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by Dave Rome
May 30, 2018
Photography by David Rome
TECH NEWS BROUGHT TO YOU BY BIKEEXCHANGE
With what feels like an increasing number of incidents happening on our roads, many cyclists are taking additional measures to ensure they’re seen day and night, and that they have proof if an incident does occur. Combining an action camera and light into a single device, the Fly12 (front) and Fly6 (rear) are certainly unique products.
The original Fly6, an Australian invention, successfully used Kickstarter to launch in the heyday of crowdfunded campaigns. Since then, the small Australian start-up has vastly grown its international reach and even listed on the Australian Stock Exchange (ASX). More recently, the company released its largest product update yet, wholly new Fly6 (rear) and Fly12 (front) units, each with a “CE” (Connected Edition) moniker.
The original, and interim, generations of the Fly6 were innovative and unique, however, at least for me, the lack of a light bright enough for daytime visibility was always a deal-breaker, especially when you considered the size and weight of the unit. In contrast, the original Fly12 was a more polished product, however camera and battery tech keeps improving at a rapid rate, and the new Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE take advantage of both (plus more).
Almost everything, really.
In short, the Fly6 and Fly12 have both had major overhauls, including a facelift with more compact cases. Light output, image quality, connectivity options, mounting versatility, battery life (for the Fly6 CE) and price are all up. Weight and size are down (as is battery life for the Fly12 CE).
What hasn’t changed is the key design elements. Both are still safety cameras first and foremost, so the camera automatically turns on with the unit, and unlike the lights, there’s no way to turn it off. The strong battery life and video looping with incident protection (protecting recently recorded footage if the camera is left on its side for long enough) both remain, ensuring that memory card size is never an issue, and if an incident does occur, the footage won’t be lost. Likewise, IP56 water protection with nano-coated internals remain.
Both units now enjoy Bluetooth and ANT+ connectivity, with the former offering easy setting control through a phone, while the latter is used for linking with compatible cycling head units (currently only Garmin) for automated control. Battery charging and data transfer is now quicker and faster thanks to the new USB-C standard, and there is an option for “6-Axis digital image optimisation” for smoothing recorded footage on both devices.
Both units now share the same 1/8-turn mount type. While similar, it’s not compatible with popular GPS computer mounts.
Not all of the features that defined earlier versions of the Fly6 and Fly12 have been carried forward, though. In an effort to keep the final cost of each unit down, MicroSD memory cards are no longer supplied with the devices, so buyers will have to pay for their own. Wi-Fi connectivity has been removed from the Fly12, too, and the only way to transfer footage for editing is to plug the device, or memory card, directly into a phone, laptop or desktop.
For the Fly6 CE, the fourth generation unit is now slimmer, darker, and more modern-looking. At 112g (126g including mount), weight is only a smidge better than previous generations, but it achieves that while adding a whole host of new features and improved performance. Light output gets a significant boost from 30 to 100 lumens, while maximum video recording resolution jumps from 720p to full-HD 1080p at 60 frames per second (fps) to match the Fly12. All of these changes come with an increase in battery capacity, allowing the device to record for seven hours (without the light in use), approximately an hour longer than its predecessor.
The new Fly12 CE is noticeably more compact than the original Fly12 (left).
Compared to the new Fly6 CE, the Fly12 CE receives fewer updates. The outer casing is boxier and more compact, mirroring the styling for the Fly6 CE, and saves 48g for a weight of 195g. The charge port and MicroSD slot shift to the side of the unit and sit behind a mechanical latch. Light output is given a welcome boost from 400 lumens to 600 lumens, but the only update to video performance is the new digital image stabilisation (which effectively works through compressing the footage).
Battery capacity has been sacrificed for the Fly12 CE, a necessary trade-off to keep the device reasonably light and compact. Compared to the original Fly12 that boasted 10 hours of recording, the new version offers eight hours, yet that’s nearly a Lord of the Rings marathon longer than what a GoPro can manage.
New versus old. The Fly6 CE (top) employs a Velcro strap rather than a silicone band.
The Fly6 CE is a cinch to fit using a velcro strap with a 1/8-turn mount. Two different silicone spacers are provided along with three adapters to suit a variety of seatpost shapes. From 25.4mm round posts, to Giant’s D-Fuse (squared back shape), to deep aero posts, I was able to fit the Fly6 securely without issue. It’s a huge improvement from the original rubber strap system that was clunky, fragile, and offered limited compatibility.
The strap does have some minor quirks, however, with the silicon backing to the velcro strap peeling away with repeated use, while the strap was too long for some seatposts. In all my trials, the excess could be tucked out of the way, though some may prefer to trim it to length, assuming that it won’t be needed for other bikes. Spare straps are readily available for purchase at a fair price; Cycliq also sells a pannier mount and there’s a saddle rail mount on the way, too.
The handlebar mount takes up a fair bit of room, but the Fly12 CE comes with a GoPro adaptor that can be used with a variety of out-front computer mounts, like this one from Giant.
Fitting the Fly12 CE is even easier. The included 31.8/26mm plastic handlebar mount is extremely simple and effective, however, it does require a round handlebar and a reasonable amount of bar space given the device’s 57mm width. If bar space or shape is an issue, then the GoPro adaptor that is included with the unit will come in handy. It’s a welcome extra that allows you to use a number of out-front combination mounts, such as those from Cycliq, K-Edge, BarFly or similar. Buyers that want to get creative with collecting video footage should keep in mind that the Fly12 CE sits central to its mount, and it’s not nearly as compact as a GoPro, so there will be some places where it simply won’t fit with ease, such as a chest mount.
Safety tethers are included with the Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE. I didn’t put them to use, but if you’re worried the mounts aren’t secure enough, or you never want to see your device sliding across the pavement, then the option is there.
The phone app offers simple control over a variety of features.
New microSD cards were recognised immediately and setting up each device was relatively easy using the CycliqPlus app on iOS (also available on Android). Bluetooth synching was extremely easy, and from there you can control the specific settings, one device at a time. There’s also a desktop app, for Windows and for Mac.
If a device firmware update is needed, then it’s far from an automated process. Two separate files must be downloaded with a Mac or PC computer and then dragged and dropped onto the plugged-in device in stages. No, it’s not hard to do, and Cycliq provides clear instructions for the process, but it certainly feels like a dated process, especially when many other Bluetooth-equipped devices manage such updates through phone apps. Thankfully such updates should be few and far between.
The Fly6 CE (center) packs enough punch to have you clearly seen in the day. To its right sits a favourite daytime-running rear light, the Bontrager Flare R.
It’s simple. The new Fly6 CE is a vastly better light than any previous generation Fly6 — and ignoring the fact that it’s also a camera – it’s simply a good safety light. With a claimed 100 lumen output, the light is clearly visible from a fair distance in broad daylight, and once the sun goes down, it’s hard to miss (obviously). Side visibility isn’t class-leading, however there is just enough light from in front of the casing to make itself known.
The Fly6 CE offers three light modes: steady, flashing and strobe. Each mode offers three levels of brightness, and there’s an option of using the camera without the light at all. All of these modes and brightness levels can be selected within the CycliqPlus app, and in my case, I turned off a number of options to leave just four choices to toggle through.
The jump in light output for the Fly12 CE may not be quite as impressive as the Fly6 CE but 600 lumens is still plenty bright.
Compared to the 300% bump in output for the Fly6 CE, the 50% increase for the Fly12 CE is somewhat underwhelming. Still, 600 lumens is easily bright enough for daytime use, and it’s enough to get you home safely in the dark. However, by today’s standards, it’s a little weak as a means of revealing the path in front, especially if you’re seeking a light for night-time mountain biking.
Like the Fly6 CE, the Fly12 CE has three light modes (steady, flashing and strobe) with a beam pattern that offers a bright central spot that is just large enough to see the road directly in front. The light then has a softer halo around it that helps with side visibility and illuminating street signs.
As mentioned above, battery life for the Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE is seven and eight hours, but that only applies to the camera when the lights aren’t in use. When I tested the brightest flash settings, the Fly6 CE disco’d for exactly five hours and 30 minutes, with the camera shutting off approximately 90 minutes earlier in order to keep the light going. I didn’t have the same luck testing the run time for the Fly12 CE because the device’s Idle mode (automatic switch-off from a lack of movement) kept kicking in despite being turned off (yeah yeah, I should have been riding), but I expect it will be longer than the Fly6 CE.
The video above provides real footage of Fly12 CE and Fly6 CE units, along with comparisons.
The original Fly12 was already competitive in the recording domain, offering 1080p definition at a maximum of 60fps, and it did so with reasonable colours and clarity with a wide 135-degree field of view. By comparison, the older Fly6s recorded at 720p and 30fps in a rare AVI file format with a narrower 100-degree field of view.
As mentioned above, the Fly6 CE has been upgraded to match the recording capabilities of the Fly12 and has inherited the same 135-degree lens. For those hoping to store more footage, both units can record at 1080p at 30fps, and, 720p at 60fps.
The new 6-axis image stabilisation does indeed work as claimed (at least for the Fly12) and goes a long way toward smoothing out what would otherwise be shaky footage. The feature does have a way of making an off-road rides look far tamer than reality, but on the road, it works to provide a clearer picture. Unfortunately, that image stabilisation refused to work for me on the Fly6 CE (see video above). Ben Hammond, Chief Marketing Officer at Cycliq, acknowledged that this was a known issue that was addressed by a previous firmware update, so it’s not clear why I couldn’t make use of image stabilisation with my sample, even after updating the firmware.
Compared to the second generation Fly6 that I had on hand, footage from the Fly6 CE appeared far more natural than the overly-warm tones captured by its predecessor. The wider field of view also does wonders for the new camera, grabbing license plate detail at angles well beyond what previous generations could manage. However, compared to the Fly12 CE, absolute clarity and colours are still lacking, and while it’s more than adequate for a safety camera, it can’t be considered an action camera.
The Fly12 CE, in contrast, can be considered a decent action camera. Not only does it do an impressive job capturing your field of view, it doesn’t suffer the same amount of barrel distortion as a GoPro Hero 4 Silver. Colours are good, and the Fly12 CE does a respectable job in challenging conditions, such as dappled light, capturing great detail without blowing out, unlike the GoPro. Both devices do suffer from lens flare in between shadows, though, with the Fly12 CE worse off.
All told, I was happy with the results I got off-road when using the Fly12 CE, and I wouldn’t hesitate to share it with an audience. Cycliq clearly agree with this sentiment, providing a handy save button (aka, “Did you see that?!”) for the Fly12 CE, whereas no such feature exists for the Fly6.
Both cameras were virtually useless at night, which isn’t surprising, but it may disappoint some hoping that the safety camera function was more versatile. As you can see in the recorded footage above, both cameras capture the general surroundings, but any specific details, such as license plate numbers, are often lost to overexposure by reflected light. Still, the footage may prove more useful than having none at all (see side-bar below), and you still get the benefit of the lights.
The Fly12’s rear-facing microphone is well controlled, if not lacking sensitivity. Even in a waterproof housing, the GoPro Hero 4 is far more sensitive to noise and if talking on camera, or capturing witty conversation is important, than you’ll likely be disappointed by the Fly12 CE.
The two devices differed quite significantly in their ability to record sound. The Fly12 CE’s microphone was relatively insensitive while the Fly6 CE could pick up sloshing from my water bottle (okay, you have to listen closely, but it is there, I swear). On the road, and at speed, audio from the Fly6 CE was often overwhelmed by wind noise, so it was pretty useless (and painful to listen to).
Hammond said the company is working on a firmware solution for this, saying that “balancing the profile and form factor of the device and the firmware algorithms is a challenge, however, we have tried to optimise it to pick up on any altercations once the bike is stationary (e.g. if there is an accident or confrontation).” Clearly, what is needed is some kind of smart audio collection, but until then, get used to muting the playback for any on-bike footage from the Fly6 CE.
No matter how great these products are, does recording your ride actually achieve anything in the event of an incident? Lawyer (and cyclist), Megan M. Hottman, aka, the Cyclist-Lawyer, provides her take. In short, she’s a huge proponent for riding with recording devices and recommends the Fly6.
“I’ll start by telling a story of a current client who was out riding gravel roads to avoid cars. A woman playing with her dog throwing the ball was nearby and sure enough – the dog ran right into his front wheel and took him out. He suspects a torn labrum in his hip (having been through this on the other hip when hit by a car a few years back) and if not for that video, he would have nowhere to go from here. There would be no case. Instead, he got the woman’s homeowner insurance info, and with that video coverage, we now have a clear cut ‘dog at large’ case to file against the dog owner’s insurer.
“There are other cases where motorists hit a cyclist from behind and without that footage the cyclist would have no means of pursuing a driver who fled the scene. The video footage and its power cannot be emphasized enough. But a cautionary tale – it catches the entire episode. If the cyclist first threw something at a car or threw up a middle finger or somehow fanned the flames prior to the event in question, the entire episode will be on film. So it catches the good and bad. This does help cyclists and motorists behave – drivers are beginning to recognize those devices as cameras and I believe it’s changing their behavior for the better. Cyclists are riding more respectfully and lawfully knowing their conduct will be captured on their own device.
“Most law enforcement offices I’ve talked with say this evidence is hugely helpful to them in their collision investigation so long as footage does show the face of the driver. Of course, any other info like the car make/model/plates and the location, timestamps, etc all play a role in the investigation as well. But imagine a collision with no witnesses and a cyclist who is knocked unconscious… the video can be so powerful. It can make the case. I have seen judges sit up and really take notice when a video is played at a driver’s sentencing. I see district attorneys feel more inclined to take the case against the driver to trial versus to offer a plea deal. The footage matters. It is powerful.
“Bottom line: I recommend everyone who rides bikes on roads ride with a camera. If you have to choose just one, use a rear-facing one as that’s the time you’re most likely to have a hit and run scenario.”
Both the Fly6 CE and Fly12 feature an alarm that is controlled through the phone app. Designed to be used when ordering a latte, the alarm is enabled via Bluetooth and uses the device’s accelerometers to detect movement. If your bike is moved, the unit will start to flash and sound an annoyingly loud alarm. Assuming you and your connected phone are within the Bluetooth range (approx 15 meters), you’ll be alerted, too.
But wait, there’s more (though not a free set of steak knives). The Cycliq Fly12 CE and Fly6 CE can each be turned into very annoying alarms.
Curiously, both devices are equipped with a “flight mode”. That’s because Bluetooth is constantly running, and while it doesn’t seem to have a big impact on battery life over the course of a few days, there are aviation laws to abide by. Thus, it’s something for owners to keep in mind when travelling with these devices.
As mentioned in the introduction above, the Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE are now equipped with ANT+ connectivity, which may strike some as odd, given that there is no data to broadcast from a light/camera. However, ANT+ connectivity can be used to provide battery levels and some remote functions, such as operating the lights, just like Garmin’s lights and some models from Bontrager.
At this stage, only Garmin’s newest Edge models are compatible with the Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE, but they can be configured to turn on when the head unit is powered up while relaying information on battery levels. Right now that may seem a little gimmicky — and it is — but it’s likely that this kind of integration will become more useful with time.
The New Fly6 CE is a vast improvement on previous generations. It’s enough of an upgrade that those using earlier generations of the Fly6 will be happy with their purchase. Even if it’s only for the improved light output.
The same can’t be said for the Fly12 CE. It’s certainly better than the original, but I don’t think there’s enough to justify replacing an existing unit. Yes, it’s smaller, lighter and brighter, but the original Fly12 does the most important things nearly as well.
As for those that have yet to install a safety camera on their bikes, but are thinking about it, I’m convinced the Fly6 CE and Fly12 CE are benchmark products. A set isn’t cheap, nor that lightweight, but if you compare it to a decent set of lights and quality action cameras, they are not only better value, they are better-considered products, too.
I’m so impressed with the new Fly6 CE that I’d choose to ride with one, and it’s a product I’d suggest for the masses. While it’s noticeably bigger and heavier than a rear light alone, it does much more than just keep you seen.
The same argument also works well for the front-facing Fly12 CE, but I don’t feel the need to have my rides recorded in such detail. And given that the Fly12 CE is noticeably bigger and more expensive than the Fly6 CE, I’d happily forego the extra camera angle in favour of a simpler front light.
A look at what’s included with the Fly12 CE.
A look at what’s included with the Fly6 CE.
The Fly12 CE and Fly6 CE now aesthetically match.
The Fly12 CE takes up a surprising amount of bar space.
Purely for size, here’s the Fly12 CE next to an Exposure Diablo.
For the Fly6 CE, the buttons sit on the side. One button handles the off/on and the mode toggling. The button on the other side is simply there for light brightness.
A side latch hides the Fly12 CE’s charge port and memory card slot. Such things are merely protected with a rubber cap on the Fly6 CE.
The new CE models are provided in much smaller boxes.
The Fly6 CE comes with three rubber wedges like this. They’re each designed to fit different seatpost shapes.
The Fly6 velcro strap comes with a silicon backing that grips nicely. Unfortunately it didn’t last.
The new Fly6 CE is smaller and better looking than the older generations.