Handheld GPS devices pack a lot of useful features in a small footprint. These GPS devices are typically used outside a moving vehicle. Very popular with hikers, geocachers and hunters, you don’t normally see a handheld GPS used on a motorcycle or in a car. The question that we will try to answer: Can I use a handheld GPS on a motorcycle?
Not an easy decision. It all depends upon your requirements, budget and available space for mounting the device. Quality handheld GPS devices used to be available from a variety of companies. Lately though, Garmin is the only game in town. They make good quality devices and and a solid US based company standing behind it. That’s a Garmin Rino handheld unit in the photo that accompanies this article.
Why a Handheld GPS Anyway?
If you don’t currently own a GPS, and only need it for motorcycle use on a highway, stop now, and start shopping for a GPS made for a motorcycle. The Garmin Zumo 595LM is a good start. As of the date of publication, it’s our favorite motorcycle GPS with the most features tailored for this purpose.
Planning to do a lot of off-road riding? A handheld GPS might be the right choice. That’s the primary purpose of a handheld GPS. They are typically used off-road for outdoor activity. If you’re planning to do a lot of off-road riding in unfamiliar places, a handheld GPS is a good choice.
If planning to also use this GPS for hiking, or maybe you already have a handheld GPS, then read on. This article is worth a read.
There are a lot of different handheld GPS models on the market. Some are amazing, some aren’t a lot better than toys. Some are expensive, some are, well, priced like toys. Avoid using toys on a motorcycle.
You want to use a handheld GPS that you can see. This is one of the biggest challenges for using these types of units on a motorcycle. Most displays are smaller than a traditional motorcycle or car GPS. Use one with the largest display possible. Anything that’s too small isn’t going to prove to be very useful on a motorcycle.
A big advantage for a GPS made for a motorcycle over that of one that’s marketed for a car is the weatherproof aspect. A car GPS isn’t made to use in the rain where one made for a motorcycle can handle the elements. Fortunately, many handheld models are rated almost as weatherproof. Look for designations such as IPX7. That meansit withstands incidental exposure to water of up to 1 meter for up to 30 minutes.
This is another important thing to look at and it depends upon where you plan to use the GPS. Most handheld GPS devices have you covered for off-road use. Set some way points and ride away. Some devices come with some real nice topology maps too.
If planning to use these on the highway, you will likely need to add a map package such as the Garmin City Navigator North America NT micro SD Card. The City Navigator maps add roads to your handheld GPS. These are available for most of the world and are typically purchased by region. So for example, if you want maps of Europe, select the City Navigator Europe NT micro SD Card.
By location, we’re talking about where to put the GPS. The most common location is the handlebar. Be sure that you have sufficient handlebar real estate available. If not, many opt for a clutch attachment. Get a good holder made for a motorcycle. Avoid those that are made for a bicycle.
Consider the Garmin Oregon 750T GPS. This is one of the leading handheld GPS devices on the market. It has a three inch display which for a handheld GPS is about as large as you will get. The Garmin Oregon 750T is preloaded with TOPO U.S. 100K maps and includes a one year BirdsEye Satellite Imagery subscription.
Now to add this to a motorcycle for road use, add a Garmin City Navigator card and a good handlebar mount made for a motorcycle. We like the RAM Handlebar Mount for a Garmin Oregon GPS. The mount is made of metal and includes a custom fit plastic cradle that the Garmin Oregon will snap into. The mount allows the Garmin Oregon to swivel into landscape mode which we prefer for a GPS on a motorcycle. Using a tether as a safety backup is suggested.
The Garmin Oregon 750T has a battery life of up to 16 hours, but your mileage may vary depending upon the amount of use. You can also add the Garmin Car Charger if your motorcycle has a DC outlet. Some like to hardwire the power instead, but we always recommend that as a last resort since it involves some effort to wire it up.
So in conclusion, a handheld GPS is a viable option on a motorcycle. It’s a nice way to have a multi-purpose GPS for motorcycle and hiking use.
Most importantly, stay safe. Be sure that the GPS can be easily seen and is securely attached to your motorcycle.
I’m Mike, the author of all of the articles on this site. MotorcycleGPSHub is written from many years of experience outfitting motorcycles with GPS devices and mounting configurations. I’ve had a chance to use not just the old school Garmin Zumo, but more contemporary GPS apps like Waze and Google Maps. To each their own. There’s a good market for a traditional motorcycle GPS as well as those that want to keep it basic with a smartphone app.