Whether exploring the open road or the backcountry, riding a motorcycle offers one of the most thrilling and rewarding means of touring or transportation. With limited storage and cargo space, two-wheeled exploration has traditionally meant having to forgo many of the amenities and creature comforts of automotive travel, though GPS systems no longer fall into this category, as the space has been treated to a steadily-growing number of mobile satellite-based guidance systems that have been purpose-engineered for motorcycle travel.
Since the debut of the first motorcycle-specific GPS unit—Garmin’s zūmo 500 Series in October of 2006—the motorcycle GPS segment has been rapidly evolving, with each year seeing manufacturers bestow their respective offerings with more and more features, smart-tech, and functionality. The rapid speed at which this industry moves, however, can muddy the waters and make it difficult for the average rider to distinguish the latest, most cutting-edge systems, from yesterday’s old news. So, with this in mind, we’ve thoroughly scoured the segment, poring over every product release over the last few years to bring you this definitive guide to today’s best motorcycle GPS navigators.
The Benefits Of A Modern Moto GPS System
With the ubiquity of modern smartphones, most of us are already carrying a GPS-enabled device that contains map applications. And while it may appear that this reality would render motorcycle-specific GPS navigators obsolete, this just isn’t the case. Moto GPS units come with a host of noteworthy advantages that make them objectively superior to smartphones when it comes to navigation applications.
On top of being substantially more durable and weatherproof than your typical smartphone and packing glove-friendly displays that can be read in direct sunlight, the latest moto GPS units are ultra-precise and are often outfitted with a slew of supplementary features such as weather tracking, onboard cameras, walkie talkie and two-way messaging capacities, and integrated SOS beacons, among quite a few others.
What Traits To Consider When Buying A Moto GPS System
Pretty much every contemporary motorcycle-specific GPS system operates in the same basic manner and serves the same primary function. That said, there are some finer points that separate the different available moto GPS offerings. Below, we’ll touch on some of the more pivotal elements to consider when shopping for a motorcycle GPS navigator.
Durability: One of the biggest factors separating purpose-built moto GPS systems from handlebar-mounted smartphones is the former’s immense level of durability. Designed to be exposed to the elements, motorcycle GPS navigators typically boast incredibly rugged construction with robust ratings for impact, dirt and dust resistance, and weatherproofing. Often carrying mil-spec certification, many of today’s systems can also operate in extreme temperatures.
Sensors: A GPS system’s ability to perform tracking duties ultimately boils down to the device’s onboard hardware and sensors. Pretty much every system will feature a GPS sensor, but the more high-end, advanced models are also bestowed with GLONASS and Galileo sensors for mapping, as well as digital compasses and barometric altimeters for detecting altitude, pressure, and other relevant metrics. These items will also affect a system’s ability to relay 3D, photo satellite, or topographical maps.
Supplementary Connectivity: In addition to displaying maps and directions via connection to satellites (or pre-downloaded maps), some of the more expensive motorcycle GPS offerings are also able to link to a bike’s vehicle sensors in order to relay real-time engine temperature, (GPS-tracked) speed (or distance), battery voltage, tire pressure, and engine RPM.
Power Source: This is an area that’s far too often overlooked for how important it truly is. Some GPS systems come with onboard batteries that afford a given lifespan, while other systems feature power sources that are hardwired to a bike’s battery. Both types have their own respective strengths and weaknesses, though hardwired is typically considered superior for off-road and off-grid riding applications as where battery-powered devices tend to be more conducive to road touring.
Onboard Extras: Alongside being markedly more hardwearing and easier to see and use, one of the best selling-points of modern moto GPS systems is the plethora of supplementary features baked into the navigation device. While different models are equipped with different extras, some of the more useful and noteworthy amenities include GPS pet tracking, group rider tracking, two-way text or radio messaging, onboard SOS beacons, built-in cameras, access to live weather reports, and connectivity to smartphone apps, just to name a few.
EatSleepRIDE is a smartphone app that turns any iPhone or Android device into a motorcycle GPS unit. Utilizing an advanced algorithm and a smartphone’s onboard gyroscope and accelerometers, the app is able to detect anytime the user is on a motorcycle and automatically records the user’s GPS route, lean-angle, speed, acceleration, and elevation. Furthermore, the GPS app lets you upload stories, photos, or other biker’s ride routes, making it perfect for discovering fun local riding roads. Best of all, the Toronto-based tech outfit also offers what it calls “CrashLight,” a premium service that can automatically detect a crash and then relay the rider’s GPS coordinates to a preprogrammed contact in the event that the rider is unresponsive. Unlike the rest of the app, the CrashLight service isn’t free, though at only $15 a year, it’s a wholly worthwhile investment considering it’s already saved lives and can afford peace of mind to friends or loved ones (plus it only comes out to less than a nickel per day).
Originally born out of an enormously successful crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter that achieved 600% of its original funding goal, Beeline is marketed as a modern smart moto GPS system. Rather than your standard GPS setup, Beeline uses an incredibly simple, straight-forward, and intuitive arrow guidance system that shows the current direction of travel, while a dot on the circular display indicates the direction of the next turn and the distance remaining until said turn. On top of its unique take on turn-by-turn navigation, this smart gadget also gives the option of running a compass mode that shows the directional bearing of your destination and your real-time distance from it. Sold in black, silver, or gunmetal gray housings, Beeline effortlessly attaches to an included universal elastic strap mount and an additional “Sticky Pad Modular Mount.” The device pairs with a smartphone app that lets you record and/or review your rides, share rides or look up other user-uploaded rides in your area. IP67-rated and largely shockproof, Beeline also packs a potent USB-rechargeable battery pack that affords 30 hours of use on a single charge.
TomTom Rider 550
Stepping up to our first modern color touchscreen item, we have the TomTom Rider 550. Powered by a Quad-Core processor, the Rider 550 can receive firmware updates via a wifi connection, is IPX7-rated, and is compatible with Siri and Google Now, as well as hands-free calling. The system’s 4.3” display offers light and heavy glove modes and displays text messages and other push notifications from your smartphone thanks to its Bluetooth connectivity. The system is kept alive via a Lithium-ion battery and boasts 16GB of internal memory and a preloaded map pack that contains detailed roads and info on the entirety of North America. Additionally, the Rider 550 offers live traffic reports, and can even alert you if you’re approaching a speed trap or speed camera. Its coolest feature, however, is unequivocally the GPS’s ability to let you search through or select a route based on its hilliness, windiness, or level of difficulty.
Magellan TRX7 CS
Combining many of the best elements from both off-road and street GPS units, Magellan’s TRX7 CS is an IP67-rated item with a generously-sized 7” touchscreen. The device offers turn-by-turn navigation for paved public roads and dirt routes and comes pre-loaded with more than 115,000 off-road trails, plus high-resolution 2D topographical and 3D mapping of America and Canada. Furthering its off-road functionality is the ability to set off-grid and trail waypoints and a searchable trail and off-road points of interest database. Thanks to the GPS’s precision, this device will also alert you should you start to veer off of the intended trail. You can also track and record your own rides or pore over routes and trails that have been uploaded by other Magellan off-road GPS owners. The CS-spec TRX7’s biggest update over its predecessor is almost certainly the addition of a built-in 5MP camera with an integrated and fully-functional LED flash. Lastly, this GPS system is also sold with an included dual mount from the industry leader, RAM Mounts that boasts a quick-release charging cradle.
Garmin zūmo XT
First unveiled in March of 2020, the Garmin zūmo XT is a cutting-edge moto GPS that’s compact, hardwearing, and feature-laden. Live traffic reports, a database of preloaded Tripadvisor-recommended local attractions and notable sites, Birdseye satellite imagery, campground network list, and on and off-road (topographical maps can all be displayed on the device’s glove-compatible 5.5” TFT touchscreen display that can be read while in direct sunlight. Despite tipping the scales at just 9.2ozs, this moto gadget is immensely durable, with an IPX7 rating for water-resistance and a rugged MIL-STD-810 certification for drop and impact testing. The system’s battery is good for six hours before needing a charge, and, not unlike EatSleepRIDE’s CrashLight service, the zūmo XT is equipped with a crash detection system that can alert a preprogrammed contact should you crash and be unresponsive. You can also get spoken turn-by-turn directions, listen to music from your smartphones or that’s preloaded onto the Garmin device, and use voice commands to control the GPS unit.
Trail Tech Voyager Pro Kit
There’s a very short list of names that are more respected in the off-road and adventure motorcycle space than Trail Tech, and with insanely durable and highly-innovative products like the new Voyager Pro Kit, it really isn’t hard to see why. Toting a glove-friendly 4” TFT display, the Voyager Pro uses Bluetooth connectivity to allow the control of intercom, phone, and media playback controls, while its connectivity to a bike’s vehicle sensors lets you use the GPS unit as a primary display showing speed, RPM, gear position, engine temperature, and so on. What’s more, there are additional kits that allow for the monitoring of other elements such as a tire pressure monitoring kit. Another defining feature of the Voyager Pro is its proprietary Buddy Tracking feature that uses a color-coded (and named) system to monitor the real-time location of up to 20 riders on your device at once so nobody ever gets accidentally separated from the pack. This IP67-rated offering is also protected by a one-year factory warranty.
Garmin Montana 750i GPS
Part action camera, part spot beacon, and part off-road moto GPS system, Garmin’s Montana 750i is an ultra-precise and feature-heavy off-grid gadget with a built-in 8MP dash or action camera. Equipped with a 5” glove-friendly touchscreen, the Montana 750i meets MIL-STD 810 standards for thermal, shock, vibration, and water and boasts advanced navigation sensors, two-way messaging via a 100% global Iridium satellite network, and multi-GNSS reception, thereby giving access to all three GPS, GLONASS, and GALILEO satellite networks. It’s wildly potent battery affords up to 330 hours of use in expedition mode and as many as 18 hours while in active GPS mode. And, on top of featuring InReach technology, this device has the ability to send and receive Interactive SOS alerts. Your $800 MSRP also gets you pet tracking, customizable and downloadable watch faces, live weather reports, satellite, topographical, and public land boundary maps. It’s not cheap, those its enormous suite of features and functionality allows it to double as a number of other devices, giving it a slightly better bang for its buck.
BMW Motorrad Navigator VI
Manufactured by Garmin exclusively for BMW Motorrad, the Navigator VI is the latest top-of-the-line factory GPS add-on for the Bavarian brand’s big-bore adventure and touring bike models. The GPS sports a cutting-edge circular polarization filter that hugely mitigates glare and enhances contrast, and connects to late model BMW motorcycles, enabling it to be controlled via the handlebar-mounted switchgear buttons. The gadget comes preloaded with the user’s choice of North American or European maps and can receive free updates if connected to wifi. And, while the unit comes with 16GB of onboard internal memory, it also boasts Micro-SD card slots for SDXC cards as big as 64GB. On top of regular GPS guidance duties, the Navigator VI features filters such as “Avoid Major Country Roads” or “Winding Roads,” plus lets you opt for round trip journeys. This BMW GPS unit is also sold with a four-button charging cradle mount, though the Navigator VI fits in its V-spec predecessor’s same charging cradle. The German brand also offers an optional Smartphone Link upgrade that enables the device to relay up-to-the-minute weather and traffic reports.
The 20 Best Motorcycle Gadgets
Still haven’t gotten your fill of items from the high-tech two-wheeled realm? Then be sure to cruise on over to our guide to the best motorcycle gadgets for well over a dozen cutting-edge offerings to enhance your riding experience.
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