Warning: Some Sonoma County bicyclists are armed with cameras
Jerry Meshulam never saw it coming.
The Sebastopol man was riding his bicycle on Hall Road west of Santa Rosa when he felt the bracing shock of ice cold liquid being dumped over his head. From the open window of a pickup that sped past him flew an emptied Big Gulp, the plastic cup landing in the road where Meshulam stopped to recover.
“It was pretty outrageous,” said Meshulam, a retired Sonoma County environmental health specialist.
Meshulam, 65, said he also has been beaned by a partially filled Gatorade bottle and sprayed with an unknown liquid during a group ride. Fed up with such assaults, he invested in a small camera a year ago that attaches to his bike and records the action while he’s riding.
Meshulam is among a growing number of cyclists in Sonoma County and across the country who are using technology to document aggressive or dangerous behavior on the part of motorists. The videos are shot on cameras mounted on bikes or helmets, then are posted online, shared with other riders or turned over to law enforcement authorities.
“I want every driver to think every bicyclist has a camera on their bike,” said David Levinger, a veteran Santa Rosa cyclist and independent consultant in the field of transportation and planning. “I think there’s a feeling of anonymity people sometimes have in their vehicles that makes them behave less well.”
Reported cases of motorists deliberately targeting cyclists are rare. But crashes involving distracted driving or other causes are not.
In one recent Sonoma County case, a 77‑year‑old San Francisco man suffered major injuries Aug. 3 while riding on River Road after he was struck by a driver who apparently drifted onto the shoulder.
The driver didn’t stop and is still being sought. The cyclist, who was not identified, had been riding ahead of friends who didn’t see the collision.
Video of the crash might have proven a crucial piece of evidence, proponents say. Such technology has been around for some time, but its use is expanding as cameras become more affordable and recording quality improves.
Meshulam and Levinger use the Cycliq Fly6 Taillight Camera, which retails for about $170. The device is mounted beneath their bike seats and records things behind them, such as approaching vehicles. Other riders attach GoPros or other cameras to their handlebars or helmets.
Levinger bought his camera on impulse after seeing it in a store. Meshulam purchased his in May 2015 after he was hit with the Gatorade bottle. The device, which is no larger than a deck of cards, records high-definition video and audio in a continuous loop, erasing over unwanted footage. The device also flashes a bright 30-lumen light that makes Meshulam more visible to drivers.
Some have suggested that such cameras are overkill, including one rider on a recent ride in Napa County who said, “I hope it never gets to the point that I need one of those.” Others worry the cameras give the false impression that cycling is an inherently dangerous sport.
Meshulam said using his is a personal decision, one that makes him feel safer on the road.
“Anytime you’ve got cyclists where there are vehicles driving by, there’s obviously some danger in it,” he said. “It seems like people are in a hurry and impatient.”