My bicycle plays a logistical role in a large portion of my life, it fits around my life in London perfectly and a I love to ride it and look after it. It seemed a natural step to start doing my recording work on it, especially when working on work that surrounds the bicycle. I think I’m getting the system pretty locked down now so I thought I’d share my experiences.
This week I was recording on set with Brendan McNamee at Blunt Films for a film supported by Brooks, so travelling by bike was the only logical choice. My van is also broken, but I think that had I had the choice, I would have gone by bike anyway.
The set-bike I use now is my Surly Cross x Check with Shimano Alfine hub gears and various other wonderful and carefully chosen parts that I can ramble on about all day if prompted, but essentially it’s a very strong bike that I have designed (with the help of the wonderful work of Brixton Cycles) to be quick, whilst supporting a great deal of weight. Last year I also used a vintage Raleigh ‘Bakers’ bike’ that I was restoring for Time Based Arts, with a fetching wicker basket on the front. It was a romantic notion but it doesn’t have the storage for a more substantial job.
The equipment I required for this shoot this week piled onto the back of the bike easily in two panniers and a Peli 1560. The weight was a great deal more than the recommended maximum for the rack, and I imagine the rims as well, but I have used these specific parts a lot in the past and have a more realistic idea of what I can throw onto them now, which is always impressive. It makes the front of the bike quite twitchy and difficult to control so ideally I’d like to spread the weight to the forks as well, but all with time.
Using this format, I managed to get onto the bike…
- A Sennheiser MKH60/MKH30 mid/side combo and an MKH416, both in baskets in the Peli case.
- A Sound Devices 744T and stereo pre-amp cabled up in a Petrol location bag with 3 Sony batteries and 2 MP1 batteries and a Kryptonite D-lock in one pannier.
- Various spare cabling and cards, tools, appropriate clothing, a 17″ Macbook Pro, an Alesis pocket recorder, clip mics and various other miscellaneous gubbins in the other pannier.
- A boom pole and a mic stand on the rack and a bottle of Lucozade in the bottle holder.
En route to the set I managed to navigate across South London and climb to the top of Sydenham Hill with the greatest of ease (I may have exaggerated the level of ease, but I did get there eventually). The main advantage of the bicycle (in general) is it’s ability to navigate urban environments and transport the gear closer to the location for unloading and setup. At the end of last year I recorded a VO for a film that required me to meet the actor at his house. He was only 10, and his schedule permitted me 20 minutes between homework and dinner time at around 6pm. It is no mean feat to get this kind of equipment from central to suburban London at this time of day and it was executed with such ease on the bike.
I have been worried that once on location, the bike becomes rather cumbersome and something of an extra worry. But I have found that I can quickly unload and lock the bike up where required, carrying the equipment, or in some cases, I can use the bike as a centre of operations, using the Peli as a large table-like surface for working on the laptop or arranging and rigging equipment. It also proves a quick run-around and has been used for nipping down the road to get missing cabling by other members of the crew as well.
I certainly need to try and spread the weight across the length of the bike to improve stability when fully-loaded, but I see the bicycle as a realistic alternative to vans and cars for transporting equipment and working on location in urban areas where there’s an advantage to being mobile. I have ideas for making the equipment more secure in an accident (that mainly involves loads more Peli cases) and I think there could be some quick adaptions to the the bike for specific jobs under varying circumstances.
In a wider sense though, as technology gets smaller, I see no reason why the bicycle couldn’t be utilised more and more for other location media applications, perhaps for camera work or even OB. The mobility of the bicycle presents an advantage when recording, filming or broadcast equipment needs to be in a location where vehicles just can’t get through quick enough, or through at all.
For the time being I’m just going to potter around to jobs known as that sound recordist who is a little eccentric about his bike.