Don’t get me wrong – I love maps. I happily pore over Ordnance Survey Explorer maps, in all their jaw-dropping detail. (Did you know that every single one of those maps has a small deliberate error somewhere, for copyright protection? And can you imagine how long it would take to actually find it?)
Yes, maps are amazing – both beautiful and useful – but despite their awesomeness, I think the SatNav is one of the best tech innovations ever when it comes to exploring on a motorbike.
Obviously, navigating using a bar-mounted or console screen, plus headset instructions, is much simpler – and potentially safer – than trying to find your way using a paper map in a tankbag map holder. Map-based navigation takes a fair bit of brainpower (at least for this poor little brain), and so does riding a motorbike safely, so it’s not easy to do both at once. (There’s a reason why rally raid events like the Dakar have a “roadbook” that’s basically a set of turn-by-turn instructions, rather than a regular map.)
Now, many SatNav technologies are at their most effective/non-irritating when you’re just trying to get from A to B as efficiently as possible (Google Maps, I’m looking at you.) While dedicated bike SatNavs like TomTom Riders and Garmin Zumos can plan more interesting touring routes, some riders still see using a SatNav as the opposite of exploration because the device tells you exactly where you have to go.
Personally, I’m perfectly happy – delighted even – to follow a well-curated GPX track to explore an unfamiliar touring route. I figure I’m getting the benefit of all that local expertise, and I can relax and enjoy a brilliant ride rather than fretting about the next navigation decision. But I do really love “free-range exploring”, too – and for me, this is another win for the SatNav.
As a rider, I’m constantly tempted by interesting turn-offs and intriguing side roads. I wonder where that goes? is probably my second most common motorcycling thought (the first being I wonder if they have any custard doughnuts?) Unfortunately, I also have what could politely be called an approximate sense of direction. I’m great at recognising landmarks, but in an unfamiliar place I have the almost uncanny ability to get my bearings 180° out with extreme confidence.
Having a SatNav with me, even if it’s just an app on my phone, gives me the freedom to go out and really explore. I can navigate by whim alone, taking whatever tantalizing turnings present themselves and getting myself delightfully “lost” in the process. At the end of the day, the SatNav can get me back to wherever I’m supposed to be – and can even show me a track of where I’ve been wandering, so I can put my exploring in context on a real map.
In my (road)book, that’s a win whichever way you look at it.