A motorcycle is much more than a means of transportation. Your motorcycle can allow you to experience the road in ways that are unimaginable in a car. The open road before you can present challenges though, like what to do for navigation. While in a car you can comfortably and safely use your cell phone, most riders have found that GPS units for their motorcycles are a much better way to go. In this article we will not only show you what to look for in a GPS unit for your motorcycle, but also recommend several different models for you.
Why a Motorcycle GPS unit?
The GPS market was a lot more robust in general before smartphones grew popular. While your Garmin was nice, having a dedicated unit in your car just for navigation made no sense when your phone could easily run Google or Apple maps. But on a motorcycle, using phone is not as practical. First of all, most phones are not made to take the impact of being dropped or jostled in an accident. As well, there are few phones on the market that are weather and sun proofed in a way that would allow for usage on a motorcycle. Finally, aftermarket mounts for phones have been known to have issues remaining secure, potentially costing you your phone.
One of the most important factors in your motorcycle GPS selection should be screen size. You will want a GPS that you can see details on easily, yet fit comfortable onto your bike. While usually bigger is better, with a motorcycle, function and practicality have to be factored into your decision as sometimes you might only have room for a four inch screen.
Another thing to consider in your motorcycle GPS unit is the processor. The GPS unit is essentially similar to your smartphone or computer, just dedicated and specialized to function better as a navigation aid on the road. How quickly it can adjust your route and how it updates can be extremely important to how accurate your maps and routing can be.
Made for outdoor use
Going back to our explanation of why it is recommended to use a motorcycle GPS unit rather than your smartphone for navigation had to do with functionality in weather and the outdoors in general. Part of the appeal of a motorcycle is that closer contact with the elements and because of that, you will want a GPS unit that can survive and function in the rain, as well as be easy to read in varying sunlight. Being able to absorb blows from being dropped or being in an accident as well are an important consideration for a unit.
Motorcycle Specific Software and Hardware
Finally, the software offered by a GPS unit can be important in your purchasing decision. Depending on how and when you ride, potentially you might find that one that updates traffic or points out attractions better suited to your needs. Also, how you can interface with the GPS, either with a glove-friendly touchscreen or bluetooth headset and voice commands for examples, can improve what you get out of your motorcycle GPS unit.
8: Garmin Nuvi 2577
While this first selection is not specifically made as a motorcycle GPS unit, its relatively lower price and functionality make it worthy of consideration in ours and Garmin’s eyes. If you went with this unit, keep in mind that you would need to buy a motorcycle-specific mount to secure the Nuvi 2577 when you are using it.
Again, for its price the Nuvi 2577 offers a lot of features, like lifetime maps and bluetooth compatibility. This means that you will not be nagged to pay for new maps down the road and you can use a bluetooth headset to listen to directions rather than having to read them off the screen while traveling. As well, many buyers reported that the screen has a wide range of angles and light conditions it can be viewed well.
Being cheaper and not made for motorcycle use specifically does present some drawbacks for this unit. First is that the unit does not handle impact and jostling well, which means that you risk breakage in accidents or drops much more than is desired. Also, it was reported by many users that the directions came a little slowly and potentially too late in some cases.
7: TomTom XL 1435T
Another cheaper unit for consideration the TomTom XL 1435T again offers the basics at a price that makes it worth considering even though it is not entirely geared towards motorcycle usage. Its customization options allow you to cater the information to your needs moreso than most lower end units and its Advanced Lane Guidance System insures that you will be in the right lane when you need to turn.
The advantages on this unit are that, along with its low price, it is a fairly sleek unit allowing it to sit unobtrusively in your view much easier than many units. As well, it not only has bluetooth capabilities, but a reliable voice recognition system that can allow you change your destination or even take phone calls without taking your hands off the handlebars.
Again, like other lower priced units, durability is a concern. Some users complained that the responsiveness of the touchscreen was spotty at times, making it difficult to reroute on the fly. As well, directions were not as logical as many felt they could be, making for ending up taking rather circuitous routes for little or no gain in time.
6: Garmin Zumo 665LM
The first true motorcycle GPS we are looking at is the Garmin Zumo 665LM. While not top of the line, its offerings make it a great value as not only a GPS unit, but also in allowing XM Satellite Radio and hands free calling while in use. This unit is roughly three times as much as the two units we discussed before this one, but fares much better in the elements.
While the early releases of this line had issues with reliability and functioning, Garmin has worked the bugs out of the system and now has a great basic motorcycle unit. The Zumo 665LM has the water resistance and shock absorption ability that you want for a unit. Its screen contrast and viewing angle were reported to be terrific, working in almost any level of sun or street lighting. As well its hand-free functions make it great for long road trips.
Problems with this unit included an interface that many users struggled to get to do some of the basics, like display time until arrival. As well, having an antenna that was separate from the unit meant that if you wanted to use it on multiple bikes or other vehicles, you would have to unmount and remount the XM antenna, which was reported to be a difficult process.
5: Garmin Zumo 220
A little more basic than the 665LM, the Garmin Zumo 220 gives users just a GPS unit for their motorcycle at a price that makes it a better value than the slightly more expensive 665LM. This unit is Garmin’s basic motorcycle GPS unit and delivers the simple things well without many bells and whistles.
The Garmin Zumo 220 is a little more compact than the 665LM, which while one would think would be a drawback many users found the smaller sizer better for use on a motorcyle. As well, this GPS unit did not have XM Radio capabilities, but most users did not imagine they would be able to hear music while riding regardless.
A true drawback for this unit was its short battery life. On its own, the battery lasts for only eight hours before needing a charge. As well, some users found the easily overridden “safe mode” (an extra button press deactivated this mode), to be frustrating and pointless.
4: BMW Motorad Navigator V
If a large price tag is not an issue, the BMW Motorad Navigator V would be the obvious choice. Markedly the most expensive motorcycle GPS unit on the market today, the Motorad does deliver a lot of features and usability for that money. While this unit is made specifically for BMW motorcycles, most users reported that it easily was able to be mounted in other motorcycles with little loss of functionality or other issues by using a mount for a Garmin Zumo 660.
Every facet of this unit works incredibly well. The touchscreen is responsive and easy to view. It also has the most powerful processor of any unit on the market, making it work almost instantly. Depending on your budget though, the pricetag on the BMW Motorad Navigator V might feel like a little much. While it brings out the most in your BMW motorcycle and works great in general, if you are looking for value, there are better choices on the market.
3: Garmin Zumo 390LM
Made for the adventurous rider, the Garmin Zumo 390LM offers the same features of the Zumo 220 with some special software to highlight the places to go to bring the most out of your motorcycle. Being a newer model, this unit also provides integration with new features developed by Garmin, like tire pressure monitoring.
The Zumo 390LM has a slightly larger screen than the 220 and is also rated as being more waterproof. Being newer, it is going to be faster and has a better screen. But where this unit really shines is in its Curvy Road feature, making it able to direct you to windy roads that will make for the most exciting rides.
A major flaw with the Zumo 390LM is that if you choose to mount this unit to your handlebar, the mount and the power port block the receiver that would process traffic information, making that feature unusable if you use a handlebar mount. As well, many users were annoyed by the beeping that touches and button presses did automatically unless the unit was muted. Nevertheless, the speed and screen resolution make this a great GPS unit, especially for those looking for great rides.
2: Garmin Zumo 590LM
A step up from the Zumo 390LM, the Garmin Zumo 590LM is the top unit in Garmin’s lines of motorcycle GPS units. While its price is on the high side, the features offered by this unit, along with its size and functionality make it a great choice, especially when price is not an objective.
The strongest feature of this unit is the screen size. The 5” screen is the largest of any motorcycle GPS and in spite of that size, still fits well on almost every motorcycle. On top of the features of the Zumo 390LM like the Curvy Road program and bluetooth capabilities, the Zumo 590LM also offers an MP3 player, Pandora radio and with a link to a smartphone, real time traffic and weather updating.
The price is a little steep, so many casual riders might find this to be a bit much. Much like with the Zumo 665LM, the music feature seems a little redundant and pointless in many people’s opinions. Regardless, the Zumo 590LM has everything you can ask for in a motorcycle GPS.
1: TomTom Rider 400
Our top choice for motorcycle GPS is the TomTom Rider 400. This unit is not the most feature packed nor the most expensive. The Rider 400 balances features and values for the most complete GPS unit for your motorcycle.
For the adventurous riders, the TomTom Rider has programs that show you the windiest roads around along with the routes that will provide the best climbs. It also can be flipped from portrait to landscape view easily, allowing you to use both views to your advantage. Most importantly, screen brightness is rated better than all but the most expensive units on the market.
The one drawback reported was that the screen was sensitive to water drops, making it difficult to use the unit in the rain. This would be a draw back for touring riders, but for more casual riders who are likely to stay in when faced with bad weather, this would not be an issue. Nevertheless with its package of features and mid-level price, the TomTom Rider 400 is in our opinion the best choice for a motorcycle GPS.
There are few true motorcycle GPS units on the market.But based on our reviews and understanding why they are necessary, a smart purchase is well worth the investment.