I fully admit that I tend to resist modern technology and I also admit that I don’t have any logical reason as to why. I suppose part of me thinks that doing things the “old way”, or at least the way I used to do it, is somehow simpler or “retro cool”. The reality however is that there is a lot to be said for much of the new technology that is literally at our fingertips. One prime example is navigation tools such as GPS devices. A few years back I decided that I wanted to try using a GPS on my chopper and at the time I owned a BMW GS1200 which came equipped with one, that’s where my awareness of the GPS came into play. I can’t deny that I enjoyed the ease of viewing my speed, distance, location and all of the other ride stats it provided. I also particularly enjoyed the fact that I had map access regardless of whether or not I had cell service or a paper map on me. Paper maps are great, for the longest time it is all I ever used, and I still often use them to plot a route or get a broad overview of where I am going, but they do tend to get destroyed when stashed away in a saddlebag for more then a few days. They can also be a lot to carry if you find yourself crossing state or country lines, needing to carry more then a few paper maps can start to get annoying.
Fast forward a bit to more recently, after I had the time to realize the numerous downsides to the BMW GPS but acknowledging that I did enjoy the benefits of an onboard navigation system. I began shopping for a better, easier to use and easier to see GPS that could withstand the abuse of everyday riding through the harshest of weather conditions. I landed on the Garmin Zumo XT. I chose this particular unit for a number of reasons but primarily because of its larger glare resistant screen. My BMW GPS was essentially useless most of the time because sun glare would turn the screen black, anytime you needed to look at it you had to shield it with one hand which just isn’t practical or entirely safe. This is not an issue with the Garmin product, at all. In addition to the sun glare issue I also found the Garmin to be considerably easier to navigate when it comes to searching addresses or plotting a route.
Lets discuss the real perks to using a GPS in the first place though and why I have grown to love it!
For me, especially on a multi day trip, I really enjoy the fact that I can plot my route the day before, enter it into the GPS and have it ready to go the next morning. My typical routine is to do this as I’m climbing into bed or just after dinner. I start by figuring out where I want my day to end, right down to a specific campground, hotel or friends house. From there I can start by determining a route. On the Zumo XT you can choose varying degrees on the “adventurous routing” mode which will automatically plot a route that it deems most interesting or curvy. Sometimes the route it chooses looks good and I’ll stick with that, other times however I just use it as a starting point. By zooming in on the map itself you will start finding smaller and smaller roads, dirt roads included, that the GPS thinks you should avoid for whatever reason, typically because they are considerably slower. By tapping your finger on those small obscure roads you can start shaping the route as much as you want and all the while it is automatically updating mileage and projected ride time which is nice if you are on a time constraint. Now, the Garmin, most of the time, will keep you on the paved roads so when you start plotting your own route its anyones guess as to the road conditions. That’s were the fun and adventure comes into play in my opinion.
Once a satisfactory route has been plotted I simply press the “start” button and turn off the GPS unit. The next morning, when I turn the unit back on, it automatically starts your planned route and off you go. I have my GPS wired into the main power switch on the motorcycle so it turns on and off automatically and I never have to worry about keeping it charged. The real benefit to all of this is a number of things in my opinion. I love that in the morning, when I’m still waking up and waiting for the coffee to kick in I don’t have to think about where I’m going, I simply follow the GPS turn by turn directions knowing that my route is plotted exactly how I want it. I also enjoy that because I’m not thinking about my route I feel more free to simply take in my surroundings, the stress of not knowing how far it is to my next turn or stopping to double check where I’m going has been replaced with the ability to simply enjoy the ride. Keeping track of “miles to destination” is also a nice feature, it allows me to budget my time throughout the day for things like picture taking or coffee breaks, it’s also nice in the afternoon when I start getting tired to know just how much saddle time I have left. Speaking of getting tired at the end of the day, one of the biggest benefits is that your GPS will take you straight to your destination, no more end of day trying to find your campsite when you are blurry eyed and exhausted. Simply pull into your destination and call it a day.
One common question I get asked is why not just mount your phone to the handlebars and use it for navigation. The issue with phones is that they will likely turn themselves off when they overheat in the summer sun, they aren’t as waterproof, they aren’t as vibration resistant and if you destroy it on your ride because of these issues you are now left without your phone. Basically, it feels like a large unnecessary risk. I’ve witnessed more then one cell phone destroy itself mid ride which inevitably leaves the owner of said cell phone frustrated and without the means to navigate, take photos, make a phone call or send a text. Why take the risk when there is literally a device designed for the task? If being able to control music and read incoming messages while riding is important to you most of the modern GPS devices will connect to your phone via bluetooth and allow you to do those things.
So to streamline all of these details into one simple answer to the question “why should I use a GPS?” my answer is this…to spend your energy enjoying the ride instead of trying to find where you are going. Now, I fully understand that a lot of people are probably thinking that “getting lost” or “just winging it” is part of the fun, and I still do that on occasion as well, but I also find equal enjoyment in plotting the most obscure route I can put together on roads I may not have known existed and seeing how it plays out.
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