If you’ve been following my recent bikesistential crises, you may recall that I’d been considering a Buell Ulysses as a potential daily rider, thanks to the model’s compelling combination of reasonable luggage, short wheelbase, relatively light weight, and bitchin’ V-Twin motor, supplemented by Fish’s ongoing… we’ll call it encouragement. I acquired an exceptionally well-preserved Barricade Orange Ulysses at the end of 2017.
Compared to more modern, mainstream motorcycles, one of the things the Buell lacks—in addition to acceptance by the motorcycle industry and community—is a tire pressure monitoring system (TPMS). Say what you will about the seemingly unending addition of (too much!) technology to motorcycles—a TPMS is an extremely valuable, functional addition to a daily rider. The notion that I should have to manually check tire pressures before every ride on a daily utility vehicle, an idea so many riders still cling to and opine on constantly, presumably because it makes them feel more like a jet fighter pilot and less like an average jerk on a Gixxer, is utterly ludicrous.
Even better, a TPMS tells me when a tire develops a slow leak, well before I get to the point of thinking, “Hmm, the bike feels a little funny… should I stop and check it out? Nah, I’ll wait till I get off the bridge.”
True story. Several times, actually.
So, to get the Buell outfitted for general utility use, I decided to add a TPMS when I replaced the its worn-out TKCs (no, it wasn’t Fish’s bike before me) with a spankin’ new set of PR4s. I considered Doran’s 360M, a system I’d used on my R1200R, because I prefer internal sensors. But the batteries are still not user-replaceable, and although some guy on the internet will happily tell you how to hack the sensors apart, that’s kind of silly for a $200 system.
I’d seen the FOBO Bike TPMS advertised and reviewed here and there, and while I was initially turned off by the notion of external sensors and the use of my phone as the interface, instead of a small, dedicated panel mounted on the bike, the more I looked at competitive systems, the more the FOBO looked like the best bet. So I reached out, and they agreed to send me a set for review.
The basic set includes two IP57-rated (water and dust resistant) sensors, available in black or silver, replacement valve stems, plastic locknuts, and little plastic tools to install the locknuts. The assortment is thoughtfully stocked with extra locknuts and two tools instead of one, and the valve stems come with several different o-rings and seals to work on a variety of rims. FOBO sent me two T-valves as well, which allows the sensors to be left undisturbed when changing tire pressure, meaning you won’t lose a bit of air as you screw them back on each time.
Included instructions are simple: basically, once you’ve installed the stems, you download the app (Android or iOS) and follow the simple steps there. The order of operations is important to synching the sensors to the app, but if you don’t pay attention and screw it up, the app provides guidance to do it again.
How do I know this? I’ll give you three guesses, but you should only need one.
Aside from swapping valve stems, which you only need to do if you don’t have steel stems or you need the T-valves (more on that in a moment), installation and setup is trivially easy. The product page at the FOBO website provides extensive specs, dimensions, and instructions on alternate installation options—very helpful.
The only installation quirk I encountered was Buell-specific: the perimeter brake rotor on the front wheel necessitates extreme placement of the caliper, which interfered with the sensor. I simply installed the front sensor on the side of the T instead of the top, and all was good. Other than that, the sensors are installed pretty securely via the locknut. It’s true that someone with a bit of time on their hands could figure out how to jack them, but I’m just not worried about it—I figure even random crackheads will disregard the Buell if there’s anything else around.
My primary concern with external sensors is perfect containment of air pressure in the tires where it belongs, and the FOBO sensors seem to have this covered. I’ll of course examine the sensors’ seals each time I swap tires, and keep an eye out for slowly-dropping pressures that could be indicative of a problem, but so far, all is all good.
Once installation is complete, the app tells you tire pressure and temperature (configurable for PSI, BAR, etc.) and lets you configure low and high warning ranges, as well as an ideal. You can also release sensors and handle other management / configuration tasks. Once set up, the app warns you when things are out of whack (high or low) and even sends a warning sound to your Bluetooth headset if your helmet is so equipped—a very helpful feature.
A single app can monitor up to nine bikes, so you can buy additional sensors ($49 each) and put them on all your bikes that don’t have an OEM TPMS. Although I was initially doubtful of the phone-centric model, this many-to-one arrangement is compelling. There’s also a sharing function that allows other app users access to your sensors, useful for loaning out your bike(s).
The app keeps your apprised of current battery status—FOBO says the sensor’s CR2032 batteries will last “up to two years,” and they’re easy to change when they eventually die.
I have three high-quality tire pressure gauges that all read similarly to each other. Compared to the two of those I could locate in my garage during this my test of the FOBO system, the sensors seem to read about a pound high. I’ve simply adjusted my ideal settings in the app to reflect this delta.
I’ve been running the FOBO system for about a month, and the best compliment I can give it is that after initially frequent “let’s see what this thing is up to” checking and verification of function, I’ve largely forgotten about it—it’s proven itself reliable, and I trust that if it’s not alerting me to any issues, my tire pressures are good. That’s the way it should be.
$99, $115 as tested (with T-valves). Learn more and order at My-Fobo.com.
This story originally appeared in our March 2018 issue, which you can read in all its original high-res glory here.