Review of eMachineShop.com

featuring

A Garmin Quest GPS Receiver Motorcycle Mount
for a 1997 Honda VFR-750

Updated February 2012

Last holiday season I picked up a Garmin Quest GPS receiver (review available elsewhere on this web site) with the immediate goal of using it for some automobile road trips but with the ultimate goal being to utilize it on my motorcycle, a 1997 Honda VFR-750.  The plans waited for many months while Garmin kept delaying the introduction of their motorcycle mount for the Quest.  Then when I finally got my hands on it, I searched high and low for the ideal hardware to use to attach it to my motorcycle.

There is is no shortage of sources for mounting hardware for all manners of gadgetry included GPS receivers, radar detectors, radioes, etc., ranging widely in price, materials and quality.  I found RAM mounts Saeng's cockpit mounts, Techmount, Martin Fabrication, and some really nice stuff from Gennadi Kim (a.k.a. GadgetGuy).  In spite of all the readily available goodies, nothing quite lived up to my obsession, so I set out to make my own.

I thought about my requirements and dredged up what's left of my mechanical drawing skills, dormant for the last 25 years or so, to pencil plans for the "ideal" mounting bracket.  I did this freehand with only the help of a 6" steel ruler.  When it all looked "perfect", I made a prototype in cardboard, noticed a few serious problems, corrected my drawing, and made another cardboard version.  Satisfied with the potential outcome, I was ready to get the part made.  Or so I thought...

The problem was finding a machine shop to handle the job.  Here in New York City, there are quite a few shops that do have the necessary multi-axis milling equipment, but accessibility was a major obstacle, as was the "prototype quantity" desired.  Most calls and emails went un-answered.  Even the personal friend of a mechanic I know, wouldn't return a message left in his native language.  There were places in other states and even other countries that would take work by mail, but then you have to worry about not being able to clarify things about the drawing with the machinist, or having to overcome language gaps.  And then there's the expense of shipping, dealing with customs, etc.  After a couple of weeks I was ready to either give up or to find a piece of scrap metal somewhere and go at it with my Dremel for eight or ten hours.

Then some kind soul told me about eMachineShop.com.

eMachineShop.com is an on-line machine shop based in New Jersey.  The idea is that your machine shop order can be performed entirely by computer, bringing the services of a fully outfitted machine shop to anyone with a PC running Windows, and an Internet connection, anywhere.  You never even have to speak with another human being.  No hassles, no misunderstandings, no haggling, no estimates, no visits to the shop, no approvals.  Everything from drawing to payment is done on your PC and via an Internet connection.  They don't accept work orders any other way, at all.  While this may sound a little cold and impersonal, the most outstanding benefit is that nothing gets lost in translation.  You specify the material, draw the part, choose finishing and quantity, enter your payment info, then wait for the big brown truck to show up at your door with the order.  Sounds cool, right?

To get started with eMachineShop.com you must download their free CAD (Computer Aided Drawing) software - a mere 6MB package.  I found this software to be exceptionally easy to learn and to use, although it is helpful to have some experience with mechanical drawing, computer aided drawing concepts, and some basic machine shop and materials knowledge.  I learned the software completely in about an hour.  There is plenty of on-line help describing the software, common tasks, the functions of various machine shop equipment and their limitations, and even lightly discussing metallurgy.  The software includes a bunch of sample drawings, and you can download two step-by-step tutorial videos that work you through two levels of skills to gain proficiency and familiarity with the software.

In my opinion the main challenge was learning to think in terms of the machinery required for your job.  You start with a blank piece of material, and each shape you draw, will be drawn in the shape of the material to be machined away.

I started off my design by specifying an 4 inch square section of strong aircraft -quality 7075-T6 Aluminum.  It's inexpensive, light, easily machined, and estimated to be strong enough for the application at the 1/8" thickness that most of the part's surfaces would have.  I felt no need for any special polishing or finishing, ignored the software's warnings about how tooling marks may be visible as a result, and decided to have the piece anodized black to keep glare down.

I then spent several hours transposing my paper drawing into the CAD software, double-checking measurements, and changing my design slightly to work within the limitations of the machines.  I even made some enhancements along the way.  In one or two cases, a design enhancement was introduced as a workaround to get the software to allow something that I knew the machine could accomplish, but the software insisted it could not.  Anything to get the job out!  The first screen snapshot here shows my bracket design in "top" view, which is actually the front of the bracket.  Remember, you have to think in terms of how the part will be machined, not how it will be positioned in use, when you're laying out the design.

The software can give you wireframe views from any side perspective (top, bottom, back, front, left and right), but not from non-square angles.  Sometimes this makes it difficult to discern certain features in your design.  In this example, the wireframe offers no clue that a major portion of the bracket is cut down a half inch.  Note that the software is missing scroll bars, so you really can't zoom in for detail on a corner of your work.

On the other hand, the limited wireframe detail avoids distraction, and at any time you can inspect the results as a nicely rendered 3D solid in one keystroke, and inspect it from any angle just by moving your mouse around intuitively.  The 3D views are fairly good and conveyed the drawings suitably, although you'll notice some undesired artifacts in this example.  This in no way affected the outcome.  At any time you can check the viability of your design as well.  If you ask for something impossible to accomplish, the software tells you.  And if you ask for something that may cause difficulties or machining flaws, you are warned of that too.

The design took some time to get straight, but since this is my first time ever with this software, I considered it all to be a learning experience.  Adding to the complication was that the piece had to be machined from three sides, and that only one hole conformed to any kind of mathematical consistency with its relationship to other holes or surfaces.  The task I thought would be the most difficult actually turned out to be fairly easy - the curved top surface.

When it came time to perform the final check on my design's viability, the software informed me that the bracket could be machined from a smaller  6cm square piece of metal, and saved me some money as a result.  The total cost for this single part was $208.48.  The delivery estimate was a rather formidable 30 "business" days, or potentially six weeks, and I don't think that took into consideration shipment transit time either.  While I was very anxious about the long lead time (which was several weeks even for the simplest examples), the piece arrived on my doorstep exactly 33 days after I submitted my order.

Compare the 3D drawing from the eMachineShop software above, to the photographs below of the part they produced!

The bracket arrived well packed in a small cardboard box, padded by heavy, crumpled brown paper.  Quick eyeball inspection showed it to be twisted a degree or so around the hanger section, most likely from the pressure of the milling process.  This was not unexpected, and it was easy enough to gently cold-set the piece back to specs.  Somewhat more annoying however, was the fact that the piece was not cleaned after the anodizing process, leaving my fingers black from handling it, and requiring vigorous washing to clean both my fingers and the bracket.  But the machining was all perfectly within tolerance - a good thing since the screw holes on the Quest's mount are fairly tight.  Cosmetically, the milling machine left a nice utilitarian matte finish.  Exactly what I was looking to achieve.  There was a noticeable oddly shaped 3/4" blotch on the back of the bracket at the edge, clearly visible in the picture above.  Perhaps from when it was picked out of the anodizing bath?  Oh well, if I had chosen a finish I'd be more upset.  See the October 2005 Update at the bottom of this page before you get discouraged about the minor flaws.  The bracket weighs just 2.1 oz and has a good stiff, sturdy feel.

So what the hell IS this gadget?

The shortcoming of all the motorcycle accessory mounting hardware I had found was that it placed the GPS receiver too low and too far outside my field of vision, in some cases so low that my helmet's chin bar blocked the view of the receiver.  In other cases, access to the ignition switch was made rather awkward, and some solutions blocked gauges or gauge cluster items that I'd rather not have blocked.  And almost all the solutions had the receiver moving with the steering, potentially interfering physically with the cowling and increasing the pivoting weight, albeit slightly.  I wanted a solution that placed the GPS receiver fairly tight under the windscreen, as high as possible while still affording some protection from the weather, so quick glances would involve absolutely no head movement at all.  I also sought to leave off half of Garmin's mount setup, which comes in two pieces one of which seems to have little purpose beyond providing strain relief for the power/sound cable, and all of which added up to three times the bulk of the receiver itself.  Let's see how I did...

First we screw Garmin's Quest Motorcycle Mount onto the new custom-made bracket, using the three screws supplied by Garmin.  Not a bad idea to use a little Loctite in the threads here, but do NOT get any on the plastic!!!

Now with the GPS receiver in place, in this top view you can see the reason for that funny shape cutout.  Without it, there'd be 1/8" of fairly dense aircraft aluminum interfering with those weak, faraway GPS satellite radio signals.

In reality, there will still be some interference from the bracket because the signals are not coming straight down from the sky, but instead come in at some fairly steep angles.  But the interference would only be on two quadrants, and in my preliminary testing using the Quest's satellite signal display page, the interference imposed by the bracket is negligible.  I need to perform more testing away from the concrete jungle to get a more conclusive set of measurements.

For the egomaniacs, here's what it looks like from a gawker's perspective.

That white thing behind the bracket is my EZ-Pass (highway toll transponder).  I used 3M Dual Lock (aka Superlock, a very strong variety of Velcro) to fasten the GPS receiver mounting bracket to the underside of the VFR's windscreen.  For convenience, I got mine from Radio Shack.  Give it at least a day or two to set before subjecting it to loads, and make sure both mounting surfaces are very clean.  I matched up sets of strips, removed the backing from one side, applied them to cover completely the curved surface of the bracket, then cut away the excess from both strips to fit the L shape.  Then I removed the backing from the windscreen side of the tapes and pushed the bracket into place while also pushing on the top of the windscreen.  Since the top of the bracket is only curved on one axis, the pressure is not necessarily uniform across the entire mating surface area, so I then had to carefully detach the bracket from the windscreen without peeling the Dual Lock loose from either surface, and push with my fingers to get the tape to bond across the entire area.

The whole assembly adds up to a little over ten ounces, so according to 3M the adhesive and fasteners should be good enough to withstand shock forces of hundreds of Gs.  The Quest feels very solid mounted this way, and the VFR's windscreen appears to be robust enough to handle the load.  Vibration seems very manageable - certainly far less wobbly than when it's placed in the suction cup mount in my car.  But let's see how it all holds up subjected to a year or so of New York City's crappy crater-ridden roadways!!! 

Most importantly, the picture below shows what it looks like from the motorcycle rider point of view.  After all, that was the point of all this obsession.  Your view could vary a bit depending on your physical proportions, preferred seating position, etc. - I'm 5'10" with fairly average leg/torso ratio, and sit as far forward as possible with elbows slightly bent.

The result is that the GPS display is easily visible by just moving my eyes down a little for a second.  The receiver blocks the high-beam indicator lamp and the VFR's clock, as well as the upper quarter portion of the tachometer.  I couldn't care less about the indicator lamp.  And dare I say that in situations where that range of the tach becomes important, you'd probably be a little more hunkered down and the view of the tach would improve.  I found the loss of the clock a little disconcerting, since I'm quite obsessive about punctuality, so I programmed the GPS receiver to display the time on the trip stats page.  Problem solved.

Above is a picture of the bracket and wiring from below and behind the fairing, showing the cable held in place by two white plastic self-adhesive cord clips on the windscreen.  The cable and clips act also act as a safety tether in case the mount comes loose.  I wanted clear clips but I couldn't find any suitable ones when I originally put this all together.  In the second photograph below I've removed the ugly white plastic clips and replaced them with a set of small, inconspicuous clear cord clips made by 3M.  I used 3M's heavy duty clear double-sided tape to fasten the clear clips to the windscreen - the Command Adhesive strips are opaque and are not outdoor rated.  The bad news here is, 3M no longer produces these small clear clips - part of their Command Adhesive(tm) line.  They've long since disappeared from retail shelves but several warehouse outlets still stock them.  Search for 3M item 051131705234.  Once those run out, you might try AT&T's telephone wire clips instead, #59198.

The earphone plug hangs down slightly and is held neatly to the power wire by a small black zip-tie.  The power cable disappears into a crack between the gauge cluster and the left upper cowl stay cover, snakes behind the gauges, and follows some existing wiring back toward the battery box.  FYI, sound output appears to be available at the battery end of the power cable, but Garmin clips those two wires flush with the cable jacket.

The picture below shows the setup from the front of the bike.

Functionally I think this setup is terrific and is pretty much exactly what I wanted.  I would have liked the receiver to be up closer to the windscreen, and now that I have a functional prototype instead of a piece of cardboard I see I could have reduced the hang by at least 1/4", and perhaps even as much as 1/2" if I chose to fasten the bracket directly to the windscreen instead of using the 3M Dual Lock.  I could also reduce the drop substantially by forfeiting my choice of being able to remove the GPS receiver from the mount without detaching the mount and bracket from the windscreen.  The receiver needs to slide up about 5/8" out of the cradle before it can snap out forward from the cradle.

At $208 this bracket may seem expensive, but some of the (sub-optimal) off-the-shelf solutions cost in excess of $150.  Also, if I were thinking of selling this product, a production quantity order would be vastly more economical, since the machining station setup cost is eliminated for additional pieces.  The metal itself is rather inexpensive.  At any rate, I believe eMachineShop's rates to be competitive and I feel the cost was well worth it, giving me something purpose-made and absolutely unique.

Getting back to eMachineShop.com, I'm very excited about this service.  My only real complaints (in descending order of importance) were the fairly long lead times, the failure to wash off the excess anodizing dye, and the minor blemish in the finish.  The lead time in particular is the big sticking point with me.  I find it disappointing in light of the fast turnaround times inherent to most Internet -based business, and their goal is to save time as well as avoid the hassles.  Yet the design and ordering process was satisfyingly easy, I never had to call anyone for assistance or consult anything outside the on-line help, and the actual delivery time did beat their estimate.  The software was very slick and performed well.  The finish of the part was actually smoother than the on-line documentation led me to believe it would be.  Their shipping department does need to learn about the benefits of bubble packing versus paper fill, however.  I did not bother calling the machine shop but my emails were answered quickly.  My overall experience with eMachineShop was a positive one, and I have a feeling I'll be designing more widgets using them very soon!

OCTOBER 2005 UPDATE:

I received an unexpected package from eMachineShop exactly three weeks after emailing them a link to this review.  The package contained another bracket, at no charge.  This bracket was machined with the same exacting precision as the first bracket they sent me, but this one arrived with a nearly flawless finish (remember, the part wasn't specified with any post-machine finishing at all), squeaky clean and almost perfectly true.  And they tossed in a handy 6" stainless steel ruler (embossed with their logo, of course).  A quick phone call confirmed that the re-make was ordered by their Quality Control department.  This was completely unexpected and I never asked them for anything beyond the initial order.  It's clear that eMachineShop is serious about their work, their reputation and their customers.  They corrected all of my complaints.  Yes, ALL.  Every single one, not that I had many.  Even the lead time was at least a week shorter on the re-make!  Color me IMPRESSED.

Most of the people who previewed my design were concerned about stress on the windscreen inducing cracks or hazing and/or permitting excessive vibration.  I ignored them, of course.  So far this has turned out to be a complete non-issue.  The windscreen is rather substantial in thickness, and it is supported not by the surrounding cowling but by the cowl stays themselves, which are designed to support the weight of the mirrors, upper cowl pieces and windscreen, the headlight unit and even part of the middle cowling weight!  Perhaps this would be a worry on other motorcycles, but it's definitely not a concern on this model of bike.  Additionally, in practice the 3M tape seems to dampen the vibration stresses.  If anything, the force required to detach the bracket from the windscreen is a little unsettling.

After a great deal of thought, the only other weaknesses I can discern are potentially in the wiring.  The very thin (26 or 28 AWG?) wires used in Garmin's cable could be susceptible to problems if proper care is not taken.  It's important to use good wiring and weatherproofing techniques, and to keep the cable physically stable using sufficient cable tie points, strain reliefs, etc.

NOVEMBER 2005 UPDATE

Motorcyclists who use Garmin's motorcycle mount are well advised to read an update to my general review of the Garmin Quest, here: http://bytebrothers.org/reviews/GarminQuest#MCmountDefect .  The design of Garmin's mount may cause enough stress on the antenna to damage it.  A small modification to the mount may alleviate the problem.

MAY 2006 UPDATE

After many miles of pounding on New York City's pockmarked roadways and a 3600 mile jaunt, this mounting solution has held up fairly well.  There's a little more play in the 3M tape than there originally was, but not very much.  The adhesive is in great shape in spite of huge temperature variations, constant sunlight exposure and occasional use of aggressive cleaning chemicals, and the vibration and weight load hasn't been a problem for the mount, the GPS or the VFR's windscreen.

Earlier this month literally on the anniversary of the purchase of the motorcycle mount, the little plastic protrusion on the left side of the motorcycle mount that makes up the spring loaded retention mechanism, broke away.  The illustration on the left shows one in good condition.  Even though it took me a couple of days to find the paperwork, Garmin immediately sent me a replacement no questions asked.  Meanwhile the mount's grip on the GPS receiver was still secure enough not to cause too much worry.  I've noted elsewhere that the original Quest required much more force to snap into place on this mount than did the Quest 2.  No doubt that contributed to the demise of this little plastic nib.

The problem seems to be a tiny difference in the GPS receiver's case moldings - so small a difference that I can't see it or even measure it easily.  Shown in the picture on the right is the left sides of the cases on the Quest and the Quest 2.  The effect of the difference is conveniently illustrated by the worn away plastic finish between the lower and middle recesses on the Quest (left), revealing that the nib is getting hung up in the lower recess instead of being gently pushed out by the point between the lower and middle recesses on the way down into the mount, where it is then supposed to snap into place inside the middle recess.

Easy solution: Use only the Quest 2 on the bike!  But for those times that the Quest 2 is in the car and I have to fall back to the original, I've found that tilting the Quest receiver forward into Garmin's motorcycle mount less than a half inch above what would be the seated position (so that the back/side of the case smoothly pushes out that clip a little), then slipping it down into place makes insertion go much more smoothly and should allow both of those retention clips to outlast the receiver.  It takes a few tries to get the knack of it but it's not difficult.

JULY 2011 UPDATE

A motorist turned left in front of me in 2007.  The Quest and its mount survived but the VFR did not.  The bike was replaced by an identical VFR not long afterward and this one has seen over 26,000 miles since I bought it.  After nearly four years of pounding, the 3M Superlock tape's hooks and loops are loosening up enough to warrant replacement.  Three to four years seems to be the maximum for this punishing environment but the tape's adhesive is still tenacious as ever.  The Quest is still doing fine and the mount still looks like new!  Also, I noticed 3M is producing those clear clips again!

FEBRUARY 2012 UPDATE

After encountering yet another left-turning idiot in late 2011, the Quest and its mount once again came through unscathed.  While putting the rest of the bike back together I removed the mount to polish some scratches out of the wind screen and decided to experiment with a low profile variety of Superlock that doesn't permit the small amounts of movement/vibration that the usual SJ3560 Superlock does.  3M's SJ4580 is about half the thickness and supposedly has about the same separation strength but it could not hold up to NYC's horrible roadways.  The mount came loose twice in one day.

I have a theory about what is happening, but I am not sure.  I noticed that the low profile Superlock really needs a perfectly mating surface for there to be a good bond between the two pieces.  I think that over hard bumps, the weight of the GPS and mount causes the wind screen to flex a bit and that begins a separation process from the middle.  That flex probably was better tolerated by looser fit of the original Superlock.  Either way, I have returned to the original Superlock.  It has NEVER let me down.  Lesson learned.


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