Are you planning on starting a motovlogging channel on Youtube? Or maybe you just want to film some of your rides so you can go back and enjoy them in the future. Either way, you’ll need to come up with a helmet-cam setup. In this post, I’m going to show you what I’ve come up with for myself. I didn’t want to spend a ton on the fanciest equipment so I kept it pretty basic. I just wanted something to get me out riding and recording.
Aside from obvious things like a motorcycle and riding gear, you’ll need 3 things to build your own budget motovlog setup: a helmet, a camera, and an external microphone. Operating on a budget means you’ll have to compromise on some things. It’s up to you to decide what’s more important, whether it be perfect audio or the highest quality helmet. This is certainly a situation where there’s more than one way to skin a cat.
If you want to skip straight to my personal setup, I’ll make it easy for you. I’m using a Joe Rocket Polar Night full face helmet, a GoPro Hero4 Black, and a $4 external microphone. Read on to see how and why I use these products.
Chances are, you already have a helmet for riding. If your current lid will allow you to attach a camera in your desired spot, then stick with it. That brings us to the first decision you need to make: where will you mount your camera? Here are 4 of the most popular places to mount your camera for motovlogging:
1. Chin Mount
This is probably the most popular place to put a camera, and my personal favorite by far. Having the camera centered on your chin gives your viewers the closest angle to what you see from your own eyes. In short, it makes watching the video feel as if you’re the one riding the bike.
- Viewers see exactly what the rider sees (best POV)
- Nothing blocking the view (side of the helmet, visor, arms etc)
- Simple routing for microphone chord
- Requires full face helmet
- Need a somewhat flat surface to mount to – helmets with a pointed design won’t work well
- Some of the mount’s adhesive won’t contact helmet
2. Side Mount
Mounting your camera on the side of your helmet is another popular one. It allows you to make full contact between the mount’s adhesive and the flat side of your helmet. It provides a unique viewpoint that still shows most of what the rider sees, but I prefer it to be centered.
- Solid mounting with a flat point on the helmet making it very sturdy
- Side of the helmet may block some of the view, but other than that it’s wide open
- Less natural feeling view (a bit off balance?)
- A camera hanging off the side of your helmet makes it more noticeable to other motorists
3. Top Mount
Some riders choose to mount their camera to the top of their helmets. Depending on the shape and design, this could be another very sturdy mounting point. It also raises the camera quite a bit higher than what the rider sees. A big benefit to this option is that you can use an open face helmet.
- Sturdy way to mount a camera to nearly any helmet
- Positions the camera as if you were freakishly tall (or for us already-tall folks, into air traffic altitude!)
- Hard to reach controls on the camera
4. Chest Mount
The last option is to avoid mounting the camera to your helmet at all. While this might be popular in extreme sports such as mountain biking, it doesn’t really work well for motovlogging. You’ll also still need to figure out a way to run your microphone into your helmet.
- No need to put sticky mounts on your helmet
- View blocked by the rider’s arms
- Positions the camera too low, although might work for B roll shots
- Difficult to wear the mounting harness over top of your riding gear
If you don’t already own a helmet, make sure you choose one that’s not only comfortable and safe but is designed in a shape that will work with your desired mounting point. For example, helmets that are closer to flat across the front will work best for a chin mount.
Next up, you need to decide on what camera you want to use. Obviously, unless you’re cool with riding around with a gigantic camcorder stuck to your head, you’ll need some type of action camera.
What do you need to look for in a camera? Since this is a budget setup, the cost is going to play a big role. You’ll also need to consider the camera’s build quality and video quality. Some of the cheaper cameras just aren’t on par with bigger companies like GoPro and Sony.
Another very, very important feature is the ability to use an external microphone. During my research, I found a bunch of cameras that were a smokin’ deal compared to a GoPro. After skimming through the specs, I came to the same realization nearly every time – no support for external mics. For motovlogging, this is a deal breaker. Using a camera’s onboard microphone will get you nothing but wind noise.
I didn’t want to shell out the big bucks for a GoPro Hero6. The Hero5 was on sale at a few big box stores at the time, but just like the Hero6, they require an expensive external mic adapter that’s only available from GoPro.
I turned to other camera companies to see what they offered. Cameras like the Yi 4k+ and Firefly seemed pretty great on paper. And while I’m normally the one to say “they’re probably all made in the same Chinese factory anyways”, I just didn’t feel confident in buying one.
My solution was a good ol’ GoPro Hero4 Black. Motovloggers have been using it for years. It has all of the features I need and is built by arguably the best company in the action camera business. The best part is that used or refurbished ones can be found rather easily and for cheap. I grabbed mine from Amazon for around $200.
Your sound is an important aspect of your videos. You’ll want to pick up your voice, and the sound of your bike, all while avoiding as much wind noise as possible. This can be a bit difficult and really comes down to trial and error. The good thing is that getting your audio right is less about the cost of your mic and more about how you use it.
I’m using a super cheap external mic from Amazon. It might not have the kind of sound quality that much more expensive ones have, but it seems like it’ll do the trick for me for now. Some tips to optimize the sound that I’ve learned already during my limited experience with motovlogging:
- If your helmet has a vent in the chin, close it
- Double up on the foam that covers the microphone. I grabbed a 2nd one from an old Xbox headset
- I put the rubber chin insert back into my helmet to deflect some of the wind
- Keep the microphone in the higher section of the cheek pad (closer to the visor) than the lower part where the wind is rushing past
Putting it all together
I’ve seen other articles and videos that refer to “building” a motovlog helmet. Come on. We aren’t building anything. We’re literally sticking a camera to a helmet and jamming a microphone in the cheek pad. It doesn’t have to be complicated! That being said, I’ll talk you through some of the steps to get your budget motovlog setup just right.
Note: Instead of buying a skeleton case for my GoPro, I chose to drill out a hole in my original waterproof case. The reason this needs to be done is to gain access to the mini USB port in order to plug the mic in. I know a lot of people frown on this, but I don’t have any plans to submerge my camera underwater. Rather than making a trip to the store and overpaying for a case, or ordering online and waiting for it to arrive, I went with this quick solution. It’s not pretty, but it works. I wanna go riding!
Now that you’ve decided where you want to mount your camera, you need to figure out how to set that up. Dig through whatever camera mounts you have (or buy one of those accessory kits) and find one that will position the camera where you want it, while making the most contact with the adhesive as possible.
Not having all of the adhesive touch the helmet is surprisingly a lot sturdier than it appears, but don’t take any risks unless you absolutely have to. If your camera falls off on a city street, it’s an inconvenience. If it falls off in the passing lane of a freeway, it’s probably gone for good. So make sure it’s really stuck on there!
After mocking up exactly where you want it, clean the surface thoroughly before sticking the mount on. Some isopropyl alcohol on a shop towel will do the trick. Now stick the camera on your helmet. You’re halfway there.
Running the wire for your microphone can be a bit tricky depending on the design of your helmet. You’ll have to figure out what padding you can pull out, and where you can jam the mic on your specific lid. In my case, the cheek pad unsnaps from the helmet allowing me to spool up the wire and stuff it in behind.
Snapping the pad back into place with just the mic itself sticking out seems to do a good job of holding it in place. Again, you’ll have to play with this for a bit to get it to work just right for your helmet.
Time to test it out
All that’s left now is a little fine tuning. In my opinion, the best way to figure out where you’re at is to go for a test ride. In my case, my initial attempt was a lot closer to perfect than I expected. I needed to angle my camera up more (personal preference) and cut the wind noise down a bit more. Putting the rubber trim piece back in my helmet and doubling up on the foam cover for the mic got me the results I wanted.
You’ll probably want to treat this first ride as “throwaway” content. What I mean is, don’t travel out of your way to the perfect location or spend a bunch of time talking about a subject. There’s a chance that your camera will be pointed straight at your tank, or your voice will be drowned out by wind noise. Expect that your first footage will need to go straight to the trash to avoid any unpleasant surprises.
Go out for a quick ride, watch the video back and then make the necessary adjustments. Once you have it tuned just the way you want it, get out there and start shooting some content! If you want to follow along with my own motovlog journey, make sure to subscribe to the Canadian Gearhead Youtube channel. And if you have any tips for improving my setup, hit me up on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, or here in the comments. Ride safe everyone!