Like many technological advances, bike sat-navs have the power to relieve and frustrate in equal measure.
In many circumstances the ability to be guided easily to a destination can be an absolute blessing. The frustration comes when the bloody thing won’t just do what it promises and show you where you should be going.
It’s a paradox I’ve suffered plenty of times before – caught between the need for a sat-nav to show the way and a desire to chuck the thing off the side of a ferry because it won’t do what I want it to.
That feeling is hugely relieved by the arrival of TomTom’s Rider 550 unit, which has clearly been developed by a project manager who appreciates what it’s like to try and get from A to B by motorcycle.
Firstly, it’s wi-fi enabled. Seems a simple, possibly trifling, matter, but it means never having to connect the sat-nav to a computer to update the maps. Writing as someone who lost 24 hours of their life trying to update the earlier TomTom Rider 400 by tethering it to a laptop, the wi-fi function is an absolute joy.
Photography: Simon Lee
It comes with free map updates for the lifetime of the unit, and whenever there’s an update available a message will come up to say so. If it’s connected to the wi-fi network, press go and it updates itself. Easy.
It’s also quick. The previous Rider 400, which had many shared functions with this latest version, was just a tad too slow for an impatient rider like me. A lack of processing power also meant it preferred to search within a smaller area for your chosen destination, meaning it was better to narrow the search to a town or city before punching in details.
No such trouble for the 550, which can trawl the whole of Europe in speedy ease and offer a choice of potential matches for your search.
The extra processing power also cuts the time spent waiting for the unit to calculate the best route, reducing the sense of impatience.
That’s especially handy when using perhaps the best feature of the TomTom Rider series – the ‘plan a thrill’ function. Instead of just offering the most direct, utilitarian, boring, downright bland route the Rider 500 gives the choice of going the long way and making matters more interesting.
At the menu screen three bendy roads icons have differing degrees of bend, indicating how big a detour you’re prepared to make on your journey. If they’re all too long, or you’re in a hurry, there’s always the option to just take the quickest route. Does the freebie sat-nav in your smartphone give you that choice? Mine doesn’t.
On a Land’s End to John O’ Groats journey last summer, the Rider 550 was an invaluable aid. The trip organiser supplied a route marked in a traditional atlas, but the option to ask the TomTom to guide me along an alternative route gave me a little independence from the main group when I either found myself isolated or just wanting to go it alone.
Another very handy feature revealed itself on a long, tiring section of the A9 near Inverness. Now wearing a natty set of 50mph speed limit signs and average speed cameras, that stretch of road has a truly voracious appetite for driving licences.
But the TomTom had my back. It knew I was in an average speed camera zone and displayed my average speed since I entered it, helping both me and my licence stay nice and safe.
The list of the 550’s capabilities is extensive, and admittedly too much for me. As long as I can punch in my destination, have a degree of control over and advance knowledge of the route and get easy communication then I’m happy.
The 550 does all of that. It’s fast, effective, clear and very intuitive to use. Not once have I wanted to throw it off the side of a ferry.
Ease of fit
The unit comes with the basics to fit it to a motorcycle including a few RAM Mount options. I’ve fitted mine to a fiendishly simple accessory called a Telferizer (bought separately). It’s a RAM ball-end with a bolt through the middle that replaces one of the handlebar clamp bolts. Secure the RAM arm to that and the job is a dream. A plug in the power cable gives the freedom to easily remove the nav unit and tuck the unused plug somewhere discreet.
Ease of use
It starts with the wi-fi for easy updates and the speedy processor to quickly find your chosen destination. The user interface is simple for both pre-ride planning and to follow while riding. I’d like ‘recent destinations’ to have its own place on the menu screen rather than being tucked inside ‘my routes’ alongside ones I’ve saved, but that’s a minor quibble.
The screen is easy to follow and gives the info I need to make easy and enjoyable progress. It’s also easy to show different elements on the main screen if preferred. The lane assist feature is not new, but it’s an essential in a modern sat-nav.
I’ve covered several thousand miles with this unit and it’s remained in tip-top condition, as have the wires. I’ve also gone for the optional in-car kit that lets me use it when I have no option but to take the grown-up, four-wheeled option.
It’s got more than I want to use. A unit like this is a techno-geek’s dream with the power and features to keep them in raptures.