iphone Motorcycle Riding – part one

Three quarters the way through a two-year cell phone contract, my Nokia 6288 mobile phone died.

After a visit to Dr Nokia for a prognosis, I got the, “that’ll be $100 for the screen, and by the way, the battery is swelling so it’s on it way out, new batteries are around $45 dollars so that’ll be a total of $145.” No thanks!

Umm, not happy; then the small marketing voice awakened in me, created by tech magazines and advertising that says, “there is a better way!

Enter the iPhone for Motorcycling

image of an iPhone 3g and 3gs
The Apple iPhone

My personal Apple journey began last year with the purchase of my iMac 24″. Sick of the windows updating, I was ready for the Apple. I already had my own Linux network and had spent several years in the unix world of computing, so the Apple purchase was another arrow in the quiver of my home technology platforms.

When the iPhone was released in Australia, a couple of months prior, I was on the Apple fan boy treadmill; it integrates to my desktop, it is seemless with my applications, so it seemed the way to go in the future.

However, when the Nokia died, the future became the present, I needed one now!

With the introduction of the iPhone to my technology arsenel, this device was soon becoming what I’ve been wanting for some time, my mobile computing platform.

With functionality such as phone, gps, iPod, Internet, email, my world would soon expand, I was now connected with the tech world where I worked and now be up to date, not be several weeks behind.

When I purchased the iPhone I purchased the following;

  • A leathercase
  • Screen protectors

Motorcycling and the iPhone

I could see that Mr iPhone would make a welcome addition to motorcycle riding. Now it was time to put it to the test.

What kind of things would the iPhone give me to enhance ride.

  1. Phone calls if they came through
  2. Music to listen to
  3. GPS capability

The things to consider were:

  • Where to place the device while riding
  • Access to the Iphone controls
  • Listening to music
  • Answering phone calls

Locating the iPhone on the Motorcycle

Placing the iPhone in the top pocket of your motorcycling jacket

iPhone in motorcycle jacket with headphones
Using the top pocket in the Motorcycle Jacket for the iPhone

My first venture was to do some trials so I can play music while travelling. I often travel on the interstate from Canberra to Sydney, then to Newcastle. It can be a boring run, however the music and podcasts break the boredom of the freeways and tollways.

I did some trial runs on where to locate it and the best place seemed to be in my top left jacket pocket.

This pocket was embedded in the outer layer of the jacket which meant that controlling the volume would be difficult, especially with gloves on, so it seemed it was going to be a put the ear buds in, adjust the volume. Put you gloves on and ride off. The only catch was that some albums and songs needed to have the volume dampened.

The first trip out of Canberra and I was heading north. I had several miles of 80kmh (50mph) then the freeway of 110kmh (70 mph).

Here’s what happened, at 80km/h everything worked fine, however at 110km/h, it would partially play songs then skip to the next track, then settle down for a while, then the track would skip, especially when using a playlist.

Besides the track skipping, it sounded great, finding out why it was track skipping would come later in this story.

Overall, it was mission accomplished, however, I had sore ears due to Apple earphones and lack of control of the volume.

New earphones improve the listening of the iPhone.

Sennhauser ear buds

I received some birthday money that magically turned into some Sennhauser ear buds that fitted nicely into my ears. The version I chose did not have a microphone, so I cant answer telephone calls.

This was much nicer; it had a certain amount of background noise cancellation, however, enough to hear what was happening around me, not entirely a cone of silence.

I tested these on my next ride and was more than happy with the result; however, the volume control was still an issue.

Summary of using the iPhone in the motorcycling jacket

The top pocket works

Pros: Waterproof

Con’s: Not easily accessible, you need to have a long lead to snake its way out to the top of the jacket

Mounting the iPhone on the Motorcycle with a Ram Mount

My friend Glen does the FarRiders thing (Iron Butt Association), e.g. ’hey, lets go for a 1000km ride for lunch’. Glen had been experimenting with some RAM Mounts for Videoing, and GPS functions.

After looking at his set-up, I ordered the Ram Mounts for my Canon G7 so I could try videoing while riding. Along with that came the mount for the iPhone.

Ram Mounts on the left hand handlebar

After mounting the brackets on the left hand side brake hand caliper mount, I adjusted it for the best position for the iPhone, now, where in business.

As you can see from the picture, it sits in a good accessible position. The way I have it mounted  (Volume control on the top side) allows you to control the volume with your gloves on.

Ok Chris, so what do you do with your iPhone when it rains?

Good question! My Motorcycle is a 2002 Honda ST 1100. It has a fairly large screen that provides protection from the elements. When I travel at speeds above 80kmh, the screen provides adequate protection for my iPhone when it rains. When a downpour occurs (which hasn’t happened yet), it will be a quick pull over and put the iPhone in the waterproof pocket. Not an elegant solution but it works.

Summary of using the iphone on the Motorcycle with a RAM Mount.

iPhone mounted on the RAM Mounts
iPhone mounted on the RAM Mounts

Mounting an iPhone on a Motorcycle requires the following:

  • The mounts and iPhone being in a visible position within your lower line of site without taking your eyes off the road for long periods, e.g. no different from glancing at your speedometer or tachometer
  • Mounting it in a Waterproof location where the iPhone is not going to get wet. In reality this is the most difficult task in this quest so be resigned to the fact that wet weather and iPhones don’t go together unless you can protect it from the elements. Let’s face it, if the weather is that bad you need to be focusing totally on the road to get to your location safely. However, there are products now on the market that offer some protection. See the bottom of this page.

Pro’s: Easily accessible, especially for volume control

Cons: Not waterproof, unless you use a special cover.

The helmet, the iPhone and the earphones.

One thing I haven’t talked about in detail is the relationship of the helmet and the earphones.

There are two options available for mounting earphones in helmets

  1. Earphones and that fit into the helmet liner
  2. Earbuds that fit into your ear

Earphones in the helmet liner

Image of Helmet Headphones
Helmet Headphones

is a great solution if you don’t like having earbuds in your ear. You have to purchase special kits that can are installed in behind the liner. Speakers are usually thin enough not to aggravate you. In saying that each person’s head is different and how that responds with the fitting in your helmet could be a comfort issue, unfortunately in most cases it will be a buy and try situtation.

I have had some limited experience with a Chatterbox Intercom unit and found that it fitted nicely in my helmet (Arai), however , in my partner’s helmet (AGV), it  was uncomfortable.

Earbuds that fit into your ear

The earbud option is the more cost effective solution.

I have Apple and Sennheiser earbuds that plug directly into the earphone jack on the iPhone, The Sennheiser earbuds do not have a microphone unit in them.

The earbud solution is relatively good as it fit’s into your ear between the helmet and the ear. In my experience the Sennheiser earbuds are the most comfortable solution I’ve tried  as the earbuds fit nicely in the opening of my ear canals.

Image of Earbuds

The cable for the earphones hang loosely beneath my head underneath the strap of my helmet. Obviously you have to have the earbuds in before put your helmet on your head!

Pro’s: You have a direct connection to the iPhone rather than through a third party device such as a Bluetooth unit.

Con’s: In a Motorcycle Jacket, this doesn’t seem to be a problem however when mounted to a RAM mount it can cause problems. The earphone cable can be a distraction as it can flap around in the breeze, depending on your motorcycle and where it’s mounted.

If this is a distraction, this can be alleviated through some creative ideas of Velcro and lessening the amount of cable by wrapping it once around the RAM Mount, thus decreasing the flappable length of cable between your head/helmet and the iPhone.

In the next article I will talk about riding with the iPhone and using its applications.

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