My BMW R1150 GSAA at Deals' Gap

Powered by Squarespace

Here's a collection of articles originally written by me and published in the Tarheel Traveler Newsletter. I'm a member of the Tarheel Travelers of North Carolina,  a BMW MOA and RA chartered club. These articles highlight my start in adding farkle to BMWs. Enjoy!

Increased Communications - Part 1 - February 2005

Did that get your attention? Sandy has been looking for some help in increasing the content-value of our newsletter. I.e., communicating something different and useful to our members each month. This article and perhaps those to follow serves to do just that, by actually discussing the topic of... wait for it... COMMUNICATIONS... as in rider to passenger and rider to rider. Three of us recently embarked on a mission to install the same intercom on three different BMW bikes. In addition, the same two-way radio was added to the mix, along with headset installations in no fewer than 4 different varieties of helmets. Your author (Brian Young), along with Ed Gray and Chris Irving simultaneously reached the conclusion that intercoms with two-way radio support were needed while riding down a rather boring section of I-40 last November. It seems that telling jokes and picking on one another via hand signals just didn’t cut it. Add to that the fact that each of us rides two-up with our respective spouses once in a while and for some reason we like to hear what they have to say too. <grin>

So here’s the story...

Through some discussion and review of online material and BMW ON magazine articles, we somehow managed to conclude that the Autocom Active-7-Smart ( would do the trick for all of us. We also rationalized that being consistent on the pieces and parts would aid in solving any problems we might have with installation and getting it all to work.

The Active-7-Smart is bike-powered and supports rider and passenger headsets, music and cellphone connections, along with a two-way radio interface. Over and above that, it’s small (2.6”L, 2.1”W and .9”D) and is at least somewhat weather-proof as long as you don’t blast it with a stream of water. Purchased as a kit, it comes with one universal headset assembly, a headset extension lead, music interface cable (think connection to a MP3 player with a stereo 1/8” jack), as well as a cellphone interface cable (similar to the music interface, but smaller plug on the cellphone end). You should plan on purchasing a second headset and possibly a second headset extension lead for your passenger if needed. If you are interested in a two-way radio interface, cables are available for both Kenwood and “other” types of FRS/GMRS radios. We chose an Icom radio and the interface cable for it was also found to be compatible with handheld “ham” radios from Icom, Yaesu, Alinco and others. Kenwood has always been different from the rest in that respect. I’ll provide more on the radio installation in a future segment. If you ride by yourself, the Active-7-Smart supports VOX (voice operated transmit), so anything you say gets transmitted by your radio. With a passenger on board, you will need to add a PTT (push to talk)/Privacy switch cable assembly to make sure that comments made by your passenger about the guy riding ahead of you are only heard by you.

Next month, I’ll cover installation of the basic unit, including info on how not to wire it for power on a K1200GT.

Increased Communications - Part 2 - March 2005

Last month, I gave you just enough to wet your appetite for installing an Autocom Active-7-Smart intercom on a R1150GS Adventure, R1150R and K1200GT. This month, I’ll continue the series (hopefully the networks don’t pull the plug on us) with an installment that tackles the right and wrong ways of routing DC power to the intercom. So here goes...

Installation – DC Power

The first step towards installing the intercom is to select a sheltered location that supports access to DC power, as well as reasonable connecting distances for the headsets and other accessories you may wish to connect. The Autocom instructions also suggest temporarily mounting and wiring the unit to allow for repositioning in case there is any ignition interference. I’m here to tell you that Ed, Chris and I basically picked a location under the seat that provided the proper clearance for the unit and wires. Once this was located, we set out to connect it to a switched source of DC power (ignition key ON – intercom ON, key OFF – intercom OFF). On my ’02 R1150GS Adventure, it was simply a matter of routing the wiring into the fuse box and sharing an existing spade connector plugged into a blade-type Fuse Tap (Radio Shack part 270-1204). A fuse tap is a piece of metal that once clipped over the output side of a blade fuse, provides a place to slip a spade connector and positive DC wire (Red) onto. On my GS, the Smart Switch for the PIAA lights was already wired using this method to at 15 Amp fuse labeled “RID, Power Socket”, so it was simply a matter of replacing the existing spade connector with a new one that had the existing wire from the Smart Switch and the intercom’s Red wire crimped and soldered into it. I would personally recommend soldering wires to connectors to avoid trouble further down the road.

The Active-7-Smart’s ground wire (Black) needs to be connected to the bike’s DC ground. On the GS, I had an existing ground connection available under the seat via a 30 Amp Anderson PowerPole connector. The wire ahead of this connection led right to the Negative side of the bike’s battery. Perhaps I can provide more info on the use of PowerPole connectors in a future article if there’s interest. Let’s just say that I use them quite liberally due to their robustness and when used in pairs they prevent you from connecting the power backwards and possibly damaging your electronics. I also made a modification to the Active-7-Smart’s DC leads to allow for quick disconnection via two pair (two red, two black) of PowerPole connectors.

With Chris’ ’04 R1100R, the installation was quite similar with the positive lead being connected into the fuse box using a fuse tap. A ground connection was found by “violating” a nearby wiring bundle leading to the taillight assembly and tapping into the ground wire. An ohm meter was used to confirm the ground connection with the bike’s power turned off. We go this one right!

Ed’s ’04 K1200GT was a different story altogether and led to a little head scratching and use of words one should only use in a cold garage. Basically, the fuses in a GT are much smaller and do not work with the fuse taps he purchased at Radio Shack. There may be smaller fuse taps available, but even if there were, the fuse box itself doesn’t have any clearance for connectors and wiring and still allow the box to be properly closed. So, Ed suggested that we take the same approach that was used to connect his auxiliary LED taillight assembly (a BMW option). What, more wiring bundle violation? Except in this case, the wires, although short and hard to get to, were made visible simply by removing the GT’s taillight assembly. Once visible, it was a matter of connecting the Active-7-Smart’s Black wire to the bike’s ground wire and then connecting the Red wire to the right positive wire. Oh boy did we screw this one up and we were using a volt meter to keep us out of trouble.

We basically made not one mistake, but two before we got things right. Fooled by what we saw with the meter, we proceeded to connect the intercom’s Black wire to the positive wire that becomes positive when braking (it appears to be a ground under normal conditions so be careful) and the intercom’s Red lead to a positive wire. With the key turned on the Active-7-Smart worked just fine – until he squeezed the brake lever, which caused it to shut off. Are you laughing at this? We weren’t at the time.

Once we thought we had figured out what was going on, we moved the intercom’s Red wire over to the other wire and thought all would be right in the world. This was mistake number two and soon we found that the intercom didn’t work at all. Good grief. OK, think... Ah, we had Red wire connected in the right spot to begin with, but it was the Black wire that was the trouble. After changing the Red wire back to its original connection and then moving the Black wire to a real ground instead of the brake light wire(!), life got good again. Eureka! That was it. Just a little more solder and perhaps a burned finger or two and all was again right in the world. Nice words starting flowing freely from our mouths again at this point. Then there was the faulty taillight bulb, but that’s another story that only Ed may wish to tell.

OK, so at this point, all three bikes had the basic Active-7-Smart intercoms wired into DC power and tested out with temporary connections to the headsets and music interfaces. We could speak, hear ourselves in the speakers and hear music playing from a MP3 player. So far so good, so hook and loop devices (industrial Velcro) were used to secure each intercom in place. One of us (maybe we'll draw straws) will pick up on the discussion here next month with regards to helmet mutilation or how to avoid it.

Increased Communications - Part 3 - April 2005

Last month, I covered basic electricity 101 and how to get power to the Autocom Active-7-Smart intercom on a R1150GS Adventure, R1150R and K1200GT. As promised, this month, we’ll continue with a discussion of how to avoid mutilating a perfectly good helmet during the installation of the Autocom Universal Super B headset (speakers, microphone and wiring) necessary to actually use the Autocom with your helmet. Keep in mind that you get one in the intercom kit, and unless you only intend to talk to yourself or only to use the intercom with a two-way radio, you’ll need to keep the bean counters at Autocom happy by parting with another $89.99 (list). I’ll now turn things over to Chris Irving (

Headset Installation in a Shoei RF800 full-face helmet

You’ll need the following items:

  • double stick tape (thin, no foam)
  • "skinny" duct tape or other tape with similar or better adhesion
  • razor knife
  • rag with alcohol
  • small strip of wide Velcro tape, I got industrial strength but used the soft "fuzzy" stuff
  • patience and 1-2 hours of time
  1. As per the Autocom manual, remove the foam from the chin and side piece assembly. Mine stayed "hinged" in the back - it didn't seem to want to detach easily so I left it attached. Although a bit more cumbersome to work with, it meant less to put back together. (Editor: Less mutilation is good!)
  2. Remove most of the tape holding the lining in place. The lining is also held in place by double stick tape, which I also removed and later replaced with new tape. Remove enough tape to remove the lining and expose the ear area where the speakers will mount. There is a thin foam lining over the whole area. Cut the foam lining around the ear socket, up against the thicker foam padding. The reason for removal is twofold - first to provide as much clearance as possible and second to provide a secure mounting surface via adhesive mounted Velcro. Remove the cut piece which is glued to the foam (I just picked at it with my fingers and pulled little pieces off at a time). Once most is removed, rub with your finger and/or the alcohol rag to remove any remaining foam/adhesive.
  3. Cut (2) pieces of Velcro tape (the size of the speaker) to use as a backing mount. You will need to notch (1) corner at a 45 degree angle to fit well and be right up against the chin strap holes. Mount the Velcro to the helmet as close to the holes as possible. Then mount the speakers in the same fashion (Editor: The speakers have the fuzzy part of Velcro on the back of them already). Replace lining and secure using new double-stick and duct tapes.
  4. Use duct tape on the outside of the foam piece to secure the Autocom microphone base and all wiring. My helmet is already a pretty snug fit. I would recommend keeping wiring as flat as possible with no overlays/crossovers which would create extra thickness. I also recommend pressing the wiring into the hard foam a little bit so your (or your spouse’s, :) ) head doesn't get squeezed like a vise when you put the helmet on. From experience, it's not pleasant...
  5. Put it all back together, plug it in and see what happens...

Note on speaker location: I put my speakers close to the chinstrap holes, but found that once on my head if I pushed on the front of the helmet, forcing it backward slightly, sound was much improved. This means (at least for me) the speakers have to be as very close as possible to those chinstraps!!! Once said time and patience is found again, I will have to partially dismantle and move the speakers a little fahr-thuh (southern drawl) - aaargh!

Note on connection location: I found that when seated the coiled cord is plenty long, with even a little sag. What I did for the rider connection was coil the cord up under the seat and secure with wire ties so the connector is sitting on top of the air box directly below the gap between the seat and the tank (R1150R). What I plan to do is this: When I will be using the unit, remove the seat, make the connection with the coiled cord, then replace the seat with the coiled cord running between the seat and tank. There is still plenty of cord when seated and enough flex in the cord to stand on the pegs. If temporarily not in use, the cord can be stuffed down between the tank and seat yet the plug is big enough it won't fall through. When not using the unit (commuting, short trips to the Lodge, milk runs, etc.), I can remove the coiled cord and then the other wiring and plug is out of sight and protected from the elements. *Note that I have seat jacks which increase the gap between the seat and tank - not sure if would otherwise be possible.


Chris wrote this back in January (2005), so you can safely assume he’s completed the process for Danielle’s (his better half’s) helmet. Knowing that she has a HJC flip-face helmet, one can safely assume zero mutilation. Ed Gray also has an HJC and found it to be a rather painless experience. This is made possible because HJC allows the pads to be easily snapped out of their helmets. I hear from other TT members that Arai helmets are similar in this respect.

In my case, Elizabeth was in need of a replacement for her old RF800 and just reading what Chris went through was painful enough for me, so Elizabeth was promptly fitted for a full-face (non-flip) HCJ CL-14. Fifteen minutes of labor, including taking pictures was “it” for the HCJ. I ended up with one myself (summer helmet?) too since I was less than happy with the mutilation I put my Schuberth flip-face through. Safe to say, I had to remove some hard foam to make the speakers fit. I won’t get into the details on this except to say that I resorted to grinding some of it away with a Dremel-brand rotary tool. Note that melting (OK, burning) it away with a hot soldering iron does NOT work. If you would like to see how things turned out with the Schuberth, ask me.

With proper and acceptable helmet installations complete, each of us had a perfectly usable intercom system. Keeping in mind that one of our objectives in this project was simple, relioable bike-to-bike communications, I'll probably pick up here next month with a discussion on the radio installation.

Increased Communications - Part 4 - May 2005

In April, with the help of Chris Irving, the fine art of how not to mutilate a helmet during a headset installation was discussed. By now, you can safely assume the Ed Gray, Chris Irving and myself, along with our respective spouses Robin, Danielle “Danny” and Elizabeth have put quite a few miles on our bikes with the Autocom Active 7-Smart intercoms installed. I’m here to tell you that it’s been a great addition from my standpoint and I’m sure Ed, Chris and the ladies will agree. The ladies for sure can now tell us what’s on their minds rather than using the tried and true rib-poke method of getting our attention. That alone is worth the price of admission.

In this 4th installment of the Increased Communication saga, I will attempt to discuss the ins and outs of adding a two-way radio to the mix. Gone are the days of the CB being a viable communication method (sunspot cycles anyone?). Before anyone says it, yes, I know you can still get a CB on a Goldwing and I bet it’s even an option on a K1200LT. But, today you can’t go into any Target, WalMart, etc. without seeing a whole display of FRS and sometimes even GMRS radios.

These small FM (rather than AM as found on the old CBs) two-way radios work very well for bike to bike communications if you are willing to ignore the 2 for $25 models and concentrate on purchasing the higher quality, more weather resistant models from companies like Icom and Kenwood. No, typically you can’t find these at the local Target, but they are out there and easy to find.

Some basic research on the Autocom web site ( showed that they favor (and sell) the Kenwood FreeTalk radios, but also provide support in the form of interface cables for the similar Icom model IC-F21GM radio. I have good things to say about Kenwood and Icom being a ham operator for many years. Chris, Ed and I discussed and settled on the Icom model due to it being able to transmit at a higher power (4 watts) vs. the Kenwood’s 2 watts – for the same price.

Note that both of these radios are technically GMRS radios (General Mobile Radio Service). What does that mean to you? Well, it means that you are supposed to license the radio once you purchase it. The FCC asks that you voluntarily mail them $85 for a 5-year license. I’ll just leave that decision to you. In addition to the “special” GMRS frequencies supported, GMRS radios typically also provide 7 channels that are shared with FRS (Family Radio Service) radios. FRS does NOT require a license, but those radios don’t have transmit power more than ½ watt. They claim to be 2 mile radios vs. the 5 mile coverage the packaging for the Target/WalMart variety GMRS radios advertises. Don’t expect to get these results unless you are line-of-site to the person with the other radio and no obstructions like building and trees are between you. I’m jumping the gun by saying this here, but the bike-to-bike experience Ed, Chris and I have with the “better” radios points to 1-2 mile distances maximum even running higher power. Freeway-trawling where little obstructions exist allow the longer distances, but as they say, your mileage may vary.

Basic Installation of an Icom F21GM handheld radio

Needed (besides the basic Autocom setup):

  • Icom IC-F21GM radio ~$150 from various sources ( is a good choice)
  • Autocom Transceiver Interface: Standard – Part number 111 $29.99 (If you buy a Kenwood radio, there’s a different cable for it)
  • Autocom PTT (Push-To-Talk)/Privacy Handlebar Switch – Part number 136 $69.99

If you never have a passenger on your bike and intend to mainly use the Autocom for listening to music or interfacing to a two-way radio, then you may be able to get by without the PTT/Privacy Handlebar Switch. Without it, and assuming you don’t think out loud, the Autocom Active 7-Smart is happy to “key” the radio (i.e., seemingly push the transmit button on the side of the radio) on your behalf every time you say something. This is called VOX (voice operated transmit). However, adding a passenger to the equation without the PTT/Privacy Switch will get interesting, especially when comments are made from the back-half of the seat about that goober in front of you – and that goober just happens to also have a radio. Sorry Ed, Elizabeth didn’t mean it! Really.

Assuming you have room for the radio in a tank bag, or some other weather-sheltered location, the installation is simple and just involves routing and plugging the cables in. If you add the PTT/Privacy Handlebar Switch, that means some space must be given up towards the inside of your left grip. Two slim, black zip-ties are used to secure the switch assembly to the grip (several are provided with the switch assembly). You’ll have to experiment with the best location, being careful to avoid obstructing your clutch lever travel and causing problems reaching for the horn or turn signal switches. You’ll find the right place, but it may take some experimentation and a few more zip-ties. I think I went through 3 pairs.

Another note about the PTT/Privacy Handlebar Switch: Below the PTT button on the assembly is a 3-way, weather resistant switch that allows you to select VOX or PTT operation, as well as a transmit all the time mode. I’m not sure what this 3rd position is good for yet and suspect it may be more trouble than good. Perhaps it supports those out there thinking of a radio broadcasting career or something.

The Icom radio comes with a snap-in NiCad battery pack that seems to be good for an all-day ride if nobody is too chatty. Chris, Ed and I also purchased a battery eliminator that converts the bike’s 12 VDC down to the 7.2 VDC required by the radio. However, Ed and I have not been able to tame a background “squeal” heard when we transmit and to make matters worse; Chris hears a similar noise no matter if he’s transmitting or listening. Ground isolation problem I suspect. Bottom line: If you are interested, let me know and I’ll pass you the name of the company that makes it. Otherwise, stick to the battery and bring along the charger.

Next month, I’ll conclude this discussion (finally?) with some tips on achieving a more pleasant two-way radio experience. Until then, ride safe!

Increased Communications - Part 5 of 5! - June 2005

This has been fun. By no means do I think the work on the Autocom Active 7-Smart and accompanying wiring and devices is complete. Being a tinkerer by nature, I’m still playing with a few things, including the location of the push-to-talk switch, so maybe someday...

Here are a few last words of advice with regards to using the intercom with a two-way radio:

  • If using VOX mode with the radio, experiment with the VOX sensitivity on the intercom so that your first word spoken is not clipped. Another way to tame this is to speak like a valley girl, starting each sentence with “Like”. Example: “Like, let’s take the next exit so I can take a bio break, OK?
  • The location of the microphone inside your helmet is critical. This should be obvious from talking back and forth with a passenger, but it’s even more critical when using a radio to ensure that others can hear you clearly. Don’t overdrive it either, by yelling. Just like in a foreign country, louder and slower doesn’t cut it. Just speak as you would normally and if that doesn’t work, an adjustment probably needs to be made.
  • When traveling in a group, place radio-equipped bikes close to the front, in the middle and at the very end of the pack. The last rider position should be obvious and most helpful to let lead rider know when everyone is through an intersection, etc. When the pack gets stretched out a bit, lead rider may no longer hear last rider, so anyone in the middle with a radio becomes the relay between the two.
  • Squelch settings: Standard audio squelch on a two-way radio opens when a signal is received and closes when not. This prevents you from hearing noise/static between transmissions from someone else. Tone squelch, as available on most of the better FRS and GMRS radios enhances this by only allowing you to hear someone in your group if their radio is set to transmit the same tone your squelch is set to open on. You won’t hear the tone being transmitted. That’s why they call them subtones or subaudible tones. Use tone squelch to prevent nasty static from power lines and other sources of interference, including Jimmy and Johnny playing commando with their brand new walkie talkies. Pick a frequency (channel) for your group, along with a tone for the squelch and your radio use will be much more pleasant.

Unless I get a request to cover something else, I’m out of wind here. As always, if you have any questions, suggestions, comments, rants, etc., feel free to email them to me.

Special note: Thanks to those of you that have contacted me regarding your experiences with Autocom, taming ignition noise when using radios, etc. Very helpful and let’s continue the dialog. That’s what it’s all about.

Thanks for allowing me the space. Ride safe!

Increased Communications – Revisited - May 2006

Most of you probably remember last year’s epic adventure shared by Ed Gray, Chris Irving and myself (Brian Young) as reported across not one, but five TT newsletters. The reporting focused on the almost simultaneous installation of an Autocom Active-7-Smart intercom on a K1200GT, R1150R and R1150GS Adventure respectively. Wiring was shorted, fuses blown and wiring rewired. Helmets were mutilated, wired, glued and taped. GMRS radios were installed, reinstalled and left ON in an apparent attempt to kill Ed’s battery.

And after all that, thousands of collective miles of road testing were logged in an effort to answer that now famous question: Can you hear me now? I think we can all safely say that the answer has been a resounding “Yes” whether heard from the back-half of the seat or from one of the other bikes some reasonable distance away.

I’d like to revisit one of the “situations” that went unresolved way back in the May 2005 issue. If you recall, Ed, Chris and I all purchased a battery eliminator for our Icom GMRS radios. This “eliminator” was designed to run off bike power and step the bike’s DC supply down to the 7.2 VDC required by the radios. If you recall, Ed and I both reported hearing a distinctive “squeal” when transmitting and Chris heard the sound all the time.

Ed and I quickly concluded that Chris’ situation was quite different and recommended that he visit a doctor. He didn’t seem to agree with us and insisted on working with us on a solution.

Well, here’s the story... Over the next several months, wiring was checked and rechecked; volumes of electronic design documentation were consumed and many sleepless nights were experienced ALL in support of getting the “squeal” out. Just when we thought we were closing in on the cause, Google would uncover another poorly documented theory or fix that would send us off in a different direction.

Then one sweltering hot day last August, I stumbled onto the McCrery theory on mobile static dissipation. This relatively unknown theory seem to point to the “squealing” in electronic gear being caused by static buildup as an object moves through the air. In this case, our bikes were moving through air when the “squeal” was heard. McCrery goes on to discuss relative aerodynamic as being a factor. So far, so good.

Ed’s GT, being the most aerodynamic of the 3 bikes was also the one suffering the least from the horrible “squeal”. Ed and I rationalized that Chris’ R1150R, although similar to my GS in terms of relative aerodynamic prowess, does have a much smaller windshield. This supports the reasons for the more persistent “squeal” coming from Chris (or was that the bike?). Further, with Chris sitting on the bike (much above the shield) he helps decrease the overall aerodynamics. Check.

The McCrery documentation also made references to some classified “fixes” for the situation. We checked into this – often in the secrecy and darkness of night. McCreary points to taming static through proper dissipation. His documentation referenced methods employed by Barkravic and Dodge in their classified 1938 writings about dissipating static inside aircraft cockpits through the liberal use of copper foil.

Not having an available supply of copper foil forced us to investigate the substitution of garden variety aluminum foil. Since Barkravic and Dodge were suggesting covering the inside of aircraft canopies with the foil, we rationalized that our troubles would be solved by covering the outside of our helmets in foil because were not inside a canopy.

Due to the sensitivity of the situation and the classified nature of the documentation, Ed, Chris and I kept our foil-covered test rides secret from everyone (including our wives). We often headed out well after bedtime to meet up at a nondescript convenience store off Capital Blvd. From there, we would ride – often into the wee hours of the morning. Anyone monitoring our frequencies would hear the usual “Can you hear me know?” followed by “Am I squealing?” and “Hey, I think the squealing has mostly gone away, but I wonder if I hold my head a little more to the left.”

After months of sleepless nights the foil had only slightly cured our problems. We decided we had enough of the secrecy and began to ride freely with the foil during our commutes, joy rides and rally participation. Yes, there were a lot of strange looks thrown our way. But in the name of science, McCrery, Barkravic and Dodge, were stood by the theory and the fix – as good as it was.

Then one day last month, I rolled up next to a Fat Boy at the stop light. The owner and I struck up a quick conversation about my bike being wired and the strange looking foil wrapping my helmet. I explained the situation to which he replied...

Why don’t you just buy a pair of these? He was pointing at the leather static dissipaters attached to the ends of his handlebars. Now why didn’t we think of that?

Note: Although this actually didn't  actually didn't get published in the April newsletter due to space restrictions, it was intended as an April Fools Joke. There was a note saying Continued on page 5 of the newsletter.

On the bottom of page 5, the article continued...

Continued: Increased Communications – Revisited

April Fools! The “squeal” is of course still with us, but we don’t care.

The Original Farkle-Box on our BMW - Summer 2005

Being a ham radio operator (KA9QJT), I've also had an interest in radio operation from the motorcycle. One mode that's of interest is APRS, which allows automatic position reporting using a GPS with NMEA output, packet radio TNC and 2 meter band transceiver. Here's a picture of the self-contained, weather-proof APRS transmitter I built and used on the bike. When in operation, the signals from this box were received by other APRS stations and in some cases uploaded to the internet. We built a website that allowed our friends and family to see where we were located at any given time during our extended trips. It worked pretty well, but the popularity of APRS varied by geographic location such that there were many times our family thought we were stuck for days in the same location. Ultimately, I abandoned the project and removed the "box" from the back of the bike.