By Naheed Rajwani, Tribune reporter
2:00 am, February 25, 2014
Although she hasn’t been in a bicycle accident, Kathleen King has had her share of close calls on the lakefront path she rides between her home in Andersonville and her office in the Loop.
Most automobile drivers are courteous, but some can get aggressive, she said. That is why her husband suggested she start filming her commute in case she was in an accident. She bought a $100 camera, joining a growing number of bicyclists who are strapping video cameras — commonly referred to as “bike cams” — to their helmets or handle bars to document their commute.
Tom McNeff, the store manager at the Sports Authority on LaSalle Street in Chicago, said personal cameras from the GoPro line are among the store’s most popular sporting goods items.
Sales of the high-definition personal cameras increased significantly in the past year or so, peaking during the recent holidays, McNeff said. The cameras also can capture extreme sports and family outings, which also likely contribute to their popularity.
The use of bicycle cameras comes at the nexus of intersecting trends.
Chicago has become more bicycle-friendly, said Jason Jenkins, education specialist and crash support programs manager at the Active Transportation Alliance. Over the past 20 years, Chicago added more than 170 miles of standard bike lanes and marked shared lanes. In 2013 the city launched the bike share program Divvy that has about 400 stations.
At the same time, the city is increasing the use of cameras to manage traffic infractions such as speeding and running red lights. Now bicyclists are embracing the opportunity to police their own safety.
Attorneys say the cameras could be useful in the event of an accident but that bicyclists should use the cameras with caution.
Thomas Pakenas, a principal attorney at Illinois Bike Attorneys and an avid cyclist, deals with about 40 bike crash cases a year.
Although he hasn’t had a case in which someone brought in “bike cam” video, he said he’s seen devices like GoPro gain popularity in recent years as technology becomes more accessible and affordable.
“It’s kind of like insurance. You never need insurance — until something happens,” said Pakenas, who occasionally uses his nearly $300 GoPro camera for long-distance commutes.
Cyclists should be careful to follow the rules of the road because video footage could capture their own faults, making their case worse, Pakenas said.
“If you know you’re recording it, it makes the bicycle rider more motivated to act in a safe manner because, you know, the tape can go both ways,” Pakenas said.
Chicago attorney Gerald Bekkerman also has not handled a court case involving a bike camera but did have one in which video from a bike camera helped settle a claim with an insurance company.
One issue is that video may not always be admissible in court as evidence. In Illinois, he said, video footage is generally admissible for civil cases if relevant, although it is up to the judge.
He also advises cyclists to be careful to set the camera so that it collects a visual, but not audio, record. Illinois eavesdropping laws prohibit recording audio without consent from all involved parties, Bekkerman said.
Some bicyclists, like Scott Wilson, have found cheaper alternatives to the GoPro line.
Wilson, 27, an employee at the Running Away Multisport shop, 2219 N. Clybourn Ave., attaches his dad’s dash camera to his bike handlebars to film videos for his blog, where he gives tips to bicyclists.
He recently bought a $100 camera that will attach to the back of the bike.
“It made a lot of sense. I’ve had some really close calls and I’ve had some friends get hit. … It’s almost always from behind,” said Wilson, who has a 11/2 -mile commute to work.
Still, Wilson said, he doesn’t think he will use the dash camera often because he worries it will be stolen. He plans to reserve it for long-distance commutes.
King said she thinks her bike camera is worth strapping on because it has helped her capture some unexpected moments, while also making her feel safer on the road.
One December morning, she saw a horse break free from his handler on Wells Street in Old Town and gallop almost half a mile before he was corralled by a passer-by. Footage of the incident, captured by King’s camera, has had thousands of hits on YouTube.
“(The camera is) just another thing on your helmet, so it looks kind of goofy … but I feel safer having it. If you feel safer, then your ride is more enjoyable,” she said.
The photo caption above lists the action can brand as GoPro. That particular camera is a knock-off that sold from Menards for $19.95. The equivalent GoPro camera sells for about $399.99.
While it is nice to see so many people investing in something that helps keep the economy humming along, it is in fact something whose value is limited. The units being used have to have their capture modes set to “loop” otherwise most cards may not be able to hold an entire trip (depending on length).
What is more the battery length is pretty miserable on most of these units. You may be able to get an hour and a half on a GoPro but depending on the time length of your commute that would mean charging up during work before the ride home. Finally if you are not using the video footage in RAW mode you will need to process it. That takes up valuable space on your laptop’s hard drive and more time than you might want to spend each day.
This makes more sense (to me) for someone using an action cam on a car dashboard than on a bicycle helmet, handlebar or seat tube.