Still Sellotaping Scribbled Directions To Your Tank? – Not With The Best Biker Sat Navs!
Sometimes you just want to get on the bike and go. See where you end up. But when you’ve got to be at a certain place at a certain time, nothing beats having a sat nav on your bike.
There are plenty to choose from. You’ve got different sizes, different features, and some very different prices. So picking the best motorcycle GPS can be complicated. Our review of today’s top motorbike sat navs should help you decide.
Why Not Just Use Your Phone?
You could, but there are drawbacks. Not many phones are properly waterproof. The few that are usually cost more than the best sat navs – and phone mounting kits for motorbikes have a poor reputation. Do you really want six or seven hundred quids worth of phone bouncing down the road?
A motorcycle GPS is a dedicated device. Ever tried reading your phone in full sun? Motorcycle sat navs have anti-glare screens. They’re designed to be used with gloves on, are fully waterproof, warn you of speed cameras, etc. If you travel far, or often, getting one is a no-brainer.
Cheap Motorcycle GPS – A Deal or A Dog?
We’d probably get in trouble for slagging off any particular brand, so we won’t, but it bothers us when we see motorbike sat navs advertised with a mount that’s obviously for a car windscreen. Maybe they’re fine. Maybe they have accurate maps, are easy to update, are reliable… could be.
We’re going to spend a bit more. We like to know where we’re going!
Another way to save money is to buy a car sat nav – a good one from TomTom or Garmin – and then get a protective case. The problem there is you’ve got an extra plastic shield between your gloves and the touch screen. If you’ve got a car, plus a bike you don’t use often, it’s a sensible option. If you ride a lot, we’d suggest the one of the models below.
Getting What You Need
Garmin offer five models: the Zumo 345LM, the Zumo 395LM & 395LM Travel Edition, and Zumo 595LM & 595LM Travel Edition. The only difference with the ‘Travel Editions’ is that they have world maps instead of Euopean. The 345LM and 395LMs have 4.3″ screens, the 595LMs have 5″ screens.
Our original idea was to do a chart chart here, to compare each GPS. The problem is, even the entry-level bike sat navs have a huge range of features – we’d just ended up with columns full of ticks!
Whether you go for Garmin or TomTom you get:
- Screen sensitivity you can adjust for light or heavy gloves.
- 4 – 6 hours between charges (on-bike charging possible).
- Lifetime Map Updates.*
- Speed Camera Alerts.**
- An option to find ‘hilly’ or ‘twisty’ to make your ride more interesting.***
- Black Spot and Traffic Jam Alerts.****
- Nearby petrol stations, hotels, etc.
- Lane assist, junction view, “Real’ voice and navigation by recognizable landmarks.
- All except the Garmin Zumo 345LM work in portrait as well as landscape mode.
*The TomTom Rider 42 and Garmin Zumo 345LM have ‘regional’ maps – but they still cover western Europe, and that’s 20+ countries. Other models provide whole of Europe or World.
** The TomTom Rider 42 only gives you three months of speed camera alerts, then you have to download them again. It’s free, so why the hassle?
*** TomToms will also automatically find you a different return trip.
**** Garmins also have specific sharp curve and railway crossing alerts.
Garmin biker sat navs have a couple of interesting features that TomToms don’t, but they will cost you extra.
So technical differences are very small, and change every few months anyway. The question is, how do they actually perform?
Time to get out on the road.
We each have our preferences. You’ll find Garmin owners that think TomTom’s are junk, and vice versa. So the following is pretty subjective, but it comes from riders with lots of experience.
5 inch screens are great for visibility, and easier to operate with gloves on. It’s surprising how much bigger they are than a 4.3 inch model. If you’ve got a full-dress touring bike, or a custom, it’s easy to find room. On an adventure tourer or street bike, the smaller screen is probably better.
TomToms seem to be a bit slow to find a satellite – and for some reason don’t like being indoors. Trying to plan your route sat on your sofa soon gets frustrating. They’re find outdoors, so it’s a minor gripe.
On the other hand, we felt that Garmin’s live traffic updates weren’t as quick. There’s not a lot in it, but we’d run into jams a couple of times using a Garmin when we wouldn’t on the TomToms. To be fair, we’d have to run longer tests to come up with more than gut feelings.
Anti-glare screens on both Garmin and TomTom are better than they were, but could still be improved. Hoods are available for under a tenner if you find it annoying. They look a bit like the original TomTom Rider2, which had a hooded case. We wonder why that idea went away?
The ‘hilly’ or ‘twisty’ road options can be fun, but not always. It’s not unknown for riders to be led down a goat track, or other route that just can’t be navigated – unless your name is Lampkin.
The Best Motorcycle Sat Nav Is…
All five motorcycle sat navs in this review are good. Very good in fact. You have to be picky to find faults.
But we do have our favourites.
If you want a 4.3″ model, or money is tight, we’d go for the TomTom Rider 42. It doesn’t quite have the features of the Zumo 345LM, and the three month update on speed cameras is just silly, but it’s around sixty quid less.
If you’re going top end, the winner is the Garmin 595LM. It’s got a big, clear, easy-to-use screen and every feature you could think of, plus a couple you probably didn’t. We think it’s the best motorbike GPS available right now, and you’ll struggle to find anyone who disagrees.