Nothing says ‘extreme’ like action camera footage – and if sharing is caring, we care a lot. Smash ‘GoPro’ into YouTube and you get 23 million results.
Twenty-three million! That’s every single man, woman and child in London, including that weirdly Zen guy holding the Massive Golf Sale sign, and the mummified WWII colonel who always stops in shop doorways. All their videos suck. They’re just awful. But I’m not here to talk about them *hurls brick and runs*.
Actually, that’s still fewer than nine million people, so now you need to add everyone who lives in Scotland. And also Wales. And Northern Ireland. And the Republic of Ireland. Then you finally get to 23 million.
So that’s quite a lot of first-person action videos, then.
Not all GoPro videos involve cycling – though several of the top 20 results regularly do, which is statistically significant – and not all of them are good. Some are terrible. Some look like this.
Oh, the excitement
The problem is, many of them are decent – but the tiny fraction that are properly good are stunning. And that’s stunning as in the dictionary definition (‘extremely impressive’), rather than the BuzzFeed definition (‘forgettable’).
Filmed yourself on a rad lap of the trail centre? Here’s Dan Atherton making you look like a vicar on a shopping bike who’d cry at a single chip of gravel.
Pleased with the way you dealt with that fallen log on the trail? There’s Danny MacAskill, front-flipping out of a field. Over a barbed-wire fence.
How are you feeling about yourself now?
It’s okay to cry…
Oh, but maybe you’ve got some amazing footage of that secret techy trail in your super-steep woods. You were pinned! Well, here’s a man starting the Megavalanche, a race that descends an entire French Alp.
Okay, he doesn’t win, but he qualifies on the second row out of roughly one million and actually finishes. More to the point, he’s called Ulysee Francoglio whereas you, like me, are probably called Steve. Or Dave. Or just ‘Child 3’.
It’s hopeless. You can’t compete.
Feeling a little flat
It doesn’t help that very wide-angle lenses, which work so well to capture all the action, inherently make every mountain look smaller and more distant, every treacherous surface look smoother and every slope shallower. What felt like a cliff now looks, back at your computer, like a field.
Notice how that ski-slope in Francoglio’s Alpine clip doesn’t look so steep? And see how, when he crashes, he just keeps on crashing for about a year? That’s because in real life, he’s riding down a wall. On his face. And it still looks a bit tame.
A 170-degree lens flattens everything, starting with your ego
It also doesn’t help that helmets are the worst place to mount them. It’s an uninterrupted view from up there, sure, but that very high angle is also good for reducing the sensation of speed and flattening everything to the max.
Chest mounts are more dramatic – though getting the right angle can be hard – while mounting them low on your frame produces the strongest results. The trouble is, down there you have to deal with spinning cranks, flying mud and possibly a big, wobbling air shock as well. Can’t find a suitable clamp? Zip ties and sticks work quite well…
Stick with the helmet mount! You too could look like this
So this is the problem with GoPros – and all the other action cameras, of course, such as Garmin’s VIRB or Drift’s Ghost. They’re all too good. Too damn good by half.
I’m only saying ‘GoPro’ because, as with Hoover, Sellotape and Google before, the name’s become the accepted generic term for the market it’s defined. Accepted by the public, at least, if not always the lawyers… please note this is all entirely complimentary, GoPro, you life-ruining technical geniuses.
Ach. Enough. The better these cameras get, the more pin-sharp is the focus on my inadequacy. And it’s now so easy to judge that inadequacy against the very best riders in the world – the very best on their very best days – that it’s almost impossible not to. Damn them all to hell.
This is the first in a series of Punctured columns, in which Steven Williams applies a skewer to some of cycling's sacred cows and accepted beliefs.