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|| News Item: Posted 2013-09-24

'The steel horse has always fascinated me.'
Houston Chronicle staff photographer Cody Duty is covering assignments while riding his motorcycle.

By Cody Duty, Houston Chronicle

Photo by Michael Paulsen

Photo by Michael Paulsen

Cody Duty and his bike.
I remember back when I was just a pup pressing my ear against the truck window to listen to the sound of the loud pipes as we drove by. I remember as a young boy sitting captivated by the stories my Pop told me about when he used to make all-night runs on his Harley – he bought his first one of five when he turned 15. I love motorcycles so much I even have one tattooed on my arm. I can’t pinpoint a particular point in time, but I just know that the steel horse has always fascinated me.

After several hours spent atop the saddle on rides from Houston to Colorado, Dallas to Kentucky, I never fathomed actually working off my bike. I always figured it would be a pipe dream because, let’s be honest, who the hell hauls camera gear around and takes photos from a motorcycle? The resolution finally came after a long conversation with my fiancé about buying a house actually. We want to move 20 miles or more outside the city of Houston, and I said, ‘I could ride my bike to work and then get in my truck from there to save money on gas.’ I quickly followed with, ‘I would really love to just work off my bike. That’s a dream of mine.’ She surprisingly said, "do it!," quickly followed by a "but be careful though!"

For the next couple months I spent time researching how the hell I would haul this ample supply of camera gear around on two wheels – safely. I spent time on forums and mostly talking with my friend Kohl Threlkeld. He’s a filmmaker in Haiti and his primary mode of transportation is a motorcycle that he actually uses to haul his gear from shoot to shoot. Bikes are quite ubiquitous there, and it wasn’t until I visited him in the Caribbean country that I saw the mind-boggling amount of stuff that moto drivers stacked on their bikes. We’re talking they would haul upwards of three and four people on a ride. At that time though, the idea of working off the machines hadn’t resonated with me yet. It wasn’t until these last couple months that the images in my mind of the moto drivers across the ocean further inspired me that it could be done. Through a few conversations with Kohl, we came to the conclusion that Pelican cases could be mounted on the bike and dividers would hold the gear in place. That was it! Off I went to the Pelican store we have here in Houston and bought two Pelican top-loading cases. I already had one case mounted on the back just for holding primarily my bag while I rode to the gym. The side cases were the missing link.

Photo by Cody Duty

Photo by Cody Duty
The next step would be to buy racks to mount the cases on. After that challenging endeavor, I got to thinking, ‘how am I gonna charge stuff cruising between the ditches?’ I would need a cigarette lighter, I treated myself to one for my most recent birthday and wired it up the day it arrived. Last but not least, I would need a mount to hold my iPhone in place to for nautical pursuits. The mount is actually one of the most important things because I wear earphones to listen to Louise, the woman who talks to me from the GPS, and she guides me to the destinations. (The next step is a Bluetooth helmet so I can take calls and be completely wireless). I was done at that point, so the next step would be to get on that horse and ride.

That day finally came; it was time to hit the street. Excitement and pure nervousness coursed through my veins. I bet you think this is where it gets real exciting and I’m cruising through traffic happy as a lark. Nope, the first day was hell on wheels. At the time it SUCKED. I thought, ‘what the f@#k am I doing?’ I had to stop to take several phone calls, I couldn’t text editors back or answer emails, it was hotter than black asphalt in Death Valley and I was pretty parched and the sides of my stomach rubbed together, begging for some nutrition, all with no time to stop. Normally on four wheels you have the luxury of picking up something to nibble on and wash it down with. Ain’t gonna happen on two wheels, you gotta stop. Looking back on it now, that was just noise and a bag of kinks to flush out. I now carry plenty of water and even bought a bag that serves as my "dash" where I can stock my snacks. I eat when I can and stop to take calls for now.

Photo by Cody Duty

Photo by Cody Duty

All of this gear fits on Cody's bike.
Reflecting on what I thought were "problems," I actually now find to be a big group of relievers. So I can’t text while or answer emails while I’m driving, we’re not supposed to anyway. I can't talk on the phone while I'm driving, we’re not supposed to anyway. While being on the bike might put you in harms way, obviously, it also opens you up and makes you more vulnerable to experience what’s going on around you. Books about motorcycle travel say that being in a car and watching life through a window is like watching a movie, being on the bike is like being in the movie. You feel the air, you smell the air, your thoughts become loud and you're forced to think and react. In a way, it’s like what I imagine life to be like a long time ago, thinking and reacting.

Wondering where it all goes?

The left saddlebag holds a 16-35 dismounted from the camera, and the camera itself along with two spare batteries and a mifi card along with one flash.

The top case holds one camera mounted to a 70-200 sitting opposite a 300mm lens with a divider in between them. It also holds one flash, a boonie hat and spare double AAs.

The right side case holds a computer, and a ThinkTank bag containing two card readers, a spare iPhone charger, a USB charger that goes into the cigarette lighter, a mifi charger, and the power cord to my computer. It also contains a spare pair of eyeglasses in case something happens to my contacts while driving.

My "dash" holds up to two Powerbars, a flashlight, an energy shot or two and a pen. It also holds my sunglasses until the sun comes out.

(Cody Duty is currently a photographer at the Houston Chronicle. Although he is a proud Texan, he ventured to Western Kentucky University to obtain a degree in photojournalism with an emphasis on multimedia. Although he learned the majority of his Spanish from working in Texas, he also received degree in it from the Bluegrass State as well.)

Related Links:
Cody's member page

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