GPS Basics

Choosing a routing device

Why get a dedicated GPS when smart phones have GPS?

  • Motorcycle GPS are waterproof, fuel resistant, and shock proof.
  • You can often read a bigger GPS screen better at arms length.
  • GPS screens are glove friendly.
  • GPS can be more accurate, especially lane assist.
  • You do not rack up data roaming charges travelling internationally or near the border.
  • A GPS is not interrupted by phone calls or texts.

Garmin or TomTom?

Both have good hardware and have their fans. The real difference is the routing software. Garmin uses BaseCamp and TomTom uses Tyre. Tyre will not run on a Mac.

See this article on selecting a motorcycle-specific GPS

Motorcycle GPS (Zumo/TomTom) or car GPS?

Garmin Auto GPS’s are definitely cheaper. If you choose a Auto GPSi, make sure it can download routes and use BaseCamp. Some riders use Auto GPS’s with success. Popular with riders is the 2589LMT. Video: Waterproofing a Nuvi

Garmin Zumos are motorcycle specific so they are waterproof and shockproof. The current models are the Zumo XT and the 396. These units have Trip Planner software for navigation.

The TomTom Rider is a motorcycle specific device:

Mapping Software

BaseCamp vs Tyre

BaseCamp is Garmin’s dedicated routing software. There are both PC and Mac versions, although the software is no longer under active development.

Some loathe BaseCamp’s steep learning curve. The NER BaseCamp tutorial only takes a few hours and makes it pretty easy to get up and running.

Tyre is a Google Maps based route planning program that does not work with Macs. Some feel that Tyre, and other Google Maps based programs like Harley Ride Planner, are easier to use than BaseCamp.

BaseCamp proponents argue:

  • Tyre and Harley Ride Planner do not differentiate between waypoints, via points, and shaping points. As a result, downloaded routes have numerous waypoints that cause havoc with newer Garmin devices with Ride Planner. Rides are broken into multiple smaller rides divided at each waypoint.
  • BaseCamp does not need a WiFi signal. If you are on the road without a WiFi signal, you cannot alter your route using Tyre or Harley Ride Planner.
  • Tyre is limited to 48 waypoints making it more difficult to plan longer, more complicated routes.
  • You cannot set points to not audibly announce on your GPS using Tyre or Harley Ride Planner. All points will audibly announce during a ride even when no turn is upcoming.
  • You can only create one route per file using Tyre or Harley Ride Planner. BaseCamp allows users to access all of their rides and favorites. This helps riders to quickly create new routes by simply copying and pasting.
  • You cannot use start times and layover times to create an itinerary in Tyre or Harley Ride Planner. You also cannot set riding speeds to help predict arrival times.

Registering a GPS

Garmin – Get a MyGarmin account if you do not have one. MyGarmin allows you to register your GPS and to unlock optional maps. MyGarmin is good for keeping your devices updated and for keeping track of service and returns.

TomTom – Use My TomTom to register your TomTom.

Updating GPS Firmware and Maps


Download Garmin Express – for PC or for Mac – to your computer. Use it to update both the map in BaseCamp AND the map in your GPS to the latest version. There is an option under the link “Advanced Options” that allows you to update both maps at the same time. If you do not select this option then only your GPS will be updated.

Garmin Express also allows you to update the GPS firmware.


Most info is on the TomTom website.

  • Update Maps
  • Update firmware – you will need a web login.

Using GPS Mobile Apps

Mobile device GPS Apps are getting better and better – many NERds swear by them now.

Using Your Smartphone as a GPS (somewhat dated article)

Motorcycle Navigation Using the iPhone by Bob Woodsom

Best Motorcycle Apps for Ride Planning – somewhat biased comparison by makers of the Scenic app

Mounting – You will need a way to mount your device and there are many to choose from these days. Some require specialized skins for your phone. Some include wireless charging. Select a mount that is adjustable and holds the phone securely:

Cases – For rain protection you may want to consider a case with a water protection rating of at least IPX4 up to IPX7. Motorcycle GPS are IPX7 for maximum rain protection.Even though many phones are now water resistant, naked phones can be slippery and allow water into the charging port (which take forever to dry out to be able to charge). Cased phones are also easier to handle with gloves on.

Charging – Consider on-bike charging with a weather proof USB connection like the solution offered by 3BR Powersports. Be sure to secure the USB cable to phone connection so that bike vibration does not damage your phone.