If you’re a motorcycle enthusiast, you probably know what a radar detector is. You’ve seen them in cars, and maybe you’ve heard the rumors of getting an automatic ticket if a cop spots a detector when they pull you over. This guide will help you stay one step ahead of ol’ Johnny Law by answering popular questions about motorcycle radar detectors and showing you how to install one on your bike.
What Can a Motorcycle Radar Detector Do?
A motorcycle radar detector is a device that tells you if law enforcement is using a radar, and sometimes a laser, anywhere near you. It often gives you time to slow down before the cop sees you. Such a device will pay for itself the first time you use it!
Where radars cast a wide net to find speeders, lasers have a very narrow focus. It’s hard to detect a laser without getting hit by it, and then it’s already too late. Apps like Waze can warn you about laser speed traps reported by others, and sometimes officers will fire their laser toward the top of a hill or around a corner. You won’t have a lot of warning in those cases, but you’ll have some.
The main functions found in a modern motorcycle radar detector include:
- X, K, KA, and KU frequency detection (RADAR bands)
- Optical band detection (LIDAR band) (lasers)
- An audio system for alerts
- A visual display for alerts
Some things to watch for when you’re shopping include:
- Radar AND laser detection
- Detection range
- Shock resistance
- Small form factor
Are radar detectors even legal in the US?
Check your state’s laws to be sure, but the only places in the United States with laws against radar detectors as of this writing are Virginia and Washington, D.C. California and Minnesota have laws against items affixed to your windshield which could technically be applied to detectors, so watch out there. US federal law prohibits use of radar detectors in commercial vehicles.
Radar jammers, on the other hand, are very illegal as per federal law. A jammer attempts to scramble the signal, causing an officer’s radar system to malfunction or display an error code when you pass by. For some reason laser jammers are only illegal in the following states: CA, CO, IL, MN, SC, OK, TN, TX, UT, and VA. The charge for having an illegal jammer? Obstruction of justice. Yeah, don’t chance it.
In short, radar detectors are 100% legal unless you live in DC or Virginia, so forget all those rumors and arm yourself with knowledge in the form of a motorcycle radar detector. Just remember, if a cop sees a detector when he pulls you over, especially if you conveniently slowed down right as he saw you, you won’t get off easy.
Why don’t I just hide my detector when I get pulled over?
That’s easy enough in a car; even then, you run the risk of the officer seeing you do it. On a motorcycle you’re out in the open, so good luck stashing that detector without the officer seeing it happen. And if you throw it into the grass they’ll probably think it’s drugs, so try not to do that.
How do I power a radar detector on my bike?
Don’t forget to wire a power source to run the detector. All motorcycle radar detectors will need to be plugged in, some to USB power and others to a cigarette adapter, so make sure your bike has a means of providing power to the detector before you order one!
Use a Battery Tender Terminal Harness to pull a fused power source from the battery, then pair it with a USB adapter or cigarette adapter to plug your device in at a moment’s notice. Mount those items anywhere you want but shield them from the elements as much as possible.
How do I install a radar detector on my motorcycle?
The detector can’t detect what it doesn’t see. The critical thing is to get the detector high enough that the bike and your body don’t block the path of incoming signals.
There are a variety of ways to affix a motorcycle radar detector to your bike. Something NOT to do is use a suction cup mount, duct tape, zip ties, or some other crafty mounting method. It’s going to fall off, it’s just a matter of when.
As for mounts that don’t involve zip ties and duct tape, check out these Amazon specials that include free shipping for Prime members.
This is the preferred way to mount a detector on your bike. It attaches to your bars using the industry standard RAM ball joint system, so you can easily replace parts if something goes missing. It includes a bar mount bracket, a pivoting extension arm, and a tray with rare earth magnets embedded in it. Adhere the included steel plate to the back of your detector, and let the magnets do the rest.
This mount accommodates handlebars from 0.5” to 1.25” in diameter, so it will fit pretty much any bar you’re going to find.
Cons: Not all bikes will have enough room for this mount. Don’t use this mount with devices that have internal hard drives.
This mount can be installed just about anywhere on your bike, from your handlebars to your front subframe. If you don’t want to drill holes in your precious ride, that’s okay. Just find two pinch bolts on your bike that are between 26mm and 34mm apart, like the ones on your triple trees, and this mount will bolt right up.
Your detector then attaches to the top platform which is hinged on double ball joints, so it can be aimed forward or backward as needed. This mount features vibration dampening to reduce glitches and damage to your motorcycle radar detector, and it can be used with a variety of other devices as well.
Cons: It’s a costly way to go, but it will get the job done. It may be difficult to install on some bikes.
This is a more conventional way to mount your motorcycle radar detector. This mount attaches to the top nut on your triple tree, and it’s designed to fit the most standard size found on modern steering stems: 28mm. Like the other mount, it can be used for a variety of devices. That’s cool.
Cons: For other nut sizes, you’ll need one of the other versions Adaptiv offers on their Amazon store.
Why not just use a car radar detector?
Feel free to use any good ol’ radar detector designed for a car, but it won’t last.
Motorcycle radar detectors are specifically designed to withstand the elements in ways that others aren’t. It will take you a lot more time and effort to make a car radar detector work on a motorcycle. You will have to take extensive measures to ensure it never gets wet and doesn’t vibrate itself to pieces.
Not only that, but many automotive radar detectors are much larger than ones for motorcycles. That means they’re harder to mount and harder to carry inside so they don’t get stolen. Motorcycle radar detectors are tiny by comparison, so you can slip them in your pocket when you park your bike.
Motorcycle radar detectors are also designed for ease of use. They have big buttons that are easy to hit when you’re on a vehicle that requires constant use of your hands. Especially if you’re wearing thick gloves, a car radar detector would be nearly impossible to use accurately and easily at speed.
If you only ride on nice days, you could probably get away with using the detector from your car. If you plan on doing that on a regular basis, it’s best to get one that’s designed with a motorcycle in mind.
What are the Best Motorcycle Radar Detectors?
Now that you know the laws and technology surrounding detectors, as well as how to mount one to your bike, it’s time to make an educated decision. Don’t worry about driving down to that big-box store where the cool kids hang out: these motorcycle radar detectors are available today with free shipping for Amazon Prime members. As usual, we’re going to start with one you shouldn’t buy.
Whew, that was a mouthful. This detector looks great on paper: easy installation with all accessories included, a wireless control dongle that can be mounted anywhere, and a small weatherproof detector unit with a plug for audio warnings and a screen for visuals. Not bad right? Wrong.
With 13 customer reviews at the time of this writing, over half of them have carried 1-star ratings. “Unit defective” shows up a lot more often than it should, with people describing this $200+ motorcycle radar detector as junk, garbage, and flimsy – their words, not ours. Multiple buyers say the repair facility is aware of how terrible these things are. To boot, many of the positive reviews were obviously bought and paid for.
In the words of Dave F., “don’t bother!”
- Small size
- Weatherproof and shock proof
- Quality issues
- Negative reviews
If you read the earlier sections, you’ll notice that Adaptiv has made a name for itself on all sides of the motorcycle radar detector world.
This is the older 2.0 version of their TPX detector, which is why it’s $100 cheaper than the 3.0 at the time of this writing. It detects all radar and laser frequencies, has a clear backlit screen for easy reading at a glance, and has big backlit buttons that are easy to press through your gloves.
It’s water and shock resistant, and its small size makes it extremely easy to mount on a bike. One customer uploaded a video of this detector saving him from a ticket the very first time he rode with it. Talk about a return on your investment!
TPX makes a wide range of accessories including mounts, headsets, and auxiliary warning systems that can basically surround you with alerts when this thing goes off. Their Visual Alert system is actually pretty useful. It gives you 3 super-bright LEDs that aim directly at your head, and they flash when the Adaptiv radar detector is activated. They will definitely get your attention, and at the time of this writing they cost under $50, so this is one accessory you would be better off buying.
- Small size
- Weatherproof and shock proof
- Visual Alert add-on is great
- Multiple user modes
- Laser and radar detection
- Not the newest version
At the time of this writing, the newest version of Adaptiv’s TPX line of detectors is the 3.0. It costs a full $100 more than the 2.0, and that’s because it carries improvements over nearly every feature of the earlier model. It can detect radar in a full 360 degrees around your bike. And instead of needing the extra Visual Alert system, this detector has a built-in auxiliary light for alerting you in a hurry.
At the push of a button, the GPX 3.0 can store the GPS waypoints of red-light cameras and speed cameras. You can update the onboard library of known waypoints through their central system, free of charge. You can also disable this motorcycle radar detector without turning it completely off, so if you suddenly feel the need for speed you’re only seconds away from having your defenses up.
It still has the oversized backlit buttons for easy operation through gloves. It’s still tiny, weatherproof, and shockproof. There’s even this international version which comes preloaded with GPS waypoints for fixed cameras and detectors in Europe, Australia, and New Zealand.
Adaptiv states this is “The most advanced radar and laser detection system available for motorcycle use,” and they’re not wrong.
Once you spend the extra money on the auxiliary LED for the 2.0 model, you could just about buy yourself the 3.0. So, what will it be?
- Small size
- Weatherproof and shock proof
- Built-in LED warning light
- GPS tagging for cameras
- Multiple user modes
- 360-degree protection
- Detects laser and radar
- Higher price
Which one should I buy?
Congratulations! You’ve learned everything there is to know about motorcycle radar detectors, what they do, how to mount them, and whether they’re legal in your state. Use your newfound knowledge to beat Johnny Law at his own game, and save yourself the time, money, and hassle of getting pulled over.
Don’t buy the Rocky Mountain detector for any reason. Just don’t.
If you want to save a few bucks at the expense of having GPS waypoints, buy the Adaptiv TPX 2.0.
Complement the 2.0 with an LED Visual Alert system to maximize your investment.
If having the newest and best motorcycle radar detector is your goal, buy the Adaptiv TPX 3.0.