Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Which motorcycle GPS


There are quite a few options to get the luxury of a GPS on a motorcycle. Luxury? Oh yeah! Especially when you find yourself in an unknown town, or when the roadsigns leave a lot to be desired, having a good GPS is more than just luxury. The easiest option is to go for a special motorcycle GPS, it's waterproof and can be operated with gloves, but at $600,- is rather expensive. The cheapest is probably a car GPS. I say probably because it might become expensive once you've added a waterproof case and mounting. Both GPSs are limited in their use and even the smallest 4.3" might obstruct the view of your dash. They are also in effect just a 'vehicle' GPS and of not much use when off the bike. 

Depending on where you are in the world, there are various brands of GPS available. Each use their own mapping system. As the maps determine how useful, or stressful, the GPS unit is, accuracy of them is most important. Apart from that, pricing of maps is also something to consider as the maps will become more expensive than the GPS unit itself when you want to do a long trip through several countries. 

The availability of maps was the decisive factor in choosing a particular brand. As far as I'm aware Garmin is the only GPS for which you can get maps that are not made by Garmin. The excellent garmin.openstreetmap.nl has maps that cover most of the world. They are accurate and… free! You select the area or region for which you want maps, enter your e-mail address where shown and click on build my map. You will receive two e-mails after that, one giving you a tracking number for your download request, the second to tell you that your map is ready to download and the link to click on to get it. 

We've opted for the Garmin 62S. It's basically a hand held unit, which is very rugged and waterproof. It doesn't have a touchscreen but old fashioned buttons; so you can operate it with gloves. It runs off the bike battery via a USB cable and on it's own AA batteries when not on the bike. It's antenna makes it more accurate than car-GPS systems and being handheld means you can use it when going for a walk in unknown territory and still find your bike back! It has a compass, an altitude meter, keeps track of just about everything and you can even get a temperature sensor for it.
So far we like the unit. It's not real handy to use for actual plotting a route, as the screen is rather too small for that, but we found the small screen not a problem at all when riding as the layout and instructions are very clear. For plotting a route there is a much more handy way: a Garmin programme called Garmin Basecamp. It runs on a Mac (there is also something for Windoooze), allows you to make your route as you like and once done you can hook up the GPS and download the route into it in seconds. I've made new routes this way while the 'others' are shopping, it's that easy and that quick.
As Zach and Amanda from PursuitHorizons gave us a RAM-mount for it, we called the GPS Amanda… 

Maps can be quite large. Downloading them while underway can be a bit much for places like McDonalds. In the US Starbucks Coffee usually has plenty of speed, even for large maps. They also thoughtfully provide a power outlet at each table so you won't drain your laptop battery! Their coffee seems to be good, don't know as I don't drink the horrible stuff, but their hot chocolate is brilliant! Their choice of music is lots better than the 'modern' rubbish found elsewhere too.

The 62s has a couple of minor drawbacks. It doesn't seem to like too many maps in it's system at the same time as it started 'freezing' when I downloaded overlapping maps into it. Not a big deal, now that we know what the issue was, but rather annoying when it happened. Unfortunately the connector for the USB cable is at the rear, meaning we have to disconnect the USB cable and run it on it's own batteries when it rains as water could get into the unit via the cable otherwise. It runs on two AA batteries and as they can be rechargeables it's not a problem but something to be aware of. With the USB cable removed, the USB port is weather sealed via a rubber cover. Compared to the car GPS units we've had it's very fast. Recalculating a route when you've made a return is so quick that it's almost instant.

Build your own custom map at garmin.openstreetmap.nl
As for the openstreetmap; the only thing we found so far is that it's perhaps not as extensive in it's POIs as paid maps. Not a big deal and as the maps are for free hardly worth mentioning. So far the navigation part of the maps in Basecamp and Garmin 62S have been flawless. Basecamp has received a few complaints on the web as well, but as it's free... who's complaining. We run version 4.2.4 and it hasn't failed us yet. It takes a bit of getting used to but nothing dramatic as has been suggested elsewhere. Basecamp let's you change your route simply by clicking on the line and dragging it to the road you want to take and you can also prepare several routes at the same time by using different colours for each trip. Open streetmap can be found at: http://garmin.openstreetmap.nl Garmin Basecamp can be downloaded from in the support section from Garmin

The RAM mount is a beauty! Very wide adjustable, vibration resistant and sturdy made. It has an easy roll-in system for the GPS unit, making it easy to remove when we park somewhere.

Update: We've used the Garmin 62s for quite a while now and are more than happy with it. There have been a few reports on units constantly freezing, we've had that too when we had multiple maps installed that overlapped each other. We cleaned up the maps and had no more problem. It's been absolutely flawless! The Openstreetmap works great too. Perhaps there could be more POIs in it but hey, it's a free map!

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