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On-bike video “the way to go” for cycling, says UCI president Brian Cookson (+ videos)

Governing body permits on-board footage at world championships, cameras catch spectacular crash

UCI president Brian Cookson says that on-bike video is “the way to go” for cycling. He was speaking in a video produced by the governing body that incorporates some footage from the women’s road race at last week’s world championships in Ponferrada, including a spectacular crash.

It’s the first time that cameras on bikes have been allowed at a world championships, following successful trials at a number of races throughout the season, and certainly the insider’s view of the peloton the footage provides has proved to be a hit with fans.

“Cycling’s one of the most brilliant sports in that it comes to you, it’s free to watch by the roadside pretty much,” said Cookson. “That’s something we want to extend and expand, improving the viewer experience by making on-board cameras, geo-location technology, all that sort of thing.”

In a comment to the YouTube video, one of the riders whose bike was fitted with a camera, Latvia’s Dana Rozlapa, said of the crash: “I came out really lucky! We actually were doing 70km/h at this particular moment so scraping asphalt at these speeds are not what you call valuable experience.”

Others making comments on YouTube queried why the voiceover on the video stated that no riders had been injured in the crash when in fact several were taking to hospital including three members of the Canadian team, one of whom sustained a broken clavicle and another a fractured hip.

Currently, technological limitations mean that it isn’t possible for on-bike footage to be incorporated into live TV broadcasts, but Cookson is confident that will change in the future.

He said: “There are problems with transmission, with bandwidth, with battery weight and the equipment that’s needed and so on,” Cookson continued.

“But I think we all know that in our ordinary lives, that technology is improving all the time, smartphones are getting smarter.

“We are trying to progress, we are forward-thinking, we are not trying to restrict technology, we are trying to embrace it and use it to benefit our sport.”

He concluded: “This is obviously the way to go for cycling.”

Here’s some more footage from Ponferrada, courtesy of Shimano Race TV which has lots of other on-bike videos shot throughout the season on its YouTube channel.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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FurnaceMedia | 9 years ago

I agree that 'on board' cameras are the way forward for enhanced viewing enjoyment but.... the tech that would be needed to transmit the images in full hd 'live' would require quite a heavy transmitter, and that I think is something that teams won't want, marginal gains and all that. Also it's akin to the front row in Rugby, stuff goes on in there, I don't think the UCI would want to show all the niggles on the lead up to a bunch sprint. They would be handing out fines all day long. But I agree it does add a much needed level enhancement to the sport. Health date would be good too, heart rate and real time watts.

Suffolk Cycling | 9 years ago

Many exciting possibilities. Formula 1 is obviously miles ahead in technology but you can select via the red button a number of camera views for the race, including various cockpit cams.

It's a way off, but having such options during big road races would make it so much more interesting, and actually show off the rider skill and effort much more than repetitive overhead shots.

And as someone else mentioned, the ability to overlay live data like speed/heartrate/cadence/gradient etc would be super cool.

glynr36 replied to Suffolk Cycling | 9 years ago
Suffolk Cycling wrote:

And as someone else mentioned, the ability to overlay live data like speed/heartrate/cadence/gradient etc would be super cool.

Speed? We get an indication of that usually anyway, but it's intermittent.
Gradient? See speed as well, they have all the stuff from the road book on screen usually.

Cadence and HR, they're kind of pointless, what can you derive from them? What do they add for the viewer?
It's not like you can make a direct comparison between riders and get something for it.
If we want a metric thats worthwhile, lets have Power in a number of guises, such as average power & watts/kg for the day, current power & watts/kg.

WolfieSmith | 9 years ago

There are pros and cons as with any advancement. There will always be those watching cycling and motor racing waiting for crashes.

If we get to see the view from Cancellara's handlebars the next time he descends the Tourmalet - or Sagan racing the Roubaix then it can only increase viewers, that increases sponsorship, that increases awareness of cycling in general and eventually that helps us out there on the roads.

Riders are going to lose skin every season regardless. On bike cameras will do more good than harm.

DavidC | 9 years ago

Regarding some issues, it is stated that the riders' health and safety are supposed to be paramount, but in cycling coverage crashes are glorified, which is quite bad for riders' health and safety. It seems likely to me that on-bike cams will mostly be crash-cams, which would just glorify the violence further, and continue with the blind eye that is already turned to unreasonable risk-taking that happens on the road. Unless there is a very clear goal for having on-bike cameras, I see no reason to rush into it.

massspike | 9 years ago

The camera motorbikes already have wireless data links (to an airborne relay station). These links are continually getting bandwidth improvements so capacity won't be an issue. All they need to do is make the camera bikes WiFi access points. Onboard cameras with WiFi (based on currently available designs) could then be used as remotes. The 3 camera bikes follow within WiFi range of the significant groups and if you added base stations in the race directors cars, sprint points, and the final 1km you would have good race coverage,

You wouldn't have them all broadcast in real time all the time (to save battery power) but would have them record for on demand video (e.g. after a crash) or real time under director control. Think of the way auto racing is covered today.

Note: the military has better radio standards than WiFi for this but the point would be to develop bike cameras for consumer use so WiFi is a better option.

glynr36 | 9 years ago

The best we'll have for a good few years is on board footage to go into highlights shows, and maybe the odd live on rider feed from something like a prologue where setting up the infrastructure to support is easier.

I don't even want to have the ability to have a look at the on board view that often to be honest, I'd rather it be there for the directors/editors to pick and choose from and intermingle into the motorbike/helicopter footage.
Is an on bike view worthwhile when someone is grinding up a climb/peloton in the middle of a flat day etc?
All it's worth for is perhaps on a sprint, or on someone who's a good descender.

RobD | 9 years ago

If the UCI made it mandatory that teams had to have at least 2 or 3 riders with cameras on their bikes I'm sure the technology would develop quickly as the teams push for smaller/lighter cameras and manufacturers start to integrate tech from smart phones.
Not sure how easy the wireless transmission issues would be to solve, but if there's more drive to do it the rate of change would be that much quicker.

I look forward to it, some of the footage has been great, even if it only made it into highlights shows it'd still make viewing more enjoyable.

kie7077 | 9 years ago

Some very interesting possibilities in the future, the ability to switch between front/rear cams and watch any riders video stream along with speed and heart rate would be awesome.

Transmitting all of that live from riders to a studio/base would be a massive logistical technological hurdle though.

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