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Biking with a camera (11/28/2004)
By Tom Hirsch

Biking is said to be the most efficient mode of travel. Besides that, it's fun, good exercise, inexpensive, environment-friendly, reasonably fast, but slow enough that one can observe his or her surroundings. Also, a bike is able to be maneuvered around objects and across fields that would be impossible to negotiate with a car.

For all of the reasons given above, I enjoy combining two of my favorite hobbies - biking and photography. After packing my gear, putting on my helmet and adjusting the mirror, I can hop on my bike and be on my way.

Some photographer-bikers (P-Bs) just enjoy cruising as they look for anything that might be a good picture subject, such as an interesting building, a sandlot ball game, a human-interest event or activity, or anything that they might happen to come upon. I enjoy this leisurely type of photography too, but I especially relish the challenges of scenery photography. Because I live near the Mississippi River, one of nature's most spectacular photographic subjects is practically at my doorstep.

For a P-B, carrying camera equipment can post a problem. If all you take with you is a small compact camera, there's not much of a problem. I would recommend a waist pack that will hold the camera, one or two rolls of film if you don't have a digital camera, and a pencil and small note pad. When I travel light, I've found this to be ideal.

But I don't always travel light. I'm more apt to take things along on a contingency basis. You know; load myself down with stuff I might need. I've tried putting stuff in one of my smaller gadget bags, but riding a bike with a gadget bag slung around one's neck isn't at all comfortable.

For several years I used an army surplus gas mask bag. This worked quite well because it fit close to my body. Besides a shoulder strap, it also had a strap in one corner that wrapped around my waist and fastened to the opposite corner of the bag. The strap could be tightened, thus preventing the bag from slapping my side with each bump in the road or field.

The problem with the gas mask bag was that it had three small pockets in front of a large pocket. There was very little padding between pockets, and I had the feeling that objects inside the bag were hitting each other with too much force. Wrapping the camera body in a protective cloth helped, but it was a nuisance that slowed me down when I reached for the camera and had to unwrap it before being able to take any pictures.

I think I finally found the solution to carrying camera equipment while biking - a vest. There are gadget bags on the market, and I was tempted to get one. But the vests I've seen are expensive, and they are designed to hold much more gear than I would ever plan on carrying while biking.

I bought a lightweight fishing vest. This was a spur-of-the-moment purchase, but I mentally arranged all my stuff in the pockets before I bought it. And besides, the price was only $9.99 on sale.

When biking with an SLR, the vest is ideal. In the front pockets, I'm able to get a camera, two lenses, a polarizing filter for each lens, several rolls of film, close-up lenses, and lens tissue and cleaner. In a small inside pocket, I have a pencil and data cards. A large pocket in the back can be used for carrying a sweater and/or a snack. When I'm biking with my digital camera, which happens more and more frequently, the amount that I take is cut by more than half, and the vest is even more comfortable to wear.

The vest is not practical for all my picture taking experiences, but until a better idea comes along, the vest will be my gadget bag of choice for bike outings. 


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