If you want to use a sat nav device on your bike you have three main options -
- Adapt a car sat nav
- Buy a specialist motorcycle device
- Use a smart phone
In this article we look at the following features, concentrating on the core functions of the devices - we're not going to worry too much about low priority extras such as media playing capability.
- Quality of the device including routing and responsiveness
- Ability to survive a downpour
- Viewing in direct sunlight
- Mounting quality and stability
- Use with gloves
- Good battery life, as you may not be able to charge it on the go
- Directions via headphones or bluetooth device
- Speed camera warnings, not that you'd break the speed limit. Honest.
Summary of the best sat navs on the market
|Garmin Zumo 590LM||Garmin's flagship motorcycle device with all the trimmings including optional tyre pressure monitoring, very impressive, but very expensive.||5/5||Expensive|
|TomTom Rider||TomTom's dedicated motorcycle sat nav, similar features to the Garmin in a more compact package.||4/5||Quite expensive|
|Google maps and a smart phone||Google's well developed app. Pop it in your pocket and get spoken directions via headphones. Not glove friendly, and smart phone dependent.||4/5||Free|
Garmin Zumo 590LM
Garmin's flagship motorcycle sat nav is well developed, rugged, innovative and desirable. However, be prepared to splash a significant amount of cash for the privilege though, over £500 at the last count. This is the current class leader - it has a number of premium features, and the build quality is excellent. Vertical and horizontal mounting is supported, so you can choose between seeing more of the route ahead or more peripheral information. It has been designed to be easy to use with gloves, in the rain and can withstand vibration and even fuel spills. An off-road mode with 3D terrain will suit the more adventurous rider, and the road directions and clear and can be beamed to a comparable bluetooth device. It provides useful lane assist information and intuitive guidance, so you're not left scratching your head at complicated junctions and has various predictive and scenic route planning features.
The LM suffix signifies lifetime maps which are updated frequently - this service was pioneered by Garmin, but now TomTom also offer this service on comparable devices. Garmin were playing catchup with TomTom for many years on user interface and usability, but the latest generation of their navigation software is very good, responsive and accurate. It's not all good through, Garmin's Basecamp software is notoriously annoying to use, and requires connection to the device to access maps and routing capability.
- Well constructed, premium hardware
- Latest generation, feature rich software on a par with TomTom's best
- Easy to use, easy to see
- Tyre pressure monitoring with optional valve cap gadgets
- Some hands-free features via bluetooth
- Intuitive guidance
- Traffic information needs smart phone connection and app
- Basecamp software is frustrating and under-developed
- Large unit can obscure instruments
|Screen size||5 inch|
|Hands free control||Yes|
|Traffic||Via smart phone app|
|Lifetime map upgrades||Yes|
|Battery life||4 hours|
|Unique features||Tyre pressure monitoring|
TomTom Rider V5
TomTom now only have one dedicated motorcycle sat nav unit - the Rider. There have been several iterations, and we're talking about the V5 2014 model. As you would expect from a TomTom, the software is proven, nice looking and well developed. The car user interface has been adapted for use with gloves, but in our view they haven't gone far enough. The search results pages have too many lines to accurately poke with our stubby fingers and certain other buttons are tricky to press with consistent accuracy. The unique feature of the TomTom is the 'Tyre' software which allows for route planning and community sharing - it's far better than Garmin's Basecamp software, however it's not perfect and you will encounter frustrating difficulties when planning routes for real such as when tailoring a community route with your own way points.
Route calculation can take some time, and the unit feels slightly underpowered for the sophistication of the software. Personally, I'm very frustrated by the hardware in most of TomTom's offerings - they just don't have sufficient processing power to recalculate routes in an decent time. This feels like a cost saving measure which just shouldn't be acceptable in the age of inexpensive hardware components.
Visibility is good due to the mini sun visor, the quality of the screen, the strength of the backlight, and the interface colour choice. The high quality Ram Mount does a great job of keeping the unit steady and absorbing vibration. With the optional accessories pack, you get a lot of additional mounting options including a wiring kit to connect to your bike's battery.
- Class leading unit software and interface
- Good PC based route planning software
- Decent sunlight visibility
- Leading route quality
- Usual TomTom route quality
- Numerous mounting options
- Good battery life
- Not perfect with gloves
- Surprising lack of features such as traffic
- Route recalculation can be slow if you miss a turn
- No external speaker, not that you could hear it at cruising speeds. Some users report the voice commands getting 'out-of-sync'
|Screen size||4.3 inch|
|Hands free control||No|
|Lifetime map upgrades||Yes|
|Battery life||6 hours|
Google maps smart phone app
Google Maps is available as a free app for both Android and iOS smart phones. The Android version is usually slightly more advanced than the Apple equivalent, although updates are made regularly. If you decide to go for this option we recommend using headphones, setting the route, popping the phone in your pocket and listening to the guidance. If you decide to mount the device you'll need to buy the relevant accessories - Ram Mount do have options for most popular phones, and waterproof cases are readily available.
- Excellent routing
- Comprehensive and accurate points of interest
- Accurate real-time traffic
- Not easy with gloves
- Can drain battery rapidly unless you turn the screen off
|Screen size||Smart phone dependent|
|Sunlight readable||Smart phone dependent|
|Hands free control||No|
|Lifetime map upgrades||Always up-to-date|
|Battery life||Smart phone dependent|
|Handlebar mount||Available for most devices|