115/365: X for Xtracycle.115/365: X for Xtracycle.

In 2003, whilst prepping for a long bicycle ride (Maine to San Francisco via Seattle), I discovered an awesome company called Xtracycle. They manufacture a bike modification that turns your bike into a 'S.U.B.' – a Sport Utility Bicycle. With this frame attached, you can haul just about anything under 250 lbs and sized appropriately: kayaks, surfboards, guitars, chainsaws, watermelons, beer, humans... They hooked one up for my ride across the country, and it was more than perfect for carrying all my shit, including everything for camping, clothes, books, a 35mm SLR, a video camera, and a guitar. Let me say it: I absolutely love my Xtracycle. Here's a couple of her from the '03 ride.

The bike is still set up essentially the same as it was in 2003. In the posted pic you can see the epic handlebar 'console': Hillclimbers on the bar ends, aero bars, light, computer, mirror, and horn. Love that horn. For the pixel-peeping bikers out there, those are some old-school grip shifters (I bought the bike in 1997), which should probably be upgraded at some point.

Long-distance biking is a whole story in itself, the best way to see any country. If you want to know more, you can start with the trailer for the movie we shot while out there.

Onto the picture itself. I wanted to try rigging my camera to the bike to try to get some pictures that would otherwise be impossible. I started in the middle of day, and first rigged the 5Dmk2 to the back of the bike, where the meat of the Xtracycle is. I set it up so that I could remotely trigger the shutter from the handlebars, and dialed in a slow shutter speed (1/20 sec) that would register the movement of the scene around me, but hopefully record the bike in focus. That would work in theory, but my road is less than smooth, and the rig had more shake to it than I could freeze in most of the frames.

The shots are kinda random if you don't know about the Xtracycle, but they look good in rapid succession (thinking timelapse at some point) and the video I shot looked good as well, except for the camera vibration. I love how the sun caught the mirror in the second shot, pulling into my driveway.

Next I switched the rigging up and placed it up front, rigged to my front fork. I used two Manfrotto 'Magic Arms' (very wizardly) to lock the camera out there in space, one to hold the camera, and the other supporting the first arm a bit, really just a double-up for protection. This is why camera insurance is hard to find in these parts. After carefully checking that the camera was indeed going to stay put, I took a few test rides out in the street. Because my hands were now in the shot, I had the wife firing the wireless trigger from the sidelines. Again, I tried for the motion blur effect caused by a slow shutter speed.


This is the whole point in rigging the camera like this for a still shot: to show movement in a way that wouldn't be possible otherwise. If I had used a motion-stopping fast shutter speed, it may not look like I'm actually riding, and indeed would be a shot someone could get by shooting from that position in front of a stationary bike and rider.

On the other hand, if I could somehow be in that position under the handlebars, shooting a moving bike rider, I'd have to be moving in sync with them to get the frozen biker/blurred background movement effect. The key to the rig is that the camera is still (motionless) relative to the bike and rider. Paging Dr. Einstien...

Here's how that translates in full sun, in a turn.

Worked pretty well, and in fact I like that shot better than the headliner for this post. But I had to try the strobist approach as well, so I waited till dusk (so the strobe would actually do all the lighting on me and the bike) and rigged up the deck on Wifey's Xtracycle (yes she has one too) with a Canon 580exII.  Gelled it with a full cut of CTO for the tungsten white balance blue sky effect (see yesterday's post), and had her ride in front of me, while I tried to keep a consistent distance from her. If I went too slow or fast, the flash missed me, and the bike and face went dark. Wifey again used the wireless Pocket Wizard to trigger the camera, which had a PW in the hotshoe to trigger the flash back on her bike. Say what now? If you know Pocket Wizards, it breaks down like this, if you don't, skip this next dork out session: PW in her hand (set to channel 1) triggers PW near camera, wired with a motor drive cord, then a PW in the hotshoe mount (set to channel 2) triggers the flash back on her bike (channel 2 as well).

After all this, it was getting dark, and we needed to run the dog around the block, which we often do on the bike (she's fast). I switched out the flash to my own bike and removed the camera from the rigging and rode alongside my girls, handholding the camera with a looooong shutter speed and the flash to freeze some of the action. Pretty hit or miss, but I got one frame I like.