DIY: $5 bicycle dashboard and GPS

Dec 1, 2009

<Update: December 19th 2013>
Four years after writing this post, it's still popular, and was recently featured on MakeUseOf.
I'm pleased to say that in the past four years I've upgraded my phone twice (Most recently to a Nexus 5), and am still using the original mounting bracket. It's been holding up and serving me quite well!
</update>

Riding my bicycle for over an hour a day as I make my way to work and back and around the city, I've often felt the need for a GPS. At other times, I would want a speedometer, so I'd have some idea at what speed I'm taking that slope.
In this post, I'll show you how to safely attach your cell phone to your handlebar for less than $5.
MGMaps on my phone, on my bike

Ever since I got my Nokia 5800, it dawned on me that this device would be a great addition to my bike. Like many other smartphones, it has a built in GPS and a huge screen. If only there were some way of easily and safely attaching it to the bike...
In my search for a solution to this need, I found this cheap universal cell-phone mount and went and ordered it. Unfortunately, this mount is really bulky and as a result shakes wildly with every bump in the road. I did not feel safe having my phone in it. In addition, its big thumb screw makes it an easy target for thieves. This was clearly not the solution for my needs. I envisioned the phone flush with the handlebar. This was far from it.

I ended up making my own phone-mount, and it was as easy and cheap as can be. I took a detachable flashlight mount (similar, though not identical to this one), and glued it onto a silicone case I bought for my phone.

Remove the clamp that's meant to hold the flashlight. I used a pair of scissors to cut off most of the unneeded plastic, and then sanded the rest down with a leatherman. If you buy this one ($2.98, free shipping), it looks like the clamp unscrews, and you can use it for some other project (attach it to your helmet, maybe?)

glued togetherI lightly sanded down the area on my silicone case where I was planning to glue the mount, in order to make sure the surface was free from chemicals & coatings, and to make it a little rougher, so the glue sticks better. Apply a thin, even layer of superglue, and firmly press the mount into place. Let it dry for about 20 minutes, and slide your phone into your new bike accessory.
You can find good silicone cases for almost every imaginable phone here; many for under $2.



Nokia Sports trackerSo what does one do with a large-screen dashboard on one's bike? I've used MGMaps to get directions and navigate unfamiliar neighborhoods; Nokia Sports Tracker as a big-lettered speedometer and odometer (and as a bonus, it records your route so you can later analyze and share it); and Waze for voice turn-by-turn navigation. In addition, having your phone on your handlebar rather than your pocket allows you to see who's calling you. Video calls also work with the phone on the handlebar, pointing up at you.


I've been stopped by fellow cyclists on several occasions and asked about the GPS on my bike. I hope that this guide will get some of you guys out there to try this for yourselves. Just the bewildered looks you'll get from drivers around you will be worth it.

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38 Responses so far | Have Your Say!

  1. REL
    December 1st, 2009 at 16:18 #

    Amazing!
    Was looking for that for awhile.
    I have just the same usage for my 5800xm
    and thought about mounting tham to my bike foe some time.

    Thanks!

  2. Thad
    December 1st, 2009 at 16:23 #

    Awesome man!

    I’ll be doing this asap with my Iphone.

    On the Iphone I recommend MotionX GPS. I tired 6 or 7 other apps and this one is awesome. If you only need to save 1 track at a time it is also free.

  3. אילן
    December 1st, 2009 at 16:31 #

    כל הכבוד על הייצוג ב-lifehacker!

  4. physio
    December 1st, 2009 at 17:01 #

    I’d be a little concerned about the effect of the constant vibrations on my iPhone. Even with good front suspension I’d think this could cause problems eventually.

    How many miles have you put on with your phone attached?

  5. Tad Annoyed
    December 1st, 2009 at 19:16 #

    How about using good old fashioned velcro. Cheaper and just as reliable. And thieves? When you get off your bike, take your phone with you.

  6. Amol
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:02 #

    to all people about to try this.. can I ask you to please stay off youtube while on your bikes.
    death by moron cyclist would not be my choice of method to leave this world.

  7. Ethan
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:08 #

    The problem with Velcro is that is doesn’t grip the phone as firmly, and there’s nothing preventing it from rolling around the bar away from you.
    When I had my previous phone (a Sony Ericsson W530i with an HGE-100 GPS headset), I’d strap it onto my gloved wrist with a reflective velcro strip. For a screen-only phone, however, I think that this solution is better.

  8. sunil
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:28 #

    Great stuff! Next step, waterproofing against the great british rain…! Anyone any thoughts?!

  9. Ethan
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:31 #

    I’ve recorded some 75 km Nokia Sports Tracker, so I’d say I’ve had my phone mounted to the bike for approximately 100-150 km in total. Most all of this was on the road, of course. Though I do feel this is safe enough for a dirt trail, I would not do any aggressive biking with it.
    As for damage to the phone, I think the soft silicone offers some shock absorbing. In addition, the brace attaching it to the handlebar is rather tight, but not so tight I can’t rotate it by hand. so there’s some shock absorbing there as well.

  10. Ethan
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:36 #

    Sunil, in the past, I’ve placed my phone in a condom in order to waterproof it (when going on a hike that included neck-deep rivers). You should be able to put your phone in a (non-spermicidal) condom inside the silicone case.
    My concern then would be that you’re not keeping your eyes on the road while biking in the rain.

  11. Lo
    December 1st, 2009 at 20:53 #

    I center mounted my Sony Ericsson W760i on my road bike and after a few rides it’s proved to be quite solid. I use sportstracklive.com (used veloxgps.de before sportstracklive.com – both work very well) to plot my track and get my speed/altitude stats on my rides. Google maps gives me real time location plus full access to all the phone’s functions.

    Mount: http://tinyurl.com/yfp4oxn

    Ingredients:
    1 reflector
    1 plastic plate
    1 hardcase cell phone
    zip ties
    velcro

    Remove the reflective piece and mount a plastic base plate (I found a random piece and shaped it with a dremel), drill 4 holes thru the plate and reflector base and zip tie together. Hooks on the base plate, loops on the hard case. Done!

    It’s not waterproof, but then again, I try to avoid riding in the rain at which point I’d just put the phone elsewhere. As far as shock, the velcro seems to do well with road biking, I can’t speak to mountain biking. Additionally, I’m going to supplement the power (GPS can drain the battery) by adding a small AA battery powered under the mount.

    AA power: http://tinyurl.com/yhehfdf

    Cheers!

  12. Mount Your Phone To Your Bike For $5 | Lifehacker Australia
    December 1st, 2009 at 22:29 #

    [...] DIY: $US5 bicycle dashboard and GPS [Angered Brackets] Tagged:bicyclesfitnessphones [...]

  13. pavan
    December 2nd, 2009 at 00:02 #

    nice idea. but i guess this increases of accidents. what if the rider jump onto facebook and forget that he is riding?!!

  14. Bike GPS | BikeHacks
    December 2nd, 2009 at 06:07 #

    [...] Photo credit goes to Ethan [...]

  15. Geile Sachen » Blog Archiv » Weil man ja heutzutage nicht mehr einfach eine Radtour machen kann
    December 2nd, 2009 at 23:29 #

    [...] Bastelanleitung, ist tatsächlich ganz simpel. Nur der Akku wird unterwegs Probleme machen. [...]

  16. Roey
    December 16th, 2009 at 11:50 #

    I think this will fit in your project as well:
    (Mobile phone dynamo charger)

    http://www.ikonglobal.com/

  17. Vashek
    April 21st, 2010 at 23:17 #

    How come, on the Nokia Sports Traker there isn’t software version for the Nokia 5800! Where did you get it?

  18. Ethan
    April 22nd, 2010 at 00:06 #

    Vashek, The latest version of Nokia Sports tracler that I know of is v2.06, and you can download it from here: http://s60blog.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/04/SportsTracker_2.06_s60blog.sis
    However, as you can see here, the Nokia Sports Tracker product has been archived. see: http://betalabs.nokia.com/apps/sports-tracker
    Fortunately for us, the guys who developed NST have now taken this product private, and it’s being developed independently of Nokia. What this means is better maps (OpenStreetMaps rather than Ovi maps) and the promise for compatible heart rate monitors in the near future.
    You can download this version of Sport tracker (and install it side by side with Nokia’s) from Ovi:
    http://store.ovi.com/content/31721

  19. Brad
    May 4th, 2010 at 20:55 #

    Nice, did something like this myself recently. Except I used a mount from an old broken GPS, which was very similar to this one. Works awesome, to anyone using an iPhone the program called “TheBike” will record your speed, route and more and upload it all to a site where you can see it over layed with google maps.

  20. Broken ankle rider
    April 20th, 2011 at 03:07 #

    I am so glad I found this…little DIY it was exactly what I have been searching for …fyi.I used the rubber strap kind of flashlight mount and out worked great

  21. Mike
    July 10th, 2011 at 02:58 #

    I found a few potential mounts for my smart phone online, but they all looked either like overkill or like something I couldn’t really trust to hang onto my phone when the ride gets bumpy. This post inspired me to take dremel tool to a cheap spare handlebar-mounted flashlight to get the latching mechanism, which I then superglued to a sanded surface of a silicone case that I bought with my phone but haven’t used up until now. Fifteen minutes of cutting, sanding, and gluing in my garage, and I’ve got the perfect smart phone mount.

  22. Ethan
    July 10th, 2011 at 08:07 #

    Mike, I’m really glad to hear that you made yourself a bike-mount based on this! Got any photos?

  23. Mike
    April 27th, 2012 at 16:33 #

    I think your phone will be fine. The iPhone is made by hand and of the most sturdy parts available. What’s most important is that in the mount itself the phone does not rattle, and it looks as if he did this right. Nice work, Ethan.

  24. Ross
    October 2nd, 2012 at 15:04 #

    Hi!

    I love this idea, and it was something I was toying with myself. I just have one reservation, what about rain?

    I still ride in rain, but all so called all-weather mounts out there are universal and as such don’t actually fit any phones properly at all! Any ideas or “mk2″ versions to incorporate something waterproof/resistant?

  25. Petey
    January 28th, 2013 at 09:59 #

    Love the condom idea! gonna have to try that… I just had a bike light go out, so I took a hacksaw to it and got the mount mechanism. Just gotta find a case I don’t care so much about ;)

  26. Dave Malby
    February 9th, 2013 at 19:43 #

    For under $20 you could purchase a professionally built one that wouldn’t be such a hassle to make, and to quickly remove when you get off your bike.. http://www.ebay.com/soc/itm/150975359579?fb_action_ids=10151431276797276&fb_action_types=ebay-objects%3Avote_on_&fb_ref=rcfb&fb_source=timeline_og

  27. Ethan
    February 9th, 2013 at 20:38 #

    This is true, and as I pointed out in the post, I tried this mount – http://dx.com/p/adjustable-universal-bicycle-mount-for-cell-phone-gps-pda-gadgets-15544?r=55113731 – which is rather similar. Due to its long arm, every bump in the road was amplified on the phone, and I didn’t think it was well designed. Without a doubt, in the 3 years since I wrote this post, many new models have made it to the market…

  28. Leandro Bento
    March 11th, 2013 at 17:01 #

    Very nice! Maybe you could also work on a dinamo that keeps battery charged….maybe useless idea but you may want to listen to some music, shoot video, answer calls, etc etc etc.

  29. m7ia
    May 20th, 2013 at 06:25 #

    I still haven’t been able to find a nice, clean-looking mount like this one. So, I am attempting to build one for my Nexus 4, using http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00CL6FXGM/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00CL6FXGM&linkCode=as2&tag=madabil-20 and http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B00A06Z9T6/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=B00A06Z9T6&linkCode=as2&tag=madabil-20.

    I’ll let you know how it goes; thanks for the tutorial!

  30. Ethan
    May 21st, 2013 at 19:45 #

    Those look like great items to use for this hack. an $0.89 phone case is great, though I hope it’s not too flimzy. Please do follow up once you’ve done it!

  31. m7ia
    May 29th, 2013 at 18:39 #

    The phone case was actually 1 cent when I bought it! I’m still waiting for the flashlight mount to get here, but I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes.

    Was the case you used the silicone flexible type, or was it harder and more rigid?

    Thanks!

  32. Ethan
    May 29th, 2013 at 21:53 #

    1 cent? wow!
    When I buy phone cases, I make a point to get TPU cases. It’s more rigid than silicon, but soft and doesn’t break like some other plastic cases.

  33. Pete
    July 22nd, 2013 at 13:59 #

    I wouldn’t subject my phone to the jolting forces of being directly secured to the front handle as it’s just too darn much for a phone to handle for the long term. If possible use an upper arm pouch so that your arm absorbs most of the jolting and doesn’t transfer it on to the phone.

  34. Ethan
    July 22nd, 2013 at 14:03 #

    it’s now been 4 years since I wrote this blog post.
    I’ve since then upgraded my phone, and have the new one attached in the same exact manner.
    Thousands of kilometers of both road and cross-country cycling and a handfull of falls later, the phone has never fallen off or shown any sign of damage.

  35. Findo Gask
    December 10th, 2013 at 06:28 #

    Superglue? Seriously?

    You would be much better off using something like JB Weld, as it actually chemically bonds plastics, instead of just sticking them together.

    Superglue is going to fail sooner or later, particularly in such a rigorous environment.

    Yes, the good glue adds to the cost, but it also saves you from replacing your phone.

  36. Ethan
    December 19th, 2013 at 17:10 #

    I’ve had no problems at all with the superglue I’ve been using.
    Four years in, and still holding strong!

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