Building a Gadget Bar

I’m pretty sure this is one of those cyclical things we all go through – adding, subtracting, and re-adding gadgets to our motorcycles.  Over the years I’ve gone back and forth on navigation tools and how to mount them. Until my recent wander through Arkansas and Oklahoma I was using both my iPhone and my GPS. During that trip I decided to do a side-by-side comparison of Google Maps on my iPhone and my GPS and decided Google Maps on the iPhone will get me where I want to go without too much fuss. And removing the GPS from the motorcycle made it easier to see the speedometer and tachometer. With that experiment complete I once again needed to reconfigure my “gadget bar” and, as I love to futz, I went back to the garage to try it again.

The original idea was to create one bar I could move between bikes. I’d remove the bar from Otus when I was going out on Strix, and remove it from Strix when I was going out on Otus. Unfortunately this didn’t work out as it required too much adjusting when I moved the bar back and forth. Because I hadn’t made things easier I decided to create a custom bar for each motorcycle and only move my phone back and forth. This is where I find myself today – building a custom bar for each motorcycle. I may end up changing my approach in the future but that’s OK – futzing in the garage keeps me out of trouble!

Basic Parts List

This isn’t a complicated project – the only preparation was gathering up the bits I needed to create the bar. Of course, my friends at Amazon were eager to ship me the bits & pieces I needed. Here’s a list of the parts I use to build a gadget bar. Click the links to add these bits to your Amazon cart:

  • 3/4″ Aluminum Square Tubing – order 1 per motorcycle
  • Ram Mount 1/4-Inch-20 Female Threaded Hex Hole with 1-Inch Ball – order 2 for the bottom of the bar and 1 for each gadget. I used one on each end of the bottom of the bar to make the bar mounting as stable as possible. You’ll also need one of these for each gadget you plan on mounting. Since I’m only using only my iPhone I use 3 of these per bar; 6 total as I am building a bar for Otus and Strix.
  • 1/4 in-20 X 1-1/4 in Stainless Steel bolts – order 1 box of 25. Like me, you probably have lots of bolts in jars. In case you don’t, order up a box of these to attach the balls to the bar.
  • 1/4 in Flat Washer – order one box of 25. Just like the bolts, order them if you need them.
  • 1/4 in Split Lock Washer – order one box of 25. You already know what I’m going to write so I’m not going to write it.
  • RAM Zinc Coated U-Bolt Mounting Base with 1 inch Ball – order 2 per motorcycle. These clamp to your handlebars and will serve as the mounting points for your gadget bar. I’m using one on each side of the handlebar mounts to ensure the gadget bar is secure. This might be overkill but I like a belt + suspenders solution. This assumes your motorcycle has round handlebars.
  • Ram Mount Composite Short Double Socket Arm for 1-Inch Ball Bases – order 2 per motorcycle. These are the connectors between the mounting bases clamped to the handlebars and the 1-inch balls bolted to the bottom of the gadget bar.
  • Dual Port Power Socket for Motorcycle – order 1 per motorcycle. This connector will power two gadgets. If you have more than two gadgets you’ll need more of these. This part assumes you have an SAE connector attached to your battery. If you don’t, order the following part.
  • Battery Tender 081-0069-6 Ring Terminal Harness with Black Fused 2-Pin Quick Disconnect Plug – order 1 per motorcycle. You need to get power to the power socket and one of these will do the trick. Attach this to your battery, plug in the Power Socket, and navigate! If you already have a harness like this on your battery you can add an additional harness or use a splitter. There are all kinds of these connectors on Amazon so pick the one that make the most sense to you.

These are the basic parts you’ll need to construct a gadget bar. As I mentioned above, you might already have some of this stuff, and you might find some of this stuff at your local hardware store. The hard bits to find locally – at least for me – are the RAM Mount bits. RAM makes so many bits they have to be an inventory nightmare for a local retailer. I end up needing to order the RAM bits from Amazon so, to make things convenient for you I went ahead and listed out all the parts.

Phone Mount

I’ve carried an iPhone 6S Plus for quite a while. It is wrapped in an Otterbox Defender case and I secure it to my gadget bars with this SlipGrip RAM Holder. If you carry the same phone, these bits will work great; if not, look around on Amazon and find a RAM-compatible phone mount and order it up.

You’ll also need a “double socket arm” to connect the phone holder to the gadget bar. There are varying lengths of these so you might need to order a few different lengths, find what works, and return the others. Amazon’s return policy is reasonable so there’s not a lot of risk in trying several.

Assembling My Gadget Bar for Otus

I realized I didn’t take a picture of each and every step but I’ll fill in the picture blanks with words. This isn’t rocket surgery; you just need a tape measure to figure out the length of your gadget bar, a hack saw (or more sophisticated cutting tool) to cut the aluminium bar to length, a hammer and center punch to mark the holes to be drilled, a drill with a 1/4″ twist drill to drill the holes for the balls, and a file to clean up edges and burs. Oh, and beer, because everything’s better with beer.

Mounting Bases + Short Arms

Install the ball mounts on either side of the handlebar clamps. This will give you an idea of where you’ll drill holes to install the 1″ balls to the bottom of the aluminum bar. I also went ahead and temporarily clamped on the short arms so I could get a feel for where things were going to land. I like the short arms between the handlebars and the gadget bar. There are longer arms but the short arms don’t obscure the view of the instruments nearly as much.

Measure the distance between the centers of the short arm clamps. Otus’ gadget bar is 6 inches long. Right now that works great but if I decide to use my GPS again I’ll have to cut a new piece of aluminum. This is where personal preference matters. If you think you’re going to add another gadget or two, future-proof your bar by making it longer. The important point here is that you can’t do this incorrectly. The aluminum bar isn’t expensive so if you decide you need to try again you won’t be out a lot of $$ if you buy another piece of aluminum.

Gadget Bar - Step 1

Cutting, Marking, and Drilling The Aluminum

The most important tool here is the beer. The hacksaw, center punch, hammer, and 1/4″ twist drill are secondary to the functionality provided by the beer. You may substitute a different beer but my personal experience tells me you will achieve best results by using Bell’s Two Hearted Ale. Because I’m a dad I must remind you to drink responsibly, in moderation, and not WHILE you’re using hand or power tools. The beer is to be used only while planning, reflecting, celebrating project completion, and not before or while riding.

Gadget Bar - Step 2

Balls Installed

After cleaning up the bar, the balls can be installed. Use the bolts and washers to make sure everything stays tight and looks properly assembled. This shot shows the gadget bar test-fit on Otus. I’ve found that these mounting balls do tend to deform a bit once clamped in place so don’t tighten everything down until you’ve got everything installed and adjusted such that you can comfortably see your gauges.

Gadget Bar - Step 3

There’s also another bit of this I didn’t photograph; that’s the part where I pulled the fuel tank to run the tail of the power socket to the battery harness. You don’t need to do that. I did that because removing the tank from an Airhead is relatively easy. I won’t remove the tank from Strix. You can see the power socket tail draped over the center of the instrument cluster awaiting permanent install. Again, this is just me being me.

The Finished Product

The last remaining steps are to clamp your gadgets onto the bar, position the power socket, and start adjusting until you can see everything comfortably. You’ll also need to make sure your gadget bar doesn’t come into contact with your tank bag when you turn. Put the bike on the center stand and start adjusting. You will also likely need to do a bit of riding to make sure everything’s in the right place. Toward that end, resist the urge to crank everything down too tightly. Get things snugged up, ride, pull over and adjust, and repeat until you like where things sit. The goal of using the RAM mount bits and pieces is so you can adjust as needed. My only cautionary note here is that the balls will deform over time so resist the urge to crank things down hard until you’re really happy with the position.

Gadget Bar - The Finished Product

Summary

The last thing I attached to my gadget bar was my garage door opener. I used double-faced tape to attach it in the open space on the right side of the bar. I’m not at all happy with it there but I’m planning on upgrading my garage doors to some form of WiFi-enabled opener so I will further reduce what little clutter remains on the bar. As with just about everything I do I’m confident this will continue to change over time. And I’m also sure I’ll do things a little differently when I build the bar for Strix so I might have more pictures to share.