Wherein I Geek Out and Buy Myself a Present

12.17.2006 | 8:06 pm

A Note From Fatty: Congratulations to SpikeBlue, the lucky winner — by random drawing from nearly 80 comments – of five boxes of Matisse & Jack’s Bake-At-Home Energy Bars. SpikeBlue, email me your address and which combination of flavors you’d like, and I’ll hook you up. 

And if I might say, while I chose SpikeBlue’s comment randomly, I don’t think he could have been any more right about what he chose as the best thing he’s eaten: a ripe peach. When I read his comment, it occurred to me: the best food I’ve ever eaten while on a ride was also a peach. A group of us were riding the Kokopelli trail on an incredibly hot day. Kenny’s parents-in-law met us at Dewey’s Bridge — about 60 miles into the ride — with our lunch and a surprise: a large bowl of fresh peaches, peeled, sliced, and chilled. I really don’t think I have ever eaten anything so delicious. I think everyone who was riding with me that day would agree.

Show and Tell
Last Friday afternoon, I was doing a little Free-Associative Internet Research (some would call it aimless web surfing), when I stumbled across the Oregon Scientific ATC-2000: a self-contained, single-piece, waterproof camcorder that retails for $130.

I did a little looking on the web, and here’s what I found out about it:

  • It’s made with cyclists in mind. It comes with hardware for mounting on both your helmet and handlebars.
  • It’s simple. It’s powered by two AA batteries, records to SD cards (you can find 2Gb SD cards for around $35 now), and transfers via USB.
  • It holds a bunch. A 2Gb SD card will hold about two hours of video and sound.

Instant Obsession
For years, I’ve thought that it would be fun to have a helmet cam. I’ve never bought one, though. Too many cables, too expensive. Except this thing is cheap. And it doesn’t have any cables at all.

So I started thinking about what it would be like to be able to show everyone on my blog what it looks like to ride up Tibble. And to ride down Mud Springs. And to ride down Joy. And to do my commute up and over Suncrest. And to ride the halfpipe in Moab. And to slalom down the Alpine Loop. And — and this is what put me over the top — to march up and ride down the Columbine Mine section of the Leadville 100.

I thought about how it would be cool to just be able to reach up and press a button when I want video of what I happen to be riding.

Then I looked a little more and found that you can buy this helmet cam for $99 at mountaingear.com.

And shipping is free.

So I ordered one.

Well, actually I ordered two, cuz it’s been a long time since I’ve bought Rocky a Christmas present, and he’s almost as much of a gadget geek as I am.

What I Don’t Expect
I need to keep reminding myself that this thing costs only $99. So I don’t expect to get great video quality. And I don’t expect it to last forever.

I don’t expect it to replace my regular camcorder — the one my wife is getting me for Christmas — for family video and for higher-quality ride videos. Something this cheap isn’t going to create archival-quality video, right?

Here’s the thing, though. The cheapness of this thing isn’t just one of the reasons I bought it. It’s the primary reason I think I’ll be able to ride with it. That is, when I’m carrying a nice camera on a ride, I tend to be careful, because I don’t want to crush the electronics. With a $100 helmet cam, though, I figure that it’s no more expensive to replace than anything else I’m riding with.

Also, if it turns out that this was a terrible idea and is a miserable helmet camera, for $100 I can shrug it off and live with the mistake.

Although I really really really hope this is as cool in real life as I’ve made it out to be in my head.

Anyone Else?
So, have any of you already got one of these? Do you like it? Got any tips or ideas on how to mount it so it doesn’t wobble (reviews I’ve read say that the included mounting hardware isn’t very sturdy)? Got a suggestion for a helmet that will stay nice and snug when this is sitting on top? (Helmet manufacturers: I’m still waiting for a helmet with a universal clip built in on top, suitable for either a light or camera)

Does anyone else think the idea of a $100 helmet cam is as cool as I do?


  1. Comment by Timboski | 12.17.2006 | 8:15 pm

    If it works I want one! It’s not just you, I think it’s cool and so do all the other riders I emailed this to.
    Nothing better than showing your mates in the office come Monday morning how hard you are for riding the big trails and how pathetic they are for laying on the sofa all weekend watching the cricket.

  2. Comment by Timboski | 12.17.2006 | 8:26 pm

    Or for the cool alternative…


  3. Comment by TGN | 12.18.2006 | 4:58 am

    I saw your helmet cam in an REI catalog about a month ago. Looks sweet. For a set of good helmet cam cycling videos, check out http://www.pedalmasher.com. Can’t wait to see your videos.

  4. Comment by barry1021 | 12.18.2006 | 5:35 am

    I think you should buy it and practice night recording with a camcorder AND a light on your helmet. This will once again propel you to new areas of geekdom, while giving us more stuff to watch


  5. Comment by Brian C | 12.18.2006 | 6:34 am

    rode with a gal last night that just bought one of these. we went on an urban crawl through kansas city, and im pretty sure she recorded most of the journey (until we hit a giant patch of thorns and had to wait for at least 40 tires to be fixed. sheesh.) i think she will be posting the video sometime this week, ill drop a link somewhere on here so you can check it out. theres a chance she may have just recorded people’s feet for the entire night, because she is still learning proper angles and whatnot.

  6. Comment by sportcrazy | 12.18.2006 | 6:53 am

    Excellent price there Elden, cheers for the link. I gotta wait and see how the finances are doing in January and decide then :)

    Brian, please do leave a note here linking back to that video, love to check it out.


  7. Comment by regina | 12.18.2006 | 7:03 am

    no you are right, it is way easier to ride with something that is only 99$, cannot wait to hear the post arrive review. and see some demo bike video.

  8. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 12.18.2006 | 8:01 am

    Sturdy mounting is easy: Just have the camera mount screwed to your skull, and then cut-out your helmet so the camera fits up through it. Tha’ts what all the pro’s do.

  9. Comment by T1mm0 | 12.18.2006 | 10:03 am

    Very keen to see your results. I keep looking at helmet cams again and again, and each time I come to the conclusion that they are just too damn expensive to be carted around in the forest on top of my helmet with a camcorder in the CamelBak. I break enough stuff as it is… These are the ones I was drooling over

  10. Comment by TxAggie97 | 12.18.2006 | 11:09 am

    Test it before giving the second one to Rocky. If it really works great then you’ll want to have two on your head. One to face forward and one to face backwards. Cause let’s face it, when climbing up the hills which is better to look at: the skinny butt of the guy who just passed you and is slowing fading away from sight, or the frantic and panicky looks of the guy behind you as he realizes he needs to find room to pass or he’ll be forced to accept a close-up look of your butt for the rest of the climb?

    By the way, that same camera is on my Christmas list too, but I haven’t broken down and bought myself gifts yet, and it is unlikely that my wife will realize just how cool of a gift that would be. So, if your review comes out positive, I’ll probably be giving myself a Valentines Day Gift this year. Now that’s true love.

  11. Comment by Eric | 12.18.2006 | 11:43 am

    Way cool. I have been thinking of getting one to show my non-biking wife what I am really doing out there. Cannot wait to read about, and see, the results. As for attaching it to the helmet, I would think that you would already know the answer: Duct Tape. Or a long zip tie threaded through the vents.

  12. Comment by Lmouse | 12.18.2006 | 12:10 pm

    Looks like you may have found the cure for that old stuck-on-the-trainer blues. Hope it works!

  13. Comment by the weak link | 12.18.2006 | 12:25 pm

    This fetish for digitally recording your every move on a bike strikes me as being just a bit Paris Hiltonesque. Except I might really want to watch Paris doing, well, whatever it was she is rumored to have done.

    But I understand it. I upload every single ride I take to MotionBased so I can share my elevation climbed with every Tom, Dick, and Jurgens (a lot of the posters are Dutch, I’ve noticed).

  14. Comment by Lofgrans | 12.18.2006 | 12:31 pm

    If this snow doesn’t melt all we’ll be seeing is shots of you on the rollers in the garage…riveting.

  15. Comment by T1mm0 | 12.18.2006 | 1:15 pm

    Arh, just decided to bite the bullet and ordered it. Shipping is a killer to New Zealand at $35 but at a total of $134 it still ends up a bargain…

  16. Comment by joe mama | 12.18.2006 | 1:57 pm

    i heard it through the grapevine that panning or even gentle head motion causes skips in the video (in spite of the claimed 30fps). i haven’t used it personally, but one guy in my group tried it and returned it. also, 640×480 is the resolution- that’s like a cell-phone camera. the resolution wouldn’t be an issue for me so long as the video comes out okay. so far it sounds like we might have to wait for the next generation of these things to get a decent product.

  17. Comment by Lmouse | 12.18.2006 | 3:29 pm

    You can’t film your rides until the snow melts? Utah is a silly place. Fatty, you should move.

  18. Comment by Lmouse | 12.18.2006 | 3:49 pm

    So when exactly does the snow melt? May? June?

  19. Comment by axel | 12.18.2006 | 4:06 pm

    rule #!: if it is cheap it doesn’t work well
    rule #2: if it is cheap it will break soon
    since it is cheap, you won’ t return it, so they have your $100.
    Neil Young wrote a song about that kind of business model – called PIECE OF CRAP
    You wouldn’t have bought it if it said HUFFY on it, right?

  20. Comment by Rocky | 12.18.2006 | 7:43 pm

    Aw shucks – I am unbelievably giddy about this one, Fatty. I have strapped the ole’ camcorder to my helmet a la Pete Fagerlin (www.petefagerlin.com). That hurts, but the outcome is pretty cool. Except for the post-ride censure that I get for swearing in tight spots. I can’t wait. Thanks again, Fatty.

  21. Comment by BotchedExperiment | 12.18.2006 | 10:54 pm

    Axel, you may be right, but it’s still good enough to give to a brother-in-law, right?

  22. Comment by Born4Lycra | 12.18.2006 | 11:58 pm

    Scary but as I was riding home tonight with my chamois comfortably between me and my bike my mind began to wander. What if FC mounted the camera on his bars looking back at him we could enjoy the facial expressions that go with riding long distances with out a chamois. Then I went on to think he finished that chamois post with the question are you with me. My understanding of the majority of the posts was that we weren’t. So then I wondered what FC was going to do with the results of his straw pole. Would he listen to the majority, to us his admirers or would he just go without chamois anyway flying in the face of popular opinion. Then I thought will we ever know? We may have to scrutinise the upcomming videos with great intensity. Then finally I thought if we were to obtain evidence of FC’s chamois state via his helmet mounted video what actual events would have to take place (all with very soft landings) for his nether regions to appear on the video? Suddenly I was home.

  23. Comment by Lurch | 12.19.2006 | 4:57 am

    The boys are ganging up on you. Just saw that Landis is thinking about Leadville too. Now I believe you can handle LA and FL, but if Basso gets in the mix too, I think the oddsmakers in Vegas are going to change you from a 9-5 favorite to a LONGSHOT!

  24. Comment by Fred | 12.19.2006 | 4:56 pm

    Thanks for the tip! and thanks to my buddy Jenne for letting me know about your blog! I’m hooked (ok, so I need to get out and ride more, who doesn’t) Oh yeah, I want that cam!


  25. Comment by Alaskan Dave Down Under | 12.19.2006 | 11:27 pm

    That is just so cool. I’m hoping it works, I may have to either get one for myself or rig up something with the old camcorder and duct tape (ala Red Green).

  26. Comment by jim g | 12.20.2006 | 9:37 am

    Not bike specific, but you can find a whole range of compact camcorders and pocket cams from $10 to $100 at http://2fidelity.com/. I use the $20 Pencam SD with a 512Mb SD card [http://www.2fidelity.com/product_PCSD13.htm] to snap bike-trip photos and videos (no sound though)…



    A riding pal rigged up one of these on a helmet mount, too… see http://www.cyclofiend.com/video/

  27. Comment by Ryan Cousineau | 12.20.2006 | 2:21 pm

    Joe Mama: 640×480 isn’t phone-cam resolution for MOVIES. In fact, 640×480 is the standard video resolution (more or less; but don’t make me get overly-technical here) on most MiniDV camcorders. I have some videos that argue that 640×480 is plenty for web video, and good enough to make a DVD of.

    Low-res googleized version:

    That video was shot with a fairly nice consumer-grade Panasonic MiniDV camcorder.

    Alas, all 640×480 is not alike. The kicker here is that aside from the quality of the pixels ( a product of the quality of the lens and the sensor, with the software able to help or hinder), there’s also the matter of the quality of the compression. Compression is both a matter of compromises against size and the ability of the coder, with the power of the embedded system (amount of memory, raw CPU power…) also factoring in.

    This camera is likely to make some pretty clumsy compromises to get to its nominal 1.25 GB/hour compression rate. One thing I’m curious about: this is listed as having a 15/30 fps frame rate. Anyone know if it can really do 30fps at 640×480?

    I am really interested in seeing a review of this camera. Raw video, darnit, I need raw video!

  28. Comment by RevBudGreen | 12.21.2006 | 9:14 am

    I bought a Tony Hawk helmet cam for something like $35 from woot.com a few months back. Works fine. Not the best video, but it’s decent. Same style as this one…Sort of a tube that attaches to the helmet w/ a big rubber band. Uses two AAA batteries.

    Then, I got a Border Collie puppy which we found on a trip to the Berryman Trail (best trail between the Rockies and the Appalachians). Puppies like electronic gizmo’s. Now my $35 Tony Hawk helmet cam attaches with duct tape. Still works, though. You can buy it here: http://www.gamestop.com/product.asp?cookie%5Ftest=1&product_id=322254
    for $49.99.

  29. Pingback by Fat Cyclist » Blog Archive » Something Old, Something New | 02.12.2007 | 11:43 am

    [...] Preliminary Report on the ATC-2000A couple months ago, I mentioned that I was buying an ATC-2000 video camera to be able to do first-person video of riding. Well, it’s arrived, and I mounted it on my handlebar for the Gooseberry ride. As I slalomed through the beautiful slot canyons and desert scenery, I kept thinking what awesome footage this would make, and how cool it would look on my blog. [...]

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