Motorcycle Touring: Easier with a GPS

One of the great enjoyments of retirement is that any day may become a day on a motorcycle touring to some not previously seen area of this great country. Most of my trips to date have been sight-seeing tours, with no specific destination, other than to an area of my home state (Colorado) or to adjacent states on the longer trips that I have not previously visited. While I attempt to leave and return on different routes there are a limited number of roads into and out of the city so there is some unavoidable repetition of routes over several trips.

Early on I travelled without the assistance of a GPS navigation device. No matter how much pre-planning I did traveling from one side to the other of a large, busy city became the most challenging (and dangerous) portion of the trip. Paper maps are useless since they are available only when you stop, and stopping on the shoulder of any interstate highway is not only dangerous, but more often than not, illegal (except for a breakdown).

My first GPS device, a Garmin C330, worked just fine as far as navigation from one point to another was concerned… with the caveat that the voice instructions could not be heard while I was wearing my full-face helmet in the wind and traffic noise. I had used the Garmin for travel in my (4-wheeled) vehicle frequently and inside the quiet of that vehicle the verbal instructions were easily heard and understood.

I first searched the Internet for a replacement GPS that had an audio output jack for use with ear buds while riding my motorcycle. Very few have this feature, and those that do are more expensive than my budget could afford. A search of the internet provided the instructions for opening the case of the Garmin, and the addition of a chassis audio jack, while difficult, was completed successfully, with wonderful results. I now could actually hear the verbal instructions through a pair of ear buds and rarely had to actually look at the screen to navigate through the busiest city interstates!

Most GPS navigation devices come with some sort of suction mounting system that works well (unless illegal) when attached to the inside of the windshield of a vehicle. These suction systems are completely worthless when attempting to attach them on the inside windshield of a motorcycle. The first big bump in the road will dislodge them and unless a secondary safety attachment (a lanyard, in my case) is used, you will either lose the device or lose control of the bike trying to catch the falling GPS device. There are many attaching systems for motorcycles, but I have found that the Ram-Mount® systems are very good, with some minor re-engineering often necessary, depending on your bike. This mounting system provides separate holders for each GPS device that can be mounted to a standard mounting system for each motorcycle.

The next challenge to make my touring navigation as easy and simple as possible was to develop a procedure for planning the trip, documenting that plan and entering the ‘favorites’ required to support that planned route. The inexpensive GPS devices often do not have multiple locations / waypoints for a single route. And even if they do, I have found that it is much easier to decide on which specific highways and cities I want to travel on and pass through along my chosen route. Normally, the street address of my home is the only actual street address that is needed for my entire trip. Said another way, if I need to go somewhere in Colorado Springs that I have never been before, I put that specific address into my vehicle’s GPS. On my tours my goal is to travel through one city onto another along my planned route without any specific address in the first city. Every GPS seems to require a street address be selected as part of the entry for a city (favorite / waypoint), with newer devices allowing the selection of ‘city centre’ as a default address. Keep in mind that my goal is to have the GPS ‘plan’ the best route through (or better, around) the first city onto the second.

The first step in the planning process is to choose the specific highways / roads and the ‘waypoint’ cities along the route. A sufficient number of cities need to be selected to ‘force’ the GPS to stay on the chosen highways into and out of each city / town. On occasion there will be multiple routes available to the GPS between two cities. In those situations you may have to ‘force’ the GPS to ‘recalculate’ by using your chosen route rather than the GPS selection for that leg of the route.

Choose enough cities / towns along your planned route to be sure that you’re always able to fill the gas tank as you near empty on the gauge. During the mapping process note any town that may not have a gas station or have one that is closed in the evening. This is not a usual situation, but since I choose to travel as ‘rural’ as I can on my touring this is something to be considered. One of the mapping options of the popular browsers can facilitate the route planning and city selection process. I use Google Maps but others seem to work just as well.

Google Maps allows the selection of multiple way points along a route, each entered as a ‘destination’, with as many destinations as required to complete the route. The mileage between each destination is provided, and if the highway(s) selected by Google Maps between two destinations is not the desired route, that route can be ‘moved’ to the desired one. Note that your GPS may choose the same route as Google so be prepared to override your GPS for that particular leg of the tour.

Once all of the cities / towns / highways / roads have been chosen for the route a map will be displayed with A, B, C, etc. for the several destinations assigned. I have a tank bag on my motorcycle with a map viewing pocket on top so I print the map as large as possible such that it will fit in the pocket. Any special annotations, like highway numbers that do not print, are noted on this map after printing. Google Maps allows the saving of these maps but the letters of the alphabet that are assigned to each ‘destination’ are ‘lost’ during this process so even if I choose to save a map I ALWAYS print it with the alphabetic identifications of each destination. These correspond to the spread sheet entries described below.

In addition to the map I also prepare (and print) a small spread sheet showing for each identified city / town (A, B, C, etc.) the From City, To City, Highway(s) into the To City and mileage between the From and To cities. Gas tank filling cities are noted based on the sum of the distances between multiple cities along the route. This spread sheet is printed and placed into the map pocket of the tank bag to support the printed route map.

The next step is to enter each of the cities / towns along the route as ‘favorites’ in the GPS. My particular brand of (new) GPS (TomTom) allows the selection of ‘City Centre’ rather than a street address during the entry which greatly simplifies the entry of favorites. My old Garmin did not have this feature so I chose from a selection of streets / highways provided by the GPS, trying to choose a highway number into or out of that particular city. The goal is to pass through each city along the route to the next city on the best specific highway(s) or road(s). A street address is only required in the starting and ending city, normally ‘Home’.

As you approach a city along the route identified as a ‘favorite’ you MUST select the next ‘favorite’ along the route. The timing of this selection is critical, and must occur prior to even entering the city limits of the current ‘favorite’. This insures that any available highways around the current favorite onto the next favorite are available to the GPS route selection software. While it may be inconvenient I strongly recommend that the motorcycle be stationary during each new favorite selection. Using the data on the spread sheet identifying highway numbers into and out of a specific favorite (city) the route selected by the GPS can be confirmed as the appropriate one. Rarely will the GPS make a mistake if each intermediate city / town (favorite) is carefully selected during the Google Maps planning process.

All of this planning may seem like a lot of work, and be time consuming, but after doing it for many tours it has become an enjoyable part of the touring activity. During the selection of each destination in Google Maps the satellite view can be reviewed to provide terrain, geography and local topography. Google Earth can also be used to view details that the satellite view does not provide. In Google Earth you can actually ‘fly’ your route to get a bird’s eye view of what you will be seeing as you actually make the trip. A carefully planned tour eliminates most problems during the trip so that enjoying the scenery along the way becomes the only focus of the trip. The few highway crews and associated detours / delays only add to the challenge of dealing with the ‘real’ world.

Have a safe ride!


About justanoldguy

Retired Computer Programmer. Born and Raised in Missouri. Graduated from Missouri School of Mines in 1964. Retired in 2003. Moved to Colorado in 2010. Enjoying good health and 'front range'. Touring frequently on Can-Am Spyder motorcycle. Skiing during the Winter months at Monarch Mountain Ski Area (for free!).
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