Thursday, November 24, 2011

Cameras and Mounts for Motorcycle Video

I’ve been asked many times about the camera I use for these videos, and the mounts and locations.  So I thought I’d do a short written blog with some photos to show you what I use.


There are many different types of “wearable” or helmet cameras out there these days.  The two big names are Contour and Go Pro.  My buddy, Jimmy Chance (Big Dawg), bought two GoPro’s before our trip to Beartooth in 2011.  So I was able to compare video quality, mounting options, and ease of use for both.  

Original ContourHD
I started in 2010 using the Contour HD as I bought a slightly used one with a whole camera bag of extras for an outstanding $200.  The camera by itself sold for $250 when new then you’d have to add extra batteries, extra SD cards, case, adaptors, mounts, cords, chargers etc.  You can probably find a deal better than this even now on Craigslist or a motorcycle forum.  

My first Contour with tripod adaptor
The Contour Mounted behind windshield

I thought it did a pretty nice job on the first four videos I did (Northern New Mexico, Island in the Sky, Beartooth West Slope and West Elk Loop). 

The problems I found with this camera were only minor, but enough for me to want something better the next year.  They claim a 2 hour battery life, as with most such claims on battery life, it was not exactly right.  In fact battery life was really a guess.  I kep the camera in stand-by mode a lot just waiting on the right short clip.  So who knows how much life you have between time in stand-by mode and time in recording mode.  Because there is no way to tell how much juice you have left it is a real problem in my book. 

Also I found batteries did not fully charge overnight, or they just went bad very quickly.  There is not much warning when a battery is about to go.  This was a real “pain” when you are on two wheels and riding in a beautiful canyon you really don’t know if and when your battery dies.  I’ve missed some pretty nice views because of this annoying feature. (they tried to fix this on the next model)

The picture quality was okay also, but it is a bit of a marketing ploy to say it is “HD”.  Real HD has one to two million pixels per frame, roughly five times that of standard definition television.  I don’t want to get too technical here, but let’s just say a ‘real’ broadcast HD camera is in the range of $80,000.00! 

It does shoot a very wide angle picture like most helmet cams.  This one is 135 degrees.  (The new Contour+ shoots a 175 degree picture!).

You can see how wide angle the camera is here on Lolo Pass
It uses an h.264 codec and shoots at 30 frames per second (fps) which is what you want for most editing and display on YouTube and others.  It will do SD at 60 fps (which is great for slow motion etc.) but pretty useless as most internet video sites won’t play 60 fps video. 

But for a 4 oz. camera that can attach to your goggle straps or on a handle bar, it’s pretty cool.  It is also streamlined and subtle unlike the GoPro which looks like a small SLR camera.
GoPro on a PanaVise suction mount
I had a chance to review a lot of video from my friends two GoPro camera and from many different angels.  I am a tough critic but - hey - they look the same to me.  The GoPro is a little “clunky” to me, especially in a helmet cam mount.  They are as subject to as much vibration as Contour, however, head-on into the wind, the Contour does better because it is more aerodynamic. 

My Contour+ with adapter
However in 2011 I wanted to upgrade so I bought the Contour+.  It retails for $500 and I think that was a little high compared to the GoPro HD which produces about the same picture.  But because I had all the Contour accessories that would fit, I went with this one to save in the long run.

Contour+ mounted on windshield looking back at riding buddy
I must say the picture is much better quality!  It also shoots a wider angle picture (175 degrees) which is very nice.  I have yet to edit and post any videos from this camera as this date, but that is my next task. 

The Contour+ is a GPS camera and using their software will follow you along on a map whenever you have the camera on.  Sounds very cool, but you have to use their software (Storyteller) to make it work, and I don’t, so that is a wasted feature for me anyway. 

The battery life is better and they in this model they give you a couple of LED lights to give you some indicator of life left  Green means greater than 50%, Yellow 20-50% and Red less than 20% (or in other words about to die).  I found this only mildly helpful. 

I say charge several batteries and if you know you are heading across Beartooth, or over Million Dollar Highway - put in a new battery.  Why take a chance of running out over a breathtaking mountain pass? 

Couple of other things on the Contour+.  It has come features that others may find useful (sort of like the GPS mapping), but I did not.  One thing it does have is a jack port for a small microphone so you can narrate.  However, I’m pretty busy picking my shots and navigating a 1,000 pound motorcycle, so I won’t be narrating anything except back in the edit studio. 

Over the winter I’ll be sending mine in for a “tune up” as the batteries do not come out easily and they are so thin that with motorcycle gloves, or on a cold day, this is a real hassle. 

So for me, this new camera was all about a better quality picture, and I got that.  I can’t wait to edit some of the 2011 rides. 

But I think you will see in upcoming videos the quality of the image is much greater and I hope it will be worth the extra expense and a better final video experience.  Also remember, HD video does not do well in low light situations.  If riding on an overcast raining or low light day, your video won’t be very good.   

I do have a pro JVC GY-HM100 HD camera that I sometimes use for panorama vistas, or this year at Glacier on board a Jet Ranger helicopter for some incredible video to go with the story I did on Going To The Sun Road.  Of course the issues here are added bulk on a motorcycle, the safety of an expensive camera and the need for a tripod etc.  But the video quality is outstanding and I only use it for special shots. 

JVC Pro Cam
JVC Pro Cam
Over Glacier National Park
Shooting from the helicopter over Glacier


Now for mounting.  I’m asked question about how I mount these cams a lot.  I took several pictures of the two main mounts I use and in their various locations.  Some have told me it makes them nervous to mount a camera with a suction cup mount on the side of a bike heading down the road at 60 mph.  Me too, but it’s all about getting a cool shot - right? 

I also do a lot of hand held shots to get the street level, overhead, wide side views etc.  To me, this is what makes a video interesting.  Not many will sit through 5-10-20 minutes of droning along a road.  But with creative angles, good music and clever editing videos become more “watchable”. 

I use two main mounts, the UltraClamp by Pedco and the PanaVise suction mount. 

UltraClamp by Pedco
PanaVise suction mount

The main issue is what you do with the mounts.  Get creative and get the fun shots.  I rarely have a mount in a location I cannot reach so I can turn it on and off.  However, for some of these shots I have it mounted near street level, or on a back luggage rack and when I know we are heading up or down a great twisty, I just turn it on and let it go.  They do make for some of the best shots.  Here are a variety of photos showing where I have placed these cams for good shots: 

Looking back mounted to luggage rack

Suction mount on windshield

Mounted high on the windshield

Stick mount under nose

Pedco mount R side windshield
Lets you get angle shots and access the power

I use stick on mounts for helmet shots and rarely on the bike (in the example above), but mostly use the UltraClamp on all sorts of places.  The higher your camera, the more "sway" movement you'll get on twisty roads, and that gets old for the viewer.  I like the stick mount I have shown above under the nose of the Goldwing because it is closer to the ground, gives a great viewpoint and has much less sway.  Problem with places like this is you cannot turn the camera off and on while riding.  But there are cases and special roads where you don't mind just letting it roll.  

I found all these mounts on Amazon and they are not expensive. 

Bugs on the lens is a problem, so stop frequently to clean your lens and change your angles. Hope this has been helpful.  

Shiny Side Up! 

Road Dog

This is a still from the Contour+ tipped down looking at the road

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Best Twisty in Colorado (West Elk Loop, CO 92)

 << Ride along with the video at the bottom >>

West Elk Loop
The West Elk Loop in Colorado is a State Scenic Byway of over 200 miles of magnificent landscape. This video is along a short southern section on CO 92, just off Hwy 50.  

On the west end is the Black Canyon of the Gunnison and south it is bordered by the Blue Mesa Reservoir and Gunnison Colorado. At 20 miles long and with 96 miles of shoreline, Blue Mesa Reservoir is the largest body of water in the state of Colorado.

Pat and her bike at Blue Mesa Reservoir
The Dillon Pinnacles at Blue Mesa

The south west portion of this loop is one of my favorite all time twisty roads.  I’ve had friends from the east coast, who regularly ride the Smokey’s and “The Dragon” tell me this short section of Hwy 92 is either as good or better than Tail of the Dragon.  

Detail Map of the Ride

One of the spots to pull over
One beautiful road

One thing is for sure, the view is greater as at points on the road you can peer into the rugged San JuanMountains south towards Ouray and Durango.  As you look cross the gorge of the Black Canyon, you see these spectacular mountains.  The San Juans are a result of extensive volcanic activity.  You can see Wetterhorn Peak a now collapsed volcano (or caldera) and also Uncompahgre Peak which is 14,309 and the sixth highest point in Colorado. 
At Hermit's Rest Looking South
The northern part of the loop is the gravel road that crosses Kebler Pass (135) and for Dual Sports it is an outstanding ride, especially in the Fall.  Many biking clubs ride this loop and base out of Paonia, CO on CO 133.  The northern section takes you over McClure Pass and into Redstone, CO.  Another amazing ride.

Kebler Pass and McClure Pass
On this short video I want to take you just about 20 miles up 92 from the diversion tunnel on the west end of Blue Mesa Reservoir up to Hermit’s Rest area.  This short ride takes you on some of the sweetest twisty turns, breathing taking aspen stands and up to several overlooks where you can look into the Gunnison River. There are two rest stops along this short section with easy to moderate hikes on each if you like.  Both rest stops have restrooms.

I am at the Curecanti Overlook
Pat at Hermit's Rest Overlook

The first you will see is called Pioneer Point and overlooks the Curecanti Needle.  This is a nearly vertical pinnacle of quartz that rises 700 feet above Morrow Point Lake.  It was featured on the first emblem used by the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad in 1884 when they promoted themselves as the “Scenic Line of the World.  There are several picnic tables and fire grates here and a great place to stop with your packed lunch.  

Curecanti Needle
The next is at the top of the climb and is called Hermit’s Rest.  Same name but quite different than the Hermit’s Rest at Grand Canyon.  The hike down to Hermit’s Rest is 6 miles round trip with an almost 2,000 foot elevation change so it is pretty strenuous.

This short section of 92 does not take long to ride and if you are on Hwy 50 heading east or west through Colorado, you can easily overlook it, or just think you don't have time and cruise past the turn off.  If you do, you'll be missing one of Colorado's little treasures.  You will see the signs near the dam on the west end of the reservoir. 

Don't Miss It!
I hope you enjoy this short section of the West Elk Loop or Colorado 92 and you have a chance to ride this road very soon.  You will have a smile on your face for the entire ride. 

Till next time, shiny side up!

"Road Dog" 

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado July Ride

(To ride along, the video is at the bottom)

In 2010 my wife and I took our regular trip to Northern New Mexico on the 4th of July.  Angel Fire, at south tip of the Moreno Valley just west of Taos, is one gorgeous place!  This is an isolated valley in the Sangre de Christo mountains that extend from Colorado down into New Mexico.  We come here because it is isolated and beautiful and they put on a great fireworks display in Eagle’s Nest that you can see for miles around the Eagle’s Nest Lake. 

Angel Fire is also the home to the David Westphall Veterans Foundation and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial - a very moving place worth several hours of your time. 

Highway 64 takes your through the valley from Taos west to Cimarron, NM (the home of Philmont Scout Ranch and the very haunted St. James Hotel from the real old west).  However, that is only the south and eastern part of what is called the Enchanted Circle which is both Highway 64 and Highway 38 and makes a circle from Taos, to Angel Fire, up to Red River and back down.  Basically this circles Wheeler Peak (13,161’) and the Taos Ski Valley.  It is a great road by motorcycle.  In fact there are several rallies held in Red River and Angel Fire each year. 

Check out the photographs of the Sangre de Christo area.  

In the video below we rode from Colorado Springs down to Angel Fire and stayed at the Angel Fire Resort the first night.  I’m very sad to say this place, once a nice ski resort facility, is now really run down.  Lots of “delayed maintenance”, poor service at the front desk, lousy parking, handicapped ramps are broken concrete etc.  This was so bad I complained to management, the State Disabilities department, the city of Angel Fire and on the resort’s Facebook page - and received NO positive response.  Too bad, but I understand the owners are spending their money on a new golf resort across 64 in a new housing development.  So I do not recommend you stay here, unless there is nothing else available. 

Unfortunately there is not a lot of other places to say (part of the problem with the resort - captive audience traffic) so I would recommend you plan on staying in Taos and there are many great places there.  One of our favorites is the Sagebrush Inn.  An old wagon stop and it really has the New Mexico charm!

But for this particular video we decided to ride from Taos down 518 to Mora, NM, a really beautiful ride with very little traffic, as you’ll see.  Then we took 434 north to Angel Fire.  This is kind of a “dream sequence” I did just for fun.  Part of 434 is a very small two lane road where you may never see a car.  The music comes from the sound track of Milagro Beanfield War by David Grusin. That movie was based not far from here (Espanola, NM) and the music has just the right flavor of New Mexico for this road.  This is one of my favorite roads in the country.  This road also goes right by the location where they filmed “Lonesome Dove” with Robert Duvall.  

After 434 we turn on to Highway 64 from Angel Fire to Taos.  This is Palo Flechado Pass and is nice and “twisty”.  Again more music from David Grusin’s album that is the sound track for the Milagro Beanfield War. 

After Taos we head northwest still on 64 over to Chama, NM.  What a great road.  It goes by the Brazos Cliffs, where this photo was taken. 

You will love this road and the little town of Chama.  If you need a place to say, check out the Elkhorn Lodge on the south side of town and tell Jill Lane that "Road Dog Jim" sent you in.  She'll know me by Dr.Jim.   (Maybe the famous "Travelin' Jack" will be there!  Jack (seen below) has his own blog that is really fun.

                     Jill Lane and Travel'n Jack        Our Great Cabin at Elkhorn Lodge

Next we head up 84 to Pagosa Springs, hang a right to cross over Wolf Creek Pass.  This is where you see the first tunnel in the video.  This road often must be closed in winter for pretty serious snow and they work hard to open it again as it is a major route in southern Colorado. 

After we get over Wolf Creek, we enter the little town of South Fork and turn left on a famous road to two wheelers - Colorado 149 to Creed and Lake City.  This is one of the coolest twisty roads you’ll ever ride and I try to show that in the video.  Creed is an old mining town with a very interesting mining museum, and Lake City Colorado is a super vacation get-a-way with shops and restaurants.  

There is a nice little falls right off 149, watch for it. 

When you continue north on 149 you’ll intersect the famous Colorado Highway 50 right at Blue Mesa Reservoir.  If you go left or west you’ll be near one of my favorite roads Colorado 92 and the West Elk Loop.  But I’ve saved that for a separate video.  Further west on 50 takes you to Montrose Colorado, a wonderful place to base from and do about 5-6 great day rides including the famous “Million Dollar Highway” down to Durango.  I have videos on those also. 

But in this video we are going to turn east at the 149 and 50 junction, head into Gunnison another one of our favorite places to stay and base from.  We like the Holiday Inn Express there as it is new, people friendly and food both walking and short ride away. (after having stayed at HIE's for many years, we've racked up the points, so we try to hit these on our trips.  We've yet to have a bad experience at any of these properties)  Holiday Inn Express

The HIE in Gunnison Colorado

From Gunnison we head over another famous and really exciting but short pass - Monarch.  We did this in the morning and it was pretty cool so I had on the full face helmet.  I think you will like that part of the video.  


Then after you make it through Salida Colorado (another good place for food or over night stays) as you head east on 50, you now take another superb ride through Big Horn Sheep Pass which follows the Arkansas River and was the route taken by many of those who first populated the west.  This road takes you by Royal Gorge and if you’ve never seen it, it is worth the quick short trip south to see that.  Continue on 50 and on into Canyon City, Colorado and that ends this ride.  

One more thing, IF it is open take Skyline Drive on the north side of Canyon City.  It is not real easy to find but ask some locals, definitely worth the time as it is a “one of a kind” road on a geological “fin”.   You’ll see a little of it at the end of this video.  Pretty cool. 

That’s if for this 4th of July ride in Northern New Mexico and Southern Colorado.  I hope you get to do this road and if so, tell me of your experiences. 

Till next time, shiny side up!

Road Dog