Best radar detector for motorcycle use?
By Radartest staff
Last updated: 2016
A few years ago we reviewed the the first-generation Adaptiv TPX, a new radar detector targeting the motorcycle market. It showed promise, but we were disappointed by its user interface, the controls and, more important, by its feeble radar-detection performance.
Recently we heard from Adaptiv Technologies, advising us that the TPX has been updated and suggesting that we take another look. Here's what we found.
The Adaptiv TPX 2.0 is a specialized piece and focused on the motorcycle market. Among other features, it's weather-protected, an attribute that doesn't apply to conventional radar detectors. And the eight-foot-long control harness is permanently affixed to the detector, protected by a weatherproof strain relief. A weatherproof DIN connector near the detector allows the TPX to be removed from the bike. Two heavy-gauge wires supply power and chassis ground to the detector and attach to the battery terminals.
At the battery end of the cable, one water-resistant 3.5 mm female connector links to the visual alerts. Another connector routes the detector's audio to the rider's choice of communications system, often a helmet headset or earbud speakers. A wireless headset ($70) can also be used to convey the mono alerts to a single helmet speaker.
The third connector links to an optional Blinder laser jammer, good at countering speed lasers. Some may feel that a motorcycle is too poor a target to be much concerned about lasers. Poor compared to a car, perhaps, but most lasers can easily clock a motorcycle at 700 feet or more. And with 95,000-odd lasers in service nationwide, laser protection is worth considering.
The TPX radar detector sits on a well-designed quick-release plate; with its adapter installed it slides into any mount from Ram or Techmount. (It mates with a TPX mount sans the adapter.)
We ordered the Adaptiv universal handlebar mount ($85) that fits bars with diameters from 0.875 inch to 1.25 inches. The inside of its handlebar clamp is lined with high-durometer rubber-like material to dampen shock loads; a double-ball-joint, two-inch-long arm links it to a detector platform measuring 2.25 inches by 4.375 inches. It's a quality piece, powder-coated in matte black, and adjustable over a wide range of movement. Once adjusted, an Allen wrench snugs it down.
Installation on a recent-vintage Yamaha R6 sportbike was a reasonably painless process; most of the time was expended on gaining access to the battery and routing the wiring harness around the tank. Once we'd installed the system, we found that the handlebar mount was positioned too low and no amount of tweaking could remedy the situation. This was due to insufficient length of the short, two-inch-long arm connecting the handlebar bracket and detector platform.
The TPX radar detector's five soft-key control buttons are top-mounted and easily located. They’re widely spaced and backlit, assisting in nighttime operation. Its blue-backlit LCD display is also located on top and angled upward for better legibility by the rider.
Aside from a power button, four others control operating mode, backlight on/off and audio volume. The last two functions require a deliberate, two-second press, rather a long time for a multi-tasking rider.
Six operating modes are available. City raises the threshold at which audible alerts are sounded, helping to limit urban false alarms, while Highway offers the highest sensitivity (radar warning range). City NoX shuts off X band and City NoXK further disables K band as well. Highway NoX and Highway NoXK likewise disable X and/or K bands.
City, City NoX and Highway modes are common, but we've never seen Highway-NoX or -NoXK. The obvious intent is to shut off X band, or X plus K band, in a bid to limit false alarms. The former setting is worthwhile in most areas: X-band radar is little used today save by the Ohio Highway Patrol. Elsewhere, it's most commonly encountered in backwoods hamlets too cash-starved to afford something newer.
The same can't be said about K band; there remain about 30,000 of these radars in service around the nation. Unfortunately, there's no mention of any of this in the owner manual. The various operating modes are described in a few brief sentences but there's no explanation of the potentially significant downside to using some of them.
The disabling of one or more bands, called selectable band defeat, is nothing new. But other manufacturers handle the task with a menu of user preferences, the more elegant solution. Adding these functions to the mode button makes for undue complexity, and slow changes of operating mode.
Visual alerts are provided by an array of three red LEDs that flash more rapidly as signal strength increases. The LCD screen identifies the threat but it washes out in sunlight, making the specifics of radar or laser attacks impossible to decipher visually. The LEDs merely warns that a microwave signal or lidar beam is being detected; it offers no clue about the nature of the threat.
This an important distinction. In today's microwave-saturated airwaves, most alerts are false alarms. The source of an X-band alert, for example, is nearly always an automatic door opener at a commercial establishment. K band is nearly as polluted by non-police radar sources, door openers included. Conventional radar detectors take every signal as legit; like Pavlov's dog, when they smell radar, they bark. The proven solution to date is the GPS-enabled radar detector, best exemplified by the Escort Passport Max2 and Escort Max 360.
Many Ka-band alerts also are triggered by the local oscillator of a nearby radar detector. (Ever wondered about a Ka-band alert when there's nothing around for miles?) In particular, older Cobra detectors are infamous for inciting Ka-band alerts in other detectors, sometimes from across a vast freeway median. And some Whistler models occasionally generate K- or Ka-band alerts in other detectors, although usually at much shorter range.
There's more to to this issue of Ka-band false alarms. That band is also the most often used by state highway patrol radar units. But with the TPX's equal weighting for all of these threats, the rider can't visually distinguish between an alert in reaction to a Stalker radar or one coming from a Safeway store.
Given the plentiful number of false alarms uttered by this and most other detectors, the lack of effective visual alerts places a heavy burden on the audible alerts. And while the Adaptiv TPX's audible alerts are far better than nothing, but you’ll need to be listening intently when they arrive.
The Adaptiv TPX shows some evidence of careful design. But it does have some lamentable shortcomings for a detector at this price point. For example, audio auto mute is missing from the list of standard features. Although common on $60 radar detectors, its absence means that to mute an alert, you’ll need to press a button on the detector to kill the din. But once a signal has been muted, if a new threat is spotted, the detector can be coy in announcing the news. Often the only indication appears on that frequently-unreadable LCD screen; there's no audible alert. This creates the very real possibility that a non-threating signal, say from a door opener, will override a radar alert from a lurking traffic cop.
Nor does the Adaptiv TPX have an automatic power-off function. Permanently attached to the battery, it's always running and its admittedly slight power consumption will eventually drain the battery. The Adaptiv Web site suggests disconnecting the DIN plug in the harness to prevent battery rundown. But an inline switch in the power supply circuit would more easily cure this—and automatic power-off would be an even better alternative.
Motorcycle radar detectors frequently are used in close proximity to each other, so we quantified the ability of the Adaptiv TPX to ignore the local oscillators of nearby detectors. We also checked to see if the TPX's local oscillator interfered with other detectors'. We found that the TPX barked Ka-band alerts when several models of Cobra and Whistler radar detectors came within 10 to 15 feet of it. Riding solo, no worries. But on group rides, someone packing a TPX conceivably may be asked to put some distance between themselves and others using detectors.
We also discovered that the RDD (radar detector detector) can spot the Adaptiv TPX at a considerable distance. The Technisonics VG-2 Interceptor, still used by several state highway patrols, detected the TPX from 608 feet away. This makes the TPX the first detector we've tested in 15 years that can be spotted by the 1989-vintage VG-2. (Within four years of its arrival, all of the key players in the detector industry had switched to higher LO frequencies to elude the RDD.)
The far more sophisticated Stealth Microsystems Spectre RDD sniffed out the TPX at 991 feet. For this reason we'd advise against using the Adaptiv TPX in Virginia, Washington, D.C., or in the Canadian provinces where detector use is illegal.
To quantify the ability of the Adaptiv TPX to counter police radar guns, we selected three competing models and ran all four through the usual battery of tests at our sites outside of Phoenix. These measured its sensitivity, the distance at which a radar detector can spot police radar.
The first venue was the Hill/Curve Test Site, a particularly difficult challenge. Here the radar vehicle is parked in mid-curve, its radar aimed uphill and at a 45-degree angle away from oncoming traffic. The police vehicle isn't visible until the moment the radar operator has already locked-in the speed of an approaching car, at about 650 feet. With nothing to deflect the radar beam toward the detectors' antennae, only extreme sensitivity could deliver adequate warning distance.
At the Hill/Cuve test site the Adaptiv TPX displayed lackluster X-band sensitivity, about one-third less than the others', but still enough to spot the radar in time. Against the commonly used 34.7 GHz Ka-band radar it trailed the competition by a similar margin.
The TPX displayed an average ability to detect K band radar, about 20 percent behind the others. Only on 35.5 GHz Ka-band did it display near-parity with the competing models at this test site.
Our next stop was the Straightaway test site, a no-brainer. It's a 6-mile-long flat, straight desert road that greatly simplifies radar detection. Here, the TPX again trailed far behind the others on X band and it lagged a bit on both K band and 34.7 GHz Ka band as well. But it closed the gap on 35.5 GHz Ka band.
X-band performance is rapidly becoming a non-issue, with only two state patrols continuing to use it. But riders in those states would do well to scrutinize a detector's ability to spot this type of radar.
During testing we discovered an anomaly in the TPX signal-processing software: if K- and Ka-band radars are detected simultaneously, there's no alert. Although this is admittedly a very infrequent occurrence, the oversight is surprising. Other manufacturers use threat prioritazation with higher-level signals getting preference. Typically, the priority is laser, Ka, K, and X. Had the TPX employed similar software, it would have alerted to Ka and ignored the K-band signal rather than remaining silent.
In its behavior and overall sophistication, the Adaptiv TPX is reminiscent of several Korean-made designs dating from the late nineties. And like those, the TPX, while a reasonably effective device, remains a little rough around the edges.
Although still not class-competitive across the board, the TPX 2.0 shows a vast improvement in radar performance compared to the Adaptiv TPX 1.0. We're encouraged by this heightened performance and other improvements seen in this model. But our enthusiasm pales somewhat in light of some holes in its performance envelope and comparative lack of features. Still, as the only water-resistant, motorcycle-specific radar detector, it remains in a class of one, reason enough for consideration by some.