Product 1: Centech AP-1
Product Type: Electronics
Product Rating: 9 (out of 10)
Pricing: $49.95 for the AP-1 $29.95 for the AP-170R Prewired Relay
Product 2: Power Plate & Master Ground Block
Product Type: Electronics
Manufacturer: the Electrical Connection
Product Rating: 7 (out of 10)
Pricing: $44.95 for the Power Plate (Universal Model) $29.95 for the Master Ground Block
Modern motorcycle electronics are becoming more and more complex. Many bikes are now equipped with advanced electronics control systems that could easily become damaged as the result of an electrical short circuit. Adding electrical accessories to your modern motorcycle must be done with care as to not damage the bike's critical components. I examined two products for the do-it-yourselfer that can simplify the process of adding electronic accessories and can give you the peace of mind that your toys will not damage your sensitive and expensive motorcycle components. In this review we'll examine these options, investigate some installation techniques and point out some potential pitfalls to avoid.
Today motorcycles typically feature advanced electronic control devices such as electronic fuel injection systems, engine control units (ECUs), and in the case of some new BMW models, electronics systems may even be interlinked on a CANBus type system. While all of these innovations add increased functionality and performance they also add to the overall complexity of your bikes electronics system.
As a rider today there are more electronic entertainment accessories and rider aids available to you than ever before. It's hard not to be tempted to add something to your bike that requires electrical power. GPS Navigation systems, portable MP3 players, satellite radio receivers, bike-to-bike and rider to passenger communications systems, cellular phones, CB radios, heated clothing and auxiliary lighting all come to mind when discussing electronic add-ons for today's rider.
So how do you go about hooking up any of these components to your motorcycles electrical system? Well there are a number of ways that can be accomplished but we're only going to talk about one method. Probably the safest way to hookup any electronic add-on to your motorcycle is to connect it directly to the bikes battery. By connecting your chosen accessory directly to the battery you reduce the risk of damage to your bikes built-in electronic systems. There is one significant drawback to that method, when you turn off your motorcycles ignition your accessories will remain powered on. Leave your bike sitting for several hours and you may return to find your battery has been drained and your bike will not start. This can be remedied by simply adding a switch to your accessory and shutting off the switch when you turn off your bikes ignition. That is a suitable solution but you still run the risk of forgetting to turn off your accessory power switch before you leave your bike. You could still end up with a dead battery if you're not careful. There is a better way.
Both of the systems we looked at consist of three basic components, an auxiliary fuse panel for connecting the positive power leads to your accessories, a terminal strip for connecting the negative power leads, and a relay. A relay is an electronic device that uses a small current circuit to control a larger current circuit. A relay uses an electromagnetic switch to open or close contacts that control the larger current. Just like a switch a relay can be normally open or normally closed. In this application we will be using a normally open relay. In electronics the word "open" referrers to a circuit that is not complete. A light switch in your house is a simple example of a circuit that can be opened and closed. When the light switch is in the off position the circuit is open, meaning the flow of electricity is interrupted by the switch. When you flip the switch to the on position you complete the circuit and the electricity flows an your light turns on. In the relay when current flows to the electromagnet the switch inside the relay is pulled into position, in this case the closed position. Now, I realize that some of you may be saying hey wait a minute you lost me, what does this all mean? Well it's simple really, the relay is going to switch your auxiliary fuse panel and all the devices connected to it on and off automatically when you switch your bikes ignition switch on and off. You won't have to worry about shutting off a switch or finding yourself with a dead battery. Now that you have a little bit of background let's move on and look at the two systems we tested.
The first product we tested is the AP-1 Auxiliary Power Fuse Panel from Centech. The star quality of the AP-1 is it's compact size. Measuring 3" x 2.4" x 1.25" the AP-1 will not rob precious space under your seat or elsewhere on your bike. I installed the AP-1 on my 2005 Yamaha FJR 1300. I selected a location under the passengers seat near the rear of the bike to install the AP-1. I selected this location because I wanted to be able to access the fuse panel easily for fuse replacement and for the addition of future electronics. This spot also allowed me to install the relay nearby in a spot close to the tail lights on the bike, more on that later. Choosing this location meant that I needed to make some long wire runs from the battery which is located behind the fairing under the throttle at the front of my bike. A suggestion to Yamaha, take a lesson from Eric Buell on mass-centralization, this is not a good spot for a heavy battery. This meant that I would need to route some of the wiring close to the engine. If you're familiar with the FJR you may already know that it is known for being a cooker. The temps from the engine can get quite warm. Running bare wire near the engine could result in melting insulation and that could cause many other problems. I found a product called asphalt wire loom as recommended by some other FJR riders over on the FJRForum. I selected a path from the battery to the fuse panel for my wiring harness and I carefully pushed the wire loom through the path that I had selected. When I had this completed I cut the wire loom to the proper length and then removed the loom from the bike.
With the wire loom removed from the bike I planned out all of my wire runs. I would need a pair of wires for master power leads from the battery to Centech AP-1. I also needed a pair of wires to power the BMW style 12-volt power outlet that I was going to install near handle bars. I also installed a volt meter and I needed a pair of wires for that as well. Finally I wanted to run a pair of wires to power my radar detector. Once I had all the wires planned out and cut to length I bundled them all up and pulled them through the asphalt wire loom. I should have got some wire loom that was just a tad bigger. I had a bit of a struggle getting those wires through the loom, however with the help of a electricians fish tape and a helping hand from my wife we got them through.
The next step was to reroute the wire loom now stuffed full of wire back through my bike retracing the path I had planned earlier. The wire loom didn't bend around the corners quite as well as before but it was not problem running the loom and keeping it all concealed from view behind the body panels and under the gas tank. With the relay already in place my next step was to work on making the wire terminations at the AP-1 fuse panel. I spent a lot of time on this step because I'm hyper-vigilant.
Just as a side note if you're like me you might have been called anal-retentive at one time or another. Now you have an alternative; just politely correct the individual by saying, "I'm not anal-retentive, I'm hyper-vigilant." This way they'll know the proper description for your disorder, I mean situation.
So with my hyper-vigilance I proceeded to work on terminating the wires at the AP-1. This involved some soldering, some crimping, and some connecting. I made some short pigtail connectors for the master power connections from the battery to the power lugs on the AP-1. This step is not required but I wanted an easy way to disconnect power from the fuse panel if any problems should arise or if I wanted to safely add more electronics later. This pigtail concept also worked well for the other wires coming from the front of the bike, especially since I didn't leave quite enough wire coming out of the wire loom at the back of the bike. Sometimes even the best laid plans can go Haywire
. Pun intended.
As I mentioned earlier I also mounted the relay at the back of the bike. This allowed me an easy way to connect it it the fuse panel and a good spot to power the control side of the relay. In order to make the auxiliary fuse panel and thus all your electronic accessories power on and off with your bike you need to connect the control side of the relay to a power source that is switched with your bike's ignition. In my case I tapped into the power lead going to one of my tail lights. This is the only place I used a wire tap and the only wire tap I should ever need. Where you run into problems is when you have those silly wire taps all over your bike. Those taps can come loose causing your accessories to shut down or worse cause a short. Plus with those things hidden all over your bike, troubleshooting can be a nightmare.
With all the terminations completed at the AP-1 it was time to move to the front of the bike and connect the power leads to the equipment. Someone had given me a Powerlet kit for the FJR as a gift. The kit was meant to install in a specific location on my bike and included all the wiring needed to hook-up the outlet to the battery nearby. I modified the kit slightly so that I could hook it into the Centech AP-1 fuse panel. The Powerlet kit came with an inline fuse holder which I cut off. There is no sense in having a fuse inline with another fuse in the AP-1. One fuse is enough protection. The benefit of hooking the Powerlet 12-volt outlet to the AP-1 fuse panel is that I don't have to remove the plastic dash panels to access the fuse should I need to replace it. The AP-1 is under the passengers seat so replacing a fuse is easy.
I also installed a Volt meter device to monitor the Voltage of my bikes electrical charging system. This is a nice tool to have at your disposal especially if you are going to be running any high current electronics on your bike. Auxiliary lighting and heated clothing can draw a lot of extra power. If your load is greater than what your bike can keep running you'll be draining the battery even while your bike is running. It's also nice to just be able to see at a glance if your bike and battery are outputting the proper 12 volts. For the volt meter I didn't want anything too conspicuous. While I will enjoy these extra toys I'm not to fond of cutting holes into my expensive motorcycle. I chose a volt meter that houses the electronics in a tiny black box that is mounted behind a panel on your bike with a padded double sided adhesive surface which keeps the box out of sight. Unlike most of the volt meters on the market this unit does not come with a digital display readout of your current voltage, instead it uses a single tricolor LED that alerts you to your volt level. The tricolor LED can change from Red to Green to Amber. The control module reads the voltage and changes the color of the LED to indicate the status. The control module can also flash the LED giving it the ability to report five different voltage ranges. It isn't able to tell me the exact voltage output but I don't really need to know the exact voltage. If the LED is green, I know I'm good to go. Plus I only had to drill one small hole to mount the LED rather than cutting a much larger hole for a display.
Once I connected the 12-volt outlet and the volt meter to the wiring, I then made up the connections for the master power and connected them to the battery. I didn't hookup the radar detector at this time. I'll get to that at another time. For now I just left the wires coiled up behind my bikes dash panels. I was now ready to turn things on and start testing.
With the power leads connected to the battery and everything hooked up I turned on the ignition and believe it or not, everything worked. I love it when a good plan comes together. I then got out my volt meter and started testing to make sure I was getting the expected voltage at key points throughout the electrical system. When I was confident everything was hooked up correctly all I had left to do was put my bike back together and clean up my mess.
Centech has a very nice product with the AP-1. I would recommend this product to anyone who is thinking about adding any electronics gadgets to their bike. It's small and lightweight which is a must for a motorcycle installation. My only complaint about the product is that it has a bare circuit board on the bottom of the unit. This should not be a problem because heavy standoffs are integral to the unit. However I would prefer a solid bottom surface that would allow a flush installation. This is only a very minor concern and it's mainly a personal preference on my part.
Power Plate & Master Ground Block
Next I tested the Power Plate and Master Ground block from The Electrical Connection. I tested the universal fit model of the Power Plate. If you own a Honda GL1500 or GL1800 you'll want to have a close look at the custom fit Power Plate Kit for those models. The Power Plate also comes bundled with some crimp style electrical connectors and a sticker you can use to label the devices that is served by each fuse, both are nice touches. The Power Plate kit includes the relay where this is a separate item with the Centech product. The people at The Electrical Connection have also added provisions to connect a battery charger in-line with the relay for the Power Plate. An extra positive lead is provided to connect your battery charger. This lead is switched off when you turn the ignition of your bike to the on position. According to The Electrical Connection this prevents possible over-voltage damage to your bikes electrical system.
With the help of a friend of mine we installed the Power Plate on his Kawasaki Concours. Our first step was to locate a suitable location to mount all three pieces, the Power Plate and supplied relay along with the Master Ground block. The design of Kawasaki Concours has remained relatively unchanged since it's 1986 introduction. Removing the seat on and a body panel on the Connie reveals what I would consider a more classic design. The frame is pretty standard with the fuel tank saddled over the backbone. The battery is hidden behind a plastic panel under the drivers seat. All of these classic design elements made the installation fairly simple. Cable routing was much easier on the Concours than on my FJR. We ended up selecting a location close to the rear of the bike underneath the passengers seat very similar to the location I selected for my bike. There is a section under the drivers seat the is a little exposed to the elements so we decided that mounting the Power Plate there would not be a good idea. The location under the passengers seat offers plenty of protection from the weather.
The Power Plate is mounted to a metal rail with holes on each end. The instructions recommend attaching the power plate with the supplied plastic wire ties. There wasn't a good way for us to use the wire ties in the location we selected so we decided to do some slight modifications. The metal rail is attached to the bottom of the power plate with two rivets which we drilled out so that the bottom surface of the Power Plate would be flat. I would not recommend doing this unless you're careful with your installation. Drilling out the rivets left a portion of the rivet inside the Power Plate. We had to take the Power Plate apart to extract the pieces of rivets left inside the unit. This wasn't hard but the last thing you would want to do is leave a piece of metal rattling around inside of a piece of electrical equipment.
With the metal rail removed and the rivets extracted we placed some double-sided foam tape on the bottom of the Power Plate and we mounted it under the passengers seat. Next we selected a location to mount the relay and attached it in the same way as the Power Plate with the double-sided foam tape. When you are mounting items like this under your seat make sure you check the clearance before you make anything permanent. We tried some other locations to mount both the Power Plate and the relay that would have caused interference when the seat was installed. We connected the control side of the relay to the positive lead for one of the tail lamps like I had done on my FJR.
My friend had previously installed heated grips on his Concours which never worked properly. He had the power lead for the heated grips connected directly to the battery. We had to spend some time to track down the ground leads. We tracked them down and found they were terminated with ring connectors at a screw under the Concours glove box. The screw should have been connected to the frame but it turns out it wasn't tightened down. This is why the heated grips had not been working. We removed the ground wires from this location and extended them through the channel under the gas tank along the backbone of the frame. We also extended the power wire for the heated grips back to the Power Plate.
Next we needed to find a suitable location to mount the Master Ground Block. After examining the unit and looking under the seat of the Councours, we determined that there really wasn't a great location to mount the Master Ground Block. The unit is actually fairly substantial. It very well built but overall it seems to be a bit larger than it needs to be. I think a different design could trim some size off the Master Ground Block making it easier to install under the seat on a motorcycle. Since we were only hooking up one accessory at this time we decided against installing the Master Ground Block at this time. Instead we just grounded both the relay and the heated grips directly to the negative post on the battery. My friend may install the Master Ground Block at a later time when he adds more accessories to his bike.
All that was left to do was to clean up the wiring by trimming wires to the proper length, connecting electrical terminals such as spade and ring connectors and bundling wires with wire ties. If you take on a project like this I would suggest you leave extra wire on your connections and don't trim or make final connections until you have all the components in place. You may find out that you need to relocate something and that may require that extra bit of wire that you cut off earlier. It's much easier to trim a wire to length than it is to add additional length to it later.
When we had all the wires in place and the connections made it was time to connect the positive lead to the relay and begin testing. We borrowed a spare 10 amp fuse that came with my friends Concours to use in the Power Plate for the heated grips. The Power Plate does not come with any fuses like the Centech product so you'll want to check the ratings of your equipment and stop by a local auto supply or electronics parts store and pickup some prior to installation. Having made all the connections we took out the volt meter and tested the voltage between the positive lead on the power plate for the heated grips and the negative terminal on the battery. With the key in the off position no voltage was registered on the meter; with the ignition on we measured about 12 volts. Everything seemed to be working as it should. My friend no longer has to worry about remembering to turn off his heated grips with the dedicated switch because the power is now switched automatically switched with the ignition key and the relay. We reinstalled a couple of body panels we had removed and our project was complete.
Pros & Cons
Centech AP-1 Pros
Small size for easy placement in tight spots on your motorcycle
Included cover and assortment of fuses
Power and ground connection points on the same unit
Lugless terminal strip design on the AP-1 does not require the use of spade connectors
Centech AP-1 Cons
Higher Priced than the Power Plate
Relay is not included in the cost must be purchased separately
No provisions built-in for connecting a battery charger
Design prevents flush mounting
Power Plate / Master Ground Block Pros
Less expensive than the Centech AP-1
Relay includes provisions to connect a battery charger inline
Electrical connectors such as wire taps, spade and ring connectors included
Power Plate / Master Ground Block Cons
No fuses included with the kit
Master Ground Block size seems bigger than it needs to be
Both of these kits will simplify the installation of electrical devices on your motorcycle. If cost is your main concern I wouldn't hesitate to recommend the Power Plate from The Electrical Connection, it's a good product that I'm sure would serve you well for years. The custom fit Power Plate units are certainly the best choice for Honda Gold Wing owners. However the universal fit model we tested falls a little short of the similarly priced Centech product in terms of build quality. If you're looking for the most compact installation, I recommend the Centech AP-1 for it's smaller size overall and quality construction.