~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

"All Who Wander Are Not Lost"

The blog post title above is a quote from JRR Tolkien who never had a GPS navigation system. Tolkien apparently had a sense of optimism about traveling that I don't share. For some of us, a little hi-tech help is in order so I figured "Heck, if they can blow up terrorists in East Camelfart using GPS for rocket guidance then a GPS ought to be able to get me to places I've never been to before also."

I have watched the motorcycle GPS (Global Positioning System) personal navigation trend for some time now, saw what other guys were affixing to their bikes, and was intimidated slightly by GPS jargon and acronyms, not to mention the pretty stiff prices for the cool looking stuff like Garmin's made-for-motorcycles Zumo GPS. GPS I could understand ok, but did I need WAAS? What datum do people use mostly? I thought "datum" was something my wife's mom didn't want her to do with me. Do I need track back and auto rerouting? How big is the track log and how many data points can it hold? Is the POI database useful or too limited in scope? More importantly, did I need to spend $900??

GPS looked like a cool gadget for anyone that likes to wander around the country on a motorcycle but I decided to wait and watch. I love tech stuff, gadgets, cool gizmos just like most guys do; I might be something of a retro-grouch about motorcycling in general but advancements that make riding more fun, easier, safer, and of course faster, have always be fine with me. Buying a copy of "GPS for Dummies" gave me something technical to digest and help me figure it all out. As Dirty Harry said "A man's got to know his limitations."

I have always had a great sense of direction except when I was lost but having a sense of direction doesn't help you find an unmarked road in the wilds of Arizona or a Baskin-Robbins ice cream store when it is essential to do so. It's not that I can't read a map and use a compass but it's tough to do that while riding. Last year on vacation while winding through the back roads of New Mexico looking for the memorial marker to my old circus pal, Wally the Midget, I finally gave up in exasperation because of the unfamiliar roads and lack of signage. I'm sure with a GPS we would have had better luck or at least had something to blame besides us for not finding the appropriate spot to leave the bouquet of plastic, water squirting flowers. Riding a motorcycle is a complex proposition as it is and I've never had much success trying to follow a map while riding and there never seems to be a place to pull over when you do want to check the map closely. More importantly, you never have to try and refold a GPS when the wind is blowing.
I knew whatever I got for a GPS would have to not only be functional for me but functional for the Mrs. I love tech stuff and still sometimes bring up the DOS prompt in Windows just for old times sake but Wife?  Well…any tech gizmo from a computer to a digital camera better be simple to use and involve no reading of manuals. As she has told me about the HDTV, the DVD recorder, satellite DVR, cellular phones, and other assorted 21st century gizmos: "I'm an artist, I paint things. You are the engineer, you read manuals." It's good to have a clear delineation of duties in a marriage.
I opted to dither about a bit longer waiting for GPS prices to come down. I've been burned enough times on tech goodies and have learned not to jump in too soon. It was a sad day when I tossed my old $4,000 386/16 MHz desktop computer in the dumpster. You rarely have to throw a ten year old motorcycle into the dumpster because even your cheapskate neighbor won't take it for free.

Finally, while reading the Adventure Rider forum one evening, I spotted a post about EdgeGPS.com selling Garmin StreetPilot 2610 factory refurb'd units for $275 and with a full factory warranty, no less. I had looked enough and browsed enough over the last couple of years that I knew a good deal when I saw one. I whipped out my trusty VISA card and two days later I was the proud owner of a GPS with a moderately thick but fairly useless manual. Garmin had written a manual that told me many things except the stuff I wanted to know about the intricacies of the unit.

As always, undaunted by a lack of knowledge and practical experience I set about getting the new Garmin unit working. I downloaded maps, configured a few important waypoints (motorcycle shops) and then got the unit hooked it up in the car. Yes, the car. I decided to fiddle around a bit and get used to the functions of the GPS without the distractions of having to control a motorcycle. Hey, everyone one else driving a car is smoking, listening to their iPod, talking in the cell phone or putting on lipstick so why can't I play with the GPS while driving? I have a Constitutional right to be a distracted idiot in a car just like everyone else. OK, just kidding. Actually, the Garmin's button/touch screen/menu system is obscure enough that to use it much while actually driving I found I had to take both hands off the steering wheel and pull the GPS off the dash to get it close enough to see it with my bifocals. A better solution was to program everything at home and then if I need to change something I find a place to pull over just like when you use a paper map.

No fingers were harmed in the making of this photo.

Another hit on the Visa Card brought me another box of expensive bits and pieces needed to move the GPS between the car, the Gold Wing, and the Aprilia. Having the GPS on the Gold Wing is still a new experience but I'm accomplished enough with the Garmin by now to be able to push a button or two while moving. I rarely get the screen I want the first time but I can push the buttons, at least. Progress slowly but surely.

I'm still not clear on all the little details of GPS but I've programmed in the location of all my favorite motorcycle shops, Mexican restaurants, art supply stores, and the theoretical location of Wally the Midget's memorial marker in New Mexico. Should be fun to find them all and never ever get lost again. If I do get lost I know for sure how to find the buttons for "Home - GoTo."


Anonymous said...

I read somewhere that people with GPS have something like 30% less chance of having an accident than those that don't have a GPS!

So welcome to the safer world of GPS riders (good name for a site..)

Anonymous said...

Great write up! I just bought a GPS myself. I was going for the Zumo but it was a bit pricy and I wanted one I could use for the trail as well. I bought the Garmin GPCmap 60CSx. So much better than paper maps.

The above comment by Mike Werner, I'd have to agree with. But, only if you fiddle with the GPS in a safe spot. Like my XM radio - I get it set and leave it alone until I can safely pull over.

Popular Posts

Search This Site

"When my mood gets too hot and I find myself wandering beyond control I pull out my motor-bike and hurl it top-speed through these unfit roads for hour after hour." - T.E. Lawrence

An Important reminder from the past:
"I believe there are more instances of the abridgment of the freedom of the people by gradual and silent encroachments by those in power than by violent and sudden usurpations." - James Madison