Video footage: Johnny FPV, Rensen FPV, Aufmschlauch.ch, Team Black Sheep
Drones are pretty old hat now in mountain biking. Professionals and amateurs alike are now able to replicate helicopter style shots on the cheap, but are epic landscape shots and slow, aerial pans the best use of this new technology? For a new generation of videographers, it's not even close.
This week we've seen the highlights from the Audi Nines and Richie Rude's latest Raw 100 both chock-full of FPV drone shots to create super-close, super fast follows of riders in action. One minute we can be soaring in the air with some of the world's best freeriders in a German quarry then the next kissing Richie's rear tyre and getting a face full of Vermont mud.
This is the kind of footage that would previously have been unimaginable but with some ingenuity, incredible tech and an awful lot of practice, the FPV filmers are changing the game.
Let's back up a little though, what is an FPV drone? FPV stands for First Person View. The drone's camera broadcasts in real time to a pair of goggles on the pilot's head, this makes flying the drone close to the rider a lot easier and safer. Combine this with a Gopro Hero 6 and some sturdy velcro straps and you might just have the filming rig of the future.
What about the drones these guys are using? They certainly aren't your bog-standard DJI Mavic or GoPro Karma. Rene Rofner, who shot Audi Nines, uses a custom built drone that weighs just 500 grams. It doesn't have all the built in GPS and automation trickery of the Mavic but it's fast, manoeuvrable and controlled totally manually - a Lotus compared to a Bentley.
FPV is a movement that has been spearheaded by Team Black Sheep, a company that provides parts to build drones for racing, filming and even freestyle. They are also a massive content producer with some seriously impressive videos showing off the range and speed of these drones. It's these videos that first caught Rene's eye. He says: "When the first FPV videos from Team Blacksheep appeared on YouTube, I immediately got informed about the equipment and started playing. That was in 2012 when I flew big movie drones but now I was excited about flying the FPV. Right now I'm flying Race Quads and big drones."
With plenty of experience flying behind him, Rene is able to get the shots that are turning heads at the moment, buzzing round riders, close to the action and providing a totally new perspective on the sport. He says: "Drone shots are still very rare in MTB because you need lots of experience and have to have mastered your drone. It is not a toy and you are flying around people. A good drone shot is when you get close to the driver and record their run dynamically."
But what about the riders? Well apart from an annoying whirring, we've not really heard any negative reports, and how could you not be stoked on the shots? To ensure riders are safe, Rene will make sure he knows their line before they ride, then ask them to ride it two or three times, each time getting closer to the rider until he is happy with the shot. He says: "Once it happened to me that I touched a tire of the bike but have not since then. For me, a safe fly in the first place is very important."
And Rene's predictions for the future of drone shots in mountain biking? "There will be much more to see in the future. There are so many more options with a drone in MTB sports. I think again it's a new interesting way to show MTB in a new perspective, with momentum. But I do not want everyone to immediately build a drone and try it out with his buddies, it can be very dangerous because you need a very good training. So please do not do anything rash!"