Date reviewed: November 2020| Tested by: John Milbank | Price: £349| www.thinkware.com
I’ve long resisted reviewing a motorcycle dash-cam; on the one hand, I’ve thought that they can almost encourage some users (particularly in cars) to ‘look’ for trouble, and on the other, while Bennetts BikeSocial is an independent website proud of its ever-growing library of honest, unbiased reviews, having an insurance company linked to a dash-cam review can get some conspiracy theorists claiming it’s all very Big Brother.
Early this year I had the closest call I’ve had in 24 years of riding; a VW Golf driven by an arrogant young lad blasted straight through a stop sign in a quiet village. I’d estimate he was doing about 50mph in a 30 and the junction is blind until you’re there, hence the stop sign. He narrowly missed me, but if I’d had a dash-cam I would have taken it to the police as this was clearly extremely dangerous driving. Instead, I just got myself more angry by his complete lack of interest when I caught up to him and had a word.
A recent post on the Bennetts Facebook page showed that there are a fair few riders out there using dash-cams now
A dash-cam won’t protect you from an accident – only riding for yourself and considering scenarios will do that. It’s not about crawling along or riding in constant fear; it’s simply thinking ‘what if that driver hasn’t seen me’. BikeSafe is a brilliant way to get a grasp on this, and it’s one of the best value and most enjoyable training sessions I’ve had.
A dash-cam is there to record events if something does go wrong, and could help prove a third party was at fault in the event of a claim. Also, thanks to changes in the law surrounding the use of mobile phones, footage will soon be evidence of an offence of mobile phone use, and anyone can send it to the police. Loopholes used to mean that your clip of a driver on their phone would be unlikely to lead to a conviction, but that’s set to change.
The Thinkware Sports M1 on review here is the company’s only motorcycle dash-cam (it currently lists 22 car dash-cams), but it comes with a fairly compact control box, a remote control for manual recordings and two cameras – one for the front and one for the rear of the bike.
Fitting any dash-cam is going to require stripping panels – and potentially the tank – off your bike, so many people will understandably ask their dealer to do it.
I fitted mine myself to my 2019 BMW S1000XR – it took a couple of hours, but the hardest job was trying to decide where to fix the cameras, and run the cable.
The main unit is connected to ground and an accessory supply (switched with ignition), as it starts recording as soon as it receives power. I have a Denali CANsmart, which made it easy to pick up a switched supply, but if in any doubt as to which wire to use on your bike, check in a Haynes manual or with your dealer.
The cameras are fairly chunky, as are the mounts, so locating them can be a little tricky, but the 3M adhesive pads are very strong. The mounts also have flexible ‘feet’, so you can easily attach them to a slightly curved surface. It’s a shame there’s no alcohol wipe supplied to prep the surface, so make sure you thoroughly clean the area and ensure there’s no wax or silicon that would reduce the pad’s effectiveness. I used isopropyl alcohol to clean up, but there is a pair of spare sticky pads supplied for if you ever need to move them (or you mess it up!).
While bulky, the mounts do allow you to set the cameras where you want them, and the cables are long enough that you can position the main unit in the middle or the rear of the bike, so there’s plenty of versatility.
The cable to the remote is a good length; I eventually opted to fit the main control box to the top of the battery with some Dual Lock tape (a cross between Stickle Bricks and Velcro) and had no problem routing this all the way up to the left of the dash. I just wish I could have made a neater job of hiding the cable to the rear camera, though I might take another look at finding a way to open up a small section of the undertray.
Once you’ve connected up the Thinkware M1 dash-cam, there’s nothing really that you have to do – it’ll start recording when you turn the ignition on, and stop when you turn it off – but there are a handful of settings to fiddle with, which are all accessed via an iOS or Android smartphone app.
I’m using a Samsung Galaxy S10, and while the app isn’t the slickest I did get it to connect through both WiFi and hotspot modes. In order to do a firmware update, you need to be in ‘hotspot’ mode, but it’s carried out fine once you find it in the ‘support’ section of the app.
The main options you might want to tweak are changing whether the device gives priority to manual recordings or continuous – there’s no explanation of this in the app or the Thinkware M1 instruction manual, but it varies the size of the memory partition given to the modes. I’ve got it in Continuous priority as I want to be sure it’ll have plenty of space if there is an incident, and on the 32GB card that’s supplied, 27.85GB is used for continuous recording, with 3.02GB taken up by manual recordings. It appears that this mode gives 10% to manual recordings.
Each clip is one minute long, and takes up 83.9MB of space, which means that, assuming you do have 3GB of manual recordings using that partition, the remaining 27.85GB will hold 332 files. Given that the front and rear camera each record a separate file, that’s 166 minutes, or two and three quarter hours of recording.
This is worth keeping in mind as if you have an incident that you need to keep, you have two and three quarter hours before it’s overwritten.
Manual recordings are simple to make thanks to the remote control, which has two buttons – one for enabling the WiFi connection and one for recording. These aren’t hugely tactile, but I did find that I was soon able to locate it even in the dark. Once pressed, a manual recording will store the 10 seconds previous to you pressing it, and the 50 seconds following. This could be a secure way of keeping an incident as it won’t be overwritten until you make 17 more manual recordings (in continuous priority with a 32GB card, the partition will hold 17 front and rear files). But, if something does happen, you must press that button within 10 seconds.
Either way, it’s worth downloading any important clip to your phone via the app, to ensure it’s safe.
The Thinkware M1 also supports 64GB Class 10 cards, though the company states that ‘using a third-party SD card is at your own risk’. The Thinkware 64GB card costs £50.81.
While the remote does its job well, I’d like to have seen brighter LEDs – perhaps at high intensity during the day, then dimming at night – as they’re hard to see in daylight. Also, a manual recording only makes the blue LED flash, so it can take a few precious seconds of staring at it to see that you pressed the button correctly.
Always check the LED when you start a ride as if it’s flashing red, it means there’s a problem with a camera or the MicroSD card.
Other options you’ll likely want to set are the electronic image stabilisation (EIS, which operates only on the front, the rotation of the cameras and the speed units. You can also use the app to decide whether you want to have your speed shown on the video clips.
The Thinkware M1 records 1080P (1920x1080px) front and rear at 30 frames per second; that means it’s not got the high 4K resolution of some of the latest car dash-cams, but equally it doesn’t need anything like the storage space.
Don’t expect GoPro-like image quality – the footage is fine, but the compression means it’s not outstanding. Remember though that this is designed as a fit-and-forget product that will record everything, giving you the chance to prove what happened in the event of a claim. It’s also worth noting that darker scenes (even under trees) give less clarity to the image, so at speed, with a car travelling towards you (potentially a closing speed of at least 100mph), it’s not always possible to freeze the video and read a number plate.
This is of course much more of an issue at night on open roads at speed, where headlights (and taillights) can cause significant glare, which could make it hard to identify another vehicle. This wouldn’t be an issue in most situations where the footage is needed, but it’s worth understanding the limitations of any camera in these environments.
In city-centre locations at night, it’s generally fairly easy to read number plates and even see the drivers thanks to surprisingly good image quality.
With a 140° field of view, even when filtering there’s a good view everything that’s going on ahead of, and behind the bike. Recording starts automatically within 15 seconds of turning the bike’s ignition on. When you shut the bike off (or if power was lost in an impact), my testing shows that you lose only about half a second, so everything that needs to be shown would be available.
Footage is stored as one-minute clips, so besides the reduced video quality, this is another reason the Thinkware M1 doesn’t really double as a premium action camera – finding then piecing these clips isn’t ideal, though of course there’s nothing stopping you doing it if you want as they’re seamless if you do stack them up.
If there is something you particularly want to see again, the manual recording button is ideal as, unlike a GoPro, you can capture the 10 seconds previous to pressing the button; if a great view suddenly opens up, hit the button and you’ll have those 10 seconds before, and 50 seconds after, stored in the manual recordings folder.
The sample footage above should give you an idea of the quality of output, and while YouTube does add its own compression – so the quality will be fractionally down on the originals – as long as you’ve set it to 1080p I can’t see any noticeable difference.
The electronic image stabilisation does make a little bit of difference, but it’s very marginal, and if anything it makes some footage look a little strange, clouds seeming to smear as the bike bounces in some clips.
The Thinkware’s audio quality is pretty much as you’d expect from a camera mounted directly in the wind – at high speed there’s a lot of noise. At low speed though, it picks the engine up well, and as you can hear in the sample footage, it will do a good job of recording people talking around the bike. This could be very useful for evidence, though remember your ignition would have to be turned on, so don’t leave the bike alone.
The Thinkware M1 is IP66 rated, which means dust and high-pressure water jets won’t affect it. The cameras are of course the most vulnerable parts – especially the front one – but they are fairly rugged. While appearing to have an anti-reflective coating, the glass isn’t completely scratch proof (you can dig into it with a screwdriver if you try hard enough), but I’ve yet to see any damage caused through normal use. I will of course update this review if anything changes.
You can instantly view footage using the app on your phone, though it doesn’t connect automatically. You’re taken through the steps though, so press the button on the remote, then open the app and it will guide you to the settings, where you can switch your phone’s WiFi connection to the Thinkware module.
The app could do with some refinement, my main grumble being that you can’t download a clip from the video player – you have to remember the file name then go back to the list view to download it to your phone.
There aren’t any thumbnails that would potentially make it easier to find the clip you want, though they are named with the format of, for instance, ‘REC_2020_11_04_10_32_01_F’, which means 2020, 11th month, 4th day, 10:32:01, Front camera.
If you know the rough time an event occurred, you can scroll to it in the file list, then click to view. If it’s not the right one, pressing the forward or back buttons will skip to the next file, but if you go more than three or four, when you click back to the file list to make your download, the list won’t have moved to keep it on screen (and they’re not highlighted when you click on them) – you must remember the file number.
Ultimately, if you need to find a file shortly after an incident in order to save it to your phone, it’ll be at or near the top of the list, so in practice it’ll be a lot easier to find.
UPDATE DEC 2021: A new version of the Thinkware app is now available, which is easier to use and allows you to download files as you view them.
You can do a bulk download to the phone, but this will take up a lot of time and space.
Removing the memory card and viewing the files on a computer is a lot easier, and you can use any video software for the MP4s, but Thinkware does have a downloadable viewer app for PC and Mac. While this doesn’t show any thumbnails for the files, it is pretty easy to navigate, and allows you to view the footage, zoom in while paused or playing, and see the speed and location (where the GPS was connected).
Having GPS built in means the Thinkware can plot where you are in a clip (on a map in the Dash-cam Viewer app), record the time as well as display your speed if you want it to.
Because the GPS receiver is in the main unit, where you position it will make a big difference to its performance – the only place mine would fit was on top of the battery, directly under my seat, which means my bulk does make it a bit hit and miss. In built-up areas the GPS seems to really struggle, but even on open roads it will quite often drop out.
GPS drop-outs result in your speed disappearing (if you have the stamp on), the time stuttering and the viewer app losing your location (it stays in the right area, but the trace drops off to the equator). While this doesn’t affect the recordings – you still see everything happening – it's a shame the optional external antenna isn’t compatible with the M1.
In the video example on this page, all the clips were taken from footage that did have the speed stamp turned on, so you can see the high number of situations that it didn’t work with.
The unreliability of the GPS is disappointing, and I’m not the only user to notice it, but it’s unlikely to have an impact on the majority of situations where the footage was needed for evidence after an incident. It’s also worth pointing out that it’s not just my body on the bike above the unit that causes accuracy issues – while standing next to the parked bike on the edge of a village with the ignition on, the speed was shown as 7-8mph.
Yes, you can use a GoPro as a dash-cam, but you have to keep in mind that it might not be quite as reliable.
First of all, you need to put your camera into loop recording mode – you can set this to be the default start-up mode on a GoPro, so check your device.
You’ll also need to supply power to the camera, which can stop it being waterproof, plus be wary that it doesn’t overheat and shut down just when you need it. While unlikely to be a problem on modern devices, it’s best to not push the camera too hard, so avoid using 4K.
Finally, don’t forget to turn it on! The beauty of a dedicated dash-cam is that it works automatically all the time, so you never have to think about it. If you want to film your trips, you’ll likely still need a GoPro as well, so more expense and more to stick on your bike, but it is important to understand the limitations of both devices.
The easiest way to view the files is by taking the MicroSD card out of the Thinkware M1
While not that common on bikes, according to research carried out by Money Expert, around three million UK car drivers now own a dash-cam, which resulted in 5,000 cases of police action within 20 months.
Almost two thirds of those who completed the survey had used footage as part of an insurance claim, and just under a third said the footage had helped them prove they weren’t at fault.
Earlier research by Aviva indicated that 17% of people who bought dash-cams did so because they’d previously been involved in an accident where they couldn’t prove their innocence.
The global dash-cam market was valued at USD 2.8 billion in 2019, so it’s big business, with 36.1 million units sold in that year alone.
Which? explains that 2015 saw the first UK jail sentence handed out off the back of dash-cam footage, the dangerous driver being arrested after police were shown the clip. In 2017, dash-cams also helped in the cases of a Humberside hit-and-run, a Yorkshire dangerous driver, a West Yorkshire road-rage attack, a Surrey roadside scam and a West Midlands car-jacking.
It's worth being aware of course that your own footage can be used against you, and deleting it could be a serious offence if confronted by the police.
The National Dash-Cam Safety Portal allows owners of cameras to upload footage to the relevant police force, should they witness an incident. This is an official police report, and it’s possible you could be required to attend court if necessary.
Spending this much money on something you hope you’ll never use is hard; fit it, then forget about it unless the worst happens.
I truly hope you never have cause to need the footage from a device like this, but if you did, it can make it a lot easier to prove that a third party was at fault. Dash-cams aren’t about saving insurance companies money (and Bennetts insurance isn’t trying to encourage you to have one), but now I’ve used one I do see the value in the fact that, if something were to happen, that footage could avoid my own insurance being impacted if someone else was at fault.
The Thinkware has its limitations, while not as full-featured as some, and certainly not a replacement for an action camera when it comes to making your own videos, it does give me real peace of mind on my BMW S1000XR.
About 18 months after installing this camera I've noticed some final files being corrupted. MP4s have to be properly closed off to be readable, and the super-capacitor should allow this when the ignition is turned off. However, during testing for the 'Best dash-cam' video, I had it happen twice. Turning off the ignition, you can see the blue LED immediately extinguish, meaning it's not just a corrupted microSD card. For that reason, I'd now be reluctant to recommend the Thinkware M1.