Friday, 30 April 2010

Harley Night at the Ace Cafe

On every last Thursday in the month during the riding season, the Ace Cafe holds a Harley Night. Last night was the second such event this year at this famous north London motorcycle venue, so I jumped on my red bike and headed for the Ace.

Considering rain was forecast, it was a good turnout. There were many bikes there, lots of friends to see and catch up with and a “best bike” competition. Here are a few photos of the evening....

The Ace Cafe

One of the rows of bikes

It was a well attended event

Cool custom bike, by Nick Gale

Very cool rear fender


Nice Bobber

No, I don't know why either!

Harley Race Bike

What did he put in his tank?

For a German Ex-pat

Mark Battistini, of Battistini Custom Cycles

I liked the back of this jacket

Oh, and what bike won the best bike completion? I am happy to say it was mine. I won tee shirts, £100 worth of parts at Battistinis Custom Motorcycles, bike cleaning gear and tickets for a bike rally trip to Faro in Portugal. As I won't be able to go to the Faro Rally, I donated the rally trip prize to the next Ace Cafe event which is raising money for a children’s charity.

A great night out.

Tuesday, 27 April 2010

Rough Guide to Camera Mounts for Motorbikes

In order to write this guide, I based it upon my experience of mounting a GoPro camera to my motorbikes. Whilst I have written specifically about mounting this make of camera, I have tried to keep it as generic as possible so that it could apply to almost any camera on any motorbike. I hope you find it useful.

The guide is quite long. You could go get a drink before reading it and then settle down comfortably to read it, or you could scroll down quickly mainly looking at the pictures, or you could go down to near the bottom, to see what I recommend!

I adore my GoPro camera. It is small, very flexible, not too expensive, has great sound (no wind noise on a bike) and most of all, produces fantastic quality videos. I cannot speak highly enough of it. But, I soon realised that how you mount a camera to your motorbike is very important to the end result quality of your videos. I have tried a number of different methods with varying success, so I thought I would pass on what I have learnt.

For those of you contemplating the purchase of a GoPro camera, or indeed and camera to use on your motorbike, or for those that have realised the standard mounts that come with a GoPro camera are not very good, I present the “Rough Guide to Camera Mounts for Motorbikes”.

Not that I am an expert, neither have I tried every possible mounting system, but I have tried a few and I now realise how to tell the good, the bad and the ugly apart. Having now tried mounts that range in price from the really cheap to the expensive, I now have a definite favourite mount and there are some I will continue to use and others that are consigned to the “no way” box in my garage.

I have written here about all of the mounts I have tried and having read what others have said about different mounts they have tried, I have been able to give a score to each of the different mounts. At the end of this post, I have included my scoring sheet which presents my views numerically. With a maximum number of points of 35 being available, I have assessed each mount under the 7 categories of....

Ease of Mounting - how quick and easy is it to fix the mount to a motorbike?
Flexibility – can you use the mount in different ways?
Rigidity / Safety – how well is the mount fixed and is it safe?
Build Quality – is it well made and will it last?
Street Cred- it is fixed to your pride and joy, so does it look good?
Cost – is it cheap or expensive and is it good value for money?
End Results – how good are the end results of your video affected by the mount?

Saving the best until last, here are my views, starting with the worst.


Rather surprisingly, for a company that makes fantastic cameras, GoPro’s own handlebar mounts come in last with just 17 points. These are very well made and are very easy to mount to either handlebars or crash bars on a bike. They are very small and inconspicuous and therefore score highly on street cred, plus they are rigid in the way they are fixed. However, they can only be fixed at 90 degrees to your bars, with no sideways movement at all, which in most situations makes them totally useless on a motorbike! OK if you have straight bars, but if your bars are at any sort of an angle, they are no good at all.

GoPro’s own Handlebar mounts

With swept back bars, the camera points sideways at an angle, with no way to adjust it.

As there is no way to change the horizontal angle of the camera, the mount is useless and scores very badly because of this. In fact, this lack of flexibility is so bad, this issue alone relegates the standard GoPro handlebar mounts into last place. GoPro tell me they are going to make a fully adjustable mount, but until they do, I am afraid, they come last in my review.


In 6th place is something not for everybody. Given the lack of flexibility of the standard GoPro mounts, while I originally waited for a different solution to arrive in the post, I decided to make my own DIY mount. I went to a local photographic shop and bought the cheapest mini tripod I could find, chopped the legs off and screwed this to an un-used old sat nav clamp I had lying around. Using a GoPro tripod mount with a ¼ inch threaded hole, I was able to get this set-up to work on my handlebars.

It was very cheap and had good flexibily, but it moved in the wind if I went faster than about 40mph. It got me out of a fix while I waited for a new mount to arrive in the post, but even I admit, it wasn’t very good. People more able than me might be able to make a better job of it than I could, but there are much easier and better ways of mounting your camera!

My DIY mount. Don’t try this at home!


In 5th place with 21 points is the GoPro suction mount. I have included this as you could mount any lightweight camera to it with the right ¼ inch tripod adaptor.

The best thing to say about this is it is really easy to mount and the suction cup is surprisingly secure, although you might want to consider using a way of tethering your camera to your bike in case it does come un-stuck. Clearly there are not many places you can mount this on a motorbike, but I tried the tank, the screen and even on the headlight, which on my bike has very smooth glass.

It works ok, but on a bike it looks cumbersome and downright ugly. One added benefit as bobscoot showed us on his blog is that it can also be mounted inside a car on the windscreen.

Here are pictures of the suction mount on my tank and headlight....

Suction mount on tank

Suction mount on the headlight

Mounting it on the headlight may seem a bit odd, but as my GoPro has a wide angle lens, I did like the results when looking backwards at the rider, because you can see the handlebars and it gives you a great idea of what the rider is doing as you can see their hands. Check out the view looking back from the headlight on this clip....

Overall, this suction mount doesn’t score very well because of the lack of flexibility, the potential for falling off and the poor street cred, however, used for short duration fill-in shots during a longer video, the results can be quite good.


The GoPro stick on mounts come in 4th with 22 points. Personally, I don’t like these, but they have a lot of good points, including the fact they are cheap, easy to use and the build quality is good.

For me, the downsides are that I don’t like the constant changing view as the rider moves their head to check traffic, look in mirrors etc. I am also not keen that you have to stick the pads to your crash helmet! My last negative is that they are not at all flexible, because once stuck into place, they can only give one view from the helmet position. I can see however how some people like them and on his blog, RazorsEdge2112 is an example of this – he has posted some videos on his blog with a helmet mounted camera.

You can remove the camera leaving the sticky mount on the helmet, so people who ride (say) a motorbike and a bicycle could use the camera on two different helmets, with two sticky mounts.


We now come to the top three.

In 3rd place we have the RAM mounts with a U-bolt clamp. These scored very well with 24 points.

Chrome Ram Mount, with a U-bolt clamp fixing at the bottom, ¼ inch male thread ball connector and a GoPro tripod mount.

Here are some pictures of my camera mounted to my bike using this Ram mounts system.

Front view of the Ram mount on my handlebars

Rear view of the Ram mount on my handlebars

Until very recently, this was my main method of fixing my camera to my bike. It is nice and simple, very flexible and very rigid. The main place it is fixed is on the handlebars using the U-bolt as a wrap around fixing. The quality is very good and the parts are not very expensive. They are readily available via the internet. Numerous angles can be achieved and adjusting the camera position – up, down, sideway, forwards and backwards is very easy – just undo the large wing nut, move the camera and do it up tight again. You have to be slightly careful that you don’t scratch your handlebars and I used some electrical tape to do this by wrapping it around the bars where I then mounted the u-bot fixing.

There are only two real drawbacks I can see. First, it can only really be mounted to the handlebars and second, it takes about 10 minutes to fix the mounting bracket and you need to do this with a spanner. Not a great problem but moving the mounting bracket to gain some flexibility for different shot positions is not really practical.

However, you can ride all day with this mounting system, secure in the knowledge that it isn’t going to work loose.


Coming in at second place is the Ram Mount with C-Clamp. This has been awarded 25 points out of 35, so it is scoring pretty high in most of the seven categories.

I haven’t actually used this clamp mount myself, but my Canadian friend bobscoot has. He wrote about it on his blog Wet Coast Scootin.

The Ram C Clamp mount

bobscoots GoPro camera mounted on his bike using the Ram C clamp

The main benefit of the clamp is its flexibility – it can be fixed to just about any tube or rail on your motorbike. Used in conjunction with the same type of mount bar and ¼ inch tripod mount (as in number 3 above) your camera can be fixed in many different positions and configurations on your bike. I have also given it a good score for cost, as these C clamp arrangements are not too expensive.

The downsides are it doesn’t score very high on street cred – it is not the best looking mount and it is also slightly bulky. Bob has told me the build quality is reasonable but it would have been better for the Ram C-clamp had finer threads and perhaps more rubber between the "claws" for better "gripping" action. Perhaps electrician's tape would make it hold a bit more secure. Because of the coarse threads and the small tightening knob, you can't get a lot of torque on the screw. It would be better if the knob was larger to get a more solid grip for more holding pressure. Bob found that even if you turned the knob very tightly, the whole clamp with the camera mounted would tend to "slip" out of position. Perhaps the electrian's tape would have solved the problem.

Good therefore, but not the best.


Finally and in 1st place is a system I have recently purchased and tested. It is a combination of a Cardellini clamp and a Manfrotto head. This arrangement scored a whopping 29 out of 35 in my review.

I found out about this mount on somebody’s blog (sorry but I cannot remember who’s blog it was) when I saw a piece of film made about the clamp. It is really technology from the movie industry that has been borrowed by some people with motorbikes to mount their cameras, and I have to say, it out-performs just about every other mounting system I have seen.

From bottom the top – a Cardellini mini clamp, a Manfrotto 118 spigot adaptor, a Manfrotto 482 Micro Ball head, a GoPro tripod mount and my GoPro camera

The assembled mount

So why does this mount get the top score? I have given it 5 out of 5 in 4 categories: Ease of mounting – you just tighten the screw thread by hand and it is fixed; Flexibility – you can put it just about anywhere on your bike as the photos below demonstrate; Build Quality – it is superbly made and already incorporates neoprene pads to protect whatever you are fixing it to; End Results – the wide range of places you can mount this clamp means your end results are simply the best achievable.

It also gets good marks for street cred – it looks like a professional bit of kit mounted on your bike. I have scored it 4 out of 5 for rigidity / safety only because it is possible to and therefore you might be tempted to, mount it in potential risky places, like too close to a wheel.

The only area that I marked it down on is the cost – it is considerably more expensive than the other types of mount, but in my opinion it is worth it. If you have spent a considerable amount on a camera, why wouldn’t you spend a bit more than the other options to get fantastic results?

I have included here pictures of some of the mounting options that I found on my red bike. Bearing in mind there are far fewer places to fix a camera mount on my red bike than most other bikes, I think you will agree the flexibility this mount gives is a considerable benefit.

Camera mounted on handlebars

Camera mounted on frame downtube

Camera mounted on rear swinging arm

Camera mounted on rear number plate / rear license plate

Camera mounted on swinging arm

The results of using the camera mounted in these various and very flexible ways are amazing. The video I made of riding through London last week (copied below) was filmed using this mounting system and I am very happy with the results.

In summary, the different methods of mounting a camera are many and varied. Different systems will be better for different people – I guess it really depends what you want from your video camera and how you want to use it.

Whichever system you use, I wish you all the best with it and may it help you to produce fine videos. For those that are interested, here is my scoring sheet and you will need to click on it to read it properly. I totally accept that other people might score each system differently to me!

If you have managed to read all the way down to here, congratulations!

Saturday, 24 April 2010

2 Guys Ride through London on Custom Bikes

Friend and fellow blogger Ian Solley, of 7 Ages Custom Motorcycles and I went for a ride on our custom motorbikes on Thursday. Ian is a custom bike builder extraordinaire, as he mainly builds bikes for fun and he currently has 6 of them!

We decided to meet at 10.30am in Greenwich. Founded by King Charles II and built in 1675, the Royal Observatory at Greenwich is the home of Greenwich Mean Time and the Prime Meridian of the World, making it the official starting point for each new day, year and millennium. As time is started there, it seemed like an ideal location for Ian and myself to start our motorcycle ride.

I live just north of London but Greenwich is way over in East London. I had allowed plenty of time to get there, but I was late. London traffic is unpredictable, but predictably it all seemed to be in the same place as me. Combined with the fact that I wasn’t exactly sure where the entrance to the Observatory was and I misjudged its location badly, meant I arrived late. However, as I rode along the Observatory's tree lined avenue, there was Ian - smiling and waiting for me.

Ian had bought one of his latest bikes, called Hamlet. It is a striking light blue bike rigid-framed bike with a Harley-Davidson engine, originally from a Street Bob. It has an S&S carb and the frame and all the sheet metal are to a one-off design. The exhaust pipes are wrapped and having ridden next to it, I can personally vouch for their volume!

The picture above shows the bikes in front of a statue of General Wolfe who commanded the British forces at Quebec against the French and won a great victory, at the cost of his life. The statue was erected in 1930 and bears the inscription “This monument, a gift of the Canadian people, was unveiled by the Marquis de Montcalm”. History lesson over.

Here are some more pictures of the Royal Observatory....

The bikes on the tree-lined avenue

Part of the observatory

General Wolfe looking out over London

The bikes draw some interest

The view over London with the National Maritime Museum at the bottom of the hill and Canary Wharf in the background

The weather was unseasonably warm – it fact it was a corker of a day – slightly chilly at first but then warm with bright blue skies all day. We had a fantastic ride – no rush, no time to get anywhere, just two guys out riding their bikes. We stopped at Warrs, the Harley-Davidson dealer in Chelsea before eating at a Spanish restaurant just around the corner.

Here is a video we took of the ride .....

As you can see, we tried the camera in many different positions and this was using a new recently acquired mounting clamp. I will write more on this blog soon comparing the different types of mounting clamp available.

Ian in the restuarant

Thanks Ian for a brilliant day out, and for lunch!

You might see some more of Ian and one of his bikes on this blog in the near future – we are both going to the 2010 Harley-Davidson Euro Festival in St Tropez, southern France and no doubt I will be doing a posting or two about that trip.

Wednesday, 21 April 2010

Good Job, Snob!

I was out riding my red bike today and a scary thing happened. My front brake lever came off!

Not the whole thing, but the lever itself. The bolt that holds it in place had obviously become loose and had fallen out. Lost somewhere on the road.

Luckily, I was only doing about 25mph at the time and I managed to prevent the lever itself from falling and I was able to bring the bike to a stop safely.

OK, so I am 25 miles from home, no front brake, I have a ride planned on this bike for tomorrow and at the end of next week the bike is going to St. Tropez in southern France. The hand controls on my bike were made by Arlen Ness in California, so the chances of getting a replacement bolt quickly are pretty slim. Luckily, I was only about 4 or 5 miles from a custom motorcycle builder and service workshop that I knew. Here is their website. The place is called Snobs, called after Snob, a London Chapter Hells Angel that runs the place.

I decided to ride the bike there. Now, I have never ridden a bike without a front brake and it wasn’t until I tried it that I realised how difficult it is. You have to allow for 2 things. Firstly, you only have about 30% of your normal stopping power so taking great care is essential and you have to look ahead a very long way to see what might need you to put on your brakes. Secondly, stopping using the footbrake only whilst preparing to land only your left foot on the ground takes some getting used to – it wasn’t too bad, but you just have to be very cautious, as any hint on leaning to the right and having to put your right foot on the ground would result in no brakes at all!

Anyway, I got there slowly and without incident and I am certainly glad I didn’t have to ride the bike all the way home without a front brake.

The guys at Snobs were nothing short of incredible. Having spent a minute or so looking at the problem, they said that they would make a new bolt to fit and could I wheel the bike road to the workshop so they could take some measurements. Sure!

The new bolt had to fit in a hole in the underside of the hand controls

It took no more than about 30 minutes to turn and make the bolt – what an incredible service. To them it was straightforward, but to me it was a piece of engineering that you just don’t see in many places anymore. This wasn’t a normal bolt with a hexagonal top – it needed a round top that had to go into a recessed hole to hide it. This is a real workshop where they make things, not just bolt things together. They even made me a cup of tea!

Half an hour later I was on my way. I have nothing but admiration and praise for those guys. Real engineers.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Goosenecks are so wide ....

In researching places to visit on my tour, I found a photo of Goosenecks State Park and I think I said wow as I looked at the picture.

Goosenecks State Park is all about one thing – the deep meanders of the San Juan river. Millions of years ago the land slowly rose and the river cut a remarkable chasm into the rock, forming an incredible series of curving meanders. I had to include this on my tour, but I was already worried about being able to take such a spectacular looking photo as this with my regular 17-55mm lens.

I had a hankering for a new gadget, so last week I jumped on the train to Central London and purchased myself a new lens – a fisheye! This goes by the snappy name of the .... Nikon 10.5MM F2.8G AF DX IF-ED FISHEYE-NIKKOR. It sort of trips off the tongue, doesn’t it!

It is a spectacular lens and I had to try it straight away. Here are a few test shots.... I can’t wait to use it on the tour.....

The very first picture I took with my new lens - the front of the British Museum in London

Another wide shot with the fisheye of the front of the British Museum

The same shot, but taken with a standard lens

The interior of the British Museum. The roof was built by the firm I helped to run

My local railway viaduct, with a train crossing

I think the key with this lens will be not to use it too often.