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 GPS use on a cross country motorcycle trip
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Posted - 30 août 2011 :  18:40:54  Show Profile  Reply with Quote
I recently concluded a 5 week, 7,500 mile solo motorcycle trip around the US. On that trip I used various GPS units and here is how they worked out. They were used on my BMW K1200LTC. The bike has an accessory shelf over the dashboard which makes mounting the units with their stock suction cup mounts easy. All I have to do is secure the mounts with a bit of wire to hold them when the suction cup lets go. Power is taken from one of the BMW's accessory sockets and I used the stock power plug which came with the units.


This was not suitable for motorcycle use for two reasons. First the screen is too dim in direct sunlight. It can be seen, but takes too much effort to read it. More importantly, the TomTom used TomTom's new circular clip-in mount. While this is great for car use, it simply isn't strong enough for motorcycle use. Several times the unit came free of the mount when I hit a bump. No good.

Magellan Roadmate

I then tried one of the Roadmates. I hoped this would work because it has the AAA Tour Guide installed and should make finding lodging and tourist sites easier. Not good, though. The screen completely washed out in direct sunlight, making it completely useless.


So then I stopped at a Best Buy and picked up a Garmin 3750. Success! Extremely bright screen that did not wash out even when in direct sunlight. The speaker is excellent and I could hear it at 85mph (my bike has a big windscreen). Since the electrical contacts are built into the mount it was easy to take the unit off and put it back on, even with gloves on. It was a winner!

Magellan ToughCase

This is one I hoped would work the best because it is weatherproof. I used my iPhone 4 (Verizon) and an older 3GS. It isn't made for the iPhone 4, but it will work. There are a couple of advantages to the ToughCase. Since it uses an iPhone I have, all in one place, Garmin, Navigon, TomTom, Magellan, iGo and others. Also, I can play music on the iPhone through my bike's speaker system and when a directions are given the software will fade down the music, speak them, and then bring the music up. No need for me to turn down the volume on my bike to hear the GPS. Both iPhones' screens, while not great, were bright enough for use on the bike.

However, there is a major problem that prevented full-time use of the ToughCase. Both iPhones kept cutting out and shutting down. I finally figured out what it was - overheating. When the temperature was over 90 degrees the phones got so hot that they shut down. They were actually uncomfortably hot to the touch when I opened the case. They came back on when they cooled off and no damage was done, and worked fine at lower temperatures or when not being hit by direct sun. But this is not acceptable. On the plus side, however, the ToughCase took me through a couple of rainstorms with no problem at all. My last day was a 400 mile ride in the pouring rain and the iPhone worked perfectly in the case. So - given the right circumstances the ToughCase can be a useful addition to your GPS arsenal.


For motorcycle use, it became very clear that the simple graphic interface of TomTom and Garmin is best. iGo, Magellan and Navigon are simply too cluttered. On a bike you need to take in the info in a flash and too many bells and whistles make for dangerous driving. On the whole I preferred the Garmin GUI and it will be my choice for future rides.

AT&T vs Verizon

It became very clear that my decision to break my AT&T contract and go to Verizon, while expensive, was the right one. I had 3G coverage from Verizon throughout the trip - even on back roads in some very out-of-the-way places. I also took along an AT&T iPad 2, and it was pretty much useless outside of major metropolitan areas. AT&T dropped to Edge, or less, whenever I got out of a major city and often it would get no signal at all in many places. In those places the Verizon iPhone worked fine. For safety, any biker should carry a Verizon phone rather an an AT&T one.

Don't forget the GPSPassion Club!
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