Getting lost is never fun. Having to stop and pull out a map or ask for directions can be frustrting and slow down a good days ride. Global Positioning System (GPS) devices have been around since the 1980s when they were used mostly for outdoor recreation. Only recently have they become very popular accessories in automobiles, and standard equipment on many boats.
Motorcyclists have been adapting these GPS devices for use on their bikes with varying rates of success. Some are too large, arent waterproof or are difficult to see in bright sunlight. The Garmin Zumo 550, made especially for use on motorcycles, addresses these issues and adds some neat features.
When the Zumo arrived at my house, it sat around for a few days until I got the courage to open the box. I was intimidated thinking it would have a large and complicated instruction manual and be difficult to set up. I was wrong. I wanted to get used to the Zumo 550 first by using it my car. The small 2.8-inch wide by 2.1-inch high unit has a power cord that plugs into a cars accessory power outlet. It attaches to the windshield with a separate suction cup mount. Press the power button and it turns right on and starts searching for satellites. For the Zumo to establish a signal, you should be in an open area away from large obstructions like tall buildings that will obscure your line-of-sight view of the sky. The GPS must be able to access satellite signals sent from outer space; those signals cannot penetrate objects like buildings.
Once the Zumo has locked on to a satellite signal, the menu screen comes up. From there, you can display a map or start programming where you want to go either by a preprogrammed route, address or name (i.e, a type of business). An alphabetical keypad fills the touch screen and if you type in part of the name or address and press enter, Zumo will offer you appropriate choices. You can also choose by category like “food” to help find a local restaurant. The selections are even broken down by type of cuisine.
One of the most important features of any GPS device is accuracy and the Zumo is very good in terms of your direction and the representation of where you are and where you are going. The three-dimensional display shows nearby roads, bodies of water and parks in different colors. It doesnt always give you the quickest route to where you want to go, but youll get there eventually. It once told us to make a left turn onto a roadway where a left turn was prohibited. You need to have common sense and not follow it blindly. No problem though, we made a right turn and the Zumo quickly recalculated an alternate route. The Zumo has a pleasant, friendly female voice that I decided to call Zelda for no particular reason other than she sounded like a Zelda and Zelda, well, goes with Zumo, as in Zelda the Zumo. Zelda does things like lets you know when the next turn is coming up, and when youve made a wrong turn for any reason.
The motorcycle mount that comes with the Zumo is easy to attach to the handlebars. It powers by being wired to the bikes battery which can be a chore. It took about an hour for the wiring install on my 2005 Yamaha FZ6, including soldering some ring terminals on the ends of the thin wiring of the power leads for a better connection. The latching mechanism of the motorcycle mount is similar to the car mount in that the unit drops and snaps in. The motorcycle version has an additional screw-in safety feature to keep it securely in place. Garmin says the unit is waterproof to 3.3 feet underwater for up to 30 minutes. Hopefully Ill never have to test it to that tolerance!
The Zumo was designed with motorcyclists in mind. The main controls are on the left side so your throttle hand can stay on the throttle. The buttons are large and not too close to each other making them easy to push with your gloves on. Many features are accessed on the touch-screen and are intuitive like a plus sign for zooming in and a minus sign for zooming out. The screen dims automatically depending on light conditions and the street names and other information on the screen are in large, easy-to-read type.
Its nice to have Zelda on the ride to speak the street names when youre riding so you dont have to look down at the device. Other neat features include the ability to integrate it with your Bluetooth phone, MP3 player, telephone and XM radio (with optional XM antenna and subscription) to get traffic alerts and music. You can monitor your fuel, mileage, estimated time of arrival and speed all from the touch screen.
The lithium-ion rechargeable battery lasts about four hours and Id recommend getting a spare if you are going to be using it on all-day trips without external power connected. When youre on the final leg of your trip a checkered flag appears on screen at your final destination. The Zumo makes trips fun and I cant wait to use it on a Poker Run. Im always the one who gets lost before the first stop and never leads a ride unless Im very familiar with the area. Now, with Zelda on my handlebars, Im going to be leading the pack!
MSRP is $1,076. Visit Garmin.com.