Date tested: May 2017 | Tested by: Kane Dalton | Price: From £349.99 | www.tranam.co.uk
I never used to think that a sat-nav was for me. I figured they were for adventure riders only. Or couriers, as an essential accessory to go with heated grips and hand-muffs. I certainly didn’t think there was a place for one on my R1, but I’ve ended up using a TomTom on both that and my Harley. I’m a convert.
I’ve ridden at least 5000 miles using the first generation TomTom Rider 400, including a 1600-mile trip to the Isle of Man TT. I find new local routes, places off the beaten track and epic twisties for the sportsbikes in my life. Riding with a sat-nav encourages me to ride more.
The new 450 replaces the 410 Rider, which replaced the 400, the 450 having a revised screen and updated software. The new display is less sensitive to any unintended inputs caused by heavy rain, and you can set it up for a soft or hard touch based on the type of gloves you’re wearing.
The Rider has always had a very intuitive user interface, and while the usual options like fastest and shortest route are available, you can also ‘Plan a thrill’, which sees the device define a route based on three levels of ‘twisty’ and three levels of ‘hilly’. It uses its own algorithms to create the routes, so isn’t pulling from a resource of known great rides, but you’ll be astonished at the roads and tracks you’ll travel.
The TomTom Rider 450 also offers motorcycle points of interests like biking cafés and museums, as well as 100 top rides spread around the world. My new mission; seek out and ride at least ten of them this year.
The launch of the new 450 was held in the New Forest, the device loaded with a pre-planned route that was made using the online route planner. It was a 40-mile round trip through the forest back roads and lanes, the TomTom paired with the new Schuberth C4 helmet that has a fully integrated communication system. I don’t usually ride with a comms system to give me audio prompts, instead simply following the visual directions on the screen, so I was surprised how good it was to have the audio, which pre-empts any change of course before you get there.
You can set the navigation with options like avoiding toll routes or unpaved roads, and it’s much easier to operate, and far more robust than using a smartphone with an app. It’s compact, tough, and of course it’s waterproof, which I’ve proven with my 400 through rain of biblical proportions.
The TomTom is really simple to install – it comes with a docking station that bolts to a handlebar, using a u-clip and two nuts, or it’s easy to fit to the yoke with a RAM ball mount. The compact dock and fixtures are included, which are the same as the previous model. I was able to use the mount from my 400 during the launch test, which was already wired up on my bike. The TomTom’s batteries were fully charged, so other journos simply mounted them to the bars or yoke and set off. Wiring it up properly is very simple, with just a pair of wires to the bike battery’s terminals.
Once mounted, you can rotate the unit to a portrait or and landscape screen orientation. I went for landscape because, well, that’s the shape of the landscape. The simple graphics make it easy to plan a trip or change it quickly, and it’s just as simple to adjust the audio settings for the Bluetooth headset feed from one of the direct access buttons on the map screen.
The user interface is easy to navigate with some useful short cuts, the layout being customisable to bring your favourite buttons to the first pages. After our ride through the awesome scenery we were low on fuel, so I clicked on the fuel option in the menu for the two options – fuel on route or nearest fuel. I clicked nearest and found a station a couple of miles away. At first, I had trouble scrolling through menus to find the petrol station icon, going into menus I didn’t want, but I soon dragged the icon to a more accessible place that made selecting it much easier.
The TomTom can be connected to your PC or Mac, to display your trips and plan new ones, or use routes created by other TomTom owners, while the ability to record your route lets you go back and retrace your favourite rides, or share them with your mates.
Voyage of discovery
Last year, when using the 400 on ‘winding routes’ to the Isle of Man, the device and I didn’t always seem to agree on what constitutes a road. Mud, gravel tracks and farm lanes with loose gravel had not been part of my plan. It felt like an adventure route, as confirmed when I met a group of guys out on their GSs. At least I got off the beaten track.
This wasn’t the best road to find myself on when I took the R1 to IoM
This weekend I twice used the new 450 plan a thrill from near my home; just select a destination, and confirm the twisty and hilly options... Within minutes of setting off I found roads and lanes that I didn’t know existed. I found what I call ‘biscuit tin England’; the quintessential countryside with picturesque villages. When the dark threatening clouds burst, I was happy to take refuge under a tree and just watch the rain roll across the fields.
On route I stopped to take a photo. The owner of the house came out and asked if I was another film buff – it turns out that the house and courtyard had been used in the film The Dirty Dozen. There was a close-up shot of Ernest Borgnine in the movie, observing the war games from the courtyard.
The friendly lady directed me a short distance from the house to the location of the prison in the film, now repurposed as the Ashridge Business Centre. History on my doorstep, and I never knew it.
Overall, the TomTom Rider 450 is a smart, well-built device that delivers a simple user experience. It comes with free ‘lifetime’ updates to maps and speed camera locations.
Without planning a thrill, I’d never have found out that the Dirty Dozen was shot here!
I’m a sat-nav luddite. I don't own one, have very rarely used one and to be honest, haven't felt the need for one. If I need to find an address, I can always get within half a mile using a paper road atlas (remember them?). Before leaving home, I go online, find the spot and draw a little sketch map of that last half-mile. This works fine unless you get lost... and then you're lost.
TomTom's latest Rider clearly aims to persuade diehards like me that electronic navigation really is a good and hassle-free idea. There have been several updates, and the new Rider syncs seamlessly with Schuberth's latest C4 flip-up – earpiece and microphone are built into the helmet, as are slots for the battery and communications unit. There's nothing new about Bluetooth, but with this system there's no need for a black box stuck to the side of the helmet. According to Schuberth, external black boxes upset a helmet's aerodynamics and can catch on the Tarmac if you’re unfortunate enough to be sliding down the road...
TomTom’s been in the sat-nav business for 25 years, but these devices have been facing a challenge from the more basic A to B navigation available on a smartphone. According to Arjan Vreeberg of TomTom, the market is changing: “It's not so much about A to B routes anymore,” he told me, “but more about fun riding routes from A to A.” In other words, sat-navs are increasingly about finding the best biking roads for a Sunday afternoon ride out, or when you're on holiday, instead of seeking out an obscure address in the backstreets of north London.
Despite my luddite status, the launch route shifted my views. The Rider gives clear instructions about 500 yards before each junction, and on an unfamiliar road, it's also good to be forewarned on the display of upcoming bends, which could be particularly handy at night (though of course, it’s no substitute for properly reading the road).
The screen itself is very easy to use, and includes a speed limit function, so no excuses for 'not noticing' the signs, though at one point it did insist I was in a 30 instead of a 60. It also came up with authentic points of interest, like the Sammy Miller Museum (well worth visiting if you're ever down Hampshire way). Better still, it effortlessly began re-routing when I took a deliberate wrong turn.
So was I convinced? The latest TomTom certainly seems able to cross the border into ride-out aid as well as A to B route finder. Just to be sure, I've borrowed one for a few weeks to see how it works out. The Rider range starts at £299.99 for the 42 (with 23 lifetime EU maps installed), rising to £349.99 450 with lifetime world maps, traffic and speed camera locations. The 450 Premium costs £429.99, and also comes with a carry case, car mounting kit, and a locking dock for the bike.
I’ve used the Rider 400 since its launch in 2013, moving on to the 410 that followed it. I couldn’t agree more with Kane; the TomTom is a great way to discover new routes, and really transforms the way you ride. I’ll often have a destination I need to reach, but set my TomTom to find the most winding route – it can make a one hour journey extend to three or more, and it can make for a truly spectacular ride.
Of course, it’s not always right – I recently ended up slogging through a city centre as the 410 tried to take me on an alternative to the M1, but instances like that are unusual, and looking at the map, there weren’t any more rural options at that point.
I also ended up on a gravel fire track when I used the device to ride to Spain through France, but I hadn’t checked the ‘avoid unpaved roads’ option. The only other issue I had was when a road was closed on the route I’d pre-programmed, and the unit struggled so badly to recalculate that I ended up finding it myself after twenty minutes. This is, however, very unusual, and even in the middle of London, the TomTom generally recalculates very quickly.
This gravel track came up in the south of France. The XSR700 didn’t mind…
Owning a KTM 1050 Adventure, and loving tight, bumpy back roads as I do, the TomTom’s algorithms are ideal. In the UK at least, planning a thrill won’t always deliver the smooth, sweeping bends that some sports riders might prefer, but I’ve honestly had some of my best ever rides by leaving the TomTom to choose my route. One that really sticks in my mind was when I used it to ride to and explore France, Belgium and Luxembourg. French A roads are boring dual carriageways, but putting my trust in the Rider 400 I had then, I saw some incredible scenery, and stumbled upon a Bank Holiday market that had taken over an entire village. I’m no Sam Manicom or Nathan Millward, but that truly felt like my own little adventure.
I really appreciate the units having a built-in speaker, as it means they can easily be used in the car, without the need for a bulky dock or to pair with a Bluetooth stereo (which my ten-year-old car doesn’t have anyway). It’s also more reliable, and easier to use than a smartphone, and of course you don’t need a data signal to use it.
The TomTom Rider is not only an excellent motorcycle GPS, it also makes a great car GPS too…
But I do have my iPhone connected almost all the time. Not for phone calls, which the Riders now allow you to take and initiate through the device, but for the absolutely superb traffic data, which uses both TomTom and Google info to give very accurate information on delays, and to help the unit find the fastest route. Great in a car, and almost as relevant on a bike – you might be able to filter, but if a motorway is closed, you’re as stuck as everyone else.
One thing that really sets the 4XX series apart is the vertical side-bar, which displays upcoming fuel stops on the route, POIs, speed cameras etc. It’ll change colour if you’re over the limit and there’s a camera coming up, and – brilliantly – it’ll display your average speed when you’re in an average speed camera zone.
My original 400 unfortunately suffered a leak – in very serious rain the inside of the screen misted up, and while I could still navigate home, I could no longer use the menu. I also knew of one other user that had the same problem, though we’d both received devices from the first batch. Both were replaced without and problems.
My Rider 400 got water in it on one really bad ride
My 410 has recently started to occasionally show a patch of light fogging inside, which soon disappears, and doesn’t affect control, but does make the otherwise excellent screen (which is capacitive, like a smartphone, so hasn’t got an overlay that spoils the contrast) a little harder to read. TomTom’s new distributor – TranAm – tells me that the 450 now uses a new sealing unit, so it could mean there’ll be no chance of this happening. There’s also a new processor, so while the 410 and 400 were generally quick enough, I’ll be interested to see how the new one compares.”
Grumbles aside, I’ve used my smartphone, as well as various Garmin and TomTom GPS systems, and still always find myself reaching for the TomTom when I want to get somewhere. However long I want to take over it…”