Ari Bader-Natal

iHome iH85B review (an iPod speaker for your bicycle)

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Sadly, this speaker is no longer being manufactured. Newer iHome-inspired alternatives worth considering:

There are plenty of ways to shave ounces off of a bicycle, to make it that much faster for the next race. I don't care much about those ways: My commuting setup weighs 70 lbs. Let's just say that I prefer to ride prepared and comfortable to fast and furious. My commute is 7.5 miles in each direction, which generally takes about 45 minutes at my leisurely pace. Enough time for me to want some music. Earbuds are not a viable option for commuters, so I explored some of the other options out there.

Enter the iHome IH85B Bike to Beach Speaker System for iPod...

What is this? First and foremost, the iH85B is designed specifically for an iPod with a dock connector. This is the only audio interface, so if your music is on a Zune, Blackberry, or even an iPod Shuffle, there's nothing to see here. This is an iPod speaker for your bicycle, and not a bicycle speaker for your iPod. Two aspects of the design are bicycle-specific. The speaker itself has been designed to fit in a water bottle cage (either your own or the one provided). And the iPod can be controlled with a wireless remote that is handlebar-mounted (but removable for when you park your bike.) The remote includes all of the standard buttons: play/pause, previous/next track, volume up/down.

I've been using this speaker for about a month of commuting, and am happy to report that it has been a fantastic addition to my day. Music plays loud and clear, the handlebar-mounted controls are easy to use (even with gloves on!), and the attention to design is clear. Including batteries and my 4G thick iPod, the whole setup weighs just over 2 lbs. But these are definitely the most fun 2 lbs that I've added to my (70 lb) commute, so the weight has been fully justified.

Functionality:

The iH85B speaker itself only has a single button (power on/off). I was pleasantly surprised to find that turning the speaker on also turns on the iPod (and starts the music playing). Turning the speaker off also turns the iPod off. Nice! The controls on the remote are well-designed and can be used without looking down. The remote communicates with the speaker wirelessly, and I have noticed occasional problems with the connection dropping (and the remote being ignored.) I think that adding audio feedback (a beep or blip) when a button is pressed would help here.


Twist it open to set up the iPod


The wireless remote clicks into a handlebar mount

Power:

This speaker runs off of 4 AA batteries, which makes it sufficiently loud for most commutes. I've never needed to turn the volume up to the max limit, which is great. The box includes an AC adapter plug, which simultaneously powers the speaker and recharges the iPod inside. Sounds great, but this is of little value to the bicycle commuter. It means that you can use it as a speaker at home, but if you already have a good sound system, this will power adaptor will likely end up in a drawer (along with the included case and extra iPod inserts.) I haven't tested the limits on battery life, as I generally recharge mine over the weekend. I'd love to see a version that runs on a battery pack, that recharges using the included power cable. If it didn't affect the price much, that is. The only real drawback I found here is that the remote control runs off of two CR2032 coin cell batteries, which cannot be recharged. I haven't had to replace these yet, but once I do I'll add an estimated lifetime here.


Inside, iPod docks on one side, 4 AA batteries sit in the other.

Fit:

I found fit to be a weak point. The speaker can be squeezed into an existing water bottle cage, but you're much better off installed the included plastic cage, which is slightly wider. I initially installed it on my seat tube (I prefer to leave the down-tube for a water bottle), but found that the snap-closure mechanism on the new cage couldn't quite clear the position of the other cage. I swapped the two, giving me a setup just like the bike diagram above. I'd like to see future versions of the cage allow more clearance for double-cage use, ideally allowing for seat tube mounting. I've also had some trouble with the remote. Removing it from the handlebar mount is often quite difficult, due to a poorly-cut corner on the mounting. Are others having this same problem? My favorite aspect of the design is that it can be carried easily off-bike. The remote control "puck" snaps into the main unit, simultaneously protecting the speaker grill and the remote buttons. I stick the whole thing in the side of shoulder bag, where it fits perfectly in the water-bottle side pocket. Nice!


Cage design should be revised to sit higher on tube.


It fits nicely anywhere a water bottle would.


The remote doubles as a cap for the speaker grill when not in use.

Overview:

Overall, iHome hit on a great idea here, designing a wire-free sound system that can easily attached, controlled, removed, and carried. The wireless remote is great (as long as it works), and the overall design feels rugged and commuter-ready. How could this product be improved? Fix the location of the cage mounting holes, slim down the unit (if possible, to fit cleanly in an existing cage), add some audio cues to the remote button presses for feedback, and of course, make it more visible. I stuck a few reflectors on the sides of mine, but would really love to see a version with LEDs built into the sides of the unit, pulsing lights to the beat of the music.


Comments

 

ari wrote on November 30, 2007
The New York Times just published an article about a group of young people building and riding their own mobile speaker systems, considerably more powerful than this one. Worth reading! Bicycles That Carry Powerful Beats, and Even a Rider or Two

Adam Pieniazek wrote on May 16, 2009
Sounds sweet. How's it hold up to rain? Do you know if this setup works with an iPhone?

Thomas wrote on May 19, 2009
Nice bit of kit...I've already got one bottle cage taken up with my air zound though, so I'd have to go without water for this set up (which just isn't sensible on a 15 mile commute :P)

Kevin Kaos wrote on November 17, 2009
I've had the iH85B for about a year and while swapping between century rides on my weekend bike and commuting on my 9 to 5 commuter bike, I've found a number of little problems with it. First off, yes, the remote puck doesn't remove from the mount easily. I've replaced two mounts so far. It's cheaper just to buy two remotes and not remove them. Second, you've mentioned the speaker cage issue and yes, it's a pain. On anything less than a 56cm road frame the mount will make it impossible to use your second bottle mount. I've compensated by installing a water bottle cage on my handlebar, which gets in the way of the remote and the commuter lights. Not so good. Lastly, and most important of all, the unit disconnects with only a little vibration. I'm not sure if this is the batteries rattling around in the battery area, or if it is the iPod shaking loose from the connector, but it takes very little to make the whole unit shut down, then repower up at very low volume. Every time I hit a bump in the road, or do a high speed descent, the unit turns off. I will be contacting iHome to see what they can do about this.

Mike wrote on November 22, 2009
I have had mine for a year and like it very much. The speaker has got wet from rain, and that has diminished clarity. Overall, it works great, just the speaker should not get wet from rain.

gulshan wrote on May 4, 2010
does anyone have any details about replacement cages or mounting bracket for the remote control? my bike was stolen and i have the ihome and remote but just need to find replacement brackets.

burnhamish wrote on June 11, 2010
I have been using the iH85B for almost 2 years, and generally am happy with it. Good sound, loud enough volume, decent battery life. I put rechargeables in it. I have not yet replaced the CR2032 batteries in the remote. I'm sure their lives are nearing and end, though. My commuting route can get rough, and after consistent jarring, the music stops, but I don't know if it is the iPod or the iH85B- the music starts up (at the same volume) after the bumps have subsided. I managed to break the clasp on the cage and also lost the battery cover. No response from iHome regarding replacement. the iH85B doesn't even appear on their website, so I think they no longer manufacture it. Or, they're updating it for iPod Touches and iPhones. The o-ring seal in the seam on the remote is breaking down now. iHome is still selling replacement remotes ($19), but they may be gone soon, too. It may be worth it for me to just buy another iH85B through Amazon for $40 and get a new cage, too. Speaking of cages, the iH85B will work in an alternate cage if the cage can expand a little (like some plastic ones). Standard metal cages don't work well.

Russ wrote on September 3, 2011
It's getting hard to find now - no longer available thru that Amazon.com link. I found some on eBay for a whopping PHP5,026.21 (US $118.88) and they want another $25 for shipping. Considering that they're discontinued and a few months ago they were selling on eBay for under $40 the current price is Internet robbery, especially when I have to deal with a big difference in the monetary exchange rate. From my point of view, it's as though they were selling it in the US for over $6,000. $40 is already high enough for the Philippine economy, and I could manage that if the shipping were also kept reasonably low, but the current US $118.88 + $25 shipping ($143.88 total) is just too high a price to pay for a discontinued item. Anyone know a place where I could buy one at a much more reasonable price?

Jimmy wrote on October 9, 2013
check out bikebeatz.com! May be overkill for some people, but if you want some serious sound on your bike, it's the way to go.