Riding is fun and riding cross-country is even better, but doing so with a map is not. I know, I have done it and planning your route on a map is nice if you want to sight see, but if you are tired at the end of the day or you get lost, there is just no replacing a GPS. Plus, it is always nice to be able to just follow the directions rather than having to track how far you have ridden and watch for street signs. That’s just a pain.
Best Motorcycle GPS Systems
|Motorcycle GPS||Brand||Main benefits|
|Garmin Zumo 395LM||Garmin||• Rider Alerts|
• Adventure Planning
• Lifetime Map Updates
|TomTom Rider 400||TomTom||• Lifetime Map Updates|
• Works with gloves
|BMW Navigator V||BMW||• Integrates with BMW Bikes|
• My Motorcycle App
• 8GB of flash storage
Individual motorcycle GPS reviews can be found at the bottom of this article.
Why Not Just Buy a Car GPS?
You can, but I promise you, you don’t want to. Car GPS systems are designed to be used inside of a vehicle, not exposed to the elements. Sure, some bikes have a windshield and fairings that will protect it, but not all of them do. Even if yours does, chances are your car GPS will not survive for long. The first time you hit a rain storm with a car GPS, that’s it, you are done and out whatever you paid for it because the warranty won’t cover water damage. Motorcycle GPS systems are build more rugged. They are usually waterproof and can stand up to the wind better as well.
So It’s Just Waterproof Then?
Not exactly, that is one of the main reasons to buy the proper GPS, but motorcycle GPS systems are specifically designed with riders in mind. For one, you can use it while you are wearing your gloves in most cases. If you have a car GPS then this is not going to work and you will have to either forgo gloves or, more likely, stop and take your gloves off. Some will also offer removable batteries in case you do not have a charger on your bike.
All in all, it is important to remember that you are buying a GPS that is specifically designed for riders. It is meant to be mounted to your bars and exposed to the elements and the vibrations of a bike. I’m not saying go throw it in a lake to test it, but it should stand up to a little rain, while a car GPS will just short out and leave you lost.
How Secure Are They?
This is a big one. Personally, I use my phone for a GPS while riding, but more on that later. If you spend hundreds of dollars on a GPS for your bike then you want to make sure that it will stay on your bars when you are riding. After all, nothing sucks quite like seeing a few hundred bucks hit the road and shatter.
Motorcycle GPS units are obviously made to be used on a bike, so they mount accordingly. Most units will also come with a motorcycle mount. Car GPS units do not usually include, or even have a motorcycle mount available from the manufacturer. While you can usually get a third party mount for a car GPS to mount to your bars, they are generally plastic. This may hold up fine for a while, but over time that plastic is going to become brittle and it is almost guaranteed to break at some point, sending your GPS flying.
By comparison, most motorcycle GPS units come with a mount and these are made specifically for this unit. Third party mounts are usually for several models to offer as close to a universal fit as possible. The mount that comes with your motorcycle GPS, on the other hand, is made for that unit and that unit only. They are also usually made of steel, or an alloy, but not plastic. They may be plastic coated, but the structure is generally metal. This offers greater strength and rigidity. This will keep your GPS secured for years. Honestly, the mount is likely to outlive the GPS simply because you are likely to upgrade before the mount ever breaks.
What About My Phone?
I told you we would come back to this. I personally have used, and will continue to use my phone as a GPS, but I have a cheap phone and don’t care if it gets destroyed. Actually, I kind of welcome it because then I can justify buying a new one, but if you have a high end phone like the latest Samsung or iPhone then you probably don’t want it sitting on your bars in a cheap plastic phone mount.
Phone mounts do work, and they tend to work well, but there is not telling how long they will actually last. These are almost exclusively plastic, so they will deteriorate over time and become brittle. On top of this, your phone was never meant to be mounted to handlebars, so there is nowhere to screw the mount into the phone. Instead these mounts rely on friction and usually an elastic band to keep your phone in place. If you are not worried about your phone getting destroyed then this is an option, but remember that if you don’t have a cell signal then you have no maps. This is not an issue with a GPS.
OK, so now you know a bit more about motorcycle GPS systems and how they compare to car systems. Now, which ones are the best? There are really only a few manufacturers that make dedicated motorcycle GPS units, but the list is growing. We have chosen the best units in a range of prices.
Garmin Zumo 395LM
OK, now, on to the other major GPS manufacturer, Garmin. Garmin was one of the first makers to start making car GPS systems when they first came out and they continue to improve, just like TomTom. After all, these companies are at the top for a reason. They have a high quality product and people know it. That being said, let’s take a look at a few of the features of this particular unit.
First, the Garmin unit offers what they call “Adventure Routing.” This is basically the same thing as the TomTom winding route option. It finds small, back roads that tend to be slower, but more fun to ride. I mean, what’s the point of riding if you are just going to go down the interstate? Remember, the interstate system is the best way to travel the country and see absolutely none of it.
The next big feature, and this is a BIG one, is that it can integrate with your phone or MP3 player(honestly, who still has those?) and allows you to stream music. This will cause it to act similarly to your phone when you are using it for GPS and music. It will simply turn the music down and read the directions, then the music will turn back up. It also lets you make phone calls while it is in use through Bluetooth.
The last major feature, and this is a big one too, is that it will give you alerts. It can read you the local helmet laws as well as warn you about sharp curves or speed cameras, and any number of other issues. All in all, this is a great unit for the price and it offers features that even much more expensive units do not have.
Garmin Zumo 395LM key specs
- Rider Alerts
- Adventure Planning
- Lifetime Map Updates
- Smartphone or MP3 player integration
- Works with Gloves
TomTom Rider 400
The TomTom Rider series of GPS units was one of the first motorcycle GPS devices to come out and they have continued to improve it. The TomTom is an all-weather device, so it will stand up to the rain, heat, cold, whatever you can throw at it really. The 4.3 inch display is a touchscreen and does respond to gloves, so you can use it while you are stopped at a red light or if it is cold out then you do not have to take off your gloves and let your hands get cold.
One of the best features of the TomTom Rider is that the routes are easily customizable. First of all, you can plan your route ahead of time on your computer, or do it on the GPS itself. While you can do this on others, it is usually not this easy to set the exact route you want. The second thing, and this is my favorite, is that there is an option to take a winding route. The GPS will actually plan out a winding route for you to take, so you don’t have to look at the map and try to find the most exciting route for you to take.
Now, about that display. It is an anti-glare display and is designed to be easy to see, even on the brightest days. Anyone who has tried to use their phone or laptop outside on a bright day knows how helpful this can be. The unit is also capable of giving you directions over Bluetooth, so it can integrate with your helmet speaker system. The TomTom also comes with lifetime map updates, so you never have to worry about having an out of date map as long as you remember to update it.
TomTom Rider 400 key specs
- Lifetime Map Updates
- Works with gloves
- Winding Route Option
- Bluetooth integration
BMW Navigator V
OK, when you think of BMW you probably don’t think of GPS units, but they like to have their hands in everything engine related. If you have a BMW bike, there is a chance that you already have one of these built in, but then you wouldn’t be reading this would you?
One of the best things about this unit is that it can be used on your bike, but you can also buy a car mount from BMW. This means that, not only can you use the GPS in a car, but you can buy a first party mount. This mount is going to be much higher quality than anything you will usually get from a third party manufacturer.
Like the TomTom and Garmin, the BMW Navigator V comes preloaded with the maps of North America, and they also include lifetime map updates. This may not seem like a big deal now when you can get the most up to date maps for free with an app, but when GPS units first started to become popular the manufacturers would charge for map updates. Some would even charge you for your first update, which HAD to be done since the maps that came loaded on them were often close to a decade old. Now, however, manufacturers have responded to the threat that is Google by offering free maps for life.
The BMW GPS also works with your gloves on, so no worries there. It also has 8 gigs of storage and can be connected to your phone for music streaming. If you are going on a cross country trip then streaming is a must, at least to me it is. I can’t sit and just listen to the engine roar for hundreds of miles with nothing to keep me entertained but my thoughts, but that is just me.
If you own a BMW bike and do not already have a GPS then you should know that this system will integrate with your bike. Sure, you can just use it as a GPS on any bike, but if you have a BMW bike and are not integrating it then you are wasting the best features of this unit. After all, you are paying a premium for a BMW GPS, so use it for all that it is worth. The device is capable of reporting stats about your bike such as engine temperature, tire pressure, fuel economy, ambient temperature, etc. Depending on your bike you may also be able to get the “My Motorcycle” app and further integrate it into your smartphone. All in all, if you are looking for a great GPS then it is hard to go wrong with this one, but if you have a BMW bike then you should consider a BMW GPS above all others. The data feed that it provides can prove invaluable.
BMW Navigator V key specs
- Integrates with BMW Bikes
- My Motorcycle App
- 8GB of flash storage
- BMW also makes a car mount
- Works with Gloves
- Lifetime Map Updates
At the end of the day, the right unit for you will depend on what you need and what type of bike you have. Personally, I would call the Garmin the clear winner here. It has the best features all around and costs less than the BMW unit. The BMW unit, however, is the one to get if you have a late model BMW bike. Since it can integrate with your bike it can provide way more information than the other two. While the TomTom does come in third, that is not to say that it is not worth buying. If you do not want the Garmin, but don’t have a BMW bike then definitely get the TomTom. For some it is likely better, but the inclusion of the Adventure Route option in the Garmin makes it the better choice for those who choose to go on more back roads and avoid highways.
Looking for a camera as well? Check out our best motorcycle camera buying guide!