Experiments mounting a phone to clip-on bars

I’ve been playing around with the best way to mount my phone and headlight on the aerobars of my distance bike. This is a weird setup: most cyclists use bike computers that are considerably smaller than my iPhone 11, most don’t also have a bike light hanging from the same mount, and most definitely don’t have both of those mounted to clip-on bars instead of their regular handlebars.

I started with this bridge-style mount I found on AliExpress. It’s a mixed bag. The aluminum parts—the bridge, the computer-mount base, and the GoPro mount—are well made. The plastic parts—the bar clamps and Garmin mounting “biscuit”—are worthless: both the Garmin base and clamps quickly cracked. I like the bridge design, and thought it might give me more flexibility to mount other stuff, but in reality, it gets pretty crowded on the bars, and having two clamping points just makes it harder to adjust the clip-on bars.

I wound up getting Kevin Brown to machine a couple of very skookum aluminum clamps to replace the original plastic clamps, and I used the business end of a QuadLock intended for a motorcycle to replace the original mounting base; this is reinforced with some Sugru to stabilize it on the bridge.

This works. This is the setup I used in my abbreviated attempt at TABR 2021, and it didn’t give me any trouble. It is absolutely stable, but it is kind of heavy for what it is: 124 g.

The QuadLock mounting mechanism is excellent. I tried using the QuadLock mount by itself, but couldn’t quite get the phone positioned right, and in any case that didn’t give me a way to mount my headlight. There’s an articulated arm between the Quadlock mechanism and the bar clamp with toothed interfaces at each end, so that the angles between parts are stepped; the arm also has a little rise to it. The mount is all injection-molded plastic, and is probably adequate but nothing special. In hindsight, it looks like using a QuadLock out front mount pro sideways on a clip-on bar might work.

I then tried out this mount from 76 Projects. This is all 3D-printed and shot-peened plastic (a manufacturing method I’ve never heard of before), except for the screws that hold it together. It clocks in at 47 g. It uses velcro straps to mount to the bars, and comes with a set of spacer tubes to make up the space between the central mount and the strap blocks. Getting the spacers exactly right is fiddly, but you only need to do it once. The spacers and central mount fit together with toothed interfaces, and this is the only clip-on bar setup I’ve seen that lets you adjust the angle at which the phone faces you.

The 76 Projects mount is made of a much higher grade of plastic than came with my AliExpress mount (I also ordered a Garmin stick-on adapter for my phone from 76 Projects, which is similar): despite also using a Garmin mount, I haven’t had any problems with that. The problem I do have with this mount is that it it’s not rigid: either the velcro straps have a little play, or the stacks of spacers do, so the whole assembly wobbles a bit, probably exacerbated by the weight I’ve got on it. This is more of an issue for me because I have a headlight hanging from the GoPro mount on the bottom, cantilevered on a short extension, and it’s distracting to have the beam wobble up and down.

I backed a Kickstarter project from Peak Design and wound up with their out front mount. This clocks in at 101 g with the GoPro attachment. Normally I wouldn’t use an out front mount with clip-on bars: it would need to be located between a clip-on bar and the stem; this would force the bars to be moved outboard, which I don’t want to do. This one, however, comes with 7/8″ shims (which fit clip-on bars); the mounting surface works when rotated 90°; and by a stroke of luck, when mounted to my clip-on bars, this almost perfectly centers the mount: my clip-on bars are spaced 124 mm OC, and the Peak Design’s mounting surface winds up being 65 mm inboard. That 3-mm deviation from center doesn’t trigger OCD for me; for anyone who wanted to use this system on bars spaced much differently, their motorcycle bar mount puts the mounting surface on an articulated arm (somewhat like the QuadLock one), so it should be possible to center. The out front mount is pretty beefy, and the motorcycle mount is heavier still.

This mount is nicely made and well thought out, with all the major parts being aluminum. Everything feels very precise and substantial; the GoPro mount fits in place of a little conical washer and snugs up just so. The attachment mechanism is clever: magnets snap the phone to the mounting surface in exactly the right position, and two spring-loaded claws click into recesses in the phone case/adapter. It’s very satisfying and easy to clip the phone on. Two buttons on the underside of the mount retract the claws for removing the phone (only one claw really needs to be retracted). I found that the release buttons were easy to operate with thin gloves on, but might be a problem with more heavily insulated gloves.

I did find that without having the clamp really tight, the mount did rotate slightly after riding on rough roads. It would probably be a good idea to put a strip of helicopter tape on the bar to provide a little traction, especially if you’re using carbon bars that shouldn’t have too much clamping force applied.

This is the first one-sided mount I’ve really used on this bike, and once I got it set up, I realized that my clip-on bars are splayed out slightly, so in addition to being slightly off-center, my phone winds up being angled parallel to one bar. This will be easy to fix, but using a bridge design sidesteps the problem. I really like this attachment mechanism and will probably wind up tinkering to see if I can improve the connection to the bars.

None of these weights include the cases/adapters that goes on the phone, but those weights are minimal.

For a while, I have been noodling over the idea of an accessory mounting plate that would secure to the clip-on bars at four corners. All of the loads could be attached inboard of the corners rather than cantilevered, so each attachment point could be lighter—perhaps just a velcro strap and rubber bumper. Bikepacking racers frequently have a bunch of stuff on their bars—some combination of two headlights, two bike computers, a water bottle, a Spot tracker, a GoPro camera. If you could get even half of that stuff on a single plate, you’d be ahead of the game.

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