Sun, 03 Oct 2004

Self defense

Since the pepper spray incident several people have asked questions and offered suggestions about how to respond to hostile motorists. The suggestions have ranged from giving up cycling to packing firearms. None, at least at those extremes, has any appeal for me.

First, let me say such events are rare. I've ridden over 3600 miles on the bike this year, most of it on roads shared with motorists, and haven't had any more altercations. There have been a few motorists that just haven't known how to handle themselves near a bicycle. They misjudge my speed and turn right across my path when they shouldn't, or attempt to pass me 20 yards before a stop sign leaving themselves straddling the center line at the intersection. But I expect such incidents and haven't suffered anything more than minor frustration from them.

The truly hostile motorists are, fortunately, few and far between.

So, what to do about them.

I bought a small handlebar bag and carry a digital camera. About half the time, when I've been the target of some hostile act by a motorist, I've caught up to them an the next light or two. If I had a camera on those occasions, I could have gotten a picture of the car, recording the license plate, and even a shot of the driver and occupants.

Sometimes those incidents happen too fast. There's nothing to do but maneuver the bike—no time to get a license plate number or respond in any way. That would be the same whether I was packing a weapon or using any of the other methods suggested.

The camera hasn't been tested under fire, yet. I've gotten a few nice pictures with the camera along, but mostly it has just gone along for the ride. If and when I use it to get a picture of a hostile motorist, it will be interesting to see if the resulting police report gets any more action than the prior reports (none of which have resulted in so much as a return phone call).

Ideally, I'd love to have a small helmet mounted camera that records to a light weight but very durable digital recording device. I'm thinking something along the lines of an iPod. It doesn't even need a great deal of storage. Just run it in an endless loop and save the last 90 seconds (or some other configurable interval) when a button is pressed.

That way, when an incident occurs, you've got it recorded. You've likely got the incident itself, the vehicle with license plate, perhaps the driver and occupants, and other vehicles whose drivers may have witnessed the incident. When the dust settles, press the button and upload it to your computer, later. A nice, 90 second video clip of the whole incident would make a handy attachment to a police report!

Does such a device exist? I know the small, helmet mounted cameras do, and I've even seen helmet cam video clips on the web taken by mountain bikers bombing down their favorite trails. But from what I can tell, they've used expensive digital camcorders that are too expensive, too fragile, and too bulky for the task I have in mind. I'd like something that fits comfortable in a jersey pocket and can withstand the weather and sweat its likely to encounter on long hard rides.

If anyone knows of such a device, I'd love to hear about it!

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