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Spare Parts: The sound of music

By Ernie Copper

I used to think he was having bike troubles. As we’d start out on a road trip, he’d always lag behind at the beginning, just enough to make me think there were problems. Out of gas? Flat tire? Eventually I figured out he was just synching his music with his mood, even though he basically could have toggled between Johnny Cash and Johnny Paycheck. Richard had spent plenty of time and a fair amount of money getting the sound system he wanted for his bike; collecting brackets, amps, speakers and even spare batteries over time until he got it just the way he wanted it.

I, on the other hand, had resisted the temptation to be wired for sound. My 1980 FLT had been equipped with an AM/FM tape deck mounted in its fairing, which I’d used occasionally, but not regularly. After that bike I never really bothered with a sound system. There were lots of times that any music at all would have been better than the vocals going on inside my helmet, but I never took the time to “check into it” any deeper than a casual glance toward the sound vendor at a bike show. That is, until Chuck stepped in.

Chuck and I had talked for years about doing some riding and one day we finally did. He had enough sound system for two bikes built into his batwing, which eventually sparked a conversation about his old castoff system. Two chrome bullet handlebar-mounted speakers, an amp and a mounting bracket for the MP3/iPod of choice. Perfect. I had my daughter’s old, first-generation pink iPod that should complete the package. She’d left it behind like an old doll after the iPhone came along and I was the beneficiary.

I went to work rigging up the system. Really there were only two connections—a hot lead and a ground. The real work was in hiding the cabling behind the nacelle and suitably mounting the speakers. Chuck’s mounting brackets fit his 1 1/4″ diameter bars just fine, but when used on my 1″ bars, the speakers looked like bobbleheads. A trip to the local home improvement store yielded some cast two-piece plumbing brackets that could be modified to the task at hand. Yes, I know you can buy chrome clamps through a dozen mail-order vendors, but I needed them now.

I chucked the clamps into the vice, drilled them and countersunk them to accept the speaker bolts and gave them a quick shot of satin black paint. They fit the bars perfectly and once the speakers were mounted, you couldn’t even see them.

I hadn’t had much reason to use the pink iPod before, but thankfully it still had a playlist labeled “Dad.” It worked like a charm and I could barely wait to take it for a spin. The test ride revealed that a little adjustment in speaker placement was in order, but soon enough things were starting to sound right. My wife could even her it from the pillion.

About this time we discovered a long-lost iPod nano, also my daughter’s. It had been missing since she’d gone to California and we’d written it off, so to speak. It also had a “Dad” playlist, which proved much more desirable than the first one. It also plays louder and lasts infinitely longer than the first-generation iPod, which we proved during a recent weekend road trip to the Allegheny Mountains. Both units were fully charged, yet the generation-one iPod lasted only about an hour while the nano lasted multiple hours. Either mounts with industrial strength hook-and-loop fasteners and is easy to tuck into your pocket when you stop for the night. The only issue I’m having is turning the volume up and down with my gloves on, which is compounded by my total lack of understanding as to how the damn thing is supposed to work, to begin with.

I guess I needed to wait until adding music to my ride enhanced the ride rather than complicating it. Technology has caught up with my expectations, and now I have to catch up to Richard—just as soon as I find that damn Johnny Cash song.

 

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