Cameras in Racing – What’s the Deal?

Words by Rachel Fenton

Last week the British Cycling Commissaire matters newsletter pinged into my inbox. I usually just delete these – I no longer regularly commissaire and I am not sure blazers really suit me. This one caught my attention though because it confirmed a rumour I had heard; that BC were banning the use of helmet cams in competition.

Earlier in the week the mountain biking community had been in uproar about this rumoured change. Particularly for the downhill community, many of whom have some lucrative sponsorship deals with action cam manufacturers, so this was looking like a pretty detrimental decision by BC.

My initial reaction to the ban was to wonder what all the fuss was about. The UCI have had a ban on cameras in races for a few years without ruining social media coverage and frankly I thought it might stem the flow of pretty crappy videos we are increasingly overwhelmed with at the moment (I’m not ashamed, I make crappy videos too). I hoped it would encourage organisers to get proper videographers in to cover races like the Midlands XC have done, or to organise exemptions so that chosen riders could use cams. The UCI have historically agreed to these exemptions because the use of cams is then controlled, they are properly attached to the bike/rider and the race organisers control the content (more on this later).

A good example of this is the Cape Epic who have teamed up with GoPro for the last few years. Every UCI team rider has to agree to wear a bar or seat cam if asked. The results have proved pretty awesome, showing the race-ending springbok collision of Robert Mennen in 2013 and this week the course cutting of Kevin Evans (which resulted in a hour penalty for cheating). It is worth noting that without the camera use exemption Evans would likely never have been sanctioned.

Back to the instructions in ‘Commissaire news’ and much to my disappointment I think British Cycling have gone too far. Yes, they back-pedalled and allowed the use of cameras in practice runs/laps but they are ONLY allowing helmet mounted cams. To my mind a helmet camera in XC is much more dangerous than a bar mounted one and may decrease the effectiveness of the helmet (I am not sure how it affects the tougher DH lids but I can’t imagine having a lump of plastic attached to the outside which is not in the original design is that great). Why not allow bar mounts if it is only for non-race situations? People ride with them all the time! By all means require the removal of bare mounts for the race where they might pose a genuine risk.

The apparent reason for the enforcement of this rule is that coverage of races from within the pack opens up organisers and governing bodies to potential litigation that they cannot dispute. This is totally understandable (if a little cowardly) and is of course less of a problem when race organisers control the footage and can choose what is made public. But I am not really sure this solves the problem, it is just a sticking plaster to hide the issues. If racing is not safe then it should be made safer, by which I mean increased signage for technical sections, removal of unnecessary dangers which are not technical features in the course, riders made more aware of the risks they are signing up to take and potentially enforced use of B lines for non-elite racing. I don’t mean less technical courses because in my opinion this is one of reasons we don’t compete at a higher level internationally. Similarly, if rider behaviour is deemed to be a problem, I fail to see how removing cameras will help – the increased use of cameras by commuting cyclists seems to be starting to turn the tide of bad driving they face!

In conclusion, to ban something on grounds of potential litigation lacks conviction.

In conclusion, to ban something on grounds of potential litigation lacks conviction. Either get better insurance or organise safer races! I would support a ban on helmet camera mounts as a safety point, but I don’t believe bar mounts are less safe especially given the GPSs, heart rate monitors etc. that cover our bars. Can we not just have some common sense rather than knee jerk reactions please?

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