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I bought a GoPro HD Hero last fall for a motorcycle trip through West Virginia and North Carolina, and I’ve got to say I’m one of the few who’s not in love with it. The small form factor, rugged construction, and multitude of mounting devices are main selling points. But I have a few pretty big complaints about it:

  • Battery life is limited. I’m only getting about an hour of life from the battery.
  • Navigating the settings is a challenge. If I ever lose the users manual to this camera, I’m screwed. The settings are in a decision tree embedded within the camera and proffered up on a miniscule display in arcane codes. Every time I want to change settings I have to bust out the manual, which means I have to carry it with me on every ride.
  • You can’t change modes on the fly. There’s no way to switch from video to still photography (or vice versa) on the fly, something I used to do with my old Flip video camera. (See below.)
  • It’s hard to turn it off and on while riding. You have to firmly press the power button and hold it down for 7 seconds for the unit to power up. And there is no way from the rider’s seat to know if it has powered up successfully or not. If your finger wavers on the power button even for a moment it won’t turn on. There have been times I thought I was recording awesome footage, but I wasn’t.
  • It’s hard to engage the shutter button while riding. Pressing the shutter button requires a firm press to engage, and there’s no way for the rider to know if the camera is actually recording. The red blinking LED that’s on the front, confirming operation, should be mounted on the back. Likewise, because of the tricky shutter button, there have been times I thought I was recording awesome footage, but I wasn’t.

I think the latter two complaints are because the GoPro is intended as a “set it and forget it” video recording device. The editing is supposed to be done when you’re done your ride and back at home. But I’m pretty limited when it comes to video editing, and prefer to record brief memorable segments of my ride, upload ’em and ditch the whole editing process.

Last weekend I shot some video of my ride on the Jersey shore and found one more limitation: because you can’t see what’s being recorded, there’s no way to know if there’s a bug on the viewfinder! Here are a few segments of my ride down the shore on NJ Route 47:

Nice clean view across the display. Pretty day, pretty ride:

Pretty day, pretty ride, ugly blotch of dead bug in the top right quadrant of the screen, at about 2:00:

As I noted above, on previous trips I jerryrigged a FlipVideo camera to my handlebars with a mini-tripod and electrical tape.  The shots from these earlier trips look like their from the paleolithic era compared to the video footage from the GoPro, but I actually found that setup to be much more user friendly than the GoPro:

I’m going to keep experimenting with the GoPro and hopefully I’ll become a true believer like just about everyone else who has tested and reviewed this camera, but for now the jury is still out.

As I’ve mentioned previously, one of the primary objectives of this blog is to help expand motorcycling to new riders, and to help motorcycle dealerships better serve the first-time rider. It strikes me that winterizing is one of these areas where some basic motorcycle dealership best practices to be applied to the first time rider market. After publishing my post on winterizing on Wednesday, I had some additional thoughts on how motorcycle dealerships can use winterizing as an opportunity to do more business with their customers who are first time riders, while helping them to take better care of their bikes.

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When I bought my first motorcycle in May 2008, I made a lot of mistakes. There was a ton of gear that I needed and shouldn’t have left the dealership without. There was gear I bought ahead of time, before delivery, that was all wrong. So in the interest of serving the first-time rider, here is what I recommend you will need when you finally take the plunge and buy a motorcycle:

On a trip through New England with some friends last summer. Full-face helmet in hand.

A good full-face helmet. For at least the first year, I recommend you wear a full-face helmet every time you ride. Once you have experience, you can switch to an open face or shorty helmet but until then, play it safe. And if you live in a state that lets you go helmetless, for God’s sake don’t. And don’t skimp on the cost of your helmet. I made this mistake and bought a $40 (yes, $40) full face helmet from an online discounter. Ouch. It was excruciating pain every time I wore it. And a massive dent in my forehead where the helmet rubbed against it.

So a few weeks later I had to go to the dealership and pay money for a real helmet. If you do buy online, make sure you try it on in person first because sizes really vary from helmet to helmet. One manufacturer’s XL is another manufacturer’s L. And it’s essential that you get a properly-fitting helmet. A Scorpion EXO 700 can be had for just around $170. It’s a good durable helmet if not the quietest one out there. My current helmet is a Shoei Qwest, which can be had for $300ish. I like it because it’s quiet and super-comfortable (even if it does make me look a bit like Marvin Martian.) Read the rest of this entry »