Onboard Bicycle

A few years back, I worked on a commercial for the USPS which featured Lance Armstrong cycling all over the place. For that spot, I got to record a bike race, spend a few hours in the field with a bike to record movement and bys, and bring a bike onto a Foley stage and let the artist wring what he could from the machine. However, I never had a chance to explore making onboard recordings for that spot. The idea has been rattling around in the back of my head ever since. When I hopped on my bike a few weeks ago it was immediately apparent that a major service and tuneup were needed. The gears were rough and cranky, the chain had become dry, and the whole thing squeaked and groaned as I pedaled. In other words, it rode like shit but sounded fantastic!

Onboard recordings are not my specialty and my kit is primitive. Mounting a zeppelin to the bike is impractical due to the potential speed of a bicycle. A zepp, even fully fuzzied, cannot handle much more than 15mph. My zeppelin is also large and would be unwieldy to mount with tape. For an onboard recording where size and weight are vital, I like to use lavaliers.
Stuffing a can full of foam and burying the mic inside can effectively turn an omni lav into a directional mic. (That’s not to say it rejects any signals from the side, but the can/foam muffles a lot of high end.)

The cans are mounted to the bike with a good amount of foam between the two and a whole lot of duct tape. The points of interest were the front and rear gears, so I mounted the cans on the frame pointing towards those objects. The cables were then carefully routed up the frame and the recorder gets worn strapped directly to my back.

The biggest problem with my setup is rumble from the frame transferring to the can/mic mount. This was alleviated a bit by padding more foam around the can and between the can/bike. As I aim to perfect this setup its obvious some type of shock-mount needs to be designed. Because of the noise transfer, these recordings required severe processing to bring the life out of them. Below is a side by side comparison of the original, unprocessed recording and the heavily effected version.

Bicycle Before And After by dsteinwedel

(The MP3ification for the web actually makes the low end sound less bad than it actually was.) Waves C4 was a real champ at bringing this recording back from the brink. Here are some other samples at various speeds and gear ratios.

Bicycle Samples by dsteinwedel

And finally, some pitch shifting and minor tweaking turns the recording into something else entirely.

Bicycle Pitch Shifted And Tweaked by dsteinwedel

I am aiming to get the rig and mount working a tad better. Also, the bike sounds much better (more stressed) when riding hills, and these recordings were all on a track. Look for another segment in the future for round two of onboard bicycle action!

Gearslut notes: Recorded in Dual Mono using 2 Sony ECM-44B Lavaliers->Fostex FR2.