24 June 2010

Motorcycle Tech: Baby's Command Center--The Tank Bag

I call it my command center.  My tank bag holds all the stuff I need to be a modern sport tourer:  GPS, mp3, comms, etc.  Some bikes come with this stuff already attached.  Other motorcyclists add them with various mounts and stuff but I think that makes the cockpit look cluttered.

Fully Farkled Moto Cockpit from www.davedragon.org.
When I decided to transition from paper maps to gps, I tried a handlebar mount but found it to much of a distraction.  Yes it was convenient, but it looked out of place so I removed it and slid the gps into the map pocket.  The gps/pda overheated and shut down.  That's when I started looking for gps bag mounts.

I discovered big problem with the solutions offered at the time:  I don't use a standard gps system.   That makes it hard to buy the bags that have a pocket just for the gps.  Because the battery on my first pda was terrible so I needed to be able to tie into the bike's electrical system like I could in the car.   That meant the other thing that I needed that the bags at the time didn't offer was a power outlet.  There is the powerlet option, but by the time I was doing this, I didn't want to spend that much money on something I wasn't sure I would keep.  Then I saw a guy had mounted his gps to his tank bag using a ram mount on one of the forums.
I really liked that idea, but at the time, I couldn't figure out the ram mount part.  They come in separate pieces that allow you to customize the mount for your use.  Put all together, they cost more than I thought they were worth.  I scoured Instructables to see if anyone had posted a detailed step by step guide, but there was nothing.  I did get an idea though, use a car mount on the bag!

My first GPS Tank Bag.
I started with my Fieldsheer Access Tank Bag, that I purchased about a month after I got Baby.  It has neat pockets on the side that I was already using for my garage door opener on the left side and boostaroo on the right side.  I got a Braketron Grip-it kit from Advanced Auto Parts and ordered an adapter from ebay so I could mount it to a flat surface.  Then I used the metal back from a ramp ends kit I already had that was too small for the ramp I wanted to make.  I cut a hole in the map pocket and slid one end of the adapter attached to the metal plate inside, then mated it to it's other half.  That worked great until I changed the orientation of the gps software and later upgraded my pda.

To power the gps, I installed a Radio Shack power outlet in the left fairing panel and used their accessory outlet extension cord when I discovered the outlet didn't like the pda power adapter.  This turned out to be a little bit of a blessing.  Using the extension cord, I could plug the pda inside the bag.

When I started riding with GG M/C again, they were using comms.  I already had a Motocomm system from my cross country trip several years before that I only used for the helmet speakers.  Now I could use it talk too.  The cables for the Motocomm went inside the right pocket along with the two-way radio and boostaroo.  I ordered a smaller push-to-talk button and velcroed it to the left grip using the strap that came with it.

This system worked very well for me for over a year.  Then I got cold on an early winter ride and made heated gloves.  When I did, I chose to use the extension cord to power the gloves which meant I needed to add an outlet splitter so I could still power the gps.  My original idea was to put the controller for the gloves inside the tank bag.  It worked all right but I lost a lot of storage space inside the tiny bag.  In fact, I'm still not happy with controller because  I haven't found the right container for it, but I digress.

After Thanksgiving, I decided I needed a radar detector.  Luckily, I was able to get one on Clearance from HH Gregg.  Unfortunately, it doesn't have an audio jack.  I velcroed it to the brake reservoir and needed an additional power jack for it and the heated gear and the gps.  I switched from the simple outlet splitter to a triple one with a usb port.  This freed up one of the outlets but still lets me power the radar detector, gps, and bluetooth gps receiver.

My current setup has evolved from the simple one I started with that just powered the pda running gps software.  I now have the ability to add heated gear, radar detector, and charge my cell phone on the go if I want to.  With expanded needs, the Access bag is no longer a viable solution for my tank bag.

GPS Mounted onto Contour Tank Bag.
To replace it, I purchased the Contour on close out.  The map pocket on this bag zips from the top, not the bottom and there is a third pocket at the back of the bag.  The deep pockets allowed me to put the boostaroo, Motocomm, garage door opener, and Rockstar in one pocket on the left side.  The bag has a spot for me to hang the two way radio from so it no longer is in a pocket.  It is also expandable so I shouldn't run out of room in it any time soon.   The advantage of the larger bag is now I will be able to use my water bladder like I did with my old bag.  This will come in handy on hot humid summer days.

Instead of cutting a hole in the map pocket to mount the gps, I went to Home Depot and got one of those aluminum brackets they sell near the lumber called a 3x7 Tie.  They are normally used for building decks. I bent it, poked four small holes in the bag, two at the back of the bag and two inside the front of the back pocket.  Then I drilled a few holes and mounted my adapter plate to it.  It's a $2 solution, not including the Bracketron mount plate.

The other thing I did to keep the cost down was to order it with the strap base rather than with the more expensive magnetic base option.  I figured I already had a Fieldsheer magnetic base and didn't really need another one.   The Access base is probably 1/3 smaller than the Contour one but the bag seems to be as secure as with the Access bag.  Here are pics on the bike (before the GPS Mount is added.)

The bag seems to be as secure on the smaller base as the previous bag.  The magnets are really strong so I'm not too worried about it.  If I notice a problem, I can always figure out how to mount the strap base or at least add magnets to it.  I really like the new size of the bag.  It shouldn't interfere with my riding as I feared when I was shopping for the first tank bag.  Hopefully, the GPS mount won't interfere too much with the display either.

The added bonus of having everything mounted or in the tank bag is when you leave the bike you can easily take everything with you by simply unzipping the bag from the base.

Thanks for reading,
patrice, theWolfTamer

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