Sat-navs are almost impossible to ignore. There is barely a car dashboard that isn’t adorned with a little screen that delights in telling the driver to ‘take the first turning at the next roundabout’ and even if we don’t own a dedicated device ourselves, the chances are that our phone has an app that does more or less the same thing. The traditional map is dead, right?
The market for sat-navs is almost exclusively carved up between US company Garmin and TomTom, from the Netherlands. Motorcycle sat-navs are nothing new and have been increasingly popular in recent years, particularly among riders of tourers and adventure bikes, but TomTom reckon that they have a new product that is going to set a ‘new standard in navigation for bikers’.
Development of the new Rider 400, which will appear in shops this month, started two years ago and TomTom claims to have interviewed thousands of customers to better understand what motorcyclists want from a GPS navigation system. As such, their new device is not just about getting the rider from A to B as quickly as possible, but also has functionality to allow riders to choose the types of road they want to ride, for when you just want to go out and have some fun. So whether fast and flowing country roads are your bag, or you want to climb tight and twisting mountain passes, the Rider 400 has features that suggests to you the best route, or ‘Thrill Ride’ as they like to call it.
To test that claim, they invited Bike Social to motorcycling nirvana, Spain’s Andalucia region, to try the new Rider 400 first hand.
If nothing else, what’s clear from this brief introduction is that the Rider 400 has lots of details that make it ideally suited to motorcycling. The design looks cool and robust, and it’s waterproof, of course. And we can definitely vouch for that first hand, as we spent most of the day riding in rain of biblical proportions.
Visually the Rider 400 shares little in common with its predecessor, commonly known as the Rider v5. The touchscreen buttons are big and can be operated by a gloved hand, which is a nice touch, and the screen has a smartphone style gyroscope which allows it to be rotated 90 degrees, giving the rider a choice of a portrait view as opposed to the more traditional landscape screen. I particularly liked this feature, as the long and narrow portrait style allowed me to see more of the turns ahead. Another feature I liked was the ability to record my route, a great option that lets you go back and retrace your favourite rides, without thinking ‘what way do I go now?’ Other than that, the Rider 400 uses TomTom’s latest software and is loaded with UK and European maps. so it will be familiar to anyone who has used one of their other products.
Of course, part of the sat-nav experience is having the voice in your head. You know, the one that calmly delivers instructions while you frantically try to get yourself ‘unlost’? The TomTom Rider 400 can be connected to most intercom systems and, for the purposes of the test, we were supplied with high end Schuberth C3 Pro helmets, which come fully kitted out with speakers.
Now I suppose at this point it is best for me to come clean. I am not really a fan of sat-navs at the best of times and I hate the way that they turn too many motorists into mindless sheep, myself included.
Where possible I usually try to avoid slavishly following that purple line, giving up any sense of where I am and putting blind faith in the technology. It’s almost inevitable that I still end up losing it at some stage, when it turns out that the lady inside the box really doesn’t know where she’s going and we circle endlessly to the soundtrack of ‘recalculating’ around some roadworks.
But even I, techno dinosaur that I am, see the benefits. If I’m in the city or driving at peak time, I’m usually accompanied by ‘Flora’ and her posh, if somewhat synthetic voice. They work, and do save time.
Except, when I ride for leisure it’s just another faff. They are another distraction that dilutes the thrill of motorcycling for me, the connection between man and machine, tyre and Tarmac. The freedom to go our own way, although I do appreciate that the ability to identify the location of speed cameras can be attractive for many of us from time to time.
The TomTom Rider 400 does nothing to change the perception for me, for now at least. Much of my day was trying to work out how to work the bloody thing, especially getting the helmet paired with the GPS unit but, to be fair, these are gripes I’ve had with all such products I’ve used over the years.
That said, it is impossible to fully assess a product like this in a day. These gadgets take days, weeks and months to get the best out of them and I am sure if I was a regular user I’d quickly become more au fait with it and would be able to connect at the push of a familiar button. The good news is that Bike Social will be testing the Rider 400 throughout the summer, and we’ll bring you our real world thoughts in the coming months.
From my brief experience with the Rider 400, it is indeed the best system I have used on a motorcycle. It’s a quality product with lots of nice touches, and for those looking for a bike specific sat-nav, you are unlikely to go far wrong with the Rider 400.
UK prices for the TomTom Rider are as follows:
The Premium Pack includes the car mounting kit, an anti-theft solution and a travel carry case.
The company offers free ‘lifetime’ updates to the maps and speed camera, and that’s got to be worth something. TomTom won’t say exactly how long they’ll support their latest product with software and map updates, but certainly I’d expect the Rider 400 to have a decent shelf life.
We’re looking forward to trying out the Rider 400 in the real world over the coming months and we’ll bring you our more detailed thoughts.