This is a continuation of the topic introduced in Part 1, where we went over the rationale and parts list needed for a high-quality DIY front and rear dash camera solution.
Lets Get Started
We’ve purchased and received our parts. Lets install them and get everything set up. This article is going to be rather straightforward and by-the-numbers, as we already went over the reasons for rolling our own dash cam solution in Part 1.
Before we start bolting everything on, we will modify the scuba box.
Yes I said ‘scuba box’. Pretty much every budget action camera comes with a waterproof box as an included accessory. It lets you take the camera to the bottom of your swimming pool or lake or whatever. Putting the camera into the box makes it waterproof (and somewhat crashproof, too). Thats great, but what we really want is to make it easy to remove from the bike.
Most cameras have a threaded hole meant to interface with a standard 1/4″ camera tripod fitting. You can use that to screw the camera down onto a mount directly.
We don’t want to do this. When you are routinely using a camera on a daily driver bike, you need a quick and convenient way to take if off.
Why Take The Cameras Off?
It was literally just yesterday when, at my local Costco, I was beginning my process of locking the bike. A curious onlooker leaning against his parked car asked me “You aren’t going to leave those GoPro’s on there, are you?”
“Hell no” I Replied
“They go inside with me, and back on when I come back out.” I showed him how I just opened the scuba box door, disconnected the USB power cord and into a little go-bag they go (I re-use the bag that holds my bike lock), along with my removable taillights, tool bags and power banks. I also noted they are not expensive GoPro cameras. But still, two of them would be a pretty nice haul for sticky fingers.
And THAT is the real reason for the scuba box.
But its not quite ready yet. When I first started using cameras like this, I relied on their internal batteries for power. I quickly learned it was a pain to recharge the battery so frequently. Besides, battery life could be insufficient to get through a single ride.
The solution is to plug the camera into an outside power source. The camera still runs on its internal battery, but that battery is constantly topped up by the power source you connected. It (almost) never runs out and you can forget about it. More on this below.
So plugging the camera in is great, but we encased it in a watertight box, so you can’t plug anything in. Unless you…
Take A Drill To The Scuba box
The V50x camera – and every other action camera I have used – has a USB Micro-format combination data and charge plug. To get to that plug, we need to drill a slightly oblong hole in the box (speaking of which, when buying USB cords do not pick one with a big blocky plastic guard around it, or you’ll need to drill a huge hole).
In the left picture above, the hole is bigger than it needs to be. Oops my bad. But even so, an oversized hole like this should not cause a problem in even a heavy downpour. Still, you should be more careful than I was.
I said ‘oblong’ hole. To get that, I a) drill a round hole and then b) press against the side of the hole with the running drill. That grinds away just some of the top and bottom of my once-round hole. Then I incrementally test-fit and expand the hole some more until the cable fits snugly. There’s usually more hole than I need, but it never is so much it compromises the box’s structural integrity.
My Milwaukee step drill bits (I have this set) go thru the boxes cleanly in hot-knife-thru-butter fashion. So its easy to over do it. I have never ruined a box, but still be careful.
You can also use a simple old school drill bit and work it from side to side. Conventional bits are more difficult and leave more mess in terms of shavings. Once you get the hole drilled the rest is pretty simple.
Mount The Front Camera
First, this mount is more-complex than necessary. But it is what I consider to be a more ‘evolved’ method. I use a handlebar extension to raise the camera up high. This makes it more obvious to cars around me. I am using the following components, from the top down:
- The Akaso V50x camera, inside of its scuba box. You can see the USB Micro wire coming out of the side connected to the USB port of the display, providing continuous power.
- The adjustable forward camera mount. I added a red adjuster knob to it.
- The camera mount is attached to a short handlebar extension, angled up to about a 2 o’clock angle. This helps because I need to mount a special light there, thanks to the particular setup of that bike. For your needs we only care about the extension because it raises up the camera. Zoom in. You can see it has two mounting arms (the product sells with just one). I had an extra. If you don’t, buy a second one and use the arm that comes with it. You could also buy a longer extension as those come with two arms, but I wanted to keep it small.
If you don’t have to mess with the added complications of a display and a light sharing real estate with the camera, you may still want to use that extension to raise the camera up. It is solid, doesn’t jiggle and helps make it obvious to others a dash camera is in use.
Keep It Simple, Stupid!
I have done a lot of these with a simpler mount – no extensions. The bottom-most picture below is an almost identical bike with the same displays and even the same funky light. That time I mounted the camera to the side.
For all of these bikes above, I just bolted the camera mount directly to the handlebars
If you are going this simpler route, it may be smart to put the camera on the left side as you face forward, where it will be more visible to neighboring vehicles. I hadn’t figured this out when I did these bikes.
Mount The Rear Camera
There is much less going on in back than on the front mount. I’ve only found one ‘best’ way to do this:
- Attach the saddle rail camera mount.
- Attach the scuba box to the mount, with the camera inside.
- Attach the right-angle USB cable that feeds power to the camera.
Pretty easy. You will spend more time routing the USB cable to your power supply so it stays tidy.
Above: That short cable running thru the frame and seat rails is a seat leash, which, coupled to the dual-bolt seatpost clamp, makes it more time-consuming to steal the saddle and seatpost.
What Power Supply?
There are a few different ways you can go here.
Use the Internal Camera Battery
This is the way I did it for the first couple of years I used these cameras. At the end of a commute into my office, I pulled the camera from the scuba box and plugged it into a USB charger. At the end of my workday at home I did it again.
This was before I started drilling holes into the boxes, but we’ll get to that. When going this route, it is the least convenient because of the charging, but it is also the easiest to install with no extra effort.
Use An External Power Bank
Charging the camera twice a day was a pain on a daily driver bike. So I moved to an external power source. Since I still needed that scuba box for ease of removal, I drilled a hole in it so I could plug into the camera.
This is where my power banks go on both of my Bullitts
One power bank can easily power two cameras. A big power bank can do it for a long time. I like to recharge them once weekly, every Friday. I use a big power bank, but that big bank also powers other lights, so for just a camera you can use something smaller. Your mileage may vary.
My project parts list includes two options, both of which I use personally. One is a high-quality name brand. The other is a low-cost, no-name product with good reviews that is working just fine for me.
Use The USB Port On Your Display
This one is kind of a no-brainer. It makes for the cleanest setup. You can select options on the camera so when you turn the display on and off the camera goes on and off with it. Also you can skip the weekly power bank charges since you are using the main ebike battery.
However, not every display has a USB port. None of them have two ports to accommodate a front and rear camera. I have 2wd bikes with two displays so I can cheat, but thats true for almost nobody else.
You may want to just hook up one camera to your display and one to a small power bank. Or if you are handy with electronics, wire in a USB buck converter to your main battery for multiple USB ports.
Camera Settings For Dashcam Use
There are a variety of ways to fiddle with settings. In particular the power-on options to make the camera turn on and off automagically when you plug it in, power up your ebike display or turn on your power bank. I have found the most reliable method is where I manually start things up and shut them down. Letting the camera manage it, I’ve had one too many experiences where it has decided to take the afternoon off and shut down mid-ride for no apparent reason.
Driving Mode vs. Video Mode
Driving Mode is one of the 9 main modes that the V50x camera has for startup. Driving mode is a dedicated dashcam mode that – in theory at least – helps makes the camera completely automatic. When it senses power, it powers up the camera and immediately begins recording. When external power is no longer fed to it, it shuts down. That means if your ebike display comes on or shuts off, so does the camera.
That sounds great but in practice on these cameras, it literally does not work for some reason. What happens is the camera powers on exactly as expected, but then within seconds (before I have a chance to climb on the bicycle and start moving) it shuts off. Its not motion-activated because riding the bike does not trigger it to start back up again. If there is a way to make it work as advertised, the instruction manual is completely silent on it.
I prefer to use simple Video Mode, where I use the on/off and recording start/stop switches myself. Done that way it always works with no surprises.
For the settings below, if I do not list something that is on the menu, the setting is left in its factory default state.
This is the best setting for getting clear readings on a moving car’s license plate.
You need this for jiggle-free video
According to the manual, this is the same thing as Image Stabilization. I turn them both on for the smoothest possible recording.
|Loop Recording Time||3 minutes|
This sets how long each video snippet is. You want short loop recording time. A 3-minute video in 4k running at 30 fps will be well over 1 gigabyte in size. A longer loop sounds like a great idea until you try and work with a two gigabyte file in your video software.
It can’t hurt to have sound to go with your recording. Audio will be muffled thanks to the scuba box encasing the camera.
This just turns on all audio feedback to your touchscreen presses.
According to the manual, this is a helper for Image Stabilization. It narrows the field of view slightly.
The widest angle possible. Since we’re trying to gather evidence in case of some sort of traffic accident, more is better.
Do not mistake this for “driving mode”. It compensates for the lack of red light while diving under water.
|WDR (Wide Dark Range)||On|
Allows greater detail in shadows when an image contains both bright and shadowed areas.
|Auto Power Off||Off|
The camera can be set to power off during inactivity. Turning this off prevents the camera from deciding it needs a vacation.
|Screen Saver||1 minute|
This just shuts the screen off to conserve the battery
Personal preference. The format used for the onscreen date stamp
|Date Stamp||Date and Time|
This sets the recorded onscreen stamp to show both date and time.
Wrapping It Up
With any luck, all you will do with these cameras is install them, turn them on at the beginning of every ride and off at the end.
But if you ever need a witness after an accident, a super high-resolution, 170-degree forward and rear-facing, image-stabilized record of the event is there for you – and it will be more than worth the time and effort it took you to set it up.
We’ll cover odds and ends, which includes video software to extract your little home movies, in Part 3.