Motorcycle GPS Options

This is originally from an email to a friend asking my opinion on motorcycle GPS options…


The Garmin Zumo (or other purpose-built motorcycle GPS) is the “right” way to do it.  It is unfortunate that they cost more, but they are a costlier product to produce because of their rugged/waterproof nature, and they sell far fewer of them than car GPSes, so they cost more to produce due to the lack of economies of scale.

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Pros for Zumo:

  • Ruggedized for waterproofness, vibration, UV resistance, fuel resistance
  • Sunlight-readable display
  • Glove-friendly touchscreen
  • Bluetooth support which allows you to hear GPS instructions in a bluetooth headset/helmet intercom
  • Includes a RAM brand mount
  • Motorcycle-specific features like fuel tracking, making routes ahead of time and loading them into the unit, etc.
  • Includes an MP3 player if you want to listen to music on the bike (debatable safety/etc)
  • Includes a car mount for use in your car as well

Cons for Zumo:

  • Cost, cost, and cost.   Expect to pay ~$600
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Pros for a car GPS:

  • Much less expensive to buy, ~$200 or less depending on model – you could afford to buy a new one every 1-2 years if you damaged it from bike use
  • Some models may offer a headphone jack that you could use to listen to turn-by-turn directions, as long as you’re OK with a wire to your helmet, or buy a bluetooth transmitter

Cons for a car GPS:

  • Not ruggedized – susceptible to damage from water, vibration, sunlight, and fuel
  • Display may be unreadable in the sun
  • Touchscreen and GUI may not be optimized for “fat fingering” with gloves on
  • Bluetooth support will *NOT* let you hear instructions on a bluetooth headset/intercom – it will only let you make calls using the GPS as a speakerphone
  • Will not include a mount suitable for moto use, requiring you to buy or make a mount
  • Additional cost if you want to put it in a waterproof case
  • No moto-specific features
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Pros for using an iPhone or Droid as a GPS:

  • Low cost if you already own the device
  • One less device to carry and keep track of
  • Bluetooth support will allow you to hear instructions in a bluetooth headset/intercom (at least on Droid)
  • MP3 support, with interruption of music to hear instructions
  • Cheapest way to use it is to plug in a pair of headphones and stick it in a pocket, or in a tank bag with a power cord.

Cons for using an iPhone/Droid:

  • Like a car GPS, you need a way to mount it and keep it dry, which will cost some $$
  • Definitely needs to be powered on the bike, battery life is very short when navigating on cell phones
  • Average mapping/routing capabilities compared to a Garmin or other big brand GPS device.  Probably on par with cheaper brands like Mio.
  • No cell coverage means no routing/mapping!  If you’ve put in your route ahead of time, I think it may cache enough to get you there, but forget it if you’re lost and have no coverage.
  • Phones tend to be relatively fragile, even when compared to car GPS units.  Not ruggedized for motorcycle conditions at all.
  • Flaky operation at times (at least on Droid).  Will occasionally not be able to get a GPS lock for no good reason, and other frustrating problems.
  • Screen is very hard to read in sunlight, even on maximum brightness


RAM brand mounts are definitely good quality, but the absolute ridiculous holy grail of moto GPS mounts just may be from Touratech:

For what it’s worth, I’ve been scraping by using my Droid, a cigarette lighter-to-USB power adapter, and my bluetooth helmet intercom.  It’s left me flat out without mapping capability up in VT and other areas with poor coverage.  Navigating strictly on the text-to-speech output alone kinda sucks, too.  The display is so hard to read in bright sun that I don’t even think I am going to bother with making a case/mount for it.  It’s not ideal, but it works fine for “around town” stuff most of the time, and is so-so for long trips.

I want to get a Zumo, and probably will think about it next season.  If you don’t already own a car GPS, you can at least partially justify the purchase since you’ll use it in both places.  Unfortunately, I bought a decent car GPS last year, so it’s harder for me to justify at the moment.

*pictures blatantly grabbed from Google Images

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