Motorcycles

Review: BikeHUD by BikeSystems, the first motorcycle heads-up display

Review: BikeHUD by BikeSystems...
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD, seen from inside the helmet, taken with a wide-angle GoPro. Some of the distortion is attributable to the camera (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD, seen from inside the helmet, taken with a wide-angle GoPro. Some of the distortion is attributable to the camera (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD: brain unit installed under the seat (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD: brain unit installed under the seat (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD: handlebar-mounted GPS and switch unit (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD: handlebar-mounted GPS and switch unit (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
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Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
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Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
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Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
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Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
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Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
BikeHUD, installed in a Nolan N104 with a custom mount (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD, installed in a Nolan N104 with a custom mount (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD, showing the long wire and pendant hanging from the monocle, which is mounted to a Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD, showing the long wire and pendant hanging from the monocle, which is mounted to a Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD: custom mount clips straight into my Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)
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BikeHUD: custom mount clips straight into my Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD mount and monocle
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BikeHUD mount and monocle
View gallery - 14 images

Drivers on phones, diesel on corners, changing road surfaces and that ever-present threat of dopey oncoming traffic – motorcyclists have quite enough to worry about without having to stare constantly down at their speedometers. But with speed enforcement cranking up in many areas worldwide, there has never been a greater calling for a motorcycle heads-up display that can keep information in view without being a distraction. There are a bunch of different companies racing to get an integrated HUD helmet to the market, but there's only one company that has a working HUD solution out there, for sale, right now. Loz Blain spends some time with Britain's BikeHUD.

People have been talking about motorcycle heads-up displays for a long time. There's a bit of a race on between Skully, Reevu and Livemap to decide who gets the first integrated-HUD helmet to market, each group tackling the challenge from slightly different angles. Then there's Nuviz, which is building a stick-on jigger that fits to the chin piece of any helmet.

The integrated helmets all look very expensive – up to US$2,000 (the projected price of the Livemap) – and knowing helmets, they'll fit some heads better than others. And as fancy as all their Kickstarter project photoshopped efforts might look, none of them have got anything to the market yet.

British startup BikeHUD actually does have a product you can buy right now; a retro-fit device that will mount to just about any helmet, and it costs $485, or $549 when optioned up with the GPS navigation kit and speed camera warning system.

I've been playing with one for several weeks now, so let's have a look at how it works.

Bike HUD - motorcycle heads-up display investor video

Installing BikeHUD on your bike

The BikeHUD system is a slightly invasive installation on your bike. The key bike-mounted components are the BikeHUD ECU itself, wired into your ignition circuit, and a handlebar-mounted GPS sensor that also acts as your four-button control interface.

BikeHUD reads your speed through its own GPS, takes an engine tacho reading off a sensor coiled around one of your spark plugs, and splices into the bike's wiring to get a hold of your indicator signals and neutral light.

BikeHUD: brain unit installed under the seat (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD: brain unit installed under the seat (Photo: Loz Blain)

The GPS sat-nav Wi-Fi dongle plugs in to a USB cable hanging off the main ECU, and splices into the BikeHUD wiring for power. It also comes with a USB socket you can use to charge your phone on the go.

As I have the electrical aptitude of a stoat that also has no electrical aptitude, I was assisted in the installation by 2012 British National Natural Beard, Styled Moustache champion Matthew Brown, who taught me several new swear words in the process.

BikeHUD, installed in a Nolan N104 with a custom mount (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD, installed in a Nolan N104 with a custom mount (Photo: Loz Blain)

Installing BikeHUD on your helmet

At the helmet end, you get the "monocle," which fits into your lid on a flexible arm that's mounted to a bracket that BikeHUD builds custom for any lid. In the case of my Nolan N104, the bracket fits perfectly and is held solidly in place by one of my cheek pad press studs. It's easy to add or remove.

You adjust the monocle so it sits just underneath one eye, just touching your cheek. If you close the other eye, it obscures the area of view you'd normally be looking down at your motorcycle's dash with, but you can still see that with your other eye and the whole purpose of the BikeHUD is to make your dash completely redundant anyway.

The mounting bracket sits way off near the edge of your peripheral vision, and it's visible, but it doesn't cut off sight at the very edges where you really need to see for lane checks etc.

BikeHUD, showing the long wire and pendant hanging from the monocle, which is mounted to a Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD, showing the long wire and pendant hanging from the monocle, which is mounted to a Nolan N104 helmet (Photo: Loz Blain)

The monocle is attached to a "pendant" (could this device sound any more British?) on a long, thick cable, and the pendant plugs into an HDMI port poking out of the BikeHUD ECU. You sort of have to bundle most of the pendant and cabling up in your jacket to keep it out of the way.

Configuring BikeHUD

On startup, the system gets you to run through a bunch of fairly simple options. Which way up, miles or kilometers, check your ignition settings so the tacho reads properly, that sort of thing. You're then able to nominate a number of "speed bands" so that, for example, your speedo will read in white from 0-40 km/h, blue from 40-60 km/h, red from 60-80 km/h, etc.

At this point it's time to tell BikeHUD how many gears you've got, and calibrate them by riding around at a constant speed in each gear so the system can use your revs and speed to figure out the gear ratios. And then you're up and running.

Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)
Gizmag's resident supermodel Noel McKeegan rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Loz Blain)

Riding with BikeHUD

The system does pretty much what it says on the tin, putting information right in front of your eye as you ride along.

The GPS updates your digital speedo quite snappily, and the color banding is a very nice touch that means you don't have to glance down to figure out when you hit the speed limit, provided you can remember what color each speed limit is.

The virtual gear position sensor is another treat – it works quickly and flawlessly. It's not a big deal on my old Yamaha Fazer 1000, but would be super handy on a racetrack or certain late model big twins where I tend to find myself getting lost in the gearbox.

The tacho … well, it's a little slow to update and I didn't find it all that useful. Mind you, I rarely use the tacho on a bike anyway unless I'm on a racetrack and going so fast I can't hear the revs.

It's difficult to get a photo that shows what the HUD looks like to use, so take this one with a grain of salt, as it's an ultra wide angle GoPro photo:

BikeHUD, seen from inside the helmet, taken with a wide-angle GoPro. Some of the distortion is attributable to the camera (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD, seen from inside the helmet, taken with a wide-angle GoPro. Some of the distortion is attributable to the camera (Photo: Loz Blain)

BikeHUD has chosen to implement a "rule of three" with the information display, with only three pieces of information displayed at any one time. Speed is always shown, and by default you'll also have gear position and tacho. Putting an indicator on cancels your tacho, speed camera warnings pop up in place of your gear position, and your speedo flashes to indicate that you're running out of fuel – which isn't from a fuel tank sensor, you just put in your bike's approximate range. I'm not a fan of this feature and wished I could turn it off.

Turn by turn navigation and speed camera warnings

BikeHUD's Dave Vout points out to me that the navigation system is still very much in beta release. Using MapQuest mapping, the eyepiece flashes up street names and turn directions along with the odd distance warning.

I found visual navigation to be very hit and miss – even on a familiar route I sometimes couldn't make a lot of sense of the instructions. The BikeGPS software also sends out audio signals, which you can stream through your phone's Bluetooth connection or hear through headphones plugged into a hidden 3.5 mm headphone jack in the BikeHUD pendant.

BikeGPS can also give you warnings when you're approaching the location of a fixed speed camera, provided the camera is logged in MapQuest. That's certainly a nifty feature.

BikeHUD: handlebar-mounted GPS and switch unit (Photo: Loz Blain)
BikeHUD: handlebar-mounted GPS and switch unit (Photo: Loz Blain)

A work in progress

This system has a number of problems that keep it from feeling like a great step forward from the ol' motorcycle dash.

Firstly, the monocle itself. It feels intrusive and it needs to be perfectly positioned to be readable. Even when it is readable, it's not bright enough to register in my peripheral vision, except at night. That means I've got to glance down at it to read it – even for the big speedo number, let alone to read navigation directions. As it turns out, it's actually less difficult for me to just glance down at the dash than to peer into the monocle.

Day mode, which inverts the screen so it's all lit up and the numbers are black, is a slight improvement, but not enough. And the monocle's resolution is terrible, so the numbers don't appear sharp. Vout points out that this low-res screen could actually be advantageous. Governments around the world are already starting to crack down on things like Google Glass that could distract a driver. BikeHUD's late-80s hand held pac-man resolution can clearly never be used to play a movie or check Facebook, and that could actually help it gain regulatory acceptance.

Then there's the pendant, which hangs nearly two meters (6.5 ft) of thick HDMI cable out of your lid. I got it caught on a gate once, because even when you stuff it down your jacket, there's still a loop hanging out where you plug it in. I'm not normally one to care about fashion, but it looks dorky, as well.

Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)
Gizmag's resident supersize model Loz Blain rides with BikeHUD (Photo: Noel McKeegan)

Then there's the connectors themselves – the HDMI cable that pokes out from under your seat isn't weatherproof. There's a little plastic cap to put on it, but it's easily lost (guilty!) and if you get water into it, it can cause the display to go haywire.

And finally the handlebar-mounted switches and interface of the thing. Buttons need a very firm press to register, you've got to guess a bit which unmarked button will do what, and things are a bit slow to update on the screen. Granted, you don't have to press them very often, but it contributes to a dated feel.

Moving forward

Vout is aware of these early issues, and plans to address them as the product develops. Early adopters will be looked after, as BikeHUD will buy back older versions of the hardware if existing customers wish to update.

The planned updates include:

  • November 2014: the launch of an Android app for BikeGPS
  • January 2015: launch of a smartphone app to configure and control BikeHUD (replacing the clunky menu system)
  • April 2015: launch of a new monocle that will be transparent, and wireless OR wired, and will have an on-board battery good for 3-4 hours of riding
  • April 2015: onboard camera option, with forward and rear view, video recording and Wi-Fi file transfer

BikeHUD is far from a perfect product, it's not slick or streamlined. It doesn't come with fancy packaging or a big budget marketing push. It's the vision of one guy and a small team, who's not afraid to let his growing pains go public. Dave Vout would prefer to get something out there and develop it in response to user feedback, rather than spend millions developing what he thinks customers will want.
It's a gutsy, transparent and honest way to do business, but the product's not up to snuff yet. It is, however the only motorcycle HUD that's out there for sale right now, and it's custom tailored to fit pretty much any helmet. We look forward to seeing how things develop, particularly with the wireless, transparent monocle due next April.

View gallery - 14 images
10 comments
TheSplund
LOL. Wouldn't it have been simpler to have a audible warning/information system? And how about those poor ol' bikers that ride trikes and don't have the luxury of wearing a couple of lbs of head-warming apparel and have to suffer the wind in their hair (and beard) - how are they to mount this extra piece of desirable plastic :D
VirtualGathis
This is hardly the first motorcycle HUD. It is not even the first that Gizmag has covered.
2013: http://www.gizmag.com/nuviz-ride-hud-motorcycle/29967/ 2013: http://www.gizmag.com/reevu-hud-heads-up-display-motorcycle-helmet/28433/ So old It is not dated: http://www.gizmag.com/go/2430/ (This one has a less clunky interface and smoother display as well) This might be the same decive as SportsVue and is dated 2005: http://www.gizmag.com/motorcycle-and-pushbike-helmet-heads-up-display/4427/
The others seem to have flash panned though as none are still in production, so it might be "the only motorcycle HUD in production", but it is definitely not "The first motorcycle HUD".
VirtualGathis
*edit to my previous concept. The SportsVue went into production and I nearly bought one, but then the company that made it folded and it vanished. I think they only made a few hundred of them, but it definitely made it to production.
Charles Slavens
Can we just nip the miss-use of the term "heads" up in the bud, so to speak. When I produced a video back in the eighties that introduced the "glass cockpit" to the defense community one of its many advantages was that a display appeared in front of the pilot's eyes allowing him to keep his HEAD UP and to look forward. Hense, it was and is called a HEAD UP display. Automobile advertising agencies tried briefly to hijack the term and call it "heads up". But they quickly realized just how inaccurate that term appeared when appied to real world use.
Mindbreaker
Ah, that would be comfortable shoved into my eye socket.
Wolf0579
I'm not sure... check that, I AM sure that I wouldn't want that big ole piece of plastic so close to my eye in an accident.
There is one other HUD available to bikers. It's set to start delivering soon. Although pricey, I may end up shelling out the huge cost because It's so freakin cool...
Google the term "Skully".
Colin Sandercock
I've beeen on a few rides (from about 20km up to almost 800km) with the Bike-HUD now, so thought I'd give a bit of feedback on it to date.
Installation: This takes a while. You need to connect up the control unit (which also has a temp sensor & gps built into it - so is quite large). It comes with a generic bracket, probably could be used with a lot of mucking around, but I had a custom one made. This is used to setup the computer, and to change modes (as well as provide the air temp & gps location to the computer). Careful installing this, as too much pressure on the cable will disconnect the connector inside it - easily fixed though, 4 screws to undo, push the connector back on, but use silicone grease to reseal so that it stays waterproof. You won't be using it often (at least after you get it all setup how you want it).
The computer - find somewhere under the seat to mount & attach. It has the cable to the control unit, about 8 wires to connect into the bikes wiring, a usb port for updating the firmware, camera locations, etc, and a hdmi port for the display. This takes a while to connect up - wires for: earth power (back to the power distribution module) 'trigger' - to detect the bike has been started (this went to brake light) left indicator right indicator high beam neutral (not required with latest firmware, so not connected) side stand engine sensor (wrap it around a plug lead - it detects the pulses through this)
The usb & hdmi connectors are on short cables. There is also a small plug that the usb cable goes into to weatherproof the end of it.
There is a hdmi cable that plugs into the computer for connecting it to the display unit.
The display: This is mounted in the helmet, position to suit yourself, but basically in front of your cheek. The mount bracket that came with mine is the 'mark 1' designed for 'most helmets'. Not the best for my Shoei neotech flip top - it doesn't hold the best, and I can't get the display into the 'perfect position'. They have now done a total redesign on the bracket, and include several brackets designed for specific helmets. Just waiting on my neotech bracket to be sent. Major design change, and longer arms to allow the display to mount in a better position. It has a long cable that is attached that the HDMI cable connects to. It has a 'pendant' on it that has connectors for speakers and microphone. I have the speakers connector going to the scala g9, but microphone not connected (as it isn't implemented in current firmware - it's there for future use). Would prefer these to be connected by bluetooth (so can be properly integrated to scala - as being cable connected they have lowest priority on scala so will never interrupt any playing devices - radio, mp3, ..). Have recommended that to developer. At moment not an issue as currently only used for warning sounds, but these are duplicated on the display - speed camera, etc).
Configuration: This takes a while as it has a massive range of options. You setup basic things like time zone, km/miles, speed ranges & colours (e.g. up to 60km/h white text on green background, 60-80 blue text on purple background, .. - and these aren't my selections ), whether display is on left or right, distance on a tank, how far on reserve, test indicators, configure rpm pickup (i.e. convert pulses to rpm), what audible warnings you want, max rpm, rpm max power at, .... Final step is to ride the bike at a constant speed in 1st gear - from this it is able to calculate what gear you are in.
Using it: It has 3 modes of operation Standard, Touring, Track. It also lets you do other customising, such as day/night mode on the fly. Each displays a different set of data. It isn't intrusive, and initially takes a little while to get used to using eye movement to glance down & see it rather than look at the instrument cluster. But after getting used to it you notice it is 'always there'. Things like the colour changes for speed groups make an estimate of your speed easy - you have the impression of the colour & know what speed range you are in (handy when coming up to speed cameras, etc - right colour, right speed). It never shows more than a few items so as not to clutter the display & make interpretation of the data take longer - basically quick glance & all there. Each mode displays different information as the primary info. Track mode allows recording of track segments and times for segment & full lap. set by an initial ride around pressing buttons on control unit and it then uses gps to record the times.
Things like speed cameras, fuel warning all come up as a change in the display - usually as an item flashing rather than static (e.g. speed display flashes for cameras).
Upgrades: The firmware is undergoing continual development, adding further features & updating exiting ones. This will probably continue for quite a while. Each iteration is an improvement on the previous, and it looks like it will provide more & more features as it develops. there is an apple app to go with it - Bike GPS (Android to be developed later). It's a basic nav app but designed for bikes and optional integration with the Bike-HUD. It requires extra hardware to integrate with the Bike-HUD. Extra cost for this if not an early purchaser (waiting on mine to arrive).
Impressions: After setup it is quite unobtrusive to ride with, does what it's supposed to. proper interpretation of all the data takes a little while - mostly around the 'subtle' items like flashing speed for cameras, etc. Bluetooth integration with the scala would be a major improvement to allow it to interrupt the radio/ipod. When the integration hardware arrives I may switch to connecting the ipod via the Bike-HUD which will then allow interruptions with that, but still won't interrupt the radio.
Have accidentally separated the hdmi cable from the pendant. This will be easily corrected by making up something to pull them together so that they are pulled together. Only happened a couple times, but means the display suddenly goes black.
When on 1 of my other bikes the cable & pendant from the hud display needs to be secured so it doesn't flap around.
Would I recommend it: Yes, it does exactly what it is supposed to, and provides all the information you need without having to look down at the instrument cluster. And if you are somewhere with little tolerance on speed then the colour settings will act as a subtle reminder as to if you are obeying the speed limit. Future developments on it will work towards making it the 'centre' of the devices on the bike - integrating the display information, gps, music, phone. All that will be missing is rider to rider communication. And that is probably where it's greatest weakness will be - unless bluetooth communication with a scala or senna can be implemented so that the scala/sena simply becomes the microphone & speakers for the Bike-HUD, the radio & rider to rider communications.
Stephen N Russell
For all helmets alone Awesome Id wear one.
Martin Hone
Charles has hit the nail on the head. This ain't a HUD system. It merely moves the 'instrument panel' to nearer the rider's eye. A proper HUD would display on a windscreen or a helmet visor.
Have you looked at any of the sunglass-type units that seem available to the ski crowd ?
viffer
The first HUD system was on the Honda NR, which like fighter planes had an iridium coated windshield onto the underside of which the instrument data was projected.