Mar 1 2009

Researching the Earmolds

tim

I’ve done a bit of snooping today, looking at the parts used in the Earmolds earphones I bought yesterday.

Seems that the earphones themselves are made by McKay Associates, an Australian company that sells radio accessories around the world. The best (actually the ONLY) price I’ve been able to find for the earphones themselves is around $AUD100, which is $AUD50 less than what Earmold is selling them for.

McKay seem to have some great comms gear. They don’t sell radios, but specialise inĀ  accessories – and seem to do so very well.

So add to that a DIY earplug kit for around $AUD50 and you have pretty much the same setup for $70 less than the Earmolds offering. Of course, if it doesn’t work, the risk is on you. Perhaps the middle-ground is to buy the McKay earphones and get an audiologist to make the earplugs.

But perhaps after all that, $220 to get Earmolds to do it isn’t so bad.

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Mar 1 2009

Earmolds!

tim

When I went to the MotoGP at Phillip Island last year I checked out the custom molded silicone ear plugs from Earmold. These guys had a stand at the expo there, and were making money hand over fist making plugs and earphones for riders. I was a little reluctant to put money down on something that you really can’t test first. You really don’t know how they will work until they make a set for your ears.

While I was at the Superbikes yesterday, I took the plunge and bought a set of earphone plugs. They’re flipping expensive, and I’m guessing their costs area fraction of the sale price, but since I haven’t been able to find an alternative or do-it-yourself solution that I could guarantee would work, I decided to go with these.

The earphones work on a rubber-hose system, which puts the actual speaker about 30cm away from your head, and funnels the sound through the tube, which runs through the earpiece. (This is the part I haven’t been able to source elsewhere…). The noise supression is good, though I’m told not quite as good as the solid plugs. There’s also a little bit of wind noise from the tubes themselves at speed. Sound quality is good, though probably not worthy of the title “most expensive earphones I’ve ever bought.” That said, at speed they’re the best sound I’ve heard in my helmet… and that’s what counts.

They come in a range of awful colours, but I got mine made in skin-tone, so I can wear thm as in-ear monitors on stage if that opportunity ever presents itself again. Unfortunately Earmolds no longer use clear tubing, so even with skin-tone plugs I have black leads running from my ears.

That little bit of wind noise aside, the ride home was very good!

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Feb 14 2009

Bash plate update

tim

Seems that the new aluminium bash plate I spotted back in December has gone into production. The finished product looks great, with good protection for the drain plug, countersunk bolts on the bottom, and great coverage on the front.

UPDATE: I’ve received word from jnsengineering that the cost to ship to Australia is $45 for one, and $50 for two or three. Anyone around Melbourne interested in sharing the shipping costs, let me know via the comments.

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Dec 12 2008

Capturing the action

tim

This week I took delivery of a new video camera. My old one didn’t quite come back in one piece from a trip earlier in the year, and I’ve been trying to decide whether to buy a replacement standard def DV model (the equivalent replacement being around $300), or to get on the HD bandwagon. I figured that if I got a lower-end camera I’d still end up buying something HD before long, so it was more a matter of which one when.

I’ve been looking at the Canon HV20 for some time. It one some awards when it came out in 2007, and has reviewed very well. It’s also been the starting point (albeit with some pretty funky add-ons) for some indie filmmakers. It’s reasonably compact, and it’s HDV – using the same miniDV tapes that my old camera used. I’ve never taken to the idea of a HDD-based camera, especially since full is full, and when you’re in the middle of nowhere you can’t do much about it. Also the compression of AVCHD cameras makes the footage a pain to edit. So, the HV20 ticked all the boxes for me.

The HV20 was replaced by the HV30 not long ago. It’s effectively the same camera, painted black. The only new feature is a 24fps “cine mode”, which further caters to the indie film guys. In the US where normal frame rates are 30fps (well, technically 60, but that doesn’t matter), it’s a great feature. In Australia, where standard frame rates are 25fps, the feature is almost useless… which is why the Australian HV30 doesn’t even have the cine mode feature.

So… there are stockists in Australia with HV20s imported when the dollar was, you know, worth around a dollar, who also have the newer but virtually identical HV30, which they no doubt imported at a considerably poorer exchange rate. The difference in price? between $200 and $500, depending on where you look.

I’ve taken a few shots with it, and the quality is incredible. I’ve been looking at 35mm DOF adapters (more on that in a moment) but to be honest the depth of field and manual focus on the camera itself is very good, to the point where I’d have a hard time justifying the expense of an add-on lens.

35mm Depth of Field adapters are a great idea. The theory is that video will never have the cinematic properties of film, as long as the capture surface is smaller than the 35mm stock of motion picture film; so to get around this, a variety of manufacturers have developed a “light-box” with a piece of ground glass inside acting as a two-way screen, that sits between a a conventional 35mm SLR lens and a consumer or prosumer DV camera. The 35mm lens projects onto the ground glass an image with all the qualities of 35mm footage, while all the Dv camera has to do is hold focus on the other side of the ground glass. Some of the results are incredible. If you don’t believe me, Google it and take a look.

Most of these adapters start around the $US1000 mark, and go up from there. 35mm lenses project an upside down image, so you wind up recording the image that way, or running your camera upside down. Either way, the image in the viewfinder remains upside down, regardless of which way up your camera is. So some developers have added an image-correcting feature to their 35mm adapters… for a price.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover http://www.handy35.com, a small company in Turkey which is producing (by all reports) a very good 35mm adapter for around half the price of most others. The design is smart, and aimed squarely at smaller cameras. It spins the ground glass (where others sometimes vibrate it) so that the grain of the glass can never be captured by the camera, only the image projected on it. It doesn’t rotate the image, but that’s not a show stopper, particularly at the price.

So now I’ve found the adapter I would buy if I were to buy one, and have a camera that makes me wonder if I would really ever need it.

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Aug 30 2008

First tank report

tim

I found out the other day that I can’t change gears on the KLR with my dirt bike boots on. This morning I adjusted the gear lever up one notch and tested the theory again: much better. The other problem I find with the boots is that they push my knees up just enough to touch on the ridge of the side fairing. I haven’t swapped out the rubber foot pegs for metal dirt bike pegs, so that might help when the time comes. I’ll try to get some lower (or at least lower profile) pegs, and I might even be able to move the gear lever back down. I’d still rather ride in regular shoes, but after riding for a while in the boots today, I pretty much forgot about them.

I’ve been checking out the options for a bigger windscreen for the KLR. The stock screen isn’t bad, but the turbulence hits right on the visor line, and also tends to hit the tops of my shoulders, which is not so good on a cold night. There are a number of suppliers who make screens and spoilers for the KLR, but so far the choices seem pretty subjective, and I’m loth to spend over a hundred dollars on a piece of plastic that doesn’t do the job (for that matter, not keen on spending $100+ on any piece of plastic). I’d also read that the screen is a cause of turbulence itself, and that removing it can make a difference. I tested that today, and while the overall buffeting is not as intense, the wind hits the whole front of you, and hits hardest just below the helmet line. I’ve put the screen back on…

I still like the idea of the Laminar Lip or the MRA Vario Touring Screen. The former is a spoiler for the existing screen (or a taller one), and the latter is a spoiler and screen combination, with a range of positions to deflect the wind to best suit the height and riding position of the rider. Most reports are good, particularly of the Vario screen. It’s not much taller than the stock one, but apparently does an amazing job of deflecting the wind over the rider’s head. While a taller screen is still an option, the truth is I’d rather a short screen and spoiler that can do near enough to the same job. If only there was somewhere I could try them all out…

The crash bars are doing their job, and feel fine on the road. I tightened them up today.

I also bought a pair of Panasonic earphones this morning. The include a neck lanyard which keeps the ear buds suspended when they’re not in my ears, and also attaches to the case of my iPod nano. They’re a little toppy, but they block out a lot of external sound, which is great. The lead and lanyard are just long enough to reach the top pocket I use for the iPod.

I hit reserve for the first time today, as well, after 345km. I’m pretty impressed with the range of the 22l tank. It appears that the reserve is about 3 or 4l.

Nearly had a spill on the way to the servo this afternoon, though. I approached (downhill) a roundabout a little fast, and decided too late not to take the gap I was looking at. I hit the back brake too hard and locked the wheel, and black-patched all the way to the line. I couldn’t stop myself from hitting the back brake, but eventually managed to ease off it and apply more of the front. It was a stupid mistake, but fortunately I managed to keep the bike upright and stopped just over the line.

Forgot to mention that the Wolfman Beta has also finally arrived. It’s a nice bag (which it would want to be for the money), and it mounts really well to the bike, with plenty of pressure straps for the bag’s contents as well. All the straps have plenty of length in them, and it’s very simple to attach and remove it. Saddle bags would still be better (required) for two-up riding, but for a solo ride the Beta is great. And big.

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Jun 1 2008

Helmet Camera Update

tim

You’ll notice a comment on the Helmet Camera post from Mark. He points out that the POV.1 Hemet camera can connect to a standard tripod, since one of the mounting brackets has a standard thread on it. Excellent! He also mentions that the POV.1 has a wider-angle lens, which will make a huge difference to that video quality, particularly over rough surfaces. Wide-angle lenses minimise camera shake, as the overall shot area doesn’t change as much when the camera is bumped (think of how unsteady your camera is when you zoom in on something – it’s the opposite of that).

It’s cheaper that it used to be, too. Sweet!

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May 18 2008

These are ace!

admin

I love simple but clever stuff. I first stumbled on these a couple of weeks ago, and have since found that there are a few brands on the market.

The Throttle Rocker uses a simple velcro loop-back to clamp on to the hand-grip. It only comes in one style, but it looks good, and there are left and right-biased versions, depending on which part of your hand you want to rest on it.

The Cramp Buster seem to just use its own shape to grip the hand-grip, and it comes in narrow and wide versions.

Clever. It’s as close as I would want to get to cruise control on a bike. I wonder if they’re legal in Australia.

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May 18 2008

Switches

admin

I’m probably getting a little ahead of myself here, but that’s not unusual. As part of my thoughts about communications and electrics on the bike, I’ve been thinking about the PTT (push to talk) switch for a UHF radio. There’s a few options, from more permanent fixtures through to velcro-on buttons. My current radio was a wonderful investment from Aldi (not known for their communications or motorcycle accessories – but it was cheap), and it came with helmet speakers, a flexible boom mic and a PTT switch which you could velcro to the handlebars or to your finger. Either way, it wasn’t great. The finger Idea was just fiddly, since it got in the way of gloves (on the outside, not the inside), and there really wasn’t a practical place to mount it on the handlebars. A friend roughly mounted his over the standard indicator switchgear, but that was awkward, and it was still quite hard to press the button while riding. Sadly, the StarCom1 comms integrator that I’m looking at ships with the same switch.

Thankfully I’m not the first person to think of this (lets assume that goes for most things, eh?). There’s a range of after-market switches available. Most resemble a plastic “kill” switch or a cut down version of the indicator/lights/horn switchbox. The trouble with all of these is that they take up handlebar real-estate, which means that either the after-market unit or the original indicator switch is going to end up too far from your left hand to make it useful.

Some of the cleverer solutions offset the switch housing above or below the handlebars, and mount to the bars with a thin clamp – thin enough that the indicator switch is not pushed too far to the right. Another (beautiful) solution is a polished aluminium slimline switch housing. This one comes in single and double swich configurations, and is just stunning.

But the more I think about it, I reckon this one might be the best yet. It places the button right where your thumb would reach if you fully extended it, which means it’s out of the way, yet completely accessible without moving your left hand. The switch comes as an accessory for some freakish quick-shift device, which lets you change gear without easing off the throttle or touching the clutch, from what I can tell (there’s something about that which makes me not want to ask questions). It’s a shame that a simple switch like that sells for around $US100. It makes much less compelling options suddenly seem more viable. Still, I might be able to get one for less when the time comes.

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May 17 2008

Helmet Camera

admin

I’m determined that whatever this trip turns out to be, it will be captured on video. Considering how cheap standard definition DV cameras have become, it’s reasonable to assume that each rider on the trip could carry a a camera either in a tank bag or in a pocket. If the person at the front of the pack gets far enough in front, they can stop and shoot the other riders coming past… that sort of thing.

I’ve also mentioned to Andy and Lyn, the likely drivers of the support vehicle, that they’ll become part of the “crew” when they’re in range of the bikes.

But what has interested me for some time is the idea of helmet camera. Most of these consist of a “lipstick” camera and mount, attached to a power source and a DV camera, operating as a VCR.

I’ve been hesitant to invest in one of these so far. A tape-based recorder on a bike (particularly one that is recording at the time) is vulnerable to dust and vibration, not to mention damage in a fall. There’s also no practical way to see what you’re shooting while you’re shooting it, short of mounting the DV camera to the handlebars with the screen open – further exposing the equipment to the elements. The other big draw-back is the lack of control. Remote (LANC) cables are expensive (considering what they do), and pressing the record button on the camera itself is often impractical. There’s also the problem of the recording medium. While DV tapes are cheap, to record non-stop on the off-chance that something might happen is just not practical, and to fumble for the record button just after that emu has run out on the track in front of you is a pointless.

I have experimented with directly mounting a DV camera to a dirt bike, as you can see in this video clip. I wrapped the camera in a tailored piece of wetsuit material to keep some of the dust out, but I still had to resign myself to the fact that the camera might not come out of the experiment alive.

I’ve recently found a couple of solutions which address just about all of the limitations of a standard helmet camera. The one I’m most impressed with is the VIO POV1. It uses a waterproof camera (actually, the whole thing is pretty much waterproof) connected to a small recording device, which includes a screen and simple controls and records to SD card. The manufacturers claim that it can capture around 45 minutes of DVD-quality video on a 1GB SD card (though it can take up to 2GB).

What I love about the POV1 is th wireless remote, which you can strap to your wrist or handlebars. It includes a TAG button, which effectively allows you to capture an event after it has happened. The camera can be configured to capture video constantly, but it will only commit footage to the card permanently when the TAG button is pressed. It can be programmed to keep the preceding 15 minutes or more of footage, which means the operator can choose to record an event after it has taken place.

The camera comes with a range of mounting options, though there doesn’t seem to be a standard tripod thread anywhere on it, which is unfortunate. It would also be nice to be able to mount the capture unit and screen easily, though I’m sure a RAM mount and some cable ties will be able to solve that problem.

I actually think that at times the rider’s helmet is not the best place for a camera like this, unless the rider is very aware of the camera, and holds his head quite still. The one advantage is to be able to capture the rider’s point of view when something unexpected happens. Mounts on the fairings, facing forward and back, would capture some great footage.

Another thing I’m looking forward to trying is to use a long RAM mount arm (or one made of a series of clamps and balls, like the one pictured, only longer) attached somewhere to the front of the bike, which would allow the camera to capture the rider and the action behind. Having a long arm sticking out from the bike like an over-excited mirror poses some risks, but since the camera would weigh very little, I think I’d get away with it, particularly on paved roads.

Could make for some interesting footage.

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May 7 2008

Powering a tank bag

admin

I’m figuring that most of my gadgetry on any trip would be kept in luggage, rather than bolted to the bike. This will allow the entire setup to be removable, not to mention water and dust resistant. The most logical place or all that is a tank bag, or better still a self-contained padded bag inside the tank bag, that can be moved to a larger or smaller tank bag (or somewhere else entirely) fairly easily.

So the next challenge is getting the power into the tank bag itself. I’m planning on placing power outlets on the handlebars of the bike, so the power source will be close at hand.

This page at Eastern Beaver gives a great outline on how to power a tank bag. I’d follow this procedure almost exactly, though I expect that I’d run an SAE connector cable to the inner bag, and distribute power from there.

The other thing I’d add to the outside of the tank bag is a couple of these Power Ports. One at the front of the bag would allow the GPS on the handlebars to connect to an integrated comms system inside the bag; another on the back would allow connections to a helmet microphone, speakers, and a helmet camera.

The inner bag (or perhaps a compartment in the tank bag… but let’s go with the inner bag idea) would need be split into two sections: one for the fuse box, plus wiring for each device I wanted to power; and the other for the devices themselves. At the moment, here’s my list:

  • iPod: a Belkin cigarette lighter adapter would be perfect. It has a line out and a volume control, which will allow the iPod to connect into the integrated comms system. The adapter and the audio wiring would all be hidden in the wiring section, with only the dock connector visible. This will need a cigarette lighter socket.
  • Mobile Phone: on shorter trips (where I wouldn’t bother with all this kit) I’d pair the phone to the Bluetooth radio on the GPS, and pair that to the bluetooth headset on my helmet (more on that when I work out what GPS I’m after). In this scenario, though, I’ll pair the phone to the comms system, and power it off the bike. Wiring would either be a cigarette lighter socket or a direct connection, depending on the voltage.
  • UHF Radio: power and comms would be wired to the radio. This will probably be 6v, so an adapter will be required, I guess. Which means another cigarette lighter socket.
  • Comms Integrator: there are a number of these units available. The handle noise supressions, and route sound to and from the helmet to the various devices. I’ll look into these in greater detail another time.
  • Helmet Camera recording unit: the latest helmet cameras record to SD card, rather than connect to a DV camera. I’ll generally keep mine in the tank bag, an while it is there it might as well be charging. Don’t know yet what connector I’ll need for that.
  • Charger: a small charger for AA and AAA batteries
  • Video Camera or Camera Battery Charger: the plan is to video the trip, so I’ll want to have my DV/HDV camera handy. Again, since it is in the tank bag anyway, it might as well be powered.

With all of that, the simplest approach might yet be to have a mounted strip of cigarette lighter sockets inside the tank bag, and protective cases for each of the gadgets.

Time and testing will tell. More on that when I’m ready to start shopping.

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