I’m old-school and still keep a paper map in my top box. But getting a sat nav for my motorcycle has changed the way I ride.
I’m a lot more likely to explore down unknown roads and seek out scenic routes since I don’t have to worry about getting lost.
Knowing where the speed cameras are has also saved me a ticket or two!
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The Garmin Zuma XT is the best motorcycle GPS on the market today.
It has a crystal clear 5″ screen and fast, slick controls.
It comes with lots of useful and innovative features such as landmark navigation and smartphone link.
If you want something a bit cheaper, the TomTom 550 is your best bet.
Not as slick and fully featured as the Garmin but does the basics well, and comes in slightly cheaper.
Motorcycle GPS Brands
Put simply; there are only two brands worth considering: Garmin and TomTom.
Sure, you could adapt a car GPS for your bike – but you’ll encounter problems like it getting activated by raindrops and not being glove-friendly in the slightest.
You could also buy a cheap Chinese unit for your motorcycle. But these cheap sat navs are incredibly unreliable.
Plus, you probably won’t be able to update them, which makes them useless after a year or two.
It’s better to pay more now than repeatedly buy junk.
What to Look For
Navigating on a motorbike instead of a car presents certain challenges, requiring a different set of features in your GPS.
Here’s what you need to focus on:
- Hardware: It must come with a high waterproof rating. Ideally, it has a rugged design, too, for when you inevitably drop it.
- Anti-Glare Screen: The older models for bikes were not very good in the sun. Now both TomTom and Garmin do a reasonable job.
- Glove Friendly: Some sat navs have settings allowing you to change the screen’s sensitivity so it will work better with summer or winter gloves.
- Finds windy routes: A car sat nav will usually look for the fastest route. The best motorcycle ones will have options to help you find the most exhilarating routes.
- Bluetooth: It’s great to have Bluetooth features so you can use your sat nav for things like hands-free calling and listening to music. Some have speakers. Others rely on a Bluetooth headset.
- Battery Life: Look for a battery life of at least 4 hours. The larger the screen and better the resolution, the lower the battery life is going to be.
- Additional Features: You might be able to find cool additional features like fuel consumption planning, tyre pressure monitoring, 3D terrain, helmet law notifications, and more.
A Note About Maps
Just like with car sat navs, you will need to get maps uploaded. Some devices come with lifetime free map updates.
Just pay attention to which maps are included.
If you only buy Western Europe maps, for example, but then want to take a trip to Tunisia, you might have to pay nearly as much for the Tunisia map as you did for the GPS.
Garmin vs. TomTom
Since Garmin and TomTom are the only options worth considering for a motorcycle, I thought I’d do this review a bit differently.
Here’s a breakdown of how the brands compare, plus their top models.
The Garmin Zumo and TomTom Rider lines are designed for motorcycles. So, yes, they are very rugged.
Both have a waterproof rating of IPX7 and will hold up fine in storms.
Note that only some of the TomTom Rider sat navs include lockable mounts. None of the Garmin Zumo ones have them included.
Not that I’d recommend leaving your sat nav on your bike (even the best lockable mounts can be easily stolen).
But a lockable mount is nice if you need to make a quick run inside and don’t want to remove it.
Both Garmin and TomTom units come preloaded with maps. They both also offer a lifetime of free map updates. I’d recommend updating your maps at least once yearly.
As far as the maps go, Garmin maps seem to be much more detailed and have more points of interest (like petrol stations).
Some Garmin sat navs have “Real Directions,” which will give you directions based on points of interest, such as “turn left after the McDonalds.”
This is pretty handy in unfamiliar territory.
However, TomTom has many more countries. If you want to travel outside of the UK and EU, then TomTom is probably better.
These brands specifically target motorcycle riders and know what they want. You get great route planning tools to help you find the windiest, hilliest, most adventurous roads for your ride.
Garmin has “Adventurous Routing,” which lets you set how many bends and hills you want. It also lets you avoid motorways. The only annoying thing is that this feature is deep in the menu.
TomTom has “Winding Routes” – you can decide if you want the fastest route or a winding route. You can set your “challenge level.”
The TomTom program does a lot better than Garmin at finding windy roads. It will even find remote back roads.
Both products also provide the usual route planning tools, such as warning radars, points of interest, speed limit indicators, sharp curve warnings, the ability to record routes, and other alerts.
The Garmin XT screen is 5.5″ with crystal clear HD and 1280 x 720px resolution. TomTom’s are only 4.3” and 480×272 pixels.
The TomTom screen is still easy to use and read, but Garmin has seriously upped its game with the new Zumo XT screen.
Both TomTom and Garmin let you set the screen’s sensitivity – great for when you are switching from summer to winter gloves.
Pretty much everyone I’ve talked to agrees that TomTom software is easier to use. It scrolls better and is more intuitive to use, especially while on the road.
Both options have voice commands, and both come with traffic and speed camera alerts at no extra cost.
Garmin somewhat makes up for these deficiencies by offering some interesting extra features.
There is the “photoReal Junction View” of approaching junctions. A tool lets you estimate fuel consumption and even plot your last fuelling.
You can use an accessory (sold separately) to check tyre pressure, too – something that I haven’t seen on any other motorcycle sat nav.
There are some safety issues with listening to music while riding, but many people do it.
So, a feature worth mentioning is that the TomTom Rider does not let you play MP3 files. The Garmin Zumo 396 and 595 models do allow this. With the Zumo 595, you can also connect to music streaming services like Spotify to play music.
Of course, you can still use Bluetooth to play music from your phone with the TomTom Riders (which is what most people probably do).
However, if you want to listen to MP3s too, then Garmin is your only choice.
Which Is Better?
Garmin wins in the areas that matter; maps and screen quality.
I also love that their maps give directions based on landmarks instead of the standard “turn after X meters.”
Garmin is the pricier of the two brands, though. If you want to save a few quid, the TomTom is still a quality sat nav.
Here is a comparison chart comparing the two brands and their flagship products.
|Garmin Zumo XT||TOMTOM Rider 550|
|Battery Life||6 Hours||6 Hours|
|Weight||262 grams||280 grams|
|Connectivity||Bluetooth (smartphone), WI-FI||Bluetooth (smartphone), WI-FI|
|Resolution||1280 x 720||480x272|
|Device speed||Fast - quad core processor||Fast - quad core processor|
|Maps||Full Europe||World Maps|
|Map updates||Lifetime free||Lifetime free|
|Live Traffic||Lifetime free||Lifetime free|
|Speed cameras||Lifetime free||Lifetime free|
TomTom Models Comparison
NOTE: As of June 2021 – TomTom is now offering only one model – the Rider 550; all other models have been discontinued. I have left the information from previous models below as you may be able to pick one up on Amazon as they run the stock down.
When comparing the various TomTom Rider models, they can seem almost identical.
All of them have the same screen size, battery life, and major features.
However, the newer 50 and 550 models have a quad processor; without getting too technical, they are a lot faster. Using menus and scrolling is noticeably less glitchy, and route planning is much snappier.
Also, make sure you are getting the correct maps for your situation; this is important because buying maps afterward costs nearly as much as the device itself.
The TomTom 50 also offers offline maps, which the 42 and 400 don’t have.
The table below outlines the differences.
|Rider 400 EU||Rider 42||Rider 50||Rider 550 World|
|Battery Life||6 Hours||6 Hours||6 Hours||6 Hours|
|Device speed||Slower processor||Slower processor||Fast - quad core processor||Fast - quad core processor|
|Text to Speech||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Maps||45 countries||23 countries||Western Europe||World Maps|
|Map updates||Lifetime free||Lifetime free||Lifetime free||Lifetime free|
|Live Traffic||Lifetime free||Lifetime free||3 Months Free||Lifetime free|
|Speed cameras||Lifetime free||3 Months Free||3 Months Free||Lifetime free|
|Check Prices||Not available - discontinued||Not available - discontinued||Discontinued but still available Amazon||SportsBikeShop|
Garmin Models Comparison
NOTE: As of June 2021 – As far as I can tell, Garmin has discontinued all models except the Zumo XT. However, the older models are still available on Amazon for the time being, and there may be some bargains to snap up as they run down the stock.
Zumo is Garmin’s series of products. The range can get confusing!
The older models are the Zumo 345, 395; these are now largely unavailable and have been replaced by the 346LMT-S and the 396LMT-S
The most recent model is the flagship XT, and the old stalwart is the 595.
The 595 has a 5″ screen, and the newer XT has a massive 5.5″ screen. The 346 and 396 both have 4.3″ screens.
All units now have a Smartphone Link app.
With this app, you can do things like getting live traffic reports, weather updates and stream music from Spotify.
I love the LiveTrack feature, which lets you see where your friends are. All of these features come with free updates.
The main differences between the 3oo models and the 595\XT models are screen size and cutting-edge navigation features such as topographic maps and satellite imagery.
Of course, the Zumo XT\595 are a lot pricier than these models, so if you can live without the cutting edge tech, you can get a good price on a 346 or a 396.
See the table below for the main differences.
|Zumo 346LM-S||Zumo 396LM-S||Zumo 595LM||Zumo XT|
|Battery Life||4 Hours||4 Hours||4 Hours||6 Hours|
|Resolution||480x272||480x272||800x480||1280 x 720|
|Text to Speech||Yes||Yes||Yes||Yes|
|Maps||Western Europe||Full Europe||Full Europe||Full Europe|
|Map updates||Lifetime free||Lifetime free||Lifetime free||Lifetime free|
|Birds eye satellite imagery||No||No||No||Yes|
If you are trying to save money, I would try and pick up one of the Garmin 346’s while still available.
If you are willing to pay more for extra features, a faster interface, and state-of-the-art tech, then the Garmin Zumo XT is the way to go.
For more reviews:
- TomTom Rider 550 Review
- TomTom Rider 50 Review
- Garmin Zumo XT Review
- Garmin Zumo 595 Review
- Garmin XT vs TomTom Rider 550 – clash of the titans.