Different Viewpoints for On Bike Cams

The clip above is from last Sunday’s final stage of the Tour of California but it’s also a glimpse of the future. We get a new angle of racing and an additional soundtrack too.

For the devoted fan any extra footage is good but there’s plenty of work to be done before on bike cams and race footage from the peloton becomes essential viewing.

A few establishing facts. Most of the video above is taken from a camera mounted on Giant-Shimano’s Koen de Kort as he leads out John Degenkolb, at least until the 2m25s point when the gap gets filled by Mark Cavendish and Thor Hushovd. It’s taken by a Shimano camera.

The UCI allowed these cameras to be trialled in this race. It’s happened before at the Tour of California but the UCI swooped in and banned them. It wasn’t just the UCI being mean, the rights to broadcast the event have been purchased by a broadcaster, a point we’ll return to below. The UCI ban included all telemetry and it’s still under review, the images from California are an experiment.

Wider Picture
The clip above has undergone some production work but only just as we see a long piece of footage from De Kort’s bike before video from Degenkolb’s bike is spliced onto the end. It’s fascinating for now but soon the novelty will wear off. Riders shout in the bunch? Yes but soon everyone will know. The video will need to be produced and packaged as currently it’s too long. There’s also the technical challenge for image quality as what’s ok for youtube isn’t good enough for TV broadcast, especially events broadcast in HD for viewers with giant screen TVs. The viewer might accept reduced quality but only so far. They had a trial last in the World Ports Classic but the footage was low-fi.

Sharpening the image and editing the video is the easy bit. Now come the lawyers. Who owns the footage? In California the UCI brokered a deal for the teams and their sponsors, notably Shimano to own the footage and it helps promote their new CM-1000 camera; Garmin have a similar device on the market with the Virb and it’s easy to imagine a team getting sponsorship from Go-Pro and so on. But does this mean we have to visit 22 Youtube channels a day?

Typically a TV company owns the video from a race. They buy the rights to a race and expect, to varying degrees, to have a total monopoly. ASO in particular is very strict in controlling this. For example Orica-Greenedge’s great Backstage Pass films aren’t allowed to film the racing and associated events during ASO races. So ASO might say “non” to Giant-Shimano’s on bike cams going on Youtube as it chips away at the valuable video monopoly of a sprint finish. It might well work out, encouragingly the World Ports Classic saw ASO directly approve the trial.

There’s also an ethical aspect to owning the image. Imagine a team owns images but one of their riders does something foolish or reckless; they’ve no incentive to share the film. It’s a point to note with InCycle, the new channel set up by the “Project Avignon” teams, it’s unlikely to be harsh. By contrast a broadcaster has a journalistic duty to report on events, they will show what is required.

Crash TV
We’ve only got images of sprints for now but imagine footage from a bunch sprint? In fact with video from several bikes it should be possible to piece together a lot of footage from inside the peloton. So far in the Giro the Montecassino Maxicaduta has been a defining event but there’s next to no footage as the cameras were dwelling on another crash just before. It might be informative to see crash footage and the events prior but it can also be gory. Will broadcasters handle this well?

Web to TV
The clip above went online on Tuesday for a race on Sunday. What’s really needed is a live uplink to stream on bike cams live for TV or failing that, at least to have someone grab them at the finish and take them to the production car so that the crew can get to work on reviewing and editing quickly enough to include in a post-race show. But how many times does a race go from sprint finish to helicopter shot of the top-10 and then goodbye?

Hands free kit

The more the merrier
We’ve had in-car cameras in the spring classics which were great although this might be the novelty. You fear regular use would change conduct in the car. But it’s all about having more information and sources of content, ideal especially for those long days when not much is happening.

Extra moto
As this blog’s in English I’ll assume most readers watch their cycling via an English-language broadcaster whether NBC, Eurosport, ITV, SBS or BeIn. The biggest thing you’re missing from a grand tour or classics race isn’t video but audio. I’m not talking about Phil n’ Paul, no it’s the motobike commentary provided during a race. RAI have a commentator on a motorbike for the Giro, France Télévisions for the Tour, Sporza for the Belgian classics. Typically they spend their time behind the bunch or breakaway and offer a rich source of information from advising who has the smoothest pedal stroke in the break to who has just crashed out the back of the bunch. It’s often information you don’t see on TV. A great innovation would be to have a shared English-speaker on a moto to provide such information.

The new footage from the Tour of California is great but there’s the risk we soon take it for granted. Ideally it’ll be edited and integrated into a TV broadcast but that’s a tech challenge as well as a potential festival for the lawyers. We’re seeing more and more additional footage thanks to the web – think the Backstage Pass or InCycle – and it’s all welcome but we need to remember this supplied by teams and comes with a message controlled by teams rather than the traditional sports journalism. But for all the innovation, a man or woman on a motorbike with a microphone could be the best addition to your coverage. And that’s technology that’s been used in the Tour de France for over half a century.

47 thoughts on “Different Viewpoints for On Bike Cams”

  1. The other issue with teams owning the footage is that they can edit it to make others look bad. For example their rider headbutts another but they only show the retaliation. Soon everyone needs dashcams to defend themselves in a court of law. But then again if everyone has a camera that might not be a bad thing.

  2. Novelty value without image stabilisation and would soon get boring IMHO. Would be interesting for dissecting incidents. Helmet cams would be better but that would have a raft of other problems.
    It is good to get across how noisy the peloton is to the uninitiated. I kinda miss that scary chaotic, clattering roar of a mass finish!

  3. I doubt that the footage would be used in a live broadcast at the time of the event, perhaps you’d get the same live footage as we do now but producers would be able to splice in on-bike footage as they review the events of the day, adding another replay view to sprint finishes would be great but also mountain descents would be great viewing along with the odd crash.

    I think that there are lots of possible applications for this and it’s great to ssee the UCI allowing the experimentation. Sadly it will probably be relgated to the smaller races until someone like RCS pick it up for the Giro, I can’t imagine ASO will experiment with the Tour any time soon.

    • ASO seemed proud it was trialled last year, we’ll see this July if it’s there. But the Tour is conservative, they took years to discover social media so maybe 2015 or beyond for bike cams?

      • I would love to see the aerial footage of the chasing pack switch to the onboard cam of the breakaways. Every bike should have a camera as stock.

        Techiescan provide info on whether this can be transmitted easily to a production studio, but imagine the producer hearing “Chute! Schleck chute!” then punches in the dossard / camera number for a close up of that bike’s crash and tangle?

        We missed completely the crash involving the Maglia Rosa and only had clips of him riding with nicks shredded. Seriously…the race leader crashes and no one sees it?

        So much of cycling coverage is unnecesary old school, first they should automate the information rather than have Phil or Paul say “I think it’s …” then a minute after have realised who it is, he says “no, it’s …” Why can’t I see a small data screen on the bottom of my TV showing the HR, watts, etc. of the guy I am watching? It would make a great change from just clips of T Voeckler swiping his tongue all round like a Labrador.

        One of the most boring sports in the world (sailing) is now fantastic to watch due to its coverage – they can give the exact speeds, predict within seconds the exact time of the race, distance, course boundaries and up-to-the-second race leader information in real time. They have high-definition remotely controlled cameras on each boat, sailors wired for sound, even microphones to pick up the hiss of the water.

        There is still a place for the chalk board with time gaps, don’t worry, but you can’t tell me the teams are relying on that instead of yelling all sorts of info to their riders…?

  4. A retired editor for National Geographic recently gave a talk to my photography club. I asked him what effect all the ubiquitous cameras were having on journalism. He replied that citizen photography might be good at capturing events (like, in this instance, crashes), but usually did not convey a story. That might be the case here, as the race broadcasters put together the story on the fly. At most, I see on-bike cameras as minor supplements, perhaps with a “highlights” role.

  5. This perspective from inside the peloton is fantastic. The article outlines many issues and challenges, but I’d be interested in seeing as much of it in whatever form or format it takes.

    The sport needs more of this type of innovation to allow for a better understanding and appreciation of the inner workings of a race. There are many changes that should be made to cycling broadcasts . For example, the sport is all about speed, gradient, and distance…why do we not know any of this information at any time? How fast are the riders going? Up or down? Which rider(s) are putting forth the effort in the wind? Etc.

    • +1 for info on rider speeds. That’s what all us amateur enthusiasts want to know. Surely telemetry can now advance beyond the cameraman trying (and usually failing) to show the moto’s speedo

    • That’s a great idea.

      As for no-tech innovations, why don’t the broadcasters spend the first 10-15 minutes reviewing all the attempts to form a break away – who shut them down and why – and why the break as composed was allowed to succeed. Especially on stage races, there are 20+ team strategies (and probably 100 different personal strategies) every day and it would be interesting to hear who is doing what and why.

      I understand that mentions of various castles and human interest stories are important but I think even the lay people who watch for the scenery could appreciate tactics, especially since some of the tactics involve rivalries and fueds (“don’t let that team in the break because their team car refused to hand our guy a bottle” or “that guy sat on in the groupetto so everyone hates him” etc.)

      • I heartily agree; I never watch anything but the last 30-60 mins of most races because whats the point? I would think advertisers would pay more if more tuned in earlier to hear some proper analysis Cosmo style

        • analysis Cosmo style?

          You mean smarmy comments with in-jokes? Sure, if you like that sort of thing.

          Ok, so I’m kidding and they’re great clips. I’m guessing he might take a while to edit, so can’t see them being ready by the time the finishing sprtint starts.

  6. Yeah, great footage, and the sensation of risk and speed is pretty overwhelming! The closeness of the Cavendish/Degenkolb finish is even more striking from JD’s viewpoint. However, hard to see how it could be used to improve a live broadcast unless it can be actually live, like F1 – technically possible, but quite a step. Definitely useful for after-show analysis, but that would mean broadcasters would have (to be allowed the time) to start doing that.

    I really like the race radio idea, and roomservicetaco’s “pre-match analysis”, akin to that prior to any top league football match, would be brilliant… Except it might require a degree of commentator knowledge which is possibly lacking! For comparison, Gary Neville’s Premiership analysis (ex-ManU player, moved to commentator role for non-football followers) has set a new standard for knowledge of tactics and clarity of thought, but it’s been a long time coming.

    How about sticking a GPS-enabled device on some of the camera bikes, or maybe the commissar vehicle, that signals its location to a promoter-provided (and promoting!!) website, so we can see the race’s progress real-time, on an online map? I’ve tried to follow races on Google Maps while watching on TV, for example, and it’s pretty hard to see exactly where they’re going to go and work out where they are, even with the “help” of the handbook. Great opportunity to promote the main sponsors etc. Pretty trivial to implement, from a technical point of view – heck, that sort of thing can be done in minutes once you’ve got a cellular device rigged up to the right software.

  7. Technology is a wonderful thing, I guess it’s fitting that it starts in a California race!

    I don’t think that it will become just a novelty, yes it may have a bit of resistance by the ASO and other WT races. But now the cat is out of the bag it should be incorporated as it does add so much texture and nuance. Live streaming the audio and video on the major climbs of the queen stage, the last 8 guys in the lead group would be awesome.
    Yes legal issues need to be worked out but I assume the same was the case when they put the first motion picture camera on a moto. The still photography guys were not happy!

    We in the US can only imagine the added value of a “smart” moto commentator I don’t know where NBC got the knucklehead they used for the commentary or who the script writer was. But it was not worth listening too.

    You guys in Europe and the UK have no room to chastise your EuroSport commentators. The commentators for the AT via NBC were embarrassing to those who are familiar with road racing and were forced to watch. I now know where my mute button is on my remote.

  8. If you look at how F1 is broadcast I believe every car is fitted with at least one forward facing cockpit camera and this footage is regularly used as a live feed or to review points of interest (overtaking etc). Can’t each rider have a similar set up with a camera set up and all footage the property of the host broadcaster to use as appropriate? IMHO it seems a bit short sited to limit coverage based on what is being filmed when the benefits to the sport as a whole , not to mention sponsor exposure, would surely benefit all involved

    • I agree with RB – if bikecam footage cab be used live, as in a Formula 1, or also to greater effect Superbikes, it would really enhance the experience. Agreed an English Moto commentator would be a plus – or even the translation of one?

    • Seems fine in theory, my only concern would be the weight of the gear to transmit live as I’m not sure if all the camera is included in the pod or whether there’s more stored elsewhere on an F1 car.

  9. The image quality issue isn’t a killer. Cricket broadcasts use a camera mounted in one of the “stumps” (the three narrow poles directly behind the batter), which don’t provide nearly the same quality of picture as a full-size broadcast TV camera. Viewers and producers are clearly OK with it, given that they’ve continued to use them for years now.

    However, reliable live streaming from bike-mounted cameras is likely to remain something of a technical challenge, given the size and power restrictions of any camera setup the teams would be willing to put up with. Note that even bike moto camera setups struggle on occasion in wooded or mountainous areas.

    • Absolutely, I can still recall with great interest first seeing a stump-cam clip of the batsman being clean bowled. Don’t underestimate people valuing the heat of the action more than the quality of transmission.

      “The three poles behind the batter”? Shame on you.

  10. I found the video of ToC was so full of interruptions / video screen freezing so much that at times it was nearly impossible to watch. It was as if the motorbike transmissions and receivers were not up to the job.

    Here’s a quote about this video by pro rider Adam Meyerson’s from his FB page:

    “My prediction is that on-board cameras will change field sprinting at the top level. Field sprinting is dirty, dangerous business, and so much happens in the last 5 or 10K that no one ever sees, which makes situations like my relegation at Battenkill so laughable. I’ve been wondering how rider behavior would change if the camera could capture it all. Watch Degenkolb take his hands off the bars and push people out of the way, lean into people with his elbow, and almost crash riders coming back as he passes them. And then watch him get chopped off his own leadout guy, which likely cost him the win. This is all absolutely normal.

    This is also part of what upsets me when people ride aggressively at the wrong times, especially in local races. As I’ve said in the races many times, “if you ride like a dick, you’re going to force me to ride like a dick. And most likely, I’m better at riding like a dick then you are.””

  11. First off, that was awesome! As a viewer who sees most of my racing over low quality internet streams or YouTube coverage of the last 15 minutes of a race that was better than the coverage of any ATOC or Giro sprint in the last couple weeks. I suppose there was some novelty value to it but I saw all the ATOC in HD and the bike-cam coverage was better than the lame head-on finishing shots or even the helicopter shots. Imagine everyone in the peloton having a camera and piecing together all the shots of the winning sprinter showing everything he did for the last 3+KM.

    In the US all the NFL (American Football) games are distributed by the NFL online (after the game ends) with extra camera footage (all 22 cam) and other features. This (NFL Game Rewind) costs $40 per year for every regular season game.

    The bike-cam footage (and the bike computer data that should go with it) clearly has to be owned by the race organizer and should be able to sell those rights to broadcasters. (Whether the races are organized by 3rd party organizations or by a league like the NFL is another question, personally I think the NFL seems to be pretty successful and cycling might look to them as a model to follow.)

    I’m not sure exactly how much total world tour coverage there is but I assume it’s probably in the same ballpark as the NFL: 256 games at around 3 hours per game. I would love to pay $40 for post-race access to all the video of the UCI World Tour and given I’ve paid $20 for the grand tours in the past I would even pay more than $40 for the whole year, especially if it included bike-cam footage of all the critical moments in a race.

  12. I would like to see the riders carry a triathlon-like sensor so that they can be identified as they pass certain points of the race, especially in Grand Tours where they pick up points for KOM, intermediate sprints, bonuses, breakaways. As points are picked up the standings of these competitions would be updated live on-screen.

    This would provide more rider, team and sponsor recognition and I believe it would also animate the middle of the race with useful information for the viewers. A bike race is so much more than just who crosses the line first and seeing live rider data on screen would make you appreciate race tactics and the race as a whole.

    • Riders do have RFID chips on their bikes and they are scanned at the points where you mention. All that’s missing is the ability to send the data to the TV production truck to make on-screen captions.

      It could be put at other points, for example yesterday’s Giro stage saw commentators trying to spot who was in the move when technology could have told us which sprinters were there.

  13. I don’t see this as a huge benefit. Too often on F1 or MOTOGP broadcasts I think Mr. Producer spends far too much time with in-car/on-bike views to the point you can’t really tell what’s going on in the race. With moto cameras, helicopter cameras and various fixed cameras I think we get a pretty good idea of what’s going on, IF Mr. Producer is on his game. This varies widely it seems…how many times have you shouted at the screen to “get back to the action” instead of watching rider X droning along?

  14. I thought the footage was really insightful, showing the sprinting element that we all know about, but seldom get to see.

    The points Inrng raises are important but not insurmountable.

    The TV footage of road cycling has been stuck in the same old helicopter and motor bike shots for ages, but with onboard cams you have the opportunity to show the viewer something different, to make them feel like they are in the race, and that is a very special quality.

    I think crashes and sprints are the main areas where the cameras come into their own. Another area I think could be improved is on the road tracking, especially on climbs where the bunch splits, a GPS tracker for each rider could show where the riders are relative to each other, similar to in an F1 race.

    Thanks as always Inrng

  15. This year’s ToC on-line coverage was interesting: Displaying the positions of the riders/breaks on Google maps & on the stage profile, along with aditional text information, along with the usual visual & audio in the centre. The elements were optional, so you didn’t have to see what you weren’t interested in.

    Maybe it showed that TV may no longer be the best broadcast medium?

    Separately: Why do the daily race profiles only show the distances from the start and not to the finish, as are shown during the race coverage? To exercise our mental arithmatic?

  16. That is thrilling & informative footage. The way Cav detaches JD from his leadout man and then leaves him no room for a few moments was surely deliberate and probably made the difference at the line.

  17. I loved it. More please.
    I noticed that while they were all thumping along, Wiggo looked as tho he was cruising along on a Sunday ride…

  18. That was awesome!!! Such an awesome vantage point. Especially the part with Sagan and Cavendish coming up from behind then the finish. Very Very cool

  19. Yes, legal issues aside, ( this can be worked out, if the ultra political F-1 machine can work it out, the UCI & ASO can). This type of coverage not only is entertaining for cycling fans, but for “non” cycling fans , it provides a much truer perspective as to the speed and skill these pro cyclists possess. From a broadcast perspective it would make more sense to have a live stream from each bike. That said, the technology exists in almost all forms of motorsport today. The devices would just have to be adapted for a different form factor ( said bikes). It would also make sense to have either a combination of the the top contenders from each team OR every bike in a peleton ( cost prohibitive ?) to consider the extra weight of the devices in a sport where ounces are measured. If pro cycling and the sponsors are looking for ways to build an audience, this is a ripe opportunity. Yes, accidents are always a potential factor, but that is part of the sport. In addition, there are accidents in motorsports on regular basis. If necessary , the “feed” of a particular bike could be cut from the the broadcaster if desired, just like motorsports. Thank you for sharing this great footage your review points.

  20. The fact that it is seen as revolutionary shows just how poorly serviced cycling fans are by the existing archaic broadcasts. It’s good to see cycling broadcasting finally advancing past the late 1980s. I can imagine this type of footage being used to provide an in-depth analysis of the previous day’s stage finish during the dull bits of a long stage race.

    Motor racing has been doing this for decades. Suspension cam in Nascar is a particular highlight. Cricket uses stumpcam, and along with tennis, uses hawkeye camera technology, as well as infra-red heat sensor cameras to provide ‘hot spot’ replays. And of course perhaps the best new broadcast technology was last year’s Americas Cup which show telemetry, wind & tide directions, and most interestingly, airflows (ie ‘dirty air’ or drafting effects if you will) with live on screen graphics.

    • Motor and yacht racing involve much, much heavier vehicles, so the marginal cost of the weight of a camera and batteries is much, much lower. If you try reduce the weight, you’re primarily looking at the battery, and if you reduce the amount of energy these cameras can carry you significantly restrict the ability to transmit the data. If the cameras can’t transmit for long or far, then you have a problem with using them for live broadcasts. If you can no longer use these cameras live, then they become not very interesting to whoever controls the broadcast rights. After this, you get into the rights licensing issues which inrng describes.

      Tennis isn’t comparable at all.

      Basically, there’s a significant technological obstacle to this. I don’t think anyone really disagrees it’d be great to have onboard cameras – the problem is it simply isn’t yet technologically practical to meet the requirements of the broadcasters.

  21. A few things:

    I think this is phenomenal; it will really change the average viewer’s perspective, particularly of what is now seen as ‘boring’ sprint stages.

    The extra weight shouldn’t be a problem, I wouldn’t think. Aren’t we always hearing it’s the regs that keep bikes at their current weight and manufacturers can make them much lighter?

    If sending the footage “live” is a problem, I can very easily imagine a situation in which the riders have a flash drive type unit connected under the seat, and at various points in time, a moto or car comes up to collect and replace or domestiques drop them off when dropping back for bottles, etc. This is then taken to a production truck and uploaded. So, it would be a bit later but still during the broadcast–except for the finishes. It seems like a lot of the in-car footage was fairly significantly delayed so as to not give other teams an immediate idea of team orders, so it wouldn’t be too much different I wouldn’t think.

    I love the race radio idea. I imagine it being text updates on the screen to avoid Kirby et al talking over the info like we saw with car audio during the classics.

    Finally, I wonder if this couldn’t be the solution to the riders/teams sharing in broadcast revenue? Perhaps by allowing the cameras on the bikes, the teams are adding value to the production for which they should be rightly compensated.

  22. The television coverage of the Tour of California and the Giro has been so appalling it’s difficult to put into words. I’ve become an avid cycling fan in the past four years and watch all of the races on TV and find what I can online. Across the board, it’s as though cycling doesn’t want to grow an audience. It feels like the 1950s sometimes- the coverage is so poor.

  23. Getting this footage into the live broadcast isn’t as hard as some would say. A lightweight, hd camera is mounted on the bike with a low power transmitter. That transmitter operates short range, to a moto with the heavyweight high power uplink on. That uplink is switchable to receive a number of cameras.

    Obviously you have to co-ord the moto to be near the bike of interest, which won’t be possible all the time, but imagine the POV shots of an epic descent.

    Along the finish it’s easier as you can set up local receivers in the last 200m pretty easily. You would be a brave director to cut live to a rear view saddle cam with 100m left, but the replays would be awesome.

    Biggest problem isn’t the signals though, it’s the batteries, which wouldn’t have a hope over 5hrs.

    • Are you saying the “Inside the Race” segments are lousy? (I.E. Was that a reply to my post?) If so, why do you think they are lousy and what do you think they can do to improve them?

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