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Budget GPS – on the move with Garmin’s Dakota

It’s Thursday and it’s Part Four of our series on fitting out a motorcycle with a waterproof, budget GPS as an alternative to the pricey Zumos. Today, we’re going to show you the basic uses for GPS technology.

Most simply, you can simply turn the GPS on and use it as a scrolling map, or with a quick switch of screen via the main menu, you can use it as an enhanced ‘dashboard’ with additional information. The other obvious use is routing, so let’s briefly explore those options.

One of the things I like about this particular range of GPS is that the interface is highly customisable and it has the ability to set up profiles so you can save particular set-ups which keep things where you need them.

It’s possibly to add/remove/reposition all the menu items per profile and the trip computer is great too as you can decide exactly what information you want to see. So the first thing I suggest you do is press the ‘Setup’ button on the menu, and then the ‘Profiles’ button. From there you can select a number of pre-installed profiles, or create your own new one. It’s worth spending a little time getting to understand this feature.

Let’s have a look at the ‘Trip Computer’ next. On the menu, press the button and the screen will appear as a digital display. Once again, there’s plenty of customisation available. The second button from left at the bottom (the one that doesn’t look very much like the representation of a screen) will open up a submenu and allow you to switch styles from the fake car dashboard to a rather more useful stack of three large data fields or a whole bunch of rather more difficult-to-read small ones.

The fake car dash with a range of information

Once selected, you can touch any field and it’ll open up a whole list of items you can display in that particular part of the screen. They range from useful things like speed and time, to potentially useful options like a pointer showing where you should be headed, distance to destination or ETA, interesting stuff like elevation (for some reason I like to know how high I am!) or sunrise and sunset, and finally the not-so-useful things like glide ratio and how far off course you are!

So if the bike’s not fitted with a clock, you can choose to display the time, and of course speed is handy to calibrate the bike’s speedo. Off-topic for a moment, most bike speedos aren’t very accurate but I was rather surprised to discover a 1995 XJ600 Diversion speedo was absolutely spot on when I checked it with a GPS – it explained why I was overtaking virtually everything on the motorway cruising at an indicated 80 – I really was doing a genuine 80 and my own Hornet would only be doing about 72 at the same speed.

If you’ve no particular destination in mind, showing you where you are in relation to the rest of the world is a good way to use the GPS. I always prefer to set ‘North as up’ in this mode as it then matches a paper map. It’s difficult to picture where you are if the map is set to ‘Track is up’. To change it, go to Menu / Setup / Map and select Orientation. In this “wanderlust” mode, You can then use the track feature to record where you’ve been and review it later on the PC – and we’ll look at PC software in tomorrow’s installment – and save your route or share it online. Useful for finding that nice-looking pub you passed or stopped at again! And if you press the small data fields at the top of the map, you’ll find you can change these to show useful information.

In navigation mode, I always prefer to set ‘Route as up’ as the map then faces the direction you’re actually looking, although you could also try ‘Automotive Mode’ which is a primitive 3D view of the road ahead. Just go to Menu / Setup / Map and select Orientation to alter it.

Before setting up a route there’s one thing to check first – that the unit is set for car/motorcycle navigation and on-road use. Select Menu / Setup / Routing and then ‘Guidance Method / On Road for routing’, then back out one level and check ‘Calculate Route’ – if it says pedestrian or bicycle, tap the button and choose ‘Car/Motorcycle’. Back out one more time and ‘Lock On Road / Yes’. From the menu screen, press ‘Where To’, then choose from the list. To keep it simple, just scroll down to ‘Cities’ and you’ll see another list appears with nearby places. Assuming you want to go a bit further afield, hit the ‘ABC’ button from the next menu, and type in the name of a town or village. Type in LEEDS for example, then the green tick to confirm and another list of places named LEEDS will appear. Select the correct LEEDS. It turns out there’s one in Yorkshire and another in Kent, plus several in the USA. Tap the one in Yorkshire and the map opens up so you can check you’ve got the right place before you commit yourself by pressing ‘GO’. The GPS will now calculate your route.

As I said yesterday, the maps aren’t foolproof and occasionally a route calculation error gets thrown up – just select an intermediate location and route to there first. But once a route’s installed, as you move along, your GPS will constantly show you a map with the route to follow. However, it’s not always the easiest way to see where to turn next. So come out of the Map screen and press the ‘Active Route’ button. You’ll now see a list of turns to make. But the GPS can perform another trick.

Press the first ‘turn’ and you’ll be taken to another screen which features a map showing the precise turn needed with both distance and estimated time to the turn. As you get closer, the blue triangle marking your position will appear onscreen and move towards the junction. I’m sure I don’t have to warn you that trying to read ANY GPS on the move is potentially risky, so be careful how you look at it.

One weakness of the open source maps is a lack of post code routing. You can get round this by using waypoints. It’s easiest to do it on a PC then upload the waypoint to the GPS but it can be done onscreen. It’s a bit of a fiddle and you need to know where you’re going (which probably involves a visit to Googlemaps or a paper A-Z) but pressing the screen and holding allows you to create a custom location which the GPS can route to directly. With a 1000 waypoint limit, you’re unlikely to fill the database with addresses you need to keep with you all the time!

I’m sure I don’t have to warn you that trying to read ANY GPS on the move is potentially risky, so be careful how you look at it. Happy navigating.

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