A Guide To GPS Navigation Systems

Show Me The Way
If you're a rider who relishes the romance of an aimless, meandering road trip, it might dishearten you to learn that GPs devices have become the de rigueur electronic accessory for touring motorcyclists. long-haul travelers, though, would argue that no piece of technology has given road warriors as much benefit as a portable GPs unit. And they have a point-today's receivers carry preloaded, detailed maps as standard features, and some even offer options like mP3 players, satellite radio and Bluetooth support.

Although there are dozens of receivers to choose from in the general consumer market, the number of motorcycle-specific devices is still relatively small. the in-dash systems available on some high-end bikes (like the ones in the cover story) might seem more user-friendly, but the portable systems are catching up. things like internal rechargeable batteries and preloaded North America map databases are the norm, and premium features such as realtime traffic are becoming more common (though they require additional hardware and a subscription).

The First question most people ask about these GPss, of course, is "what's best for my motorcycle?" Problem is, there's never one answer because it all depends on your riding style, where you're going and how you're going to use the GPs. Are you a long-distance tourer? Do you want the GPs for your bike and car as well as the occasional hike?

There's usually a compromise. A device with built-in speakers will not be waterproof, for example-a critical quality for those who ride in the rain. cycle Gadgets-a company specializing in motorcycle-specific GPs receivers- doesn't carry all the GPs models on the market, because the firm strongly believes that watertight construction should be a mandatory feature on motorcycle-mounted GPss. most models on the cycle Gadget website are rated to the marine iPX7 waterproof standard, which means the unit can withstand 30 minutes submerged 1 meter under water.

Many first-time GPs users also make the mistake of buying a device that doesn't have enough memory for data. it's a good idea to go with a minimum of 100 mB; high-end units pack a capacity of 2 GB or more. Also, be sure your device comes with some kind of mount and a power adapter for a bike.

Then there's the blunder of purchasing a unit with a too-small screen. we find 2.5- inch screens acceptable, but the smallest displays can be harder to see en route and can make for dodgy programming via their small buttons. the largest widescreen units can obstruct your view of the road, and they're bulky, too. the common 3.5- inch screen's a pretty good compromise.

Like any technology, GPs isn't foolproof. mountains, tall buildings and even dense tree cover can knock out satellite signals-and batteries can die. it's not a bad idea to pack a map and compass as backup while roaming the backcountry. GPs map databases aren't perfectly accurate or completely up to date; new roads come online and old streets are closed on a daily basis. your device is only as good as the accuracy of the maps loaded into it, and you will likely have to buy a new set of maps at least once before the device becomes obsolete. it's important to remember that GPs is a navigation aid that aims to enhance your ride, not an automatic pilot.

Getting The Most From Your GPS
By Lee Klancher
Unless you've been living under a rock, you already know the latest motorcycle-oriented GPs units are virtually weatherproof, handlebar-mounted minicomputers. But it doesn't end there-the latest breed of GPs can give you directions to nearly any address in North America; find restaurants, hotels and gas stations; and even record and share favorite rides

As with any new technology there can be a learning curve, so we've compiled some tips and techniques for your next GPs-assisted journey.

If you're planning a group expedition, it's a good idea to preride the route, save a track and waypoints, then upload it to Google maps or Google earth.

Next time you're on your favorite road, use the find feature to see what restaurants are listed. if you come across an interesting name hit "go" and check it out. Bear in mind that listings can occasionally be inaccurate, but guides usually provide a phone number for the restaurant or hotel, so . .

Link Your GPs unit with a cell phone. take the mystery out of the quest by pressing "call" to ring that restaurant and see if it actually exists.

You can buy a Fodor's guide for some GPs units to add information about restaurants, hotels and so on.

If you're tied so tightly to your cell phone that you need to take calls on the road, install a Bluetooth headset in your helmet to do so and hear your GPs unit's spoken commands. Helmet noise will likely make using a Bluetooth headset on the road pretty dicey, and it's always a wiser choice to pull over to use the cell.

Some backroads won't even appear on preloaded maps of North America- particularly gravel roads.

GPs units are a dream if you're out of the country. on commercial tours the leaders can usually load the day's ride on your GPs. if you're on your own be sure to load a map of the country you're visiting. remember that some maps of Europe can lack detail for backroads and lesserknown countries, so if you want precise directions take the time to find that particular country's maps for your GPs.

When you have a set amount of time to ride, a GPs is really slick. set the GPs to find your home destination and leave that setting on all day. you'll get an etA on the screen, letting you know how long it'll take to finish your ride.

XM satellite radio, weather reports and traffic updates are available with high-end units, but these can be expensive if you don't already subscribe to Xm. watch out for additional charges.

GPs units don't always provide the most efficient route when you ask for directions. the suggestions can range from a few minutes of additional travel time to hours. Bring a good-quality map along, and if the GPs route looks fishy check the map. you can also ride the route you think is right-the GPs will automatically update as you go.

Hardwire the GPs to your bike battery. Battery life averages only four hours-not enough for a real tour-and it can take a long time to recharge it.

Rigged For The Ride
Solid GPS Mounts Are Job OneA secure, sturdy connection to your motorcycle is quite possibly the most important element of your GPs setup, but as you've read in some of the reviews the mounts packaged with some GPs kits won't always fit your particular bike model. Part of the problem is the growing diversity of handlebar sizes-3/4-inch, 1-inch and 11/4-inch handlebars have all become popular options on stock motorcycles. in our opinion the best mounting solution out there is the rAm mount system-we've found it to be a fast, easy and secure way to attach gadgets to your motorcycle. the sturdy, solid rubber balls and various double socket arms have given us easily adjustable, shockabsorbing support for our GPs units, cameras, phones and countless other gizmos over the years.

RAM Mounts for motorcycles feature 1-inch-diameter solid rubber balls for endless positioning possibilities and can attach to a handlebar, mirror stem, clutch or brake mount, or nearly any flat surface. what's more, they provide a measure of vibration damping. there's a rAm base for almost any application you can think of, but make sure you select the correct device cradle as well-most cradles also require a 1-inch ball that screws to the back, allowing you to clamp it to the upper end of the support arm.

We hear new accessory mounting systems are now being offered from Floridabased techmount. The advanced cNc-machined systems are all handmade, easy to install on mirrors, handlebars, fairings, dash or what have you.

A wide variety of rAm mounts, cradles and arms can be found at places like Aerostich, cycleGadgets.com and Whitehorse Gear, and techmount has its own website. -Andrew Cherney

Product Review
TomTom Rider MSRP: $600

The rider made headlines in 2005 as the first GPs designed specifically for motorcycles. it was touted as having the right bells and whistles: a plug-andplay interface, preloaded maps and a substantial points-of-interest (Poi) database. But being the first has downsides, too-like not having the benefit of previous models to work out the kinks. so when we tested the rider last month we found plenty to crow about but also a few things to fault.

The rider comes packaged with a mounting kit, power cable and Sd card, plus an Ac adapter, usB cable, carry pouch, wired headset, Bluetooth headset and reference material. With the included handlebar mount (there's also a mirror mount and an adhesive pad) we fit it onto a triumph Bonneville (note that the clamp fits only 3/4-inch bars). A special cradle holds the rider, though after a week of thrashing across voracious potholes some readjusting became necessary. too bad those small screw heads on the mounts are easily stripped.

Encased in hard plastic with rubber trim, the 4.5 x 3.6-inch rider looks like it could withstand a serious fall. tomtom says the rider is water-resistant (not waterproof), and the usB port, power socket and sD slot are safely stashed under a protective panel at the bottom. you have to press the power switch on the side pretty hard, but after that just pop in the sD card preloaded with maps of North America, and off you go.

From a cold start the unit took about a minute to nab a satellite signal. The rider's 3.5-inch touch screen is crisp even in sunlight thanks to the built-in visor. Hitting menu icons was a breeze with summer gloves, but it was a different story with thicker ones-typing in street names meant having to ditch the mitts if we wanted any kind of accuracy on the detailed screens.

En route you get 2-D and 3-D maps and information such as speed, time and instructions displayed onscreen. text and voice-guided directions supplement this, while options like trip time, distance and arrival time can also be selected. the comprehensive Poi database has listings for banks, gas stations and more.

Voice prompts get shunted through the included headset, but we found that setup uncomfortable and with subpar sound quality. so we paired the rider with the Nolan N-com Bluetooth helmet we were testing, and everything worked like a charm. the integrated Bluetooth also provides for hands-free calling on your cell, but for annoying safety reasons the rider won't let you make calls or use navigation features when the bike's rolling (though you can take incoming calls).

With its state-of-the-art sirFstariii chipset the rider consistently pinpointed our location, but the maps were just oK. in some cases secondary street names were off, and occasionally the rider calculated insane routes to our destination. some of the Pois were outdated, too. on the upside, automatic route recalculation was lightning-fast. If we missed an exit it immediately refreshed with an alternate route. real-time traffic info is offered as well with a subscription to tomtom's Plus services.

The rider claims five hours of battery life, and we got just that on a single charge. overall we'd rate the rider a solid navigation tool for motorcyclists, though the 2nd edition seems more refined (albeit pricey-generation one can be found on sale for about $500, while the 2nd edition retails for $700). either way there's stiff competition from the Garmin Zumo. -AC

3.6 x 4.6 x 2.3 inches, 11 ounces
3.5-inch tFt touch screenMemory:
32 mB internal, plus SD card

Addendum: Just after we wrote this the rider 2nd edition was released. it's virtually identical to the generation one unit we tested, though it adds features that address most of our beefs. the 2nd edition rider comes with rAm universal mounting hardware to fit almost any bike and a cardo scala-rider wireless headset we're sure will greatly improve audio quality. tomtom says the power button has also been tweaked, and the "new" rider is waterproof to the iPX7 standard, which means the device should be functional even when submerged for 30 minutes.

Garmin's Zumo 550 MSRP: $965
The Zumo 550 is Garmin's latest unit, one they say is designed "for and by" motorcyclists. its long list of features includes a built-in city Navigator Nt map for North America, points of interest such as gas stations, restaurants and hotels, and turn-byturn directions to any of the points on the map. the Zumo is also equipped to interact with Bluetooth devices, receive Xm and Fm radio and get Xm updates on traffic and weather. An sD card slot allows you to store extra tracklogs or add preloaded mapsets.

Inside the Zumo is the SiRFstarIII chipset (also used in Garmin's Nuvi units), the latest and greatest in GPs technology. the chipset allows the GPs unit to tap into as many as 20 satellites at once, resulting in better performance in closed spaces and quicker pinpointing of your location.

The 550 kit comes with mounts and electrical hookups for both your car and motorcycle. you can use the supplied u-bolt for a 3/4-inch tube handlebar (it doesn't work well with a 1-inch Harley- Davidson handlebar) or use the ball mount from a rAm system to attach the GPs mounts. the kit also includes a sync cord for your computer, charge cards and an extra set of endplates.

The rugged case is weather-sealed, with four rubber-covered buttons to control page view, volume, zoom and power. the touch screen's buttons can be tough to use with gloves on, but unlike older Garmins the interface is pure simplicity. even nontechnical types should have little trouble figuring it out.

The available screens include the map view and a slick customizable digital dashboard with two different views, one whose main image is an onscreen compass and another showing speed. You can also choose to have the dashboard views display elevation, mileage and time of day. the Zumo's gas-tank feature lets you set the fuel range of your bike-and warns you when you're getting low. Destinations can be selected by inputting addresses, cities, intersections or latitude and longitude.

The built-in map will find almost any address in America. i was only able to fool it with entries in remote, rural places. routing is much better than on older units, but the suggested directions are occasionally less than direct in urban areas.

The turn-by-turn directions feature gives you ample warning of upcoming turns and shows the estimated time of arrival on the screen. you can choose to save your route and share it with other Garmin GPs users by loading it onto an sD card or Zumo connect, a Garmin site that allows motorcyclists to upload and download their favorite rides.

If the Xm and Bluetooth aren't important to you, the Zumo 450 has the same features without Xm, Bluetooth or the automotive mounts.

The Zumo is powerful and easy to use, and it comes out of the box with everything you need to hook it up to your bike. After six months of living with the unit it has become an invaluable travel tool, something i use religiously when visiting unfamiliar cities on assignments.

The Zumo 550 can be found on sale for about $650. the 450 retails for $750 and can be found for $550.-Lee Klancher

Dimensions: 4.8 x 3.9 x 1.6 inches,10.6 ounces
Screen: 2.8 x 2.1 inches, 320 x 240-pixel color tFt
Memory: internal solid state (optional SD Card)

Bike-Friendly GPs Units

Garmin Etrex Vista CX GPSMSRP: $320
If portability matters to you the etrex might be your best bet. the pint-size waterproof wonder includes a built-in map of all major roads in the country, and it's so small you can plunk it onto virtually any motorcycle. Five operator buttons on the sides of the unit allow for one-handed operation that won't block your view. it accepts downloads from Garmin's map cDs, and an electric compass and altimeter function are included, too. An easily customizable menu of data fields makes it one of the most compact high-performance GPss around. And you can power it for up to 12 hours on two AA batteries (an external power cable is available as well). A black-and-white version can be had for $100 less.

Dimensions:2.2 x 4.2 x 1.2 inches, 5.5 ounces
Screen: 1.3 x 1.7 inches;176 x 220-pixel color tFt
Memory: 64mB micro sD card (incl.)

Garmin Quest 2
MSRP: $750

it's got an advanced feature set, and the pocket-size Quest's folding antenna and horizontal layout make it easily mountable and a good match for moto-travel. Some highlights: automatic routing, turn-by-turn directions and voice guidance, 20-hour rechargeable lithium-ion battery, usB connection, crisp, readable 2.2 x 1.5-inch color display, 12-volt Dc power adapter and an external speaker. most importantly, it comes preloaded with city select North America Nt, which serves up nearly six million points of interest. the Quest 2 also accepts optional mapsource cartography and offers a host of possibilities for customization-you can upload high-density or school zones and program in a warning for when you're over the speed limit. Perhaps most essential for touring riders, the Quest 2 is waterproof to the iPX7 standard.

Dimensions: 4.5 x 2.2 x 0.9 inches, 5.5 ounces
Screen: 2.2 inches, 240 x 160-pixel color TFT
Memory: internal solid state

Garmin Street Pilot 2820MSRP: $1075M
Sure, it's pricey, but this is one feature-rich motorcycle navigation tool. Highlights include a high-resolution color touch screen, usB port, 128mB flash memory (included), 12-volt and 110-volt power adapters, remote control, two mounting systems, detailed downloadable maps and a large menu of adjustable capabilities. the internal software is on par with many auto GPs systems, and the processor speed's wicked-fast. New features include automatic zoom-ins of complicated intersections and route prompts with adjustable "biases" (for when you're walking versus riding, and so on). the 2820 adds Bluetooth technology for wireless integration, and Xm satellite weather info includes forecasts and current conditions. ou can also transfer the unit between your car/boat/motorcycle with ease. For $100 less, the 2720 omits the Bluetooth.

Dimensions: 5.6 x 3.2 x 2 inches, 15 ounces
Screen: 3.3 x 1.7 inches, 454 x 240-pixel color tFt
Memory: internal solid state

Garmin GPSMAP 276C
MSRP: $645

Some riders we know choose the GPsmAP 276c as their favorite all-around GPs. the big color screen is backlit for night use and is fully readable in the bright sunlight; Americas Autoroute basemaps are included for street and road data on the entire country. slide in Garmin data cards for up to 512 mB of additional storage. the rechargeable lithium battery provides 15 hours of run time, or rig the included 12-volt power cord directly to your bike battery. An optional auto kit adds a peaker, mounts and cD with street data for all the cities in the country. it mounts flat on a car or bike dash or on handlebars and is fully waterproof to military standards. For Xm, the 376c will run you $320 more.

Dimensions: 5.7 x 3.2 x 1.9 inches, 13.6 ounces
Screen: 3 x 2.2 inches, 480 x 320-pixel color tFt
Memory: No internal memory

Magellan Roadmate 2200T
MSRP: $400

It's full-featured but pocket-sized, and the roadmate is expandable, too. simple touch-screen menus make turnby- turn voice and visual guidance a snap. the Magellan roadmate 2200T sports a rechargeable lithium-ion battery with up to eight hours of life. it's rugged and waterproof to IPX4 standards, and the advanced sirFstariii chipset receives satellite signals faster and easier with a wider search range. A built-in interactive map of the U.S., Canada and Puerto rico makes for easy access to a wide coverage area.

You get to choose from close to two million preprogrammed points of interest when you need to find gas stations, airports, hotels or restaurants. Additional features include multidestination routing,SD memory card compatibility and a built-in music player and picture viewer so you can take your entertainment with you.

Dimensions: 4.3 x 3.2 x 1.1 inches; 7.8 ounces
Screen: 2.1 x 2.8 inches
Memory: SD Card

Product Review
Nolan N-Com System
Basic Kit MSRP: $100
Bluetooth Kit MSRP: $250

The Nolan N102 helmet i got to test recently (reviewed on page 97) just happened to be a perfect match with the tomtom rider. that's because the helmet came equipped with the optional N-com communication system, an integrated modular setup available for the Nolan N102, N84, N42 and other Nolan helmets.

In addition to the N-com Basic Kit (earphone speakers and a boom microphone) already fitted into the helmet, i requested the optional Bluetooth Kit (an external control panel and rechargeable battery), which allowed a wireless linkup to any Bluetooth-equipped device like a cell phone or GPs-in this case, the rider (you can chat wirelessly with your passenger if they also have a rigged N-com helmet). there's some careful assembly, battery charging and device pairing required at first, but it's pretty painless provided you follow the included instructions.

Three external buttons (for "on," "arrow up" and "arrow down") on the panel are fairly accessible and well spaced and handle all functions with just a press. i could make and answer calls easily (when i figured out my phone's functions), and once i paired the rider with the N-com i was wire-free (with just the Basic Kit, wired options exist for non-Bluetooth devices). i had absolutely no complaints about the quality of the voice prompts from the GPs or noise levels within the helmet at speed-instructions were clear and, once i tweaked the volume, unobtrusive (remember that noise levels are pretty subjective, though).

The N-com system can be transferred from one Nolan helmet to another, and though both kits add up to a nice chunk of change, they're a well-designed, nicely integrated communication solution. -AC

Sources Aerostich
aerostich.com Cycle Gadgets
cyclegadgets.com Garmin
garmin.com Lowrance
lowrance.com Magellan
magellangps.com Ram Mounts
ram-mount.com Techmount
techmounts.com Tomtom
tomtom.com Whitehorse Gear