Using an On-Board GPSGPS provides a perfect companion to a paper map for this Go-Stop-Plan-Go riding style. A GPS with a built in, very detailed map (street maps worked best) is really the only type of system to consider. Built in topographic maps are far too cluttered and don’t provide information easily digested while moving. If you think you’re lost, the GPS will put you right back on track in a hurry. You practically have to journey to a third world country to get truly lost these days.Track following: Attempting to follow a previously recorded track is probably the most amusing way to use a GPS. With the typical inaccuracies (20 to 100 feet is common) and data dropouts due to poor coverage that occurs mostly in between buildings, in canyons or heavy forests, you can have loads of fun attempting to relocate tiny single-track trails or find the correct turn onto a one way street. Follow the track segment in San Francisco and it’s obvious that your Dirt Rider hosts were not very good at finding their way to Lombard Street.Waypoint navigation: If you can get a series of points chosen and entered as a route, waypoint routing is actually very easy while on a motorcycle. Waypoint navigation displays a pointer in the direction of your next point. When you pass a point, the pointer switches, in essence telling you, go that direction next. Choosing points is really depends on how detailed you want to plan your route along the way. We plotted a route into Yosemite picking only the largest intersections. It’s a good thing too since the connecting roads were awesome! They didn’t look the part on the maps.The setup is typically to select points just before and after major turns to ensure you make the turn. This gives you points to cross in such a way that the navigation course will show you which way to turn before you actually get to the turn, but not too much before. You need to be careful not to space the points too closely—a minimum of 0.30 mile apart is recommended – since most GPS units will consider a point ‘passed’ if you come close enough to it or pass it with a parallel course headed towards the next point. If this error happens, you’re stuck. You’ll need to rebuild the route and start from a mid-way point. Some units are smart enough to fix these errors en-route (Garmin’s GPS-V usually gets it right), but only if the points are far enough away from each other.Auto route navigation: This is a type of waypoint navigation where the computer picks your points for you along a route determined by map data loaded in the unit. It just doesn’t work well for dual sporting since your target isn’t to get places efficiently. It’s to get there with the highest fun factor. We will say no more on this type of navigation until GPS maps begin to take fun into account. And no, I-99 through the San Joaquin Valley is not fun, no matter what the GPS-V thinks.Receiver sensitivity: Satellites are a long way away. They transmit a paltry amount of energy that is spread across the entire globe (yes… the same ‘line of sight’ crud you heard about in Independence Day). Ever seen a GPS antenna? It’s tiny, which translates into lousy reception. Open space or a better (larger) antenna to gather up more of that miniscule energy will improve the reception. The external antenna we used for this trip performed very well, even in the Yosemite forest. The smaller built-in antenna in the GPS-V was simply inadequate to our needs in the locations we were riding and is not recommended. Other units may fair better as this is entirely design specific. We even heard a rumor that there’s new technology afoot which vastly enhances GPS sensitivity, but that’s no doubt years away.Battery life: The bane of our GPS adventure. All too often, the batteries got low and the GPS would just shut off while riding. Rechargeables were hard to get recharged. Ever seen a 12V DC cigarette adapter on a dual sport? The disposable Duracell Ultra batteries seemed to last the longest, so we survived by replenishing the stock at grocery stores along the way. The best method is using a 12V DC adapter for the GPS and installing a power outlet that is ideal for feeding these power-hungry devices. It will take some wiring and cutting skills to install…nothing a self-reliant adventurer can’t handle. Right?Not a compass: Most GPS systems do not come with built in magnetic compasses. For motorcycling adventures, this isn’t a bad thing. Motorcycles emit interference. All ignition systems do. Compasses need to be designed and calibrated for use in close proximity to a vehicle. Using a non-calibrated GPS compass attached to a motorcycle will yield wildly inaccurate readings. Unfortunately, GPS units without compasses can only determine what direction you are pointing while moving. You must always keep this in mind when attempting to read your position on the display. Most GPSs will attempt to lock your last known heading when you stop, called pinning, but this rarely works.
Waypoint marking: Waypoints of interest are a great way to remember a journey. Along the way, just mark points and give them names clear enough to jog your memory.
Here are a few of ours, but you’ll have to download the map data to see their exact locations!
|Dirt Rider:||The home of your favorite Motorcycle Magazine and the origin of our adventure. No soliciting, especially for magazine subscriptions!|
|HangtownMX:||The parking lot for the 2005 Hangtown National.|
|Mission:||The old Spanish Mission in Hunter Ligget Military Reservation. We didn’t have time to get here, but it’s a killer ride!|
|Seals:||Joe and Karel blew many megabytes photographing the sea lions at this beach.|
|Starbucks:||We just had to mark this. In fact, we contemplated routing the ride between coffee shops. Who said caffeine isn’t addictive?|
|Arch:||Here’s the classic Big Sur photo op! Waves crashing, dual sports thumping, and riders acting silly. A great time!|
|Bixby Br:||A spectacular arch bridges along PCH.|
|Big Sur:||A point marking the adventure’s first night. The Big Sur Lodge is actually a nice hotel and there’s a killer little jump on the side of the asphalt road leading in to it. That’s why dual sports are cool.|
|Chicken:||Let’s not get too detailed here. Let’s just leave it at a big THANK YOU to the San Mateo Sheriff’s deputies.|
|Lunch Tacos:||A great place to eat in Monterey.|
|Good Mex:||A great, out of the way, Mexican-Salvadoran joint that is worth the trip.|
|Last Gas:||The Crane Flat gas station. The last gas until you reach the other end of Yosemite, so it’s a good idea to stop here.|
|Natives:||You meet the most interesting people in the middle of nowhere. The artwork on this bridge says it all. Check it out, and the road leading to and from it is absolutely awesome!|
|Moan:||Moaning Cave. A real good place to get deep into nature. Don’t even think about entering this cavern if you are claustrophobic!|
|Nite5:||Our last night. This spot would actually make a great starting point for additional adventures into the lands north and east of the L.A. basin but we didn’t have the time. We all said this should have been a three week trip!|
The final word should be one of caution. A GPS is a tool. It behaves the same rule that any computerized tool follows: Garbage in = Garbage outWhen used properly, by a knowledgeable operator, it will provide you with exceptionally good results. Make only small mistakes and it becomes a fancy way to tell you little more than which direction you are moving. Always practice with your GPS and become familiar enough with the tool to extract the greatest amount of fun from your travels.