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GPS and the Adventure Motorcyclist Print E-mail

This article is chapter two of a multi-chapter article about using GPS in conjunction with Adventure & Dual Sport motorcycling.

In this chapter I'll share some of my thoughts regarding the versatility of GPS units and options for power supply.


"Transportability" is a word I use to describe the ease and options available for moving a GPS unit between vehicles or human powered transportation.

For example: One of my favorite GPS units is the Gamin Quest. This unit comes with a suction cup mount allowing it to be easily moved from one car to another. It also features a cigarette lighter plug with a speaker in it so that when the unit is plugged into power, it can give verbal directions. We often move the unit between my truck and my wife's or, when flying to a vacation destination, we install the unit in our rental car. This has saved us from buying cars with navigation built in or from purchasing the navigation system offered by rental car companies. There are also several options for mounting this GPS unit on a motorcycle. Some are inexpensive plastic mounts and others are machined metal with a power connection to recharge the unit while mounted on your motorcycle. The unit is also small & light enough and has the right features to make it suitable for short (weekend) backpacking trips. All of these factors together give this unit a high degree of "transportability".

Batteries / Power Supply:

Some GPS units come with a non-serviceable, permanent, internal battery and other have a compartment where you can load in batteries and insert a new set when the old set is depleted. There are pros and cons to both, here are some of them:

Internal Battery:

• Less cost associated with the purchase of new batteries.

• Continues to function under "high vibration" conditions.

• Longer run time. Some internal battery will last up to 20 hours of continual use on a single charge.

• When the battery is dead it is dead. You must then connect the unit to a power source for an extended period to re-charge.

• Rechargeable batteries have a "lifetime" and can only be recharged so many times before their performance diminishes. The unit must be shipped back to the manufacturer to be refurbished.

Replaceable Batteries:

• Batteries are plentiful, relatively inexpensive and available worldwide.

• As long as you have a supply of batteries, you can keep the GPS unit running indefinitely.

• Disposable batteries add to the cost of operation of the unit.

• Replaceable batteries sometimes suffer from diminished performance in a high vibration environment (like mounted to a motorcycle). High vibration can cause the batteries to lose contact with each other and the battery terminals making them arc, lose contact and drain prematurely.

In the past I had significant trouble with engine vibration causing the batteries to lose contact within the GPS unit, arc (yes arc, with little carbon deposits on the battery terminal ends) and deplete the batteries of the GPS very quickly. Now I use a unit with an internal rechargeable battery so this problem has been eliminated. There are also vibration dampening mounts available that can correct some vibration related problems.

I was a bit worried about using a unit that I could not just change the batteries when the unit died, I didn't want to get caught in the middle of nowhere with a dead GPS! However, since I use a motorcycle mount that charges the unit while the bike is running and I am diligent about keeping the unit charged I have not experienced any problems from a dead battery or been "stranded".

"Transportability" and Power Supply are some of the important factors to consider when selecting a GPS unit.

Happy Trails!

- Lawrence Borgens




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