This should be a no-brainer, but for many riders the cellphone has become an integral part of our lives. Making this choice really falls into several categories of both riders and ride-types. For some, the cell phone is all you’ll ever need. In that event, you’d be foolish to invest in a GPS. Many great bikes, especially in the touring class, come with that built in. So, let’s look at our options.
The group of riders that are basically in town or suburban riders really don’t need a GPS. You get on your phone, probably open Google Maps, and input your destination. You can even open your contacts, click the “pin” symbol by the address and it will open your default map program with the destination already typed in for you. Boom! You’re off and running. If you have a helmet bluetooth set up with your phone, you’re step-by-step turns are told. Pretty easy.
There is a transition group here. Riders that go a little farther, but are always in cell phone tower range, may want to use a different app on their phone. If you plan custom rides to get some curves or scenery, you should consider MapQuest. You can plan your ride on the computer with up to key 26 points. Google only does 10 on the computer and the route will not translate to the app. That’s a serious flaw for bikers. You send the short link for the MapQuest route to your phone via email or text, click the link so it opens in the app, and you’re ready to go. It gives turn-by-turn directions and great graphics. In the custom route planning and playback in an app, MapQuest is the best out there today. It has no competition.
The GPS falls into different categories, too. Obviously, this is for serious planning and riding. It provides coverage in areas where there are no cell towers. In the past decade of riding around the country, I have discovered lots of these, usually in the best riding areas. When leading rides, it becomes a great asset.
Most bikes below the touring group do not have a GPS. The most popular GPS in the USA for bikes is the Garmin Zumo. It’s very weather proof and easily mounted on almost any bike. The biggest problem with this device is that it is not cheap. A Zumo will set you back several hundred dollars. You will also want to download the free desktop/laptop application, Base Camp, to plan your route. This can also be trick as it is very specific down to the side of the road you are on. Practice is important. It also requires that you plug your GPS into the computer while planning as it uses the specific maps and options of whatever GPS is present. I’ve owned a couple of these. They are great and have a good life span. If you ride a custom routes, this is not a bad investment and you can move it to your new bike when ready.
Touring bikes today often come with a GPS built in or it is an option. (See blog on new Indian updates.) The Honda Gold Wing, Harley Davidson Ultras, Indian Roadmasters and Chieftains, BMWs and many metric touring bikes are GPS ready. When leading rides (typically 200 to 800 miles), I plan a lot of detail to put into the GPS. Often, it couldn’t be done without it. There are many levels of convenience to these, but sometimes you must plan in the manufacturer’s specific routing tool. Some are better than other and if custom rides are important to you, you should check out compatibility and ease of use for programming your route.
So, give me some feedback. What are you using? What do you plan rides with? What are the pros and cons of your system. The next installment will talk about planning tools and compatibility issues.