Mobile technology and the Tour de France: Good, bad, ugly, cool — and you still need to pay NBC to watch it live online

Ever wanted to know what the Tour de France looks like from right in the middle of the pack? You now can see what it looks like for yourself, thanks to some on-bike cameras being used on a trial basis at this year’s race. Here is a link to a clip from Stage 1 that shows what it’s like to see a crash happen right in front of you. Great stuff, the kind of smart use of mobile technology that we’ve been waiting for since GoPro cameras hit the scene.

(For some reason it looks like the TdF is making some of these videos private, so watch them while you can. We also agree with what some commenters have been saying — what’s with the cheesy overdubbed music? Just use cycling action noise, please… thanks)

Of course, with technology advancements come things both good and bad, and if there is a crisis-about-to-happen trend it’s the proliferation of fans alongside the Tour de France trying to snap selfies with the racers in the background. Look, we get it: You are at a bucket-list type event, you spent hours by the side of the road waiting for the too-brief minute or two of action… so hell yeah, you’re going to snap a selfie to show everyone else how cool and important you are! Superb!

(VeloNews also has a report on the problem.)

The only problem is, over the last couple years, it’s become pretty obvious to anyone who watches Tour de France coverage on TV that the exuberant fans of old — usually fat old French guys who would sprint alongside the riders, on the steepest inclines where a human running can keep up with a bike for short distances — have now been replaced by a crew of idiots who know nothing about bike racing, but who want to be on TV. Or on the Internet. They dress up, they run in the road, they block the path of cyclists and motorcycles — every day now we hold our breath, hoping like hell there isn’t an incident where a fan takes out a leading rider, or far worse, a cyclist or fan suffers a terrible injury because some idiot was out in the middle of the road. Combine the idiot behavior with the turned-around selfie head not looking at what’s coming and you have a toxic stew. Who will save these jerks from themselves?

I’ve been around big bike races enough to know that there’s really no way of keeping these crowds completely controlled, short of putting up fences like they do for the last 1,000 meters in tour stages. Even then, people lean over the fences and cause crashes. I get it that part of the romance, the excitement of the Tour is the up-close involvement of fans. But these days it seems like it’s 90 percent self-important party clowns lining the roads, and not people who really care or understand the event. So far, it seems like the Tour has done little to try to tone down the on-road crowding. Let’s hope someone figures something out before there’s a race-changing or life-changing incident.

Crowds overwhelming cellular signals again?

This report is somewhat unconfirmed but in watching the NBC coverage live early this morning west coast time we heard one of the on-course reporters saying something about how team cars couldn’t communicate from the front of the pack to the back because they couldn’t get a cell signal — courtesy of the huge amount of fans lining the road for the stage into London. Shades of the Olympic road race! Guess they still haven’t figured out how to handle cellular crowds in the UK countryside.

TourTracker partners with CyclingNews: Best of both worlds!

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

Screen shot of TourTracker TdF app

We are also happy to see that our favorite live-action tour-following app, TourTracker, is now finally available for Tour de France coverage thanks to a partnership with CyclingNews. We’re happy for founder Allan Padgett and TourTracker… the best way to follow the biggest race in a mobile fashion. Unfortunately, the TourTracker app won’t have live video coverage — for that you still need to pay NBC extra, to the tune of $4.99 a day or $29.99 for the whole race. For mobile access only it looks like the charge is $14.99; not sure if there is also a per-viewing charge as well as a charge for the app.

How do we feel about NBC milking cycling fans for chump change? It wouldn’t be so bad if you could ensure that Phil Liggett and Paul Sherwen were the only commentators heard, but from my short viewing stint today it appears that NBC has loaded up the announcer roster with those “other guys” that people generally can’t stand. My suggestion to Phil and Paul — hold some classes in the offseason to train the next generation of announcers! Please!

GoPro’s latest actioncam smaller and lighter


For fans of actioncams, those small cameras designed to be worn by the user in sporting events and other activities but are concerned about the potential interference the devices could have, GoPro has good news for you.

Its Hero+3 lineup is now out and the company has addressed issues such as weight and size by the simple move of reducing both, while maintaining the functionality that customers are used to from its other offerings.

The latest lineup is 20% smaller and lighter than its last generation while at the same time the company has managed to increase battery time by as much as 30%. The entry level offering is the Hero3+ Silver Edition and the company said that it performs at 2x the speed of its Hero3 Silver offering.

The camera can support both 1080p60 and 720p120 frames per second video and even when loaded in its new waterproof housing is still 15% smaller than earlier editions. It also now sports a much faster Wi-Fi capability for transferring files, reaching speeds that are 4x faster than in older models. It also has a faster image processor, operating at double the speed of the last generation.

The top of the line Hero3+ Black Edition has the same video and Wi-Fi capabilities available in the Silver Edition. The camera boasts a new lens for sharper images and an auto low light mode that can adjust for changing lighting conditions. Its underwater housing now has a 20% smaller and lighter footprint than older models and is good down to 40 meters. The $400 camera is currently available.

In addition to improving its cameras GoPro has also enhanced the clamps by which users attach them to their bikes, bodies or other objects. There is now a smaller version of its chest harness, called Junior Chesty, for smaller children and there is a Headstrap + Quickclip for low profile mounting of the cameras on baseball caps, belts and other objects.

GoPro takes Hero to Level 3

GoPro has enhanced its popular Hero line of action cameras with the unveiling of its Hero3 family that should meet the needs of the most demanding user by following the company’s tried and true method of continually making the devices faster and more powerful.

The Hero3 moves GoPro into the realm of the 4k resolution capabilities in its top end offerings. The Hero3 family has a trio of models, each designed for different users at different price points, starting with the Hero3 Black at the high end.

The Black comes with 4k resolution, or ultra high definition, capabilities and has a 12MP image sensor that is coupled with an enhanced low light performance. It is capable of recording video at 1080p, 1440p, 960p and 720p resolutions.

The $399.99 camera supports up to 64GB MicroSD cards for storage and has built-in Wi-Fi making it very easy to transfer images and video to more permanent storage or to large screen displays for viewing. It can take still in three resolutions, 12MP, 7MP and 5MP and has burst speed of 30 frames per second and also has both time lapse and continuous capabilities. It has a waterproof case good to 197 feet and is gear mountable.

Next up is the $299.99 Silver Edition, targeted as the natural replacement for the company’s previous workhorse offering, the Hero2, but it comes it 25% lighter at under 3 ounces and 30% smaller while sharing the same basic specifications such as the ability to capturing ultra-wide 1080p 30 fps and 720p 60 fps video plus 11MP photos at a rate of 10 photos per second but also has built-in Wi-Fi.

The $199.99 entry level White Edition is waterproof to 197 feet, and is capable of capturing 1080p 30 fps and 720p 60 fps video plus 5MP photos at a rate of 3 photos per second. As with all of the new generation Hero3 cameras it has built-in Wi-Fi. All of the cameras are expected to be available by the end of the month.

There are a growing number of developers in this space with Polaroid jumping into the market recently with a trio of offerings while Sony has been making waves with its Bloggie Sports Camera line.

Polaroid Makes a Strong Move into Action Cams

Polaroid has expanded its presence in the growing sports action cam space with the addition of a trio of offerings that are designed to meet a wide range of uses and price points as the company moves more strongly into this space.

This is an interesting space, with these cameras used in place of smartphones at one end of the device spectrum and more dedicated camcorders at the other end. Often housed in at least water resistant cases and more durable than a phone or a tradition camera they are for users that wish to record their latest skiing, skateboarding, diving or off road biking experience.

The 1.6 ounce entry level XS7 has the ability to take 720p high definition video or still images at 1MP, 3MP and 5MP and has a 2-inch full color screen so that users can view video and images that they have just shot with the camera.

Its case is waterproof up to 30 feet and it, as with all of the new action cams, comes with mounting brackets that enable it to be used on top of a helmet or on a bike’s handlebars. The $69.99 camera supports Micro SD cards with capacities up to 32GB.

Moving up a step is the Polaroid XS20 that also captures 720p video as well as 5MP still images. It is waterproof to 65 feet so it can be used on dives and other more water based activities. Its three hour battery gives a user more time to record their activity while it is designed for use in all lighting environments including low light due to its 8 built-in LED lights. The $99.99 camera can even act as a security device due to built-in motion sensors.

The Polaroid XS100 is the high end offering and can not only record in 720p but also 960p and 1080p video as well as record 3MP, 5MP and 16MP still images. It has an ultra wide lens that can provide 170 degree coverage and while in camera mode it has adjustable frame rates like burst shooting mode, time lapse and fast and slow motion.

Polaroid is a well recognized name in imagery and has an established track record delivering quality cameras so it will be interesting to see how well it is accepted in this space.

There are some well established players in this space led by GoPro, which has deals that bring it into the forefront such as its relationship with ESPN’s X Games. Others are moving into the space such as Sony with its Bloggie Sports Camera. However Polaroid is a well recognized name in imagery and has an established track record

New GoPro App Turns Phone Into Camera Remote Control

If you are a fan or user of the GoPro mobile cameras, you now have a potentially cool new toy — the new GoPro smartphone app, which lets your phone act as a remote control for the company’s mobile HD Hero2 cameras.

The short video above does a great job of showing you what’s possible with the new app. Here’s some verbiage from the official GoPro announcement page:

Features include full control of all camera settings, live video preview to your smartphone or tablet for easy shot framing and more. The GoPro App also gives you access to our Photo and Video of the Day posts keeping you in touch with the latest radness from GoPro.

GoPro also notes that you need a software update to both the HD Hero2 camera and the Wi-Fi BacPac to use the app, all available from this page.

GoPro’s X Games Highlight Video: Simply Amazing

Did you miss the X Games last week on ESPN? If so the good folks at GoPro have put together a quick mind-blowing recap video, shot completely with their portable HD HERO2 cameras. Take a quick look here to see what the X Games looks like from the athlete perspective: