10 Minutes of Bliss on a Bicycle

A few months back I started creating six-second videos to capture the many blissful moments I have when riding my bike. I’ve mostly used them as personal video snapshots I might actually watch again instead of hoarding hours of GoPro footage from my bike rides, but I’ve also enjoyed sharing them publicly as a way to connect with other people who bike (and people who may be thinking about bicycling).

I’m now up to 100 of the six-second videos I’ve tagged with #bikingwithbliss. (Edit 2016/01/27: I’ve posted more videos, so let’s go with “100+” and “over 10 minutes.”)

100(+) six-second blissful moments on a bicycle

A couple of years ago, I didn’t think riding a bicycle could be blissful; it seemed inconvenient and maybe even a bit scary. Even when I moved close enough to work to make biking feasible and I noticed I was often getting passed by people on bikes while sitting in traffic, I was reluctant to try it.

Even though it made rational sense to bike to work, there were a few things that kept me in my car. I was worried that since I wasn’t fit I’d be exhausted when I got to work. I was worried I’d need special biking clothes and, because of the not-being-fit thing, would look like an overstuffed sausage. I was worried about the danger of biking near traffic and dealing with the people in cars who were annoyed by my presence.

But most of all, biking to work didn’t seem like something I’d enjoy, it seemed like something I’d endure.

An overpass I now often use on my way to work.

After getting some advice and encouragement from friends and coworkers, I finally decided to get a bicycle in the summer of 2014. I figured getting the bike was the hardest part; once I had it I could just try out a bike commute and see how it went. I would not have been surprised if the bicycle ended up rusting in the garage after a couple of weeks.

Once I got the bike, though, I realized just how much fun it was. Taking it on a test ride around the bike shop was exhilarating (if a bit scary — I was biking with cars!!!!). I took the bike on a test ride into work on the first weekend I had it and was immediately hooked.

I quickly grew to love biking to work, and liked biking so much I started filling my weekends with it as well. My normal route to work became kind of boring, so I started trying new and longer routes. After I started a project Richard Masoner suggested that I bike every street in my hometown, I was amazed at the variety of places in my small city that I had never been to before. I took my bike on a train up to San Francisco and biked 50 miles back home. When I went on vacation, I’d seek out loaner bikes and bike shares to try out the infrastructure in new cities. Before long, I had put thousands of miles on my bike.

It turns out biking is not only a rational choice to make for getting to work, it can be a lot of fun.

In retrospect my concerns about getting on a bike were mostly unfounded. Sure I wasn’t fit, but the commute was just 4 miles and relatively flat and it only got easier the more I biked. I also didn’t bother buying special bicycling clothes other than gloves and a helmet. (Though with recent rain and early sunsets, I’ve expanded that to some shoe covers, rain pants and a fluorescent jacket.)

Even the concerns about cars were mostly unfounded. I’ve been honked at a few times for no good reason and a few people in cars have passed a little too closely, but for the most part my interactions with people in cars have been neutral and occasionally positive.

Near the spot where I got scared into getting a GoPro, at a more blissful time.

There was that one time, though…

This past October, I was biking in the bike lane on a straight road and approaching an intersection with a solid green. Cars in the cross road were stopped at their red. Just as I was entering the intersection, the driver of a car that had been stopped in the cross road decided to make a right-on-red in front of me. Fortunately he slammed on his brakes after finally noticing me and I had time to react and swerve around him.

It left my heart racing, but fortunately there was no crash. It got me thinking, though: if (God forbid) anything had happened it would have been easy for the driver to claim I’d been at fault and I might not even have a chance to say otherwise. I decided to get a camera to capture my bike rides “just in case,” and ended up getting a GoPro.

My GoPro did capture me running a red light — legally at an open streets event in San Jose.

When I got the camera, I assumed my bike rides would pass without any incident, I’d delete the footage every day, and free up space on the SD card for the next bike ride.

But I’m a bit of a digital hoarder. I’ve got copies of (embarrassing) high school essays, 640x480 digital photos from a clunky 1990's digital camera (and hundreds of thousands of other photos), coding projects from college, random credit card agreements and a lot more taking up space on my hard drive.

The first time I had the GoPro footage of a bike ride, I thought “I should save this because I don’t have any other video of my bike rides!” And then when I had the second video I thought “well I don’t have any footage of me riding my bike in that spot, so I should probably save these files too.” I just couldn’t delete the files.

I had a problem. On my GoPro Hero4 Session at its best quality setting every 12 minutes takes 2 gigabytes of data. If I saved every video my hard drives would quickly fill, and I’d have hours of mostly boring footage.

At the same time, I realized having the video footage of every bike ride meant that I was capturing a lot of moments that made me happy to be riding a bike. I had footage of me zooming down an overpass after working to get to the top of it, biking by families who were biking to school, and capturing a friendly wave from a fellow bicyclist when I was on a bike share in a town I was visiting. I struck a compromise with myself — I’d delete the more mundane videos, but keep the ones that could show the more blissful moments.

6 seconds of an hour long bike share ride on a gorgeous day in San Francisco

Keeping the videos of the more interesting moments was fine, but no matter how blissful it might have felt to ride by a creek flowing with morning rain or finally getting to zoom down a San Francisco hill I had just climbed, would I really ever go back and watch hours of video to see these moments?

I decided to pare down the video footage to the 6-second format Vine uses — little bite-sized portions I might actually watch again. The constraints of the format also forced me to really think about what it was that made a particular moment seem so perfect or exciting. That time I tried out bike share up in San Francisco for an hour on a gorgeous day was amazing; choosing only 6 seconds of the hour helped me find the parts that best gave a summary of how spectacular it was.

Although I was mostly creating these snippets of video for me, I figured I’d share them with the world as well. I recognize most people probably find watching these clips about as interesting as watching someone else’s vacation movies, but maybe someone will come across one occasionally and find a resonance with the feeling I was experiencing on my ride.

The hardest part of sharing with the world was coming up with a unique hashtag that captured the essence of the videos. After perhaps too much time thinking about it, I settled on #bikingwithbliss.

Like being in an exhilarating John Woo movie.

I had three basic “rules” for these #bikingwithbliss videos:

  • I actually had to be feeling some sense of bliss/euphoria/exhilaration/peacefulness when I recorded the video. If I was distracted thinking about work, and happened to catch the most amazing thing on video that I didn’t notice until I saw the GoPro footage later, it didn’t count.
  • I wanted the videos to be truly positive, not a roundabout way of pointing out negative things. “#bikingwithbliss when a car FINALLY enters the bike lane at the correct point!” or “#bikingwithbliss when the car that passed too close gets stuck at a light anyway!” weren’t really the feeling I was trying to capture. (Though sometimes encountering a couple of asses on a bike ride can be positive too!)
  • Each video had to be reasonably different from the other moments I captured. Every time I see the sun setting behind the hills on my commute home I absolutely love it but I don’t need to preserve that moment over and over.
An infinite loop on Apple’s Infinite Loop.

Vine was the natural place to share the videos. I’m particularly fond of their looping format, and get a sense of accomplishment when I can get a loop to work well. I also started uploading the videos to YouTube because of its better resolution, at the cost of the looping effect.

What I didn’t expect was that the process of creating the videos would also be pretty fun. I’d never done much video editing before. I’m still not an expert, but I have learned enough that some early mistakes are a bit embarrassing (like obvious audio popping). I also quickly moved away from using random background music in favor of using the actual sound I recorded on the ride. I’m still learning, and any tips on making the videos look better on Vine and YouTube would be much appreciated (the videos always seem to look much blockier when streamed than I see locally).

Creating the videos has made me even more aware of how amazing it feels to be out exploring the world (or just heading to and from work) on a bicycle. And they make it just a little less painful to delete all of the more mundane video files I’d otherwise hoard.