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iPod and iTunes Hacks by Hadley Stern

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Hack #10. Integrate Your iPod with Your Motorcycle

The iPod is perfect for road trips on your motorcycle (or scooter). You just have to make your iPod play nice with the open road.

Installing the iPod for motorcycle use can be done fairly easily with a little time and effort. Two primary considerations are whether you are integrating the iPod into an existing intercom/audio system and whether the iPod will be run off its own battery or will need to be powered off the bike.

Warning

It goes without saying that safety comes first when riding. Listening to music while riding adds another layer of distraction. I recommend listening to your music through headphones built in to your helmet, rather than blasting it through external speakers. Either way, exercise discretion when listening while riding, and check your state laws.

If you are integrating the iPod into an existing audio system, it is very likely that this audio system will have its own internal amplifier that will take over the volume functions. If your motorcycle does not have an existing intercom or audio system for you to add the iPod to, you will need to consider adding an additional amplifier, as the iPod's volume will not be enough for you to hear your music clearly through your helmet speakers. There are several small audio amps on the market that can do the job. The one I like best is sold both in kit form and as an assembled amp and can be purchased online from Hobbytron.com (http://www.hobbytron.net/CK122.html; $14.00 or $29.95 fully assembled).

Two basic problems present themselves for installing an iPod on a motorcycle. The first is what to do with the wires, and the second is how to be able to use the remote. Typically, you will want to mount the iPod on some foam in an out-of-the-way location where it is protected from rain, such as in a fairing pocket or a non-magnetic tank bag. As a side note, never put an iPod in a magnetic tank bag, because that will damage the hard drive.

Repositioning the Remote

One way to help alleviate the wiring mess is to break the audio lines out of the remote cable, so that your headset or audio connector does not have to be plugged into the end of the remote control. This allows you to route the remote to a position on the handlebars where it is convenient to use, yet you don't have the additional audio output cable plugged into the end of it. It requires that you carefully slice open the sheath on the remote cable and extract and splice into the three small audio wires. These wires are color-coded red, white, and black.

Warning

However, their color-coding does not match the convention of normal audio wires. Normally, the red wire is the right channel positive, the white wire is the left channel positive, and the black wire is the return path or ground (shield).

On the iPod remote, the red wire is the ground or shield, the white is the right channel positive, and the black wire is the left channel positive.

Once you've extracted the three audio wires, you can then solder them into your motorcycle's audio cable. Alternatively, you can attach a female ministereo jack to these wires so you can plug and unplug the connection—however, for use on a motorcycle I like to use soldered joints wherever I can to eliminate connection problems from vibration. Frequently, jacks and connectors are sources of failures, and solder joints covered in a heat-shrink wrapper will be the most reliable long-term connections.

You need to consider exactly where you want to splice into the remote cord. This position will vary depending on your particular application. Choose a spot that helps to facilitate installation and minimizes wire lengths.

Tip

Another benefit of carrying the iPod when you travel by motorcycle is that there are several third-party applications that let you download phone and contact information into it from a PDA or address book. This info can be handy to have on the road with you, and it makes the iPod useful for more than just tunes.

Hacking the Remote

Another interesting modification you can make is to hack into the actual remote circuit card itself and run parallel switches to control the remote functions. My particular motorcycle had some unused CB switches on the handlebars for a CB I never installed, so it made sense for me to make use of them. They are much larger and easier to operate while riding than the iPod remote's controls, so I wanted to take advantage of them.

I first removed the plastic case from the remote by carefully prying it apart. Once I got the circuit card free, I could access the points on the circuit card where I needed to piggyback my wires. Be warned that this card is extremely small, and the contact points even smaller. You will need an extremely small soldering tip and small wires to be able to attach onto the existing switch connections. You will also need to use a magnifying glass to inspect your solder joints and to make sure you didn't splash any solder onto nearby contacts. Both the volume and skip functions on the remote board have an up and a down contact and a common contact. Three wires control volume up and down, three more control skip up and down, and two wires are needed for play/pause.

Once the wires are attached, you will need to tie them all together and attach them to the circuit card to provide strain relief for your delicate solder joints. Use a bit of hot melt glue to stick the wires in place. Once all the wires are in place, simply hook them up to the switches that you want to control the various functions. With the plastic cover off the remote, the circuit card was small enough that it could be mounted inside the housing for the unused CB switches on my motorcycle, so I just routed the wires and soldered them to the new switches. Your scenario might be different.

Powering the iPod

If you want to power the iPod off the motorcycle's electrical system, there are several good cigarette-type power adapters on the market that you can use to connect your iPod to a vehicle's 12-volt electrical system. There are some considerations for using these, though, as they can introduce noise into the audio system if you have other audio devices running off the bike's power or if the iPod is connected to an onboard intercom system that is powered from the motorcycle. The problem stems from ground loops forming between the audio circuits in the iPod and the audio circuits in the intercom amplifier. Solve the problem by installing a ground loop isolator, which is simply a transformer that prevents DC current from flowing back through the audio connections. RadioShack sells these (part #270-054), and they are simply installed in line (series) on the audio output wires from the iPod. This eliminates any ground loops and gets rid of any alternator whine or buzz that results from the use of a power adapter.

Final Thoughts

Once you have the iPod installed, it is truly a joy to have on a motorcycle, especially if you take long trips. You can build your playlist at home, and then when you ride just start the iPod and never have to mess with it again. It is one of the nicer audio solutions for motorcycles, due to its resistance to vibration and trouble-free operation. And since you are not constantly trying to change channels to find a good song or fiddle with the controls, it allows you to keep your eyes and concentration focused on the road, where they belong. I have now ridden over 40,000 miles with the iPod installed and have had no problems with it ever skipping or locking up.

Fred Harmon

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