Thursday, May 17, 2012

Assembling a Charging System for the Bike

I almost forgot I had a part on order, until I got the phone message yesterday.  I had asked for an electrical adapter from Vicious Cycles in New Dundee.  It was the one part I needed to complete the charging system for the smart phone on my motorcycle.  I am going to tell the complicated tale now, but everything ends well.

I started off by going to New Dundee, but got lost because I didn't consult the GPS.  Of course the GPS was turned off to conserve the battery while going to buy the last component for my battery charger.  Eventually, I found the way, and bought the adapter.  I took it to the bike and plugged it in and it made a sharp pop, and I disconnected it.  I reconnected it, but it was not able to charge the smart phone/GPS.  So I went back into the store, and they confirmed that the new adapter was OK.  So I took everything home to troubleshoot it properly.

My system is in three parts.  There is a wire harness that connects the  battery to an SAE connector.  That connector is needed for the electric vest.  Next is the new part, an adapter with an SAE connector on one end and a cigarette lighter socket on the other.  Next is an adapter to charge a USB port from a car's cigarette lighter.  And finally, the smartphone and USB cable.  Hopefully, you can picture all that, because all three parts came from different manufacturers, and apparently these sockets/connections are not quite as standardized as one would hope.

My first problem was in my electric vest wiring harness.  The SAE plug was reversed polarity, and that is what blew out the USB adapter as soon as I plugged it in.  SAE connectors are not male/female like most modern connectors.  SAE connectors are more like bisexual connectors that can go either way.  Unfortunately some devices (but not electric vests of course) get blown out if hooked up wrong.

I'm actually quite happy to find out this problem with the vest connector before going on the trip, because with the reverse polarity, the "hot" plug on my vest connector was exposed, and if it had touched a bare part of the frame, it would have shorted out. The easy fix would be to switch the terminals on the battery, but it would be even worse, because the fuse was already in the right place, and it must stay on the positive side.  So left the fuse where it was, and I cut the pair of wires near the plug, reversed the polarity, wrapped and soldered them back together, and put them back on the bike.  It was actually a pretty good job, with heat shrink tubing in black and red.  Too bad I got the black on the positive and the red on the negative, but hey, you can't make an omelette without breaking a few eggs.

Next I needed to replace the blown car/USB adapter.  I went back to Staples to get another one just like the first, but they had run out.  However a helpful clerk got me another type for the same price which also had built in AC/DC adapter.  That seemed like a good idea, so I bought it, took it home and hooked everything up.  But it still would not charge the smartphone from the bike, although it did work when plugged into a wall socket.  It also did not work on Burgie's electric socket.

I decided to exchange the part, and hopped in the car with the USB adapter and the receipt to go back to Staples, but suddenly had the idea of testing it in the car's socket and it worked.  So the problem was not inside the little adapter, it seemed to be that the car had a shorter receptacle, where the centre pin could make contact at the bottom of the socket.

I took a sharp pocket knife, and skimmed out a little bit at the top of the new cigarette lighter socket on the Vulcan, stuck the USB adapter back in and it finally lit up.

Now I only hope I will have a use for this charger one day.  But I really did need to reverse the electric vest wiring harness to avoid a short in the future.  I'm just amazed it lasted five years so far without a problem.  But that could be a corollary to Murphy's Law.  "A hidden flaw will continue to function correctly until the most inopportune time."

Picture: SAE Connector.  Can go either way.  (But one of them is wrong.)

1 comment:

  1. Yeow! You're right ... if your SAE connector was wired in reverse, you were running a risk of the dratted thing flapping around and contacting any grounded part of the bike - with 'electrifying' consequences!

    There's a good reason those hermaphrodite SAE connectors' positive terminals are the (female) ones with plastic shrouding ;-)

    Those hermaphrodite connectors are typically used for connecting battery maintenance chargers ... I assume that you've not done so or other expensive consequences would have occurred :-(

    Crude resistance loads, of course, don't normally care about polarity - so an electric vest should work just fine, regardless. But any electronics (or a battery tender) would run into serious problems (as I gather you discovered).

    I'll restrain myself from asking what Staples charges for those cigar lighter-to-USB adapters. (And I'll also resist mentioning that I've seen those at dollar stores for a 'buck or two' ;-)

    Actually, I've just ordered a similar adapter from the Pacific Rim, to solve the 'wiring mess' in my car. Both the GPS and dashcam came with a cigar lighter socket power cable.

    However, as both the GPS and dashcam have a 'mini' USB socket for power (as do my cellphone and MP3 player) - by using a 'dual-port' USB adapter and a couple of 'USB A to USB mini-B' cables, I'll reduce the clutter associated with the present cigar lighter 'splitter.'

    Both the GPS and dashcam will be fed by nice tidy coiled cables from a single (much smaller) dual-port USB adapter.

    (BTW ... don't forget to pack a couple of spare fuses for your trip ;-)