On Board Bike Cameras

On Board Bike Cameras

 

On Board Bike Cameras

 

Simon Tuck

 

On board bike cameras have been around for a while now, but UK company Broadcast RF have developed a camera small enough to broadcast live images, from within the peloton.

 

It may look like a fairly regular camera, but this particular camera is not your run of the mill video camera to be used for naming and shaming bad drivers on youtube. This is a Velovue camera and it has graced the track bikes of World Champion cyclists doing what they do best, and provided a live feed as events unfold. The camera made its debut at the World Track Championships in Paris only last year.

 

Camera and transmitter in one tiny package, opens a whole new world for on board bike cameras
Camera and transmitter in one tiny package, opens a whole new world for on board bike cameras

 

Broadcast RF is based in Dartford in Kent. This UK Company, started in 1998, is at the forefront of innovation with live cameras in sporting events. As well as supplying the cameras for the recent World Track Championships, they also supply cameras used in golf, tennis, football, rugby, winter sports and even fishing. You want a Jockey’s eye view in the Grand National? Broadcast RF lead the way. In Channel 4’s ‘The Jump’ Broadcast RF engineers made it possible to get a Live feed from discrete body mounted camera as the celebrities threw themselves down snow covered mountains

 

What has this got to do with cycling I hear you ask? Well, the UCI has started the process that will hopefully lead to better TV coverage for cycling. You probably remember seeing the clip from John Degenkolb’s bike showing his sprint finish at the Tour of California, taken by a Shimano brand camera. You probably also saw a lot of on board videos from Velon teams and their Go-Pro cameras at various World Tour races last year. The problem with this footage though, is that it’s all recorded on the bike. The bike then needs to get back to the finish line and the footage needs to be downloaded and edited before we can see it on our television.

 

At the relay station live pictures can be selected and broadcast in real time, or held for replay
At the relay station live pictures can be selected and broadcast in real time, or held for replay

 

What Broadcast RF do is to engineer cameras that can broadcast the footage wirelessly AS IT HAPPENS. What this means for those of us that go out of our way to watch the races live is that we will see this on board footage, as it happens, on the live coverage. At the moment in cycling the live feed equipment is generally only being used on track events. The nature of track cycling with its contained environment, make it a great place to experiment with different ways of mounting the cameras and setting them up. The signal only needs to go to one place, which can be in the centre of the track, making track cycling a fairly cost effective way of testing the water as far as the live feed on board footage goes.

 

With Road cycling, the distances covered make the collection of the live signal a little more tricky. The cameras send out a signal, but there needs to be a receiver or a relay in range of the camera for it to be able to forward the live signal to your screens. One such way of doing this in the past has been to provide aircraft to relay the signal, but again this is costly. In Singapore the 2015 Marathon was an opportunity for Broadcast RF to demonstrate their capabilities. They set up ground based relay stations at points along the route and managed to cover the whole route apart from a 1.1km tunnel which swallowed the signal for only 400m.

 

At the 2015 National Road Championships in Lincolnshire, Broadcast RF set up 3 of the camera bikes that followed the race, with their unique ground based technology providing the live feed. At the Prudential RideLondon Women’s GP crit race, Laura Trott had a front camera and Georgia Bronzini and Emma Johansson had rear facing cameras, relaying this was possible because the race simply looped around St James’s Park. It’s easy to see that live on board cameras in road cycling could be possible with current technology.

 

Georgia Bronzini and Laura Trott at the Prudential RideLondon crit, were both carrying on board cameras
Georgia Bronzini and Laura Trott at the Prudential RideLondon crit, were both carrying on board cameras

 

At the end of February this year Velon and Infront Sports announced a ten year agreement. At the heart of this they set out guidance for the use of live on board cameras and also rider’s individual performance data. This means that coming to a screen near you within the next ten years, you could watch Paris-Roubaix from the seat pillar or head tube of John Degenkolb or Tom Boonen (assuming they don’t retire first), and at the same time see his heart rate, cadence and power data as they go through the cobbles or as they get into the sprint. You could see how hard Nairo Quintana really pushes his body as he climbs the Alps and Pyrenees, and how quickly the rest of the peloton vanishes into the distance. All live, as it happens.

 

The coverage from the World Track Championships was pretty amazing. For the first time, you can get inside the race. Watching cycling has never been so involving. With investment in live on board cameras, there would have to be a lot more live cycling shown on TV to make it worthwhile, so this will also be good for fans.

 

At the moment it’s sometimes hard to find races. Eurosport has fairly broad coverage, but often it can be hit or miss whether you will find the race you were expecting or some other sport in its place. Even on the BBC coverage of the Men’s Madison Final (which was won by Team GB riders Cav and Wiggo) the coverage switched sides half way through to the red button channel to allow for the tennis. Why should cycling be a second class sport? I for one can’t wait to see what happens with the live feeds in the coming years, it’s an exciting time for cycling fans.

 

 

 

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