GPS Motorcycle Navigation Apps — End of the road for the Garmin Zumo and TomTom Rider!

By no means do I claim to be objective as I’m the developer of a motorcycle navigation app, but the logic is undeniable and the signs are all there… GPS Motorcycle Navigation Units are the Walkmans of today.

If you’re out looking for a Motorcycle Navigation Unit you’ll soon find that you have 2 main choices: the Garmin Zumo and the TomTom Rider. Both are weather proof and will do a mighty fine job navigating you to wherever you wanna go. They also have cool features specifically for motorcycle riders like glove-friendly touch screens and winding roads routing. Sounds great, and they are, but they’re reaching the end of their own winding road!

Here’s why it’s the end of the road

First of all, they are expensive. Very expensive! If you want the motorcycle mounting kit with it (and you do), the latest Garmin Zumo will set you back about $650 and the TomTom Rider around $500. That's not something most people cough up easily.

Secondly, it’s another device to carry around. And with carrying I litteraly mean carrying. While you’re riding it’s not a problem as they mount on your handlebars, but when you take a break, even a short one, and walk away from your bike… do you want to leave that $500+ just there for grabbing? I know I didn’t when I owned a Zumo. And I even bought the optional anti theft solution (which turned out to be about as safe as a laptop security cable). I always felt very clumsy carrying around my helmet in one hand, my zumo in the other or inside my helmet, wearing full gear and then trying to reach for my wallet to pay for gas.

Thirdly, they don’t have an internet connection to find nice routes. Luckily the Zumo had (and still has) a routing option to send you from A to B over winding roads. Great! Turned out it wasn’t that great. At least not for my area (Netherlands). It was just another way to ‘Avoid Highways’, sending me over big main roads which were even worse… boring roads with traffic lights! There had to be another way to get routes on there… and there was (and still is). You could transfer routes onto the device. This however turned out to be a frustrating and time consuming enterprise involving first of all finding a nice route somewhere on the internet or creating one yourself, converting it if necessary and then connecting the Zumo to your computer through USB and transferring it. Clumsy to say the least and good luck bringing your laptop along on your multi day motorcycle trips.

Enter the Smartphone

So, think about it. It’s expensive, it’s another device to carry around and it doesn’t have an internet connection. There has to be an easier way! And nowadays of course there is. You are taking it with you on all your rides anyway, so why not use your phone to navigate those Scenic roads as well?

Your phone has all the hardware that GPS Units have… and more. It has a GPS receiver, it has bluetooth, it can play music, has wifi and cellular data, a compass and even motion detection sensors to measure all kinds of interesting things like lean angle, acceleration and g-force. So, more than sufficient hardware available. Now you just need a piece of software to utilize all that hardware for motorcycle riding.

The history of GPS Motorcycle Navigation Apps (short version)

About 7 years ago, when I bought my Zumo and sold it 3 months later, I started looking at motorcycle navigation apps for the iPhone. At that time very few apps were available. The biggest one focussed on finding nice motorcycle roads and there were a few that tracked your rides. A complete app that also allowed you to navigate didn't exist.

Later on, as I started to develop my first app MotoMap, I found out why. At that time (we’re talking the iPhone 3G era) phones simply didn’t have enough performance to calculate routes with many waypoints (which you need to steer the routing away from the fastest or shortest route). Apps would ‘choke’, freeze of even crash when attempting this, or they had a limit of around 10 waypoints.

In the last years however, phones have become more and more powerfull. They now have reached a level where they can easily match GPS units’ calculation power and performance. Also the app store grew bigger and more competitive, but the motorcycle app space still seemed to lag behind.

Currently, for iOS, you can find about 15 to 20 motorcycle (navigation) apps in the App Store. Some focus more on the Social aspects of riding, others more on planning and others focus on tracking. Nevertheless there are very few to none that manage to combine all motorcyclists key whishes into one package. So I decided to do something about that and create my second app Scenic. This time utilising all performance and features offered by the newest iOS devices.

Hardware… check, App… check, what else do you need?

So, now that we’ve got the hardware and app covered, what else do you need to consider if you want to use your phone as Motorcycle Navigation? Quite some things actually, but none are reasons not to go for the smartphone solution. A few important ones are weather protection, power supply and glove control. You can read all about these and other considerations in my blog article here.

#nobrainer

For me, it’s a no brainer. I like being efficient! Carrying around a GPS Unit to do something that my phone can do as good as, and in some ways even better, is not very efficient. Period! Also from a cost perspective, even if you consider a weather proof case, phone mount and charging cable, you’re at 25% or less the cost of a Zumo or Rider. Did I already say #nobrainer?

So, there you have it. My take on this!
I’ll be interested to see what your opinions are.

Guido van Eijsden
Founder of MotoMappers.com