’t help if, like me, you have a Thudbuster shock-absorber seat post. I tried jury rigging it to the shock absorber, but it kept wobbling from side to side. I also use a seat-trunk style bag on a rear rack, which obstructs about half of the camera’s view. So I mail-ordered an adapter from Shapeways so I could attach it to the tail end of the rack, where the view isn’t obstructed.

That finally works, but it’s a sign of new, relatively immature technology that there aren’t multiple mounting options right in the box.

It required a bunch of zipties and a specially made adapter to mount the camera to the back of my rack. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick
It required a bunch of zipties and a specially made adapter to mount the camera to the back of my rack. Photo: Streetsblog/Rudick

I’m also disappointed with the resolution. It’s hard to read license plates. It doesn’t see well at night. But I’m confident it would record the make and model of the car and–perhaps most importantly–what happened and who is at fault if I’m ever hit from behind. It would have made my previous brushes with death totally clear cut. Despite the short comings, the long battery life and integration with the tail light makes it a turn-it-on-and-forget-it-unless-you-need it type of device, which is what I want. As I research front-facing handlebar and helmet cameras, I’ll look for something that’s better at capturing license plates and seeing at night.

The camera performs very poorly at night. Photo: Streetsblog
The camera performs very poorly at night. Photo: Streetsblog

That said, the obvious need for cameras is incredibly depressing. As Doyle put it: “…who wants to record every f**ing second on one’s bike? To mount and un-mount it every time you lock it up?” He’s also tried Nexar, an app that turns your cell phone into a security camera. As he said of the company that makes the app: “…we philosophically differed in our views of Orwellian See All, All The Time as a Utopian benefit to society. I know I lucked out and benefited from my case and that I may be hypocritical for not wanting cameras all over all the time.”

But as we struggle with the city–and motorists–to put safety first, what else can we do?

A camera isn’t going to prevent a crash, but if enough of us have them, it might at least get motorists to hesitate before intentionally harassing and endangering vulnerable road users. And, “…like any dash cam footage it would obviously be helpful in a ‘your word against theirs’ scenario,” said Prinz, “especially in a case were a bike rider might be knocked out with no memory of the crash itself.” As was the case with Liszanckie, who will never know for sure exactly what happened.

Do you have a camera? What do you think of the different technologies/makes/models? Got any videos you want to share? And how do you feel about the utility of having cameras mounted on your bike?

Send links and comment below.

  • Guffie

    i used to ride a motorcycle with a drift ghost helmet camera. it’s a little bulky for my bicycle helmet so i got a smaller drift stealth when it was on sale. i attach it to the top of my helmet (it came with a helmet mount) and it has good low light settings. i highly recommend getting a camera that mounts to a helmet so that it can record exactly what you see. i totally get that that doesn’t address the rear facing issue.

  • thielges

    The most important detail to capture is the scenario that led to a collision. Even these not so high quality images are good enough to show that a bicyclist was riding in a safe and legal manner (or not!) at the time of the collision. That objective evidence will counteract survivor bias. No more drivers claiming the a bicyclist suddenly swerved into their path.

    I don’t have a camera yet though I did outline a design for a 360 degree dream camera here a few weeks ago. I’m guessing such a unit could be manufactured for ~ $15 meaning it could retail in the $100 range.

  • Matt Laroche

    I cannot recommend the Rideye. I have personal experience with it, as does former SF Streetsblog regular Mike Sonn, and they are glitchy.

    (I do have a Fly6 and Fly12)

  • xplosneer

    I got a Drift Stealth 2 about a month ago. It’s a good start with a lot of good mounts but the low light isn’t the best.

    Also saw the Fly 12 as the best out there but $399 vs $99 means I’ll get it later. Fly6 needs higher resolution before I’ll jump.

    Yi 4k is a good 4k option.

    Wish I could say there are more good long-battery options but there aren’t. Waiting for Drift’s 4k model to drop.

    Far too many incidents to mention here in Hayward that have been recorded, and a few that I’ve missed too. Mostly 6in passes at 35+mph.

    Mostly using it to show what bad facilities look like to council.

  • xplosneer

    Would love to see it. I wanted to get the giroptic but again with the battery life concerns.

  • Chris J.

    So I decided to solve the rear-facing camera first. … It works, but there’s only one mounting option–the seat post.

    What about putting the rear-facing one on your helmet? Seems like that would solve the issues you mention.

  • John French

    Are there any cameras which can charge from a dynamo? With a rotating buffer and automatic on/off (based on dynamo power) you could have a truly “set and forget” camera.

  • John Murphy

    The rear camera works better fixed

  • Luis

    I had the same thought, but then realized I’m not excited about $500 of easily removable gear hanging off my bike :/

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    The contour roam3 is a perfect helmet camera. Less than $100, simple to use, easy to mount at any angle, decent quality, and cheap.

    I just bought the Fly6 and was similarly frustrated by the lack of mounting options. I sank 2 hours into building my own stable Fly6 mounting rig, which anchors it to the mounting rail on my pannier bag. With this rig the camera stays on my bag not on my bike, so it’s one less thing to Dick around with before each ride.

    It sucks that they don’t design this stuff to work properly out of the box. Until they start designing these cameras to work without dicking with Velcro straps before and after each and every ride, I doubt very many cyclists will actually use them.

  • Re: Doyle and the police officer who hit him. From the video, it looks like both were rushing to enter the intersection before the yellow light turned red. Rushing to make the light is risky, because that is exactly when people will do sudden, unexpected moves (like the officer did), which you can’t anticipate. I don’t recommend rushing to make the light. “Go fast, grasshopper. But do not rush.”

    Having said that, I’d still agree that from a legal perspective, it looks like the officer was in the wrong, and hopefully Doyle will win his lawsuit.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    I think it’s more important to have a front facing camera helmet mounted so it captures what your looking at not where your bike is pointing. For a rear camera I think it’s better to have it mounted to the bike to minimize the vibration blur and constantly record what’s behind your bike not what’s behind where your head happpens to be looking.

  • John Murphy

    Here’s a video from an incident up in Healdsburg, with views from three different cameras

    on the same bike, rear, handlebar, and helmet, to give you perspective. I think Richard uses Flys.

    This bridge is sort of an annoying spot, it has a 15 MPH speed limit and 95% of drivers understand it needs to be a shared lane, but not this driver. This one is particularly silly, the rider controlled the lane as is typical given that riders will generally go the speed limit, so the driver tries to pass in the oncoming lane which is occupied by other vehicles.

  • Chris J.

    Well, you can make the same or similar points about a front-facing camera: handlebars or helmet. If it’s on your helmet, you won’t be getting a constant record of what’s directly in front of your bike either. With a rear-mounted camera on your helmet, your recording of the rear will be at least as good as your recording of the front with a front-mounted camera.

  • cgarch

    And fixed to the seat post. I have my Fly6 mounted to the rack on my tandem, similar to the pic here, and it bounces a lot more. But I’m pleased with the image captures it makes. I have the original mount and it sucketh big time.

  • Davy Jones

    I use a Bult Benny X3, a helmet with a built in front facing camera. This has turned into the perfect commuting solution for me.

    Pros:
    Both video and sound capture
    Incredibly low profile, pretty much unnoticeable
    Goes with you when you lock up
    Inexpensive (usually around $40)
    It’s a pretty nice helmet

    Cons:
    Video quality is best described as adequate: 1280 x 720 HD resolution at 30 FPS
    Battery and file storage gives you about 60min of recording time, so you need to recharge and dump files every day

  • thielges

    here’s the IPA stained napkin with the overview of the design:

    “Seems like such a unit could be made cheaply. Use a cheapo single camera sensor topped with with a plastic 360 degree mirror/lens. The actual image projected on the sensor would be heavily distorted but software could easily unwarp it. Record 60 minutes of activity in a continuous loop, stopped when a motion sensor detects impact or a prolonged non-vertical position. Video recovered would probably not be high enough quality to read license plates but certainly good enough to get a clear idea of street positions and how the collision occurred.

    We’re looking at a handful of discreet parts: image sensor, controller+mem chip, battery, USB connector, motion sensor, lens/mirror, case, charging/download cable. Manufacturing cost in the $10-20 range.

    Retail cost depends on sales volume. This could be either a niche or volume product, I’m not a marketeer :-)”

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Ironically, your footage shows what not to do at that intersection.

    1) The cyclist in front of you did not signal his intent to make a left turn. Did you?
    2) You were not queued up behind the left-turning BMW.

    With the two of you queueing up on the right side of the of the BMW and not signalling, how is the driver of the Mercedes to know that you wish to turn left as well?

    This is how I would handle that intersection:

    1) Queue up on the left – directly behind other left-turning cars.
    2) Signal that I am turning left. I would even twist myself to look at the motorist behind me and signal my left. I would make sure they give me a visual cue that they acknowledge I am also turning left. Simple communication would have avoided this close call.

  • Roger R.

    Thanks Ziggy. Can you post a photo of what you rigged? Anyway, yeah, I have Cateye tail lights and you really have to wonder why they didn’t just build the Fly6 with a compatible mount for Cateye or another big light manufacturer. Many of us wouldn’t have to even make any alterations–we’d just snap it in place. They got this with the Fly 12, which I understand is designed to work with GoPro mounts.

  • John Murphy

    Not my footage, though I use this intersection frequently.

    For lanes with straight and left as possible turns, it is definitely best practice to take center lane. In this case, the straight road, Kennedy, is a road that I see traffic going to or coming from maybe once a month.

    Nonetheless, I find it somewhat odd that your takeaway from this footage is to criticize the lane positioning of the cyclist, rather than

    1) a review of the camera – which was the point or

    2) the driver of the Mercedes who crossed the double yellow line to pass them with clear line of sight of a vehicle stopped at the red light on the bridge.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    I was aghast at the bad example. Post something that demonstrates the cyclists were in the right.

    If there was an accident, the video footage would have shown the cyclists at fault. In California these cyclists violated CVC 22100 (b) and 21801 (b). (So here is video footage that exonerates the motorist.)

    Incidentally, the cyclist admits in the YouTube comments that his lane positioning and failure to signal was a contributing factor.

  • John Murphy

    CVC 22100 B A left turn must be made from the furthest left lane possible, and can
    be made onto any lane the car can “lawfully” enter on the intersecting
    road. Where a road has 3 lanes that end at an intersection, drivers in
    the middle lane are allowed to turn left onto the intersecting road.

    There is only one lane on Front Street at that location. How were they not in the furthest left lane?

    21801(B) “The driver of a vehicle intending to turn left or complete a u-turn
    upon a highway or turn left into public or private property or alley
    shall yield the right of way to all vehicles approaching from the
    opposite direction which are close enough to constitute a hazard at any
    time during the turning movement and shall continue to yield the right
    of way to the approaching vehicles until the left or u-tun can be made
    with reasonable safety”

    They had a green arrow – this is inapplicable.

    The driver clearly violated CVC 21460

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    Are we watching the same video? The intersection had three options: Turn Left, Go Straight, Turn Right. The signal was both a solid green and a left-turn arrow.

    I will highlight the actual violations (Source: State of California http://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/):

    CVC 22100 (b) Left Turns. The approach for a left turn shall be made as close as practicable to the left-hand edge of the extreme left-hand lane or portion of the roadway lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel of the vehicle

    The cyclists were to the right of left-turning vehicles. They were not as close as practicable to the left-hand portion of the roadway lawfully available to traffic moving in the direction of travel.

    CVC 21801 (b) A driver having yielded as prescribed in subdivision (a), and having given a signal when and as required by this code, may turn left or complete a U-turn

    The cyclists failed to signal.

    I find it very interesting that you would go to the lengths of looking up the CVC codes, only to omit the wordings of the violations. Since I do not know you, I will assume that you went to unreliable source. I hope I clarified your oversight.

  • John French

    Add a quick-release mount with power rails. Connect the mount to the dynamo, pop the camera off when you lock up the bike.

  • John Murphy

    I was in a meeting and not going too much into depth – admittedly.

    These guys didn’t do a very good job with lane control. I wouldn’t ride that way. But I don’t get how you draw the conclusion that the driver was confused as to if the riders were going straight. The maneuver to go into the oncoming lane with a car right there in front of them… is just wack. It shows a lack of awareness of other road users.

  • D G Spencer Ludgate

    No worries. I’ve been cycling in Los Angeles since the early 70’s. I’ve learned a long time ago that communication is key. A hand signal and a smile goes a long way. I’ve also been driving in Los Angeles for 35+ years. As a motorist who cycles, I know what unpredictable stuff cyclist do. As a motorist, I would have acted as if the cyclists were turning. I would not have gone to the left of them until I was sure they were proceeding straight; otherwise, I would have stayed behind them until we cleared the bridge.

    I believe the Mercedes driver was confused since he (she) stopped at the entrance to the bridge. A MGIF motorist would have hit the gas. (MGIF – Must Get In Front)

  • John Murphy

    Healdsburg + Mercedes = drunk tourist

  • xplosneer

    Seems to me like Doyle still could have stopped in the space, and even if he had been moving a bit slower he likely still would have been hit or ran into the side of the cruiser.

  • pickles94114

    My Contour Roam is great, but sadly I think they’re out of business now. I used zip ties to attach the thin slide-in clip to the top of my helmet, and then slide in the camera when I ride. It’s a lot more discreet than the GoPro’s, most people think it’s a headlight.

  • Patrick Devine

    I have a Fly6 which I bought after a particularly caustic experience with a road-raging driver. This was while riding my cargo bike after having dropped my kids off at school a few minutes before.

    I don’t know if it’s my unit or not, but it acts fairly a lot of the time. It gives you a warning about battery life when you turn it on by beeping between 1 and 4 times, but for some reason mine usually just beeps twice, sometimes after a full charge. Also, I had it charging the other day and left it at home and my wife found it just sitting there beeping which it hadn’t really done before.

    The rubber straps have worked OK for me, but they’re definitely weird. I use them to secure the unit to the seat post, but I’m not sure why they couldn’t come up with a better solution. I looked at the Fly12, but it was still in development when I bought the Fly6.

  • I use an SJ4000 on a selfie-stick, zip-tied to the bikes cargo carrier ; it can be extended above my head, and swiveled, for a full 360° field of view. I highly recommend this set-up:

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/0d5e7753d7e208b14c83eefbe72223f0a2926aa3e44502267f05d5f0c17683b8.jpg

  • Guffie

    i have the drift stealth as well and so far so good (even with low light). i typically don’t ride super late at night (past 10pm) but it has been getting dark at 5pm. i think where i ride there’s enough street lights that enhance the light settings. i did check my footage to make sure i can see license plates clearly in low light. some times it captures it and sometimes it doesn’t. knock on wood that it never becomes an issue. mine was only $70 so i can’t complain. i’m also waiting on the 4k.

    i don’t know that there’s the perfect camera or solution out there (i mean, other than drivers paying more attention! and i do think enforcement helps) but in the meantime, i always follow the rules of motorcycle riding – ride like everyone’s out to kill you, let things go if you get a close call, don’t give in to road rage and wear all your gear all the time.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Yes, and there’s a bit of a roll of the dice if any given camera angle will work to provide useful evidence. In the worst case scenario of a hit and run, a useable license plate capture is realistically only going to happen about 50% of the time. Adding a front and rear camera increases the odds. Lighting conditions and motion blur are larger variables than camera position.

    Biking down Polk street at night with all the pot holes bounces my bike more then a Huey helicopter trying to land in Vietnam under heavy fire! Even GoPro Hero4s I tested have a hard time capturing a license plate in those conditions.

  • xplosneer

    The Stealth 2 is by no means bad in low light, just not GoPro good either.

    I bike at 5:45am in Hayward which has awful street lighting, especially along the bike routes you have to take to avoid the bike-lane-less freeway crossings.

    Usually I do okay, but I’ve now within 3 months 1) hit a car (at 2mph) that blew a stop on a rainy morning and 2) been passed multiple times within inches controlling the lane on a straight-shot segment w/2 lanes at 40mph w/ all my gear on and flashing….. Difficult to keep calm under enormous threat.

  • Guffie

    ugh, really sorry to hear that. stay safe.

  • Ziggy Tomcich

    Here are a few photos I took of my Fly6 Mounting rig anchored to my pannier. I used a long piece of flat metal and attached a 90 deg angle bracket at angle to offset the seatpost angle. The metal rail lays flat along the top of the pannier rail and is held in place with 2 black wire ties, one of them is 12″ towards the front of the bike which helps give it stability. As long as the bottom of my pannier is tight to the frame, the shake is minimal and the camera is anchored pretty securely to the frame. There’s a small bolt on the angle bracket to prevent the camera from sliding off, and I have a small safety line that attaches the camera to the bag so the camera stays with the bag if there’s a collision that jettisons the pannier.

    I also keep my bike battery in my pannier that powers both my headlight and tightlights, both which I semi-permanently mounted to my fenders. I’m only using the Fly6 as a camera. The nice thing about this rig is that it’s almost effortless to ride safely at night. I do lots of shopping and random stops when I ride, and it’s a huge PITA to have to pull all the lifesaving essential “accessories” off our bikes every time we want to stop for a slurpee or a cup of coffee during our rides.

    I really hate that doing this sort of rigging is even necessary. But I don’t know of any bike shop that offers an option to securely anchor head and tail lights. That’s why so many of us end up riding without them. I also think it’s stupid that Cyclic doesn’t offer any mounting options for the Fly6 that works with panniers.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/82fc2352ec498b5fd58fe7dca48510e9aad3d656e5eebbebe5dfc188606fa9b8.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/7bb0fde475c5ebed854a77beb42350264997cb7b8ada7a4f0b8aba2f7a02355d.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/41a790c85917abc194e0cb7bb34991b410b63506a5b1cb3a9bcc762f61c1b938.jpg

  • Fay Nissenbaum

    Great post! I’ve been shopping for cameras and narrowed down to ‘contour roam’ and ‘drift stealth’. I leaned towards those two because they dont put a go-pro like box on your head. I still dont know if a cyclist is more likely to be hit from the back or the front…This Brit is a thorough reviewer of many action cams:

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