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Camera Gear on your Bike


I have received dozens of emails over the years regarding how to carry camera gear on a motorcycle. With thousands of miles under my belt, I have, over the years, ruined more than one piece of equipment. But experience has forged a pretty good system that I’ll share, so that you too can enjoy your camera equipment and document your adventures while riding on two wheels.


Before I get into the nuts and bolts of how I actually carry my camera gear I have to tell you a little about my photography background, what photography gear I like to carry and why. I admit that I am a camera and lens addict and there is no cure for this. If there’s a cure I don’t want to know about it. As far as I am concerned, the guy with the most lenses dies the happiest.


I am professionally trained as a technical photographer. In the late 70’s, I worked for three years for the Norwegian Rescue service, documenting land and sea-based rescue events. Upon completion of my contract, I headed out to see the world on a bike. It was 1982. To support this endeavor, I worked as a free-lance photojournalist, selling stories and pictures to magazines from all corners of the globe. In the end, I published a book about the journey, entitled “10 Years on 2 Wheels”.


Having been involved in producing videos over the last 10+ years, I have become increasingly intrigued by this medium. I find a lot of common techniques and many not so common, but all together fascinating. With that said, the amount of “stuff” that I “need” have mushroomed over the years.


On a 2-3 month GlobeRiders tour, I will typically carry two DSLR camera bodies and 4-5 lenses spanning from wide angle (14mm) to a 300mm telephoto lens, as well as an extender. I also have an extra video camera in addition to the video function of my DSLR cameras. With video, there is the requirement of a sound kit, so I include microphones and a digital sound recorder. Finally, I tuck a small point and shoot camera into my pocket, just in case something pops up unexpectedly.





As you all know, digital cameras have made the whole photography experience so much easier. Gone is the need to worry about taking film through those nasty X-Ray machines at the airport or protect it from extreme heat. Gone are those irritating developing delays, leading to weeks or months before you can pour through your images. And making duplicates to share with your friends? That’s downright old fashioned! While I do have to carry chargers, wires, extra batteries and memory cards, in addition to lens and sensor cleaners, I do love digital for its numerous advantages.


Once you have shot photos of every beautiful sunset, unique building and fascinating friend met along the way, what do you do with your full memory cards? Many people bring enough cards for their entire trip. But I need to include in the gear pile a laptop and extra hard drives. It’s more “stuff”, but necessary. I need to see my pictures, edit them and post them on our GlobeRiders online journal while traveling. On a recent trip to Africa I had backed up all of my pictures and video. On my return, I discovered that one of the hard drives had failed. Fortunately for me I had a back up, otherwise I would have lost thousands of pictures and many hours of video.


Since I am traveling on a bike and put a high value to my photography, I have elected to invest in expensive professional lenses and camera bodies. I know that this equipment is made to take a beating not only on the bike, but their weather sealing will keep dust and water at bay much more than a cheaper version of the camera. However, I put the highest value on my lenses and see them as a better investment compared to the camera housing.


Camera bodies come and go with improving technology much more frequently than a lens. Some of my best lenses are 10-20 years old while the camera houses that I use today are no more than three years old. To keep up with the megapixel and resolution sprint and in general the technology of today’s cameras, one can easily change camera housings every three to four years. Some of you reading this story may not be as addicted to technology. Regardless, we have all worked hard to afford the purchase of these wonderful toys. All that is required is taking good care of them so that they will work flawlessly on the next motorcycle journey.







In the early days of my travels I stored my cameras in a tank bag, a great place for the camera to be. They were easily accessible and road vibrations are kept at a minimum with a rubber-mounted tank. But over time, I discovered that I had limited myself significantly in my riding ability by placing a big tank bag right in front of me, creating a distraction and making it almost impossible to stand up when the road got rough. When I finally ditched the tank bag, I never looked back. What a liberation that has been! I can now stand up and do what I need to do even on the worst of roads.







Replacing the awkward tank bag is a standard camera backpack, mounted on the back seat or on the platform where the back seat would have been. Simple! I found that the undersurface of a good camera backpack has an excellent shock absorbing foam pad. All you need to do is modify the pack by adding anchoring points, used to secure the pack to the bike. I use plastic buckles to make it easier to mount and dismount the pack from the bike.









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If you don’t like to sew, just take the backpack to an alternation shop and they will take care of you. Just make sure that the pack is fitted so it can be secured from sliding forward, backwards or from side to side. Remember that the four straps, two in front and two at the back, are the only anchoring you have to the bike for your valuable camera gear. Over the years, I’ve tried many camera backpacks. I’m still experimenting, but feel I’m getting close to the perfect design!




Being on a motorcycle where we are exposed to the weather, I am very sensitive to keeping dust and water outside the bag. For that reason I really got excited when LowePro came out with their DryZone 200 camera backpack. The manufacturer proclaims this to be the world’s first totally waterproof, soft-sided camera backpack. The hope was big and the disappointment was instant. After the first journey, I discovered that I had to struggle with the waterproof zipper every time I got into the bag. Cold weather made this the most difficult and needless to say, dust and dirt needed to be removed constantly to have good lubrication on the zipper. The idea is great, but unfortunately for use on a motorcycle I had to give up on this concept.


So what about Pelican Cases? They are 100% waterproof and built to take a beating. Another advantage is that they can be purchased with special foam that is ready to be custom configured for all of our camera gear. Professional photographers use them all the time when they travel the world. They even come in all sort of sizes and colors; sounds pretty good. Yes and no. While all of the above is a big plus, there is a downside.


My problem is that a Pelican case is a hard box that needs to be structurally compromised in order to be mounted to the bike. After thousands of miles on rough roads, the chance of breaking the case or mount is high. I’ve seen this first hand. Even if a good mount could be made, it’s not very practical to haul around a clunky case full of equipment. For this reason, and because I tend to leave my bike and take my cameras with me, I have chosen to focus on backpacks. They are manufactured for the back, so now they just need to be trained to be good passengers on your bike!





Many of the better camera backpacks come with a good rain cover, which is essential for protection. On several occasions, I have hired a seamstress to sew a custom rain cover for my pack. Be sure to have the seams waterproofed and add a good elastic drawstring around the bottom. Also, to insure that the rain cover cannot leave the pack by accident, I’ve had it sewn to the front of the pack. It’s a good, workable, solution.


If you asked me today, September 2012, what is the best camera backpack to get, I vote for the LowePro Vertex 300 AW. It incorporates many of the points that I have touched on in this article. It has a great rain cover that is attached to the bag and stows in a pocket at the bottom of the pack when not in use. It also has a very practical nylon cover that zips around the back to cover the harness. This way, mud and dirt is kept out of the bottom while you ride back roads on a rainy day. When it’s time to use the backpack, you just wipe off the dirt from the cover, role it up and stow it away before slipping into a nice clean harness.


Another great feature is that it has a pocket for your laptop on TOP of the pack. Many backpacks have this pocket on the undersurface, which is terrible for a motorcycling scenario. The laptop is weighted under camera gear while riding, not good. The Vertex also comes in three different sizes with the 300 series being the largest. For my personal use I find the size of the 300 AW to be a good size for most situations. You just have to go to your nearest camera store and try it out and decide what will work best for your needs.





Before we part ways, I encourage a few last things: to carry a small piece of a candle and use it on a regular basis to lubricate the zippers on the bag. This will keep them functioning for years to come. Another tip is to use alternating female and male buckles so that when you do not have the backpack mounted, you can secure your loose straps on the bike by hooking them together without having to remove the straps. By failing to do this, they might get caught in your spokes. Finally, I end with this warning, based on my own bad experience in riding with a point and shoot camera. Never carry large objects like cameras in the chest pocket of your riding suit. I did, and hurt my ribs badly when I crashed and landed on that camera. These days, if I carry a camera on my body, I tuck it into the leg pocket of my riding suit.



Thanks for your time.


Helge Pedersen - Founder

Photographer, Journalist, Traveler





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