Do I really need GPS?
I don’t have amnesia, but my memory isn’t exactly photographic. Which is a problem. You can’t afford to go by your non-photographic memory. Especially when you’re riding at 7 PM in Los Angeles (so help me God) and part of your commute involves the 405. Bad memories man.
“Did I miss the right turn? Or turn right at the wrong turn? Do I turn right at this turn?”
And if I catch a signboard or a landmark at the last minute, I can’t switch lanes.
And the farther away you get from the city, the worse it gets (in terms of directions, not scenery- Southern California is gorgeous). Unless you like having awkward conversations with strangers for directions. Because the alternative is riding vast stretches of unexplored asphalt wondering if risking riding 50 miles in the wrong direction is worth it because you’re an introvert and don’t like having awkward conversations with strangers for directions.
To make matters worse, that mini-heart attack you have when you suddenly notice your elongated shadow to your left against the headlight of a car that seems to have appeared out of nowhere is all too familiar. The one where your adrenaline and blood pressure levels enter a competition.
All while you try to balance between the two and hope you don’t get run over.
But you clicked on this article for a reason. The right reason. Because we’re going to help you choose the best motorcycle GPS unit.
Why can’t I just use Waze instead
Apps like Google Maps are very, very useful. Web mapping services on your smartphones are impressive in general. With very innovative software. Especially if you’re traversing large distances by car or figuring out a new area by walking.
Unfortunately for motorcycle riders, they don’t offer much use. Especially when compared to a motorcycle GPS unit.
Lack of durability, physical versatility (anti-glare & easy with gloves, among others) and route recording unfortunately render them borderline unusable for riders. The only reason most riders hesitate to get one is because of the hefty price tags. Dropping hundreds of dollars, especially for you young folk, is a hard decision to make.
And we get that. Which is why we wrote this. Because when you’re about to make an investment worth hundreds of dollars, you’d better be sure that the returns are worth it.
And the returns on the TomTom Rider 550 and Garmin Zumo 550 are absolutely worth it. TomTom and Garmin are heavyweight contenders among Motorcycle GPS navigation systems. Their respective Rider 550 and Zumo 595LM are top of the range. Which is the reason for their massive popularity, despite their price tags.
Ridiculously user-friendly. Hands-free calling. Traffic reports in real-time. Even lane assist options. And much more- all of which we’re going to discuss in detail for the rest of the article. Keep reading.
Wearing motorcycle gloves? No sweat.
The Zumo 595LM comes with a huge 5-inch touch screen. And it’s glove-friendly.
With an IPX rating of 7, no weather is too tough to ride in.
Come rain or shine, the Garmin Zumo don’t whine. (Sorry for that horrible rhyme.)
The motorcycle GPS unit is easy to see in bright sunlight as well.
It also comes with the Garmin tire pressure monitor sensor.
All you have to do is attach it to a metal tire valve stem, and you can monitor your motorcycle’s tire pressure easily. You can set a pressure threshold as well, which alerts you when crossed.
The Zumo also provides lifetime map updates, some of which are free. This is especially useful if you’re riding The Roads Not Ridden in the countryside.
Speaking of which.
If you like pre-planned routes for traversing winding roads at high places, the Zumo’s got that covered. Just select the ‘adventurous’ option.
Like listening to music while riding?
You’re going to like this even better: the Zumo 595LM comes with Spotify and Pandora integration.
You can also connect the GPS system to your phone, headphones, or intercom via Bluetooth if you want to listen to music or talk hands-free.
- Touch screen size
- IPX rating of 7
- Tire pressure monitor sensor
- Lifetime map updates
- Spotify/Pandora present
- Bluetooth connections
TomTom Rider 550
The TomTom Rider 550 is the brand’s coup de maitre.
6 hours of battery life? Check.
Lifetime map updates for free? Check.
Wi-fi route uploads in real-time? Check.
The GPS system comes with a 4.3-inch touchscreen.
Like the Zumo 595LM, the screen has an IPX rating of 7. Usable with gloves et al.
It also comes with planning features that help you plan your journey for a long bike ride.
If not, it provides a lot of pre-loaded routes you can use if you just want to ride ad hoc.
You can also access TomTom road trips, through which you can traverse routes curated by other riders.
The TomTom also offers ‘Plan a thrill’ options. Wherein like Garmin’s ‘Adventurous Routes’, you have road maps for tight-bended twisty roads at high elevations.
The built-in wifi automatically updates routes every time while connected.
The Bluetooth connectivity allows you to tap into your intercom unit or smartphone. Allowing you to access hands-free calling or monitor texts. The TomTom Rider also comes with Siri and Google Now compatibility.
The 550 also comes with the RAM brand handlebar mount- one of the most robust vehicle electronic mounts in the industry.
You can also swivel the touchscreen to view in portrait or landscape mode.
- Long battery life
- Lifetime map updates
- Wifi route uploads
- Rotating touchscreen
- Planning features
Garmin Zumo 595LM
- Mapping – While the Zumo 595LM provides an impressive array of maps and mapping updates, only maps in the European continent are free. You can purchase maps outside the European regions, but the updates won’t be complimentary.
- Display – While the screen is very durable and responds very well to motorcycle gloves, it has a very traditional aesthetic. Layered tops et al.
- Battery life – Irrelevant for the most part when connected to your motorcycle’s power bracket. But on its own, the GPS system lasts barely 3 hours. 1.5 hours in, the screen brightness operates at just 60 percent.
TomTom Rider 550
- Waterproof – This may be of particular interest to you, especially if you live in the Southeastern United States or other areas with a lot of rain.
The TomTom Rider has an IPX7 rating but the screen settings did change when we took it out during a heavy downpour.
- Lack of Open Source Mapping – While the TomTom rider offers worldwide map routes for free, they are only accessible through TomTom’s Teleatlas map software.
Most common customer complaints
- Customer support – Many motorcycle riders opine about the lack of information by Garmin’s customer support help. Especially with regards to the Basecamp Program. The instructions and tutorials provided by Garmin have been reported to be difficult to understand.
- Price tag – Certain models (manufacturing defects) have been reported to have technical malfunctions. Leading a small minority of customers to believe the heavy price tag isn’t justified.
TomTom Rider 550
- Learning curve – The TomTom Rider does not come with an instruction manual. While you don’t need a Ph.D. to learn how to use it on your own, you may have to take a while to adjust to it first.
- Bureaucracy – You will have to connect to the device, TomTom MyDrive, and TomTom connect to update your route or map settings when connected to wi-fi. This felt a tad too unnecessary every time I wanted to update the map settings.
Which product suits me better?
The Garmin Zumo 595LM and TomTom Rider 550 are cutting edge in the GPS navigation systems department, especially for motorcycles. But the GPS unit that suits you depends on where you live and what you want out of a GPS system.
By which we mean:
- Price – The Zumo 595LM is priced slightly higher than the TomTom Rider.
- Crossover to other vehicles – The Garmin Zumo has a car mount, which is very useful if you don’t want to buy a separate mount for your car.
- Route planning – As mentioned, Garmin’s Basecamp software has been reported to be a little too complex. TomTom’s MyDrive is easier to use, especially once you’re accustomed to it.
- Durability – Both screens are very durable with an IPX 7 rating. But the TomTom Rider can be slightly annoying to use during heavy rains.
- Screen display – The TomTom Rider slightly edges out in this regard- the modern, crisp setting is a cut above the Zumo 595LM’s more traditional look. Unless you have a preference for products that look old.
- Features – The Garmin Zumo and TomTomRider both offer an impressive array of features, including live traffic updates, lane assist, and hands-free calling. However, the Zumo 595LM offers caution alerts for hairpin curves and animal zones, usage of apps like TripAdvisor, and can display text and social media notifications (Whatsapp, Facebook, etc.) from your phone as well.
- Battery Life – For the majority of the time, the GPS system will be powered by the vehicle you’ve connected to. However, on its own, the TomTom Rider’s battery life lasts much longer than the Garmin Zumo’s. Anywhere from 30-50%, in fact.
- Accuracy – Both sat-navs are extremely accurate, but the Zumo 595LM took slightly longer than the Rider 550 to travel the same route. This was because the TomTom Rider also offered us alternate routes on the side of the screen, and automatically recalculated our routes when we took a wrong turn.
In summation, both units are fantastic and you’ll be getting your money’s worth for both.
But there’s one critical factor: TomTom is based out of Amsterdam in the Netherlands. And Garmin is based out of Kansas.
This means that the units are more suited to the regions in proximity of the headquarters of their respective companies. If you live in North America, you’re better off with Garmin products. In the same vein- TomTom products would be a better fit for our European readers.
You’ve learned a lot of things with this article, but deciding what to buy is all on you. GPS systems are expensive- but they’re important. Not just for safety reasons, but because of the amount of time saved. Really.
I’ve done over 100 tours on my motorcycle. Before and after the technology revolution.
Ever since I got a sat-nav, I’ve saved roughly 2 hours for every 10 hours I would have spent riding otherwise. And I haven’t died either. And a part of the credit for my lack of death goes to having a screen telling me where and how to go.
I wish you a lack of death as well.