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Why I changed from Maps.me to Satnav for motorcycle navigation

16 May 2021

Are you a rider that spends planning a route for days? Checking out every road on Google Earth or on a detailed map to be completely prepared for what the road is about?

Well, it may not come as a surprise to some of you, but I am not that type of rider. For me, the not-knowing is what makes an adventure, an adventure. It allows me to be taken by surprise and it keeps me wondering what’s behind the next corner. 

Obviously, I don’t ride out in the mornings completely oblivious to the road ahead. I always choose a destination and then I check the route to see if the total distance is doable in one day or not. In the past, I mostly used the app Maps.me for planning my route, but for this season I switched to Satnav navigation entirely, quite to my own surprise! 

No navigation system is perfect 

To be fair, navigating with Maps.me wasn’t always as straightforward as it seemed. I ended up in quite a few (unplanned) adventures. Like when I was riding an overgrown trail in Bosnia where landmines are scattered all around (S1 -Eps 118). Or when I tried to navigate my way on the high altitude plains of Bolivia and ended up riding in a narrow riverbed (S2 - Eps 58). 

However, I could have ended up in these places with any other navigation system too, because I just don’t research the routes that my navigation system gives me beforehand. And that’s when adventures like this happen! In South Africa, where I started navigating only on SatNav, I still ended up in soft sand dunes, on private reserves, and was faced with closed roads. Following your navigation system blindly will still bring lots of adventure!  

Simple to use

To me, the most important thing is that a navigation system should be simple to use. I want to be able to plan my route as easily and quickly as possible. The app that I used for navigation (and still use as a backup) is the free app called Maps.me. You can simply download the map of the area that you are riding in, and find your way on the road without needing an internet connection

My hesitation regarding Garmin

I did bring a Garmin Zumo 396 with me to Asia and South America. But, I used it as a backup system. Whenever I had to ride in the rain, I used the Garmin so I could stow away my phone. I also used my Garmin for details like elevation levels.  

The main reason for not using Garmin Zumo 396 all the time was the pain of plotting a route on it. It was just too difficult and annoying. The touch screen wasn’t sensitive enough, so I had to press hard on the screen. Zooming in and out on the map was a struggle, and it made entering waypoints almost impossible. I also didn’t want to plan the route on my computer and then transfer it to the Garmin. That would take too much time while being on the road and doing all the work for my YouTube channel at the same time.

I did keep the Garmin on my handlebar though when riding. The downside of this way of navigating was that the handlebar of my motorcycle became very crowded. Not only my Garmin and phone were on it, but also my GoPro mount and USB charging points. 

The disadvantage of navigating with your phone

On my trip through Northern Europe (Season 3), I navigated solely with my phone because I had left my Garmin in Peru when I returned to The Netherlands in March 2020. After a week of riding, the camera of my smartphone already broke down. I learned the hard way that smartphone cameras break when you mount them on your handlebar. Apparently, the vibrations of the motorcycle mess up the smartphone cameras. I had heard of this but thought it would not happen to my smartphone. Well, it did! 

Secondly, mounting a phone on your handlebar is another gadget up for grabs when you ride through crowded places. Even though it never happened to me, it could have gotten snatched off my bike easily.  

After my ride through Scandinavia without a Satnav, MrGPS reached out to me. He was a huge fan of my channel and wanted to help me out with a new navigation system. I was all ears after the destruction of my smartphone’s camera. He kindly provided me with the new Zumo XT. 

Garmin new style

What an improvement this Garmin was in comparison to my previous one. The main improvement is the touch screen. It is way more sensitive than my previous one. I can now easily plot a route on the device itself. It works the same way as I would normally do on my phone. I first download the free Open Street Map of the countries I’ll be riding in from this website on my computer and then copy it to the memory card of the Garmin. 

I add my starting point (“where I am now”), select my planned destination for that day and add a couple of waypoints along the way. Places that I want to visit when riding the route. After that, I choose ‘Garmin Adventurous Routing’ and there is my route for that day. 

With Maps.me I would always look for the smallest roads I could find on the map, but now I hardly do so anymore. The Adventurous Routing option does a perfect job and it already has sent me down quite some unexpected and adventurous routes in South Africa. Sometimes, it’s quite easy to have an adventure! 

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I didn't know I could break the smartphone camera with vibration. I always used it that way. I'll be more careful now. Hehehe

Rafael  | 

Hi Noraly
I'm exploring your new website and its very professional indeed , I'm in Australia and ride a DR650 on adventure rides yes you need a small lighter bike power isn't everything as long as you can carry your gear comfortably.
I just want to suggest you try an app its called Scenic and it does curvy routing I've found it quite good also you can record your rides and it shows a lot of data such as distance ,time average speed ,max speed , etc plus you can save or export, might be worth a look oh did i mention its free my favourite type:)
Cheers for now
Dave

DRDave  | 

Great info here. I'm just getting into motovlogging. I'm riding a Honda NPS50 so I'm a lot slower than almost everything out there. I currently ride my local area so I don't need a GPS at the moment but I have an old Garmin I might try to use when I can go further.

2LaneRider  | 

Hi Noraly,
I don't do the adventure riding that you and many others do however every ride is one no matter how long or short.
I ride a cruiser so do not go off road much but, I love exploring new places within the UK and I find a sat nav on a bike a distraction so stick with paper route in the tank bag. I would not use my phone due to there fragility but with your type of riding I can definitely see the advantage of a really good sat nav unit. Love your new website, very slick. Thanks for your videos which are a great watch and is something I am starting to get into so will be signing up for your courses in due course. Ride safe.

UKhomer  | 

Noraly,
I am just getting into adventure riding. I have found your videos such an inspiration. You make seem so easy to just go out and ride to the ends of the earth, but I know there is much more I involved. Thank you for sharing the technology you use to navigate your trips. I'm looking into getting a Zumo xt. I have the
Garmin EPURB with navsat capabilities. I'm planning a trip to Colorado to ride the Alpine Loop area. What I'm seeing from your videos is you do plan your trips extensively in that you know specific distances and also the eta for arrival or return to base. Have you ever been stranded after dark in a desolate location? If so how did you deal with that?

jennalee  | 

As you can see in my videos, it has hardly happened. Maybe only once or twice that I arrived in the twilight or dark at a certain location. I always plan my route in such a way that I will arrive at a decent time in the afternoon, and not push myself too often with very long riding days. Riding should be a joy and why hurry?

Noraly  | 

Hi Noraly. I was just wondering : sometimes I see you riding in trails or paths, no bigger then an animals trail. Are those trails realy on Mapsme or the Zumo XT (or any gps for that matter?). I mean, I have a XT myself on my bike and in my car with fairly new maps. But still I sometimes end up on roads that aren't even on those maps.... and I solely ride in Europe ! So, are those paths realy on your gps?? Greets from a fan in Belgium

Bart Segers  | 

In some countries, the maps are very detailed, in others they are not. I try to follow a road or track that is on my map, but sometimes I do divert out of curiosity ;-)

Noraly  | 

Hello,

What about the couple Garmin/track4Africa maps?

Thx

ThierryIT  | 

Hi Norali!

You are for sure not the first one who destroyed a smartphone camera by using it as a handlebat mounted navigation device. My other concdtns would be the durability of the power socket and of course water resistance.
One negative point of the XT is - like all other Garmin Zumo units - that the symbols of waypoints you defined in Basecamp during the planning stage of a trip are not transferred 1:1 to the unit. They are all shown as a white heart on green ground! So if you clasdify waypoint by using different symbols, this classification is gone. Thats an absolute no-go for me and one of the reasons I am using a Montana 700i instead, which also implements satelite based messaging and SOS calls! It in my opinion simply the better adventure GPS (on and off the motorcycle) than the overrated XT!

Nordicbiker  | 
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