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installing a 12v socket

what you'll need:
Time needed: less than an hour
  • DC 12-volt automotive socket, with at least 3 feet of wire attached
  • Wire cutter/stripper
  • Philips screwdriver (probably a #2)
  • Materials for mounting the socket wherever you choose (I used velcro and a zip-tie)

This is another one of those "I had too much free time tonight" sort of modifications. Demonstrating my incredible skill (read luck) in choosing boyfriends, Peter recently surprised me with a Garmin V GPS unit -- perfect for a long weekend ride. Unfortunately, the thing munches through batteries at a nearly perceptible speed. So, I decided to rig up a 12v socket to my bike's battery and use the 12v charger/adapter that came with the GPS unit.

I should point out that this was the very first mod that I've done to my bike 100% utterly and completely by myself. Sure, my friend Chris braved the local electronics store with me while looking for the socket itself, and Peter did answer one nervous phone call. The idea was mine, though, and I did all of the work alone, which I think is pretty darn cool considering that I still break out in a cold sweat when faced with a multimeter.

Electronics, as you may have noticed, are my..."area of least expertise". So bear with me on this write-up, and hey, if you know more than I do -- which isn't hard -- email me and share some pointers.

Basically, just get to your battery by whatever means necessary. For the SVS, this just involves taking off the seat and moving a fuse box out of the way. Your mileage may vary.

You may also want to take a moment to decide where you're going to mount the socket. Remember that your average 12v plug is longer than you'd expect -- about two and a half to three inches. Plug it into the socket while you're testing out possible mounting points, to make sure that you're leaving enough room to get the plug in and out.

The first thing to do is prep the socket. Mine came with 6 feet of wire, which terminated in two very nice alligator clips. I chose this socket because the clips (and therefore, the wires leading into them) are color-coded. I figured this would reduce my chances of electrocution, as the SVS's battery terminals are also, helpfully, color-coded. Red is positive, black is ground. OK.

Unfortunately, the alligator clips are meant for a car battery, and are therefore too large to clip onto a bike battery. I folded the wires just about in half and cut them with a wire cutter, leaving 3 feet of wire for the clips and 3 feet for the socket. The clips and wire were stored in my tool chest for some future use; the socket half is the part we're obviously interested in here. Next, separate the two wires and strip the last inch or so. Twist each end of wire so that it holds together and isn't frayed (in the picture, the left wire is still frayed; the right wire has been twisted).

Before you attach the wires to the battery, put the socket where you're going to mount it and run the wires back to the battery now -- chances are that the socket itself will be too large to route.

Next, unscrew the clamps on your battery terminals. I'm being a big unsafe person and just hooking the wire leads right up to the battery -- I have every intention (cough) of going back Real Soon Now to put in an inline fuse. Safety first and all that. The black wire is going to go with the ground terminal with the black rubber cap, and the black wire with a red stripe is going to go with the positive terminal with the red rubber cap. I point out this obvious fact because, until last night, I probably wouldn't have known that. I was the sort of kid who stuck forks in outlets. Anyway, slide the wires under the terminal clamps and re-screw the clamps down.

Now you're ready to actually mount the socket. I chose to mount mine on the righthand side of the bike, on the underside of an engine mount point. The reason is simple -- I could attach it so that the socket faces straight out, thereby ensuring that the plug can be inserted and removed easily. The engine mount point also gave me a slightly increased surface area to work with, though to be honest, it's less than I'd prefer.

I put a strip of velcro on the underside of the aforementioned engine mount point, and a strip of mating velcro on the socket. All I had was white velcro, which is admittedly ghetto on the black socket. I'm going to be replacing it with black velcro as soon as I get to the store.

That's pretty much it, then. I attached the socket and added a cable tie for a little extra security.

Aside from the ghetto clashing velcro, the end result looks pretty nice. I can easily plug my GPS unit into the socket, and it charges from the bike battery now, instead of from its AA batteries.

The only potential issue -- and the cause for my nervous phone call to Peter, my resident electronics guru -- is the little red LED that came embedded in the 12v socket. God only knows what purpose it's supposed to fulfill, but the light is on all of the time, even when the bike is off. Peter did some calculations and reasoned that it would take a month without running the bike for that LED to drain my bike's battery, but I still think I'm going to try and find some way to clip the lead and disconnect it.

Here are a couple of shots of the bike from further away. The little blue arrow points out the new 12v socket; I think it blends in pretty well with the rest of the bike.