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Your Smart Phone or Tablet and Motorcycling

by Craig O. Olsen
Originally Published in the IAMC Newsletter, May 2016

Traditionally, I have used a Garmin GPS (Zumo 550) for my motorcycle navigation. It has worked well for me the past 8 years. Most motorcyclists I know who use a GPS also use a dedicated Garmin or TomTom device. During a recent IAMC GPS Clinic (March 26, 2016) put on by Ron Schinnerer, I had an “aha moment” when David O’Neal discussed the use of smart advices (phones and tablets) as a dedicated GPS device, and he reviewed some of the so[ware apps available for this. 

iPad Mini in fabricated holder behind David’s KTM 950 windscreen.

I then spent the next 11 days riding with David and two other club members on an approximate 3,400 mile ride to and from doing the Arizona BDR and parts of the Utah BDR. David’s GPS system, consisting of an iPad Mini with an external BlueTooth/GPS device to bring GPS to the iPad Mini and a self fabricated tablet holder wired directly to his bike battery, worked very well the enPre trip. 

In the last month I have found a treasure- trove of information on smart phone and tablet apps for motorcyclists. While it is impractical to review all these apps in this article, I will give an overview of this topic and refer specifically to a few of what I consider the most promising and helpful apps. Please see the selected references at the end of this article for a more complete lisPng and review of the apps available. 

First of all it is fair to ask why use your smart phone or tablet as a GPS instead of a dedicated commercial GPS unit and what are the pros and cons? Garmin and TomTom make the only motorcycle specific GPSs (Garmin Zumo series and TomTom Rider), and they are pricey – anywhere from $500.00 to $900.00 each. [1-2] Even the handheld devices commonly used by motorcyclists (Garmin GPSMAP 64 and Montana series) run between $250.00 and $600.00 each. [3] The maps and docking devices are sold separate. As dedicated GPSs, these units work well allowing you to create routes and waypoints on the device and in BaseCamp (the laptop/desktop so[ware program for Garmin) and to transfer routes, waypoints and tracks to and from the device. The upper end Garmin Zumos and TomTom Rider allow turn-by-turn audio navigation prompts, weather and traffic alerts, wireless interface with your smart phone and interface with your music if you have a BlueTooth helmet intercom. The handheld devices are much more limited. 

If you are going to use a smartphone or tablet as your motorcycle GPS, it is beFer to have a dedicated unit rather than using your current smartphone. An older model smartphone or tablet that will function fine as a dedicated GPS costs from $50.00 to $100.00 from eBay or Amazon. A tablet with cellular function has a built-in GPS so you will not need to connect an external BlueTooth GPS device to it. An separate external BlueTooth GPS device sells for $60.00 to $100.00. When used as a dedicated GPS, you do not need to have cellular service on the smartphone or tablet; you only need access to its internal GPS that works without WiFi, cellular connection or accruing any charges for its use. 

The screen on a smartphone is as large or larger than those of the upper end Garmin and TomTom GPSs. A smart tablet screen is several times larger. The smartphone and tablet screens are also brighter and easier to read than the Garmin and TomTom GPS screens, and they all outperform the handheld Garmin GPS devices with the exception of the Montana that has similar screen size and brightness to an older model iPhone. 

The smartphone or tablet will need to be secured to the motorcycle handlebar or cockpit behind the windscreen (preferably in a rugged
protective and waterproof case) and connected to a USB power source to be powered all the time. The internal battery life for smartphones and tablets is insufficient without a constant power source. [4-6] 

One drawback of the smart phones and tablets is that gloves do not work on a touchscreen. There are some specialized motorcycle gloves for this purpose, but an alternative for any existing glove is to use Anyglove or Nanotips treatment that works well on leather and fabric surfaces. [7-8] 

Galileo Offline Maps – Galileo Offline Maps is a map browsing app you can use offline. It makes life easier, when traveling without any Internet connection, because you can use previously saved offline maps on your mobile iOS device. Detailed and easy-to-use offline vector maps based on OpenStreetMap data are available to download within the app. [9-10] Galileo doesn’t offer any routing or turn by turn directions. It does offer you the ability to record your GPS tracks for another $1.99 InApp purchase. This could come in handy if you are geotagging and need the 

track to sync with your geotagging so[ware. Basically, this is a handy app that lets you cache maps and use them offline. 

Osm And Offline Mobile Maps & Navigation- Osm And works totally offline (no roaming charges when you are abroad) but also has a (fast) online option. It gives turn-by-turn voice guidance and announces traffic warnings like stop signs, pedestrian crosswalks, or when you are exceeding the speed limit. It gives optional lane guidance, street name display, and estimated time of arrival, and it supports intermediate points on your itinerary. It also supports automatic re-routing whenever you deviate from the route. You can search for places by address, by type 

(e.g.: restaurant, hotel, gas station, museum), or by geographical coordinates. You can display your position and orientation on the map, and you can optionally align the map according to compass or your direction of motion. You can save your most important places as Favorites and display POIs (points of interest) around you. You can also display satellite view (from Bing) and different overlays like touring/navigation GPX tracks and additional maps with customizable transparency. The offline maps include foot, hiking, and bike paths, great for outdoor activities, and there is map display and navigation mode for bicycle and pedestrian. You can do trip recording to local GPX file or online service and display speed and altitude data with the purchased version ($6.00). You can also display contour lines and hill-shading (via an additoonal plugin). Osm And uses OpenStreetMap and Wikipedia data, and there are unlimited free map downloads, directly from the app. Maps are updated at least once a month. 

MotoMap – This navigation app is being designed specifically by motorcyclists for those who ride. It is currently in beta testing and will have turn-by-turn and voice navigation for routes with many via points. You can create routes from within the app and easily find scenic routes created by fellow riders, navigate them, and review and rate them. MotoMaps uses offline maps and can display in landscape mode, heading up mode and 3D map mode. It also supports bicycle and pedestrian routes. You can import GPX tracks as well as routes and waypoints and fully edit 

them on the fly. It has trip recording features that will display graphs, maps and pictures. It is currently available for $2.00. 

Gaia GPS: – Gaia GPS is widely considered the best outdoor mapping app by incorporating the best government topo maps for the US and Canada (USGS, USFS, NRCan). In addition there are worldwide topo, road and aerial maps. There are unlimited downloads for offline use. You can use Gaia to sync your tracks, photos, maps and waypoints to all of your devices and share links to tracks and photos vis email, Facebook, Twitter, SMS and more. You can import and export GPX/ KLM files in a variety of ways (iTunes, Safari, DropBox and email). GaiaPro ($3.99/month 

subscription) allows multilayered maps that you can mix and set opacity for many layers at once, as well as aerial and street maps (OpenStreetMap). Weather forecasts from Wunderground is also available. See Jason Abbott’s article in this issue about this app. 

These and several other apps for motorcyclists are reviewed in the selected references below. [11-17] Two of these that I recommend considering are Wilderness First Aid ($0.99) and Emergency First Aid & Treatment ($1.99). Another good use for your smart phone or tablet is to download a PDF file of your bike specific service manual to have available in the event you need it on a road trip or backcountry adventure. 

Selected References: 

  1. Garmin Zumo GPS.
  2. TomTom Rider GPS.
  3. Garmin Handheld GPSs.
  4. “Cheap Motorcycle GPS – How to Make One Using an iPhone for Under $150,” by Chris McNamara. Outdoor Gearlab; March 9, 2015.
  5. “How to: Using Your Smartphone as a GPS,” by Surj Gish. Motorcycle Daily; May 1, 2014.
  6. “Can a Tablet Replace a Motorcycle GPS?” by H.B.C. webBikeWorld; February 2014.
  7. “How to make your gloves touchscreen capable,” by Amber Bouman. PC World; January 29, 2014.
  8. “Make Your Gloves Touch-Sensitive,” by Rick K. webBikeWorld; February 2015.
  9. Galileo Offline Maps.
  10. Open Street Map.
  11. “Top 10 Motorcycle Apps,” by Troy Siahaan. Motorcycle; July 31, 2014.
  12. “Best GPS Motorcycle Apps for Navigation and Tracking,” by Guido. MotoMappers; July 14, 2015.
  13. “Here Are Five EssenPal Mobile Apps for Motorcyclists,” by Jensen Beeler. Asphalt and Rubber; March 17, 2014.
  14. “Best Motorcycle Apps for Your Smartphone,” by J. C. Current. MotoSport; December 18, 2013.
  15. “Best Motorcycle Apps?” Adventure Rider; April 21, 2014.
  16. “iPhone Motorcycle App Thread,” Adventure Rider; November 2010.
  17. “GPS Motorcycle Navigation Apps for iPhone – 13 of the Best Apps Reviewed,” by Guido. MotoMappers; June 20, 2014.
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