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A Look at my Biking Landscape. Or a Gratuitous Drone Video. You Decide.

December 15, 2017

I live in Hoboken - a charming, mile-square city located on the banks of the Hudson River overlooking Manhattan. So far, so glamorous, but it does present its challenges for a motorcyclist, as it is crammed with people and their kids and their pets. This is ok - even though my wife and I have decided to have motorcycles instead of kids, you gotta live and let live, right? But the problem is that these families and their kids and their pets have to get from A - B and the traffic is just horrible. As a consequence, it often takes me 30 minutes to get to a stretch of road where I can get out of 3rd gear. Parking can be challenging too. To compound this, as well having the Hudson to the East, Hoboken has sheer cliffs to the west and water to the north. You end up feeling hemmed in. 


The above might help explain why I recently gave into a long-held fascination with the liberating concept of drones and finally bought one last week to see if they were really as engaging as I had imagined. The short answer is that they are, but with anything that seems to have almost miraculous potential, there are a few caveats. The biggest one where I live is interference - both from solid objects (building and trees) and from electromagnetic and wifi signals. These both serve to severely limit your range and although my drone has a 4km flight radius, my built up urban environment limits that to 1-1.5km on a good clear day. 


Flying a drone off my roof deck (we don't have a backyard so it’s the obvious take off point) is an exhilarating but nerve shredding experience. Taking off and going straight up is the most relaxing part. However, its everything in between that and landing, that can have your heart soaring like an eagle, or stuck in your mouth. Things you can expect to encounter are;


1) Sudden video transmission loss - not in of itself a disaster but suddenly you can't see what the drone is seeing - making you feel far less connected. I think of this as defcon 5.


2) Sudden signal loss - this is far more alarming - you hear a warning chime and are then informed that the handset has lost its link with the drone and you are not connected anymore. This tends to be compounded by an advisory coming up on your screen telling you that it is highly advisable that you retain visual contact with the drone (presumably to see where it might land). The problem here is that if the wee beasty is out of signal range, then it’s almost definitely out of sight. All is not lost however, as most drones have a failsafe 'return home' setting that will bring your 'bird' (drone enthusiast’s parlance) back home to the GPS recorded take off point in this situation. Thusly, I would award this a defcon 3 rating. However, if you are low on battery power, it nudges into defcon 2 territory due to the added range anxiety, and if you are low on battery power AND facing a strong headwind then there is a real chance that your craft will plonk itself down out of juice and out of sight before it can get back home. This has never happened to me, but if it did, we'd be talking defcon 1 and I'd be sprinting toward the place where I lost signal. I'm getting palpitations just thinking about it.


3) Gusts of wind while landing. I don't mean from the pilot, although this can happen of course, but when you are hovering, preparing to land, say 3 feet off the ground, and say, 2 feet away from a brick wall and a sudden gust batters the bird wallwards. Cat-like reflexes are a plus.


Other hazards I have encountered thus far in my nascent bird piloting career include;


Helicopters - these things are one of the scourges of Hoboken - endlessly flying back and forth at low level over the town and the Hudson River, polluting the air with their thrumming drone. Of course, if you are going to fly a drone responsibly, the onus is on you to make sure the coast is clear, as the helicopter and its passengers have much more to lose from a coming together. It can be especially alarming when you are flying along taking in the sights when suddenly, from stage left, a helicopter enters your drones' field of vision flying lower than you are.  You have to keep your eyes and ears peeled. 


Birds (the feathered variety). They don't like drones. Pigeons wheel and flock around them in interception formations and I had four Canada geese rushing me hissing with rage when I landed near the waterfront one day. 


The urge to show off. Beware new drone flyers, although the instinct to impress one's wife is strong in all of us male nerdists, do not fly your drone in the living room near the remains of last night’s roaring log fire while she is cooking and there is laundry drying on the clothes rack. Within a few seconds your room will look like a scene from Dante’s Peak and your clean clothes, dinner and wife will be covered in ash...Oh, how she will not laugh.


Anyway, here is a look at whats is above and around the Hoboken HelloMotorbike headquarters, as shot from my new toy (a DJI Mavic Pro).






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