Gloriously, the motorcycle GPS unit has evolved significantly in a relatively short space of time—certainly when compared to the history of paper maps—and long gone are the days when they were worse than a toy compass spilled from a Christmas cracker. Namely with hard-to-read displays, insufficient battery life, journeys that lead you on a wild goose chase only to end in a farmer’s field and foremost, fathoming how to best employ the device in the first place. Even though some motorcycle riders still prefer a paper map over the motorcycle GPS, having one won’t take a myriad of miles to recognize that it will not only make navigation a whole lot easier and more convenient, it will also alert you to places of interest when travelling in new areas. In addition, a GPS will help you effectively plan your trip and be easily located in case of an emergency or disaster.
Convinced from the outset, we’ve always opted to aid our two wheel jaunts with a satellite navigation unit. And for us, the best kit upgrades often stem from a story. Having benefitted from a relatively good experience with our previous motorcycle GPS for over 30,000 miles through South and Central America, I can’t deny the difficulty in viewing the display in harsh sunlight, occasional system crashes and sometimes slow refresh rate. The time came to take advantage of the latest technology, finding out if the TomTom Rider 400 represents the best on the market for our needs.
Dutch company TomTom has been manufacturing the Rider since 2005, aimed at motorcyclists all around the overland navigable globe, and it has developed an undeniably impressive following. TomTom relaunched the Rider at the start of 2015, a revolutionary update to the well-received Rider 5.
Who is the Rider 400 for?
With its intuitive user interface, the Rider 400 is geared towards just about any motorcyclist—from day-trippers cruising the open road, countryside tourers to riders that like to dial into the most exhilarating routes—irrespective of the journey’s duration. On and off road. The device effortlessly does the work for you, cutting out hours of trip planning and without disrespecting the artful pastime, poring over paper maps. Perfect for those of us that are time poor, whose eyesight might be deteriorating or simply loathe the prospect of getting lost through unfamiliar places—rural, urban or otherwise.
The all-new Rider 400 features a number of significant changes, including portrait and landscape screen orientations, a much more compact and stylish frame, and a simpler mount for your motorcycle. The refresh rate is quick and the unit has shown zero signs of failing. What’s more, the Rider 400 is not just easy to use, it’s actually fun to use.
Robustly in position on my bike, the Rider 400 comes with a Winding Roads option that can divert me off the uninspiring straights and instead, make a beeline to the closest curvy roads for maximum riding enjoyment. The Hilly Roads feature can also locate the nearest soul-singing routes at high elevations, as well as the fastest course when there’s a sense of urgency in my day. Determining the level of twisties, hills and straights I want to ride creates my own adrenaline-fuelled adventure and moreover, helps me to discover and explore new routes not blaringly obviously on a paper map. How? I just select an area to ride on the touchscreen map at the push of my gloved-finger, click on ‘Plan a Thrill’ and the device will thoughtfully suggest the most exciting round-trip. And when I make my own interesting tracks, I can record it at the click of a button. Brilliant.
As we’ve come to expect from today’s standard in motorcycle GPSs, the device signals me on where to find fuel, highlights an ATM in my direction, the nearest jaw-on-the-floor vista that would justify kicking the stand side down, the next cup of coffee in the vicinity and an ideal spot in which to make camp. Plus an array of more than 80 other services and amenities in relation to: food, accommodation, emergency services, travel and public transport, leisure, sport, education, legal and financial services, car services, religion and other everyday conveniences. Few needs, wants or whims will go unmet.
And when warranted, I can upload community Points of Interest to my Rider. Most importantly, it tells me where I am at any given time. I can select where I want to go and how I wish to get there through customised navigation. The unit clearly displays: my compass direction, the calculated time of arrival, the distance to the next fuel station, the mileage to my destination remaining, the time of day and my speed in miles per hour and kilometres per hour. It also comes with a lifetime of speed camera alerts. And retains all of my riding history in Trip Statistics. That’s a serious number of essential and desirable boxes checked, while my riding relaxation remains at an all time high.
The compact weatherproof frame aligns ergonomically into the RAM mounting kit—compatible with virtually every motorcycle and adding to the universal appeal. The 11-centimetre (4.3-inch) screen employs simple graphics and can be easily oriented from landscape to portrait with one hand; hugely helpful on the serpentine roads to see and prepare for more bends ahead. On top of maintaining optimal visibility, I absolutely appreciate the anti-glare screen in strong sunlight, enabling me to view the route in the brightest of Californian conditions with its high contrast mode.
Keeping it simple
Everything about the Rider 400 exudes simplicity, extinguishing the stress of negotiating today’s increasingly busy roads. Its uncomplicated functionality means that I can successfully venture from A to B on my own, safely in the knowledge that I’m no longer vulnerable to becoming hopelessly lost, running out of daylight and landing in a place I don’t want to be. Instead, it keeps me on track and the world an accessible place.
Not especially intuitive towards technology, it was still a doddle to execute the computer installation with the unit and the motorcycle set up. And no tantrums ensued in adjusting the audio settings for the Bluetooth headset feed—perfect for keeping my eyes on the road when receiving instructions through the helmet. And legal with hands-free phone calls for that matter.
Unique selling points
Fully embracing the digital age, the Rider 400 bridges the gap in the utilisation of the smartphone, tablet and PC (or Mac) via Lifetime TomTom Traffic and MyDrive to review real-time traffic information. In pinpointing all the tedious traffic jams and blocked roads, keeps my bike moving and me on schedule at no extra cost. Coupled with the software Tyre Pro, I can load my pre-determined course at home, sending destinations from the computer to the device, or share with fellow riders via Bluetooth. Likewise, I’m free to use the routes created by other Rider 400 owners, the aforementioned of which for me, sets it in a league of its own. However, nothing is fixed in stone, I can easily change my chosen path as I ride en route. It’s really quite amazing, particularly when using the Winding and Hilly Roads options in a region I haven’t yet explored.
In essence, the TomTom Rider 400 is a capable, well-built GPS that delivers a simple but considered user experience. Daily commuters, road-tripping fun hogs wending their way on a weekend outing and cross-country riders alike will love it, while hardcore adventurists that live to lean into the tightest hairpins on the highest peaks, will derive something equally as valuable from the device.
Has the TomTom Rider 400 rendered the paper map useless? Quite possibly for many but used in conjunction with one another and you’ve got a failsafe combination for perpetually moving towards your goal; peace of mind in keeping you on the straight and narrow, or snaking and wide if that’s more your bag. For those of us who adore being astride the saddle, the GPS unit is designed for a life on the road and it can’t help but contribute towards your biking bliss. Remarkably, because the Rider has a realistic price tag to boot, makes it attainable to one and all. The best just got better for users of the motorcycle GPS.
- Motorcycle specific software and GPS specifications.
- Minimal user effort to get the device to divulge the information you seek.
- Customised display: glove friendly and anti-glare for bright conditions.
- Rugged frame.
- Weatherproof design.
- Battery life of up to six hours autonomous operation.
- Everything is included in box to get going: GPS unit with 16 Gigabytes of internal memory, USB home charger, charging dock, cable and handlebar RAM mount that fit nearly all bikes.
- More expensive than a paper map.
- Doesn’t feature altitude.