DIY Bicycle Front (And Rear) Dash Cam, Part 3

Here is a quick wrapup on DIY, ultra high-resolution bicycle dash cameras. We look at sharing between bikes and issues that go with routine daily use.

This is the conclusion of the topic introduced in Part 1, where started out by looking at the rationale and parts needed for a high-quality DIY front and rear dash camera solution.

Odds and Ends

I originally wrote most of what you see here within the Part 2 Installation and Config post, but for clarity and brevity’s sake its better suited to a short, separate treatment.

There are only a few things you will want to stay on top of when living with your dash cam setup. Lets go over them now.

Long Term Maintenance?

Camera Settings

Every once in a while, the camera will have a brainfart. One morning you will fire it up and it won’t work right. Investigation may lead you to discover it has reset itself to factory defaults. Thankfully, it only takes a couple of minutes to redo them – especially now that you have a guide to use to knock them out quickly.

What I usually see is a message telling me “Memory card is full”. Which should never happen, because the camera is doing loop recording. It is supposed to automatically records over the oldest recording on the Micro SD card. So the card can’t fill up. But it did.

That is a sign that loop recording has shut off. Enable it again and you solve that problem, but if that setting reverted, very likely you will find they all changed. That includes both the video settings changes and the overall system settings. Literally this morning I just had to re-enable all of the video settings, and then also had to go into the system settings and a) redo the date/time formats and b) enable the date/time timestamp… but the camera still remembered the correct system time, so it wasn’t a total loss of memory (still, check the system time just in case) or a full reset.

Riding daily and thus needing two runs per day with the cameras – to the office and back home again – I find this happens about once a month with my older camera models (the one that balked this morning was an older Akaso V50 Elite, which I would not buy again now that the V50x is available). It has not yet happened with one of my V50x’s.


Over time the battery loses capacity. Not a big surprise as that is normal for a li-ion pack. Hooking up the camera to an external power source is a big help for this. The power source just keeps the li-ion pack inside the camera topped up… almost. It doesn’t replace it.

When the camera starts getting old, you start seeing a situation where even if the camera is connected to an external power supply, it still dies mid-ride. That is because running the camera at this high resolution and frame rate means it eats a tiny little bit more power than the power feed can pump back in. As the battery ages, this slight disparity catches up with the camera.

The solution: every week or two on an old camera I need to turn the camera power on and let the camera sit, turned off, and charge its battery. Then its good again for a couple weeks. This can be done while I am charging the bike so its no big deal. Also, since these cameras come with two batteries, switching them one for the other on occasion puts wear on both of them and staves off this issue for quite some time.

I have never had a battery get so worn I considered replacing the camera. So this is an issue but its not the end of the world.

Sharing Cameras Across Multiple Bikes

I shared a parts list in Part 1 already, but lets do another, slightly different one and look at project cost for one bike, then two.

front + rear cameras for single Bike:

Action Camera    US$90.00 x 2
SD Card             20.00 x 2
Front Camera Mount  18.00
Rear Camera Mount   12.00
27000mah Power Bank 30.00
USB Cables (2 pak)  11.00
Total Cost         291.00
Cost Per Bike      291.00

Front + Rear Cameras For Two Bikes:

Action Camera     US$90.00 x 2
SD Card              20.00 x 2
Front Camera Mount   18.00 x 2
Rear Camera Mount    12.00 x 2
27000mah Power Bank  30.00
USB Cables (2 pak)   11.00 x 2
Extra Scuba Box      13.00 x 2
Total Cost          358.00
Cost Per Bike       179.00

What we’re doing above is buying two of everything to mount the cameras, but just one power bank and one set of cameras.

To move from one bike to another we just pop the cameras and power bank off of the one bike (remember the scuba boxes make for quick-detach) and right back onto the second bike in literally just a few seconds.

US$291 sounds like a lot until you look at your alternatives. Tally up the features you won’t have when buying a commercial bespoke solution, versus this one. We went over the alternatives in detail in Part 1. If you add to it the fact that it is easily made portable, works for two bikes and gets your costs down to US$179 per bike… you are way ahead of the game.

Extrapolate this out to as many bikes as you please. For three bikes, you come up with a total of US$425, which yields a per-bike cost of to US$142.

Video Editing Software

Recording your travels, you might want to look them over (or maybe you had an accident and need to show it to the cops or your lawyer). How do you dig the files out?

First, the easy (and almost useless) way: View them on your camera. You can scroll thru the vids and tap on one to run it onscreen. But the screen is like a 2-inch diagonal TV set, which can’t show any level of detail. You need to export the file to your PC to view and zoom in on a big screen monitor.

When you bought the camera, you also bought a MicroSD card to hold your files. Remove that card from your camera and plug it into a MicroSD card reader. This is one of the ones I have, so I know it works.

Plug that card reader into your PC. It will come up as a USB drive. Like a thumb drive. You will find files in three types.

THM files

These are Thumbnail files. These are merely the thumbnail images you see when scrolling thru the video list on your camera.

LRV files

These are Low Resolution Video files. I mentioned earlier a recorded file in 4K30FPS is enormous. An LRV file is a playable low res version. If viewing a video on the tiny camera screen, this little file is used. Otherwise, these aren’t going to be of any use.

MP4 Files

This is your high resolution recording. That will be obvious when you see the enormous file size. MP4 is a format this is a bit nebulous in terms of its use of standards, but you should be able to load it into common video software/freeware.

Copy the files to review to your PC’s hard drive. Load them into your video software. My Windows 10 PC came with Microsoft Video Editor pre-loaded. I use that to expand the video to full screen and play it back. I can pause it and click thru frame by frame until I can read a license plate of a car going by. If I am viewing the upside-down rear camera view, a couple of mouse clicks rotates the view to right-side-up.

Finally, once I find a still image that displays what I need, I can store a screen shot to hand over to a lawfully interested party.

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 if you ever need them, they will be more than worth the time and effort it took you to set them up.

DIY Bicycle Front (And Rear) Dash Cam, Part 2

This installment will focus on the installation and configuration of an ultra high resolution (4K and 30fps) DIY front and rear bicycle dash camera system.

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.

The What?

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.

This set is part number 48-89-9222 and is the cheapest step drill set Milwaukee sells from what I see.

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:

This thing is really up high but is not in my way
  • 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.
Step back from the bike a bit. That camera – raised up by the handlebar extension – really sticks out. Which is totally the idea here.

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:

  1. Attach the saddle rail camera mount.
  2. Attach the scuba box to the mount, with the camera inside.
  3. 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.

Video Settings

This is the best setting for getting clear readings on a moving car’s license plate.
Image StabilizationOn
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 Time3 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.
Audio recordOn
It can’t hurt to have sound to go with your recording. Audio will be muffled thanks to the scuba box encasing the camera.

System Settings

Soundsall enabled
This just turns on all audio feedback to your touchscreen presses.
Distortion CalibrationOn
According to the manual, this is a helper for Image Stabilization. It narrows the field of view slightly.
Angle170 degrees
The widest angle possible. Since we’re trying to gather evidence in case of some sort of traffic accident, more is better.
Diving ModeOff
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 OffOff
The camera can be set to power off during inactivity. Turning this off prevents the camera from deciding it needs a vacation.
Screen Saver1 minute
This just shuts the screen off to conserve the battery
Date Formatyyyy/mm/dd
Personal preference. The format used for the onscreen date stamp
Date StampDate 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.

DIY Bicycle Front (And Rear) Dash Cam, Part 1

You know dashcams create a record of evidence. Surprisingly, they are also visible to nearby drivers, and become a deterrent just by being in plain sight.


I have been using inexpensive action cameras (i.e. GoPro clones) for years as dashcams on my urban commute and cargo ebikes. Going DIY, I get much higher video quality and spend a lot less money. Once you figure out how to set them up, its an easy process.

I started doing this after I was run down (a T-bone SMIDSY) by a negligent driver in 2017. The police report worked hard to blame the victim (me) for traveling at low speed (about 15 mph in a 40 zone), with three headlights on, in the designated on-road bike lane. I even made eye contact with the driver while she stopped before pulling out and into me. I found out the hard way the driver was looking through me, not at me.

What the hell is a SMIDSY?

At least the police report conceded the driver was the cause of the accident – and tried to take it back a bit by stating that the safe speed for a bicycle “may have been 3 mph”. Yes, thats right… three.

Unfortunately, experienced urban cyclists will recognize the problem. Motorists often get every benefit of the doubt when they run down a cyclist, regardless of the consequences of the motorist’s inattention. I was carted off in an ambulance.

Cyclists Need an Irrefutable Witness

Over the years, I have learned a few things about what kind of camera is well suited to this job, how to best install it, and how to configure it so it is as easy as possible to use on a routine basis. During a recent online discussion on the subject, it occurred to me this would be a good topic to lay out for people all in one piece.

Lets make a centralized parts list right off the bat, so its easy to come back to. We’ll get into what each item is and why it is on the list further on:

What About External Perception?

As alluded to in the lede above, having visible cameras does more than just preserve an evidence record (I tell people who ask about them – only half jokingly – they are there to tell the police who killed me).

My v1.0 mounting of my front camera on my white Bullitt. This is the best, most functional layout of the light, (placing it up high) and the camera.

Something I have experienced has been echoed to me informally by other cyclists: People treat a cyclist differently when the camera is there, blinking its little red “I’m on” light. Drivers behave with a bit more civility. Is this a scientific observation? Nope. Is it a universal benefit? Nope. But it does look as if, when people know that Little Brother is watching, they are less inclined to brush you back or run you off the road.

Camera mounting v2.0 happened not to get better performance out of the camera, or the front headlight, but to make the camera stick out more obviously visible to nearby drivers.

Once I realized my own perception of that phenomenon was not unique, I decided to supplement front cameras with a second, rear-facing one. Yes I want to get video of an oncoming vehicle that may do a bad thing. But even more so, I want that driver to maybe see the camera and … sober up a little?

Worth mentioning: Cameras like this have been used for years by motorcyclists, and I think motorists have grown somewhat used to them as a result. I have yet to see a volatile reaction by anyone getting mad I am recording them as they go by.

However, I do respect others’ privacy, and I will not be showing any stills taken from my cameras that show clear license plate views (which is the high standard we are going for here).

What About Turnkey Products?

Turnkey solutions exist for cyclists right now. Perhaps the original is the Cycliq Fly. One look at the price for front and rear cameras may give you pause. But if protection is afforded, price is secondary.

Instead, when evaluating them dig a little deeper at the camera resolution. The front camera provides a best resolution of 4K @ 24 fps, with 6-axis electronic image stabilization. That is pretty good but – in 2023 – unremarkable. The rear Fly6 on the other hand gives you a 135-degree view at a resolution of either FHD (1080p at 30fps) or HD (720p at 60fps). Their rear camera provides no mechanical or electronic image stabilization.

The Cycliq product also incorporates an app, and each version also incorporates a light.

Garmin makes a bike camera system as well. Its rear-facing Varia is a combination of rear light, camera and actual radar. The radar senses an approaching auto and warns you of its approach. Rider discussions I have seen report the radar really works. Insofar as the camera is concerned, its best resolution is 1080P @ 30 fps. There is no front camera option.

Bottom line: A turnkey solution for both front and rear is going to cost rather a lot of money. It may or may not provide a video solution that allows resolution and stability that will capture a legible license plate. I consider that license plate essential as it may belong to a vehicle that left the scene long before you are carted off in an ambulance.

In my own personal experience, I have tested the video resolutions and frame rates described above on cameras and consider them failures in the license plate reading game. They will be fine for capturing what happened, but if the car leaves the scene, law enforcement officials won’t be able to identify the vehicle from the plate number.

What About DIY?

It turns out ‘generic’ action cameras have all the features you need to make a dashcam. You just have to know how to set it up, which is not difficult. They will give you a highly detailed, electronically-stabilized screen resolution (you cannot take stabilization in all resolutions for granted and have to carefully review camera specs to confirm this).

High up is where a front camera usually goes on my bikes. Thanks to the 170 degree lens angle on my preferred camera, putting it a bit over to one side or the other on the bars is a non issue.

I have bought a number of cameras over the years. Some have been expensive (GoPro), some have been really cheap (low end Chinese GoPro clones) and some not so cheap. I will skip any further mention of that learning experience and just jump right to the one that works best for me now – in 2023.

The Akaso V50X Action Camera

  • In 2023 as I write this, this model has been around for awhile. I bought my first one in early 2021. So it has a feature set that is not state-of-the-art.
The camera, shown inside its waterproof scuba box, mounted with the front mount in our parts list. The red knob kajigger is some extra added bling. The wire sticking out? We’ll cover that in Part 2.
  • In 2023 as I write this, this model has been around for awhile. That means it is not a premium priced product. I bought my most recent two on sale for US$79.99 each. MSRP is US$99.99.
  • The camera uses a native 4k resolution with a native 30fps frame rate. There are other rates available going up to 60 fps, but in side-by-side testing, the 4k/30fps with image stabilization enabled gives the best license plate readings. Note I said ‘native’ above. That means there is no on-board interpolation to up- or down-rate the image. Since ‘interpolation’ means ‘adjustment’ and ‘approximation’, native processing modes should give the camera’s cleanest end result.
  • No proprietary software is needed to play or process the video. I use the movie software included with Microsoft Windows 10 to view and edit the files.
  • Electronic Image Stabilization (EIS) differs in effectiveness from brand to brand. EIS on the V50X is very effective. I almost can’t see how it could work better. I have tested it on potholes and curbs and the video remains steady.
  • Settings are available to loop record, which is a critical feature for a dashcam application. The camera records in short time-loop intervals (shorter is better… we’ll discuss why later), then starts another file. When the SD Card storage fills up, it records over the oldest files, so you never have to flush it clean when it fills up.
  • Settings are available to turn the camera on as soon as it receives power. A driving mode makes camera startup and recording automatic, although I prefer not to use it.
  • Out of the box, the V50x comes with a zillion accessories. Way more than you will ever use. The one accessory that is critical is included: the waterproof scuba box (not needed for waterproofing… we’ll get into that later). You can buy a second box cheap on Amazon to share a camera across multiple bikes.
  • Its got a slightly bigger battery than other models in the Akaso line (which I also own). We’ll discuss a setup that bypasses the battery later.
  • Having had a V50x in service since 2021, and other Akaso cameras since before then, I have found the brand produces a reliable product.

A shorter version of the above is:
the V50x is cheap, durable and does everything you need for a bicycle dashcam.

SanDisk Extreme Pro Micro SD Card

You need this for the camera to store its video files. No camera comes with them and they have to be purchased separately. With a 200 mbps write speed, this is the fastest card you can get your hands on right now. You need big write speed to support the 4k/30fps mode on the camera. And since Micro SD cards are cheap, a relatively gigantic 128GB card is only US$20.

According to the instruction manual, the V50x camera only officially supports 64GB cards, but the manual also says some 128GB cards will work. This one works. I use them due to the fast write speed, not the storage size.

The Front Mount

I’ve tried a few mounts and, once I settled on this one, have stuck with it for years across several bikes. It is all alloy, no plastic, and mounts rock solid on the bars. Over time it does not loosen up, and keeps the camera in place regardless of bumps and bonks as I go down the road.

It does rotate on its horizontal axis by design, but there is a strong detent in place so it can’t happen accidentally. This rotation lets you put the same mount at different positions on a swept-back bar and it still points straight forward.

The Rear Mount

I have only recently started doing rear cameras and this mount was exactly what I needed to make it happen. It is all aluminum with stainless bolts, and mounts solidly to the saddle rails. It doesn’t move over time. Its easy to mount the camera to its GoPro-compatible mount.

With this seat rail mount, the camera in its waterproof case tucks right in under the saddle where you’ll never know its there.

This mount does make it necessary to mount the camera upside-down, but all of the video-editing software I have ever used – and I always use something simple and free with minimal features – allows you to easily flip the video right side up. The time stamp onscreen will be upside down but we aren’t trying to be Cecil B. DeMille here … its just a dashcam video.

The saddle mount positions the camera so it sits with plenty of room to clear the Kinekt and Thudbuster seatposts I have used it with.

The (Optional) Power Pack

There are a few ways to power your DIY dashcam solution. One way is to just use the in-camera battery. Another is to run a little USB cable from the camera to your ebike display’s USB port. That will give you a constant power supply that never runs out. If your display does not have a USB port available, the next best step is to fudge it and use a USB power bank. I have found it is much more convenient to use a big power bank and charge it, say, once weekly, than it is to use the in-camera battery that is going to need recharging after every single ride. I’m including links to two different – and big – power banks.

I do not use power banks this big to run just my camera. These banks have three USB outlets. I use all three – two to power my LED COB light banks and one to power one of my two cameras. I have a USB display powering the other. So for a more normal bike, one such power bank could power two cameras no problem for a week of long, daily commutes. A much smaller power bank would probably be fine, too; especially if handlebar bag space is at a premium.

I am linking to one Anker power pack that is a top quality item and priced accordingly. I’m also linking to one much cheaper and – on paper at least – is just as capable and 1/3 the price. I can’t be sure if it is as reliable as the Anker but for twenty bucks versus almost seventy… I figured it was worth a shot. I have only been using it for a few weeks so far.

Misc USB Cables

There are a half-dozen different ways to wire these things up. If you are doing a direct wire to a power bank or display on a rear camera, a long-ish USB cable with a right-angle plug at the camera side is a good choice. If doing a front camera mounted to the bars and tied to the USB plug on your handlebar display, you can get away with using the short freebie cable that comes with the camera. If things are lined up just wrong on your display, you may want to use a short 45-degree USB extension. We’ll go over a few variations …

when we tackle camera installation and configuration in the next installment. 🙂

Make Your Own Cheap, Hard Shell Panniers – Part 2: Assembly

We went over the parts list in Part 1, now its time to get down to business and make some panniers.

This is Part 2 in a series. If you haven’t done so already, check out Part 1.

So Lets Build It Already!

Before you drill a single hole, or make a single cut, you need to take something into account that isn’t immediately obvious.

Measure For Heel Clearance

This is something you have probably taken for granted but will recognize instantly when your attention is called to it: Panniers have a diagonal cutout in their lower forward portion. The reason for this is so your heels clear the pannier when you are on the back side of your pedal stroke. A DIY pannier like a trash can does not have this cutout.

Fortunately, I knew to measure for this in advance. I was surprised when I saw how far back I had to go. Luckily the can slopes into a more narrow profile at the bottom, so half the work is already done for us.

How do you measure for heel clearance? The fact my bike shoes cleat into my pedals made that job easier: My foot position is always fixed in one spot. I just clicked my shoe into the cleat and rotated it.

I took the picture for Figure 1 below after installation. But I did the actual work by holding the can up against the rack with one hand, grabbing the shoe with the other and moving the can back until the shoe cleared.

Then I eyeballed the can relative to the frame to decide what spot was the final location: The front edge of the can is lined up right alongside the back edge of the bike frame.

I eyeballed everything and measured almost nothing on this project. You will see some wavy lines as a result. It worked out, but you should be a little more careful than I was.

Figure 1: There is not a lot of clearance here, but you don’t need even this much. If it clears at all you will never know the panniers are back there while riding.

Measure the flat part of the top inside of the can

This will tell us how much flat bar to cut for the mounting plate. The hooks and bungie cord mounts bolt into this. If you don’t use a plate and just drill holes in the plastic can, thats not going to be anywhere near as strong, which is not something you want on a big bucket holding things for you on a bouncy road.

Figure 2: Here is what the plate will look like, after installation. The holes are off-center thanks to what we learned measuring for heel clearance.

You want the plate to extend only across the flat portion of the can’s side, stopping where the can starts to curve at either end. This gives you maximum contact without affecting the molding and shape of the can.

Cut the aluminum flat bar to match this measurement

For this can, it turned out a 10″ length was about right. You should confirm this measurement matches whatever can it is you are using. Even if you are using the same Rubbermaid wastebasket.

Decide where the hooks are going to go on the rack

I just manually placed them as far apart as I could, where each hook ends up jammed against a rack cross-support. That config for the hooks means once the pannier is assembled, it can not slide forward or backward on the rack.

Mark the mounting plate with the J-hooks’ bolt holes.

This part is a LOT easier to do if you take the rack off the bike. Since I had an identical rack waiting to be installed on a new bike, I used that.

With the mounting plate attached to the outside of the can with blue painter’s tape at its proper fore/aft position, line the plate up to the hooks, which are still sitting in their mounting position on the rack. Mark the holes to drill in the plate thru the hook holes with a Sharpie. Remove the plate from the can.

We only need to go through this measurement process once, since the second pannier is a mirror image of the first one.

Drill the marked holes into the two mounting plates

Once those four marked holes are drilled on your first plate, line it up atop the the second, uncut one. Drill thru the existing holes, down into the second plate. Now we have two plates with matching holes. You just need to flip over the second one so it works on the other side.

Figure 3: The two plates are clamped together and the holes in the first are being drilled down thru into the second. The topmost hole hasn’t been drilled-through yet.

I used strong clamps to hold the two plates precisely, firmly together. As noted, I used M5 bolts throughout this project, so use an M5-sized drill bit.

Chamfer (partially countersink) all of the holes

As seen in Figure 2, I am going for a flat profile on the mounting plate, inside the can. To get that, I am using countersunk M5 socket head bolts, and larger M8 washers that are wider than the bolt hole, but narrower than the full width of the socket cap. The last ingredient in achieving this flush fit is to chamfer a bit of the bolt hole. That gives the beginnings of a full countersunk hole (since we are using a 1/8″ plate, we don’t have enough material to do a full countersink). Use an M6-sized bit to drill in the already-made M5 holes just a hair to create this effect. You can set the drill to reverse direction to just kind of grind in the chamfer (properly drilling it is very easy to overdo).

Drill the mounting plate holes through the can

Position the mounting plate on the outside of the can so it is lined up where it is supposed to be installed. When you do this, since the plate is on the outside of the can, but it will be installed on the inside, make sure you have the plate oriented correctly (i.e. not backwards or upside down).

Figure 4: I wrote myself a note to remind me which side should be installed up against the can on the right-side pannier. These bolts are just stuck thru already drilled holes to hold the plate in position while I drill the two outer bungee mount holes.

Again: Make sure you don’t reverse the position of the plate and get the holes backwards. I made this mistake on my first pannier, but fortunately that meant I could just flip it around use it on the other side… so long as I didn’t screw up on the second one and create two right-side panniers.

Do the bungee mount holes

I am describing this step out of order, as it should be done at the same time as the J-hook holes are drilled, above. I did things differently on my first installation, and this step actually came later and needed a complete disassembly to make it happen.

Figure 5: My original bungee installation re-used the lower hook hole for the bungee P-clamp. Just for starters the knots got in the way of the rack stays. After some use I came up with a better way to do this.

So the original installation used four holes in the mounting plate, and the final version uses six, with the two P-clamp holes being far outboard from the hooks, and more or less at the same vertical level as the lower J-hook holes.

This mounting position gives us perfect cable tension. It also leaves lots of mounting plate around the bolt hole so the washers on the outside are backed fully by the mounting plate on the inside.

Figure 6: Bungee v2.0 works MUCH better. Uniform length thanks to no knots or uneven cable cut. Thinner cord vs. the humongous leftovers I used from my parts pile. Enough tension to do the job without worrying me about long term damage to the flexible rubbery can.

Bolt everything together

OK so pretend all that stuff you see in Figures 2, 5 and 6 hasn’t happened yet. But its about to. We’ve drilled all our holes and now we bolt everything together.

Our J-hooks all use M5 x 16mm countersunk hex caps, with an M8 washer on the inside, bolt sticking out. Outside, we have the Jandd pannier hook, directly against the plastic. On top of that goes an M5 nylock nut (if you want to use a flat washer under the nylock, there are enough threads to spare to do that).

The two bungee mounts use identical bolts and washers, facing inside-out, with a steel M5 fender washer on the other side, up against the plastic. On top of the washer is the 1/2″ P-clamp, and on top of the P-clamp is another M5 nylock.

Assemble all of the bolts loosely

Since we are talking about nylocks, just screw them down by hand until the nylon lock ring stops you from using your fingers to further tighten it.

Tighten down the hooks first

Once all of the 6 bolts are hand snugged (they will actually be quite loose), tighten only the top two bolts of each hook. But not quite fully. The screw holes on the hooks are sized a bit large so you want to be able to re-align the hooks as you go along. Once you truly clamp to the plastic on the top two bolts, do the same for the bottom two, keeping the hooks properly parallel with your fingertips if they shift around.

Now do the bungee mounts

Pretty straightforward here. Tighten down while keeping the P clamps at a 45-degree angle as shown in Figure 6. When the bolts are fully tight they lock the P-clamp in position.

Figure 7: With everything bolted up, there are two ways to route the (red) bungee strap. I decided to use the right side routing as it lets the pannier sit directly against the rack stays… which will matter once you take in how the cinch straps work.

Add the cinch strap

Anyone who knows old school pannier bungee strap mounts knows I left out a step: There is no lower strap to capture the bungee and keep the pannier from flapping around, as the bike moves down the road.

Figure 8: These cinch straps are easy-on and easy-off, taking just a second or three to release or reattach. They are interwoven inside around the outside of the rack, inside the bungees and back outside the inside forward rack stay… so they can’t slip down.

This omission was intentional. Having a lot of cinch straps in a box in my shop, I opted to use them to lock the pannier down onto the rack. Removing the strap only takes a second, and the stability it provides works so well it not only never rattles, I could probably ride a singletrack trail without any worries about it moving.

Nest in the second can

We’re finally going to see why we’ve done that countersink stuff. Lets show it in a sequence of pictures; left-to-right:

So thats easy enough to understand. We kept the mounting plate flat so it would not interfere with the nesting of the cans. What is the point of that?

  • A double-thick pannier is much stronger, and loses all semblance of wobbliness. Stronger means stronger all around and includes the ability to take hits, lean the bike on things etc.
  • The interior is completely un-holey and waterproof.
  • The insert is easily removable. Once home from the shops, just pick up the inner can and walk it inside to unload.
  • When nesting the two cans, you can easily slip in a sheet that makes a lid for the pannier, with the 48″ flat bungee being an easy-apply band around it to secure the lid. The fact that the sheet is snuggled in between the nested cans makes it an attached, integral piece of the pannier, not a potential UFO if a strap comes loose.
  • That second can beefing up the operation makes the pannier system a substantial piece of kit… and costs a whole US$8 per side to add in.

Put on a lid (Option 1 on the parts list)

The very first idea I had for this job was the easiest to manage. It cost virtually nothing and was easy-peasy. I took a full size garbage bag and folded it into a 20″ x 17″ square.

Figure 9: Pannier Lid v1.0 – a simple folded garbage bag. It worked great!

The folded bag worked extremely well. It was easy to manipulate and rendered the panniers completely waterproof in rain and wind. The trouble was… it looked like I was using garbage bags for a lid. I wanted something that looked better. and so we have Pannier Lid v2.0:

I splurged on Amazon and spent $27 for some vinyl fake leather, ordinarily used for furniture re-upholstery. I used more material than I needed so I have the option of expanding the lid should I stuff things into the pannier that stick up.

You can see in one picture above how I have a second sheet with folded corners on a workbench behind the bike. That is the segment slipped in between the two cans as they are nested together.

Originally I had plans to do a proper measurement of just how much excess material I wanted to use, cut out in a pattern, where there was just the right amount and shape of fabric to stuff down in between the two cans for a fold-free fit all around. The right measurements on the rest would let me use nice hospital corners to fold up nice and neat on the outside, too.

I ended up just cutting a single sheet, 24″ wide in a straight cut off of the big fabric sheet I received. Then I cut that in half on the long side, leaving me with two sheets measuring 24″ wide by 27.5″ long. That 27.5″ side is the one that gets triangle-folded and tucked in between the two cans.

Because there is so much extra material for expansion, folding it up on the outside is a little less tidy. BUT in exchange for that the lid can expand considerably should I need it to.

Don’t Put On A Lid (Option 2 on the parts list)

When I built my second set of these panniers for Bullitt II, I did things a little differently and bolted the nested panniers together permanently, because I found in actual use I never separated the two to carry the full inner liner inside. That ended up making the attachment of the lid described above more of a pain than it was worth. Instead I just found a simple, cheap laundry bag and an equally cheap elastic net. The drawstring laundry bag is easily opened up and folded over top of the open wastebasket just as if it was a trash can liner. When full, the drawstring snugs it up and helps keep things from rattling around.

The elastic net over top is really optional, but I like having it on. If it rains, I just put a folded up trash can liner over the top – exactly like what was described in Part 1 – and clip it down with the cargo net’s hooks.

And that, as they say, is that. Or is it?

Job done. I was originally unsure whether I would share these panniers with my second Bullitt, but in the end, since they both live in entirely different towns, I built another set, which went even more quickly since I’d already done them once before. This second set is where I used the Option 2 laundry bag and cargo net.

Make Your Own Cheap, Hard Shell Panniers – Part 1: Parts

Commercial products are available but are priced at US$300 for a pair. This alternative offers more space for minimal cost, needs only a few simple tools and can even be assembled in a few minutes.

This is Part 1 of a two-part series. If you are looking for Part 2 it is here.


I need some big panniers for the upcoming Bullitt II. I use them now on my current Bullitt as overflow when I fill my cargo bay on a big shopping run.

While I was pannier shopping, I came across a hardshell pannier called the Coolcave, offered by Specialized. It looks like a very neat product, especially when paired with its lid pack, sold separately, that takes its capacity up to 25L. Unfortunately, each pannier is priced at US$80, a lid pack adds another US$70. So US$300 for two panniers. For a cargo bucket in a middling size, that pricing is well past my pain threshold.

While I was looking at them online, I couldn’t help but notice the Coolcave looks an awful lot like a small trash can, right down to the molded-in feet that let you sit it on the ground.


You can see where I’m going with this already, right? How tough can it be to get some nice clean new trash cans and make panniers? Especially since I have a lot of the parts in the garage already, and all the tools I could need to make this project happen.

As I began looking around for the parts I needed, I found I am by no means the first person who has had this idea. Jandd Mountaineering has their Tidy Cat bucket kit. Sellwood Designs has their own bucket and bucket kit available at I am sure there are many more out there. If you are considering a DIY approach, all you need to know is almost any container that isn’t round can be made into a pannier.

Lets get started.

Project Pan-Yay Begins

Let me lay out the ‘final’ parts list on the panniers I ended up making. These are the parts that made the final cut. Further on I’ll comment on some alternatives that would have worked out great, but inflated the cost too much. This build is meant to be budget-minded.

Parts List

  1. Rubbermaid Commercial Products 28-qt wastebasket (US$31.61 for four)

    28 quarts in Imperialist units works out to 26.5 liters each. Why are we buying four instead of two? I’ll get to that later. These commercial wastebaskets are meant to take a beating. They are soft and flexible, yet sturdy. They can be put into a freezer that goes down below freezing temps (I know of a lab that uses them to freeze water into great big ice blocks). They nest inside of one another snugly.
  2. Two strips of aluminum flat bar (US$6.00 total)

    I used a strip 1.5″ (38mm) wide and cut each to 10″ (254mm) long. Width was dictated by the bolts used for the hooks, and length is the flat width of the trash can. Cost is based on 20″ of an 8-foot bar purchased at the hardware store for about US$28 – that I already had some of in my garage.
  3. Jandd Mountaineering stainless steel pannier hooks (US$18.40 for four)

    These hooks are dirt cheap, easy to install, beefy and durable.
  4. 24″ bungee cords (US$5.16 for two)

    Using bungees to fasten a pannier is old school, like the Jandd hooks. However using one commercially-available, non-DIY cord per side isn’t. Its a nice hack.
  5. 1/2″ vinyl-lined P-Clamps (US$2.00 for four)

    These are used for mounting the 24″ bungees. They’re available at any local hardware store. Mine were in a cubbyhole in my garage already.
  6. 2″ x 48″ Hook and Loop Cinch Strap (US$8.00 for two)
    I have chosen these 48″ straps as they should be right for one strap to fully encircle the pannier and thread thru the rack stays – I am using straps to bolster the j-hook-and-bungee pannier mounting. They are easy to remove, easy to attach and make the panniers so solid to the rack I could ride with them on a singletrack trail and they’d stay put (pro tip: Use a black Sharpie to make the garish logo invisible).
  7. Various Stainless Steel Nuts and Bolts (US$20.00 total)
    I used M5 bolts with countersunk heads, oversized M8 washers and M5 nylock nuts. This is a little weird but mounting the bolts so they go inside-out gave me a completely flat surface inside the outer can… but I’m getting ahead of myself mentioning that so I will stop now. I am ballparking the cost here, which you can reduce by quite a bit by using zinc-coated steel parts instead of stainless. I will list the specific nuts, bolts and washers in each part of the assembly instructions.
  8. 48″ bungee cords (US$7.96 for two)Option 1
    I use these flat bungee cords to secure my waterproof, expandable ‘cloth’ lid. It works faster than a traditional buckled pannier flap, and is more easily expandable.
  9. Two yards of fake leather vinyl sheeting (US$26.99)Option 1
    Let me say right off I first used two folded-over garbage bags for lids with my 48″ bungees and they worked fine. Using this waterproof vinyl is a purely cosmetic choice. The 2 yards you get is about 3 times what you need.
  10. Two Sheer, Small Size Nylon Laundry Bags (US$12.98 total)Option 2
    A very thin drawstring bag is simple and easy to toss stuff into. The closed-up bag helps keep things from rattling or shifting.
  11. Two Small “Elastonet” Cargo Nets (US$19.98 total)Option 2
    These simple nets cover over top of the laundry bags for a second layer of security. I already had several of them on hand for use on other bikes.

Total Project Cost

Add up all of the above and you come up with $126.12 for Option 1, or 124.13 for Option 2. Which sounds like a lot for two trash cans, but pretty good versus retail price on two 26.5L-each, waterproof, hard shell panniers – if you could find them for sale at all.

You can cut costs here. Don’t do the nested cans and use two instead of four. Forget about the vinyl and stick to the folded trash bags. Just those two things knock off US$43 from the project cost. Do without the bungees for the lid and you’ve now removed just over US$50. Find a couple things in your garage to use instead of buy and you knock off even more.

Alternate Parts

Trash Bags

Lets get this one out of the way immediately. If you want to cheaply create a waterproof liner for your pannier, then the 7-10 gallon trash bags that are sold everywhere as a direct fit to these trash cans are an obvious solution.

Savvy cyclists know a trash bag makes ANY cloth pannier instantly waterproof. The use of a bag as a can liner can also take the place of a lid. Especially if closed off with something like a reusable OneWrap tie, or a small cinch strap.

Next, when setting up the lid, before I received the faux leather I eventually used, I simply took a full sized trash bag, re-folded into an even-ish square. Then on the rack-side, I tucked it in between the two layered-together cans so it becomes semi-permanently attached (only coming off if I separate the nested cans). This creates a square flap with overlap that I can easily flip off and back on again, using the 48″ flat bungee strap.

On my first day of use, it was raining, so I had to have a lid. The folded trash bag worked perfectly. the only knock against it was cosmetic: I was obviously using a trash bag.

Ortlieb Mounting Hardware

While I was researching my options for the build, I came across this page at Campfire Cycling that lists a wide range of in-stock Ortlieb replacement parts. A complete mounting solution can be pieced together.

  • 4-hole QL1 long rail
  • QL1 top hooks with handle
  • QL 2.1 lower rail
  • QL 2.1 lower hook

You are mixing mount versions top vs. bottom, but thats not a problem. With shipping the cost is about US$80 to ship 2 panniers worth of parts to me in California.

Thats top-quality equipment, but I was not ready to spend that much on a concept I was not 100% certain was workable yet.

Vincita Mounting Hardware

I actually purchased this and intended to use it as my go-to solution on the first build. Unfortunately the shipper reported the package lost, and I got a refund. Some time later a battered package finally showed up on my doorstep.

As such I had the opportunity to inspect the mounting kit, even if I didn’t use it. I had picked the 12mm kit and found it to be of very good quality, and definitely workable with my Axiom rack’s tubes. At less than US$13 per side it would have been an economical option as well. I’m not sure I would have wanted to use the lower mount on its own. I’m pretty sure I would have wanted to use the bungees as I ended up doing here.


We’ll get to that in the next part. This is a good spot to put in a break.

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