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Old 6 Jan 2002
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Garmin StreetPilot III, Considerations when choosing a GPS

I purchased a Garmin StreetPilot III GPS in May of 2001, to mount on my Honda ST1100. This particular model of GPS had two features that attracted me – first, the large colour display size, and second, it uses a memory chip that can hold up to 128 megabytes of stored map data.

I shipped my bike from Canada to Europe in July of 2001, and toured through a number of countries, from Ireland to the Ukraine border. The GPS worked well in every respect, it is vibration-proof and waterproof.

This unit, like all other Garmin GPSR’s, will only accept map data that comes from Garmin in their proprietary CD format. There are many different map products available from Garmin, they fall into 4 broad categories:

1)Maps that support auto-routing. You enter your destination into the GPSR, either as a city name or a street address, or by using a waypoint lookup (sort of like a yellow pages lookup), and the unit will then create a route from your present position to the destination, respecting all turn restrictions, one way restrictions, etc. Quite amazing.

2) Maps that contain address data, but don’t support auto-routing. You can do an address lookup and the unit will display the address location, but you have to figure out your own way of getting there.

3) Maps that contain displays of all the city streets, but don’t support address lookup.

4) A ‘WorldMap’, which contains national highway routes and some limited topographic data about all the countries in the world.

Items 1, 2 and 3 are available for North America and Western Europe. All you can get for the rest of the world is the WorldMap. The WorldMap is not extraordinarily detailed, but I was surprised at just how much data it did contain. I have used WorldMap only in Poland, Slovakia, and Algeria, and I am generally happy with the coverage it provides.

A GPSR does not replace a map, rather, it compliments a map. A conventional map – which I always kept on my tankbag – tells me where I am going, and the GPSR tells me where I am.

Overall, I feel that having a GPSR on a motorcycle while touring in an unfamiliar area is a great help – it greatly reduces stress, because you always know where you are, and how far ahead the next town or turnoff is. I still made the occasional navigation error, and wound up going the wrong way, but the difference was that with the GPSR, I was aware of my error within about 60 seconds, and without it, it could have taken anywhere up to 15 or 30 miles before I realized I had gone the wrong way.

For those considering purchase of a GPSR for a long distance motorcycle tour, here are the main issues that I think need to be considered:

1) Will you be in spending much time in densely settled areas of North America or Western Europe? If so, the auto-routing feature is wonderful, a real timesaver and a real stress reliever. If not, don’t pay the extra money for the auto-routing support on the hardware. Also, be aware that the software costs to buy map data that supports auto-routing are also considerable (ca. US$ 200 for all of Europe or all of North America).

2) How’s your vision? The smaller handheld GPSR’s, such as the GPS III and GPS V from Garmin, are pretty small, and may be difficult to read when mounted on a bike. Good enough for city to city navigation but the display is not big enough to support street level navigation.

3) What kind of memory capacity does the GPSR have? For a long trip, you don’t want to be forced to carry a laptop around, so you can upload maps to the GPSR. A unit that can hold a large (e.g. 128meg) memory chip, such as the StreetPilot III or Garmin 176, can be loaded with the whole world at one time.

4) How will you mount it on your motorcycle? It’s critical that the antenna on the unit be no more than 10º off vertical (both fore and aft and side to side) for reliable reception. This rules out stuffing it into the top of your tank bag.

I hope this info is of use to you when planning your purchase.



[This message has been edited by PanEuropean (edited 28 January 2002).]
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