Introduction: Motorcycle GPS

Putting the parts together for a GPS navigation system on a motorcycle.

Step 1: Motivation

I wanted a GPS navigation system on my motorcycle for road trips and for finding unfamiliar addresses. There are some dedicated systems out there (like the TomTom Rider), but I thought it would be cheaper and more fun to assemble one on my own.

I already had a capable PDA that could serve as a host. Getting a GPS receiver that works with it was easy. The main questions remaining:

1. How do I securely attach the PDA to the motorcyle?
2. How do I provide power to the PDA for long trips?

Step 2: Handlebar Mount

I wanted to put the GPS system on my handlebars, rather than on top of my tank or inside the windscreen (my bike has no windscreen). There are a variety of mounting systems that clamp on to the handlebars, but I liked the look of the RAM ball-and-socket mounting system.

I chose a mount that screws into the clutch lever clamp, rather than one that clamps on to the handlebar tube itself. It would also have worked on the brake lever, but I'd rather mess around with my (wire-activated) clutch than my (hydraulic) brakes.

It was a simple matter of removing the bolts holding together the two sides of the clutch mount and bolting the ball attachment in with the supplied bolts and plastic standoffs.

Step 3: Securing the PDA

The mounting system worked well. Attaching the ball to the handlebars was easy, and it was a snap to add and remove the platform that holds the PDA. However, RAM doesn't make a holder for my particular PDA. I got one that looked like it would be a little more secure than the one RAM recommended.

It turned out that my PDA was a little too thick for the holder to grip properly, especially with a protective skin case on (which is probably why RAM recommends the other). The spring-loaded grippers held pretty well, but I could get them to slip by pulling the PDA pretty hard.

It's hard to imagine the wind or acceleration pulling that hard, but I decided to be extra careful, and cast about for a way to further secure the PDA. Ennui to the rescue! Those trendy bracelets are strong rubber bands that happen to be exactly the right size.

Step 4: Power

The handlebar-mounted GPS system worked well. However, my PDA's battery will only last about three hours with bluetooth and the screen on constantly. Happily I'll be sitting right on top of a capable generator and battery. The only trick is getting access to them.

My bike didn't come with a cigarette lighter socket for plugging in accessories, so I decided to add one. I got a kit that included the proper socket and a nice in-line fusebox. I attached the kit directly to the battery, hiding the fuse just under the tank, and putting the actual socket in some of the empty space under the bike's seat.

One thing to be aware of: since the lighter socket is wired directly into the battery, it's on even when the bike isn't. Leave something plugged in too long while the bike isn't running, and you may be push-starting your bike.

I got a long, straight charging cable for my PDA and ran it under the fuel tank. I may need to put a small plastic bag over the connector when I leave the bike outside.