Saturday was a beautiful day – warm, dry, a few puffy white clouds – so I rode up to Canadian Tire Motorsport Park to watch Jacob Black race in the CSBK double-header. Mostly, I just wanted to ride through the Ganaraska Hills on my Low Rider, enjoying the sunshine.
I live in Cobourg, east of the track, so it’s 65 kilometres of sometimes-winding country roads to get there and I rarely take the same route twice. This time, because I was in no hurry, I tapped in the track as a destination on my GPS unit, set it for “winding roads”, and followed the directions.
The “winding roads” option is a thing for motorcycle units, together with waterproof housings and touch-screens that can be used with gloves. These are why decent motorcycle GPS units cost $500 and up, much more expensive than basic units, but they’re all necessary for riders.
I’ve never really bothered with a GPS on a bike. I’ve used them with cars since they first appeared because I’m usually trying to find an address or monitor traffic, but on a motorcycle, I either know where I’m going or I want to explore. I still like to gaze up a sideroad and wonder where it leads to.
A couple of years ago, TomTom sent me a Rider 400 unit to try out and I used it a few times and then put it away. I didn’t wire it in to the bike for power, so I had to remember to charge it before use and, frankly, I usually knew where I was going. This spring, though, I wired it to the bike’s battery and I’ve been using it more.
I followed the suggested Mosport route out of Cobourg and knew all the roads it was taking me on. Then it told me to turn left on a small sideroad I’d never travelled and, before I knew it, I was leaning and curving underneath overhanging trees on a gorgeous motorcycle road just 20 km from home. Who knew? It didn’t look interesting on a map afterwards, but it was. I emerged from the greenery at the obscure rural hamlet of Osaca and I was hooked.
There’s a modern alternative to any GPS unit in your smartphone, of course. Google Maps and Apple Maps will both guide you where you want to go, as will Waze and other apps, and Google Earth will show you what’s at the end of the road. As well, many phones now are waterproof and shockproof. RAM mounts are available for attaching phones to your handlebars, and their voice-guidance can be Bluetoothed into speakers in your helmet. I often use voice guidance now from the iPhone in my pocket for finding a city address.
A GPS unit, however, does not need cell reception to work, since it has downloaded maps and uses satellite reception to locate itself. It also might have Winding Roads, which you can set to “very winding” or “a bit winding”, and now the new units and software include hilly roads, too. And unlike the built-in Navigation units available on some top-of-the-line Hondas and Harley-Davidsons, the unit can be removed and carried in to a restaurant or hotel.
Remember the pleasure of opening a paper map over lunch and figuring out the next stage of the route? Now TomTom and Garmin and a few others have you covered for that.
They’re not without fault, though, these GPS units. Just south of Canadian Tire Motorsport Park, the province is building an extension to the six-lane Hwy. 407 and it cuts a swathe through the countryside to Peterborough. All the little roads that run north and south along its way now come to a dead-end and my TomTom didn’t know this. I’d not updated its maps in two years, which costs extra.
And on the way home, it tried to route me on a sandy trail through the Ganaraska Forest, which would have been fun on a dual-purpose or dirt bike but just wasn’t going to happen on a Harley-Davidson. It made me think of the driver in Germany who apparently drove into a river thinking there was a bridge when there was actually a ferry.
At home afterwards, I went into the settings and updated the maps, though the new version, from April, still didn’t show 407 construction and its many detours. (In its defence, neither Google Maps nor Apple Maps show the closed-off roads, either.) I also set the preferences to avoid dirt and gravel roads. I may never get lost again, and I’ll probably always know what to expect around the next corner.
This is progress, I guess.