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Garmin’s Dakota 10 – an inexpensive alternative GPS for bikes

We’re going to kick off Garmin week by looking at some alternative, inexpensive Garmin GPS units that can be used on a motorcycle.

“Why bother”, I hear some people ask “when there are perfectly good, dedicated systems for bikes?” Or you might have a smartphone with GPS app.

Well, several reasons. Mobile phones aren’t often waterproof and usually the GPS app will eat the battery unless you hook it up to the ‘mains’. And take the top-of-the-tree Garmin Zumo 660. It’s got a 4.3″ sunlight-readable, glove-friendly (more on that in a moment) screen, has all the hardware you need to fit it to your bike and it comes fully loaded with UK and full Europe Maps and 1.2 million points of interest, including hotels, restaurants, petrol stations and ATMs, and it can connect to your phone and offers voice-prompted, turn-by-turn directions and speaks street names to in-helmet speakers via Bluetooth.

The problem is that it also comes fully loaded with a hefty price tag – £540 list and around £440 on Amazon this morning. To that I’d add the price of a security kit given a) the price tag, be) the physical size of the unit which makes it a hefty bit of kit to lug around when you get off the bike and c) the ease of removal from the mount by an unauthorised third party. So you’re looking at an all-up price of around £500 even bought online.

The Garmin Zumo 220 is more compact and pocketable as it sports a slightly smaller screen at 3.5″, also comes with UK and Europe maps as well as Bluetooth for voice directions, and the necessary mounts and power cables for hooking up to the bike. However, it’s still £370 list (£270 on Amazon) and it’s not got a particularly good reputation either for accurate routing or robustness.

There are alternative options to Garmin. Tom-Tom’s RIDER Pro EU has a similar mapset, also has a 3.5″ screen but has another wallet-crippling price tag at £380 (£300 on Amazon). As it lacks an on-bike charging system out of the box, it means you’re limited to 8 hours use before looking for a mains socket – the charging mount sets you back another £50 which makes it virtually the same price at the Zumo 660.

At the inexpensive end of the market, one I’ve seen getting some good reviews is made by Peaklife. It’s a WinCE device and comes with a 3.5″ screen (albeit low resolution) and a spare battery, which is useful.

However, I promised to suggest some alternative Garmins, and the place to look is at their waterproof trekking and cycling units.

The Garmin Dakota 10 is extremely simple to use but if you’re not looking for spoken direction (which I have to say I find distracting most of the time) it has a bunch of useful features. It’s compact and light at just 191g including batteries and small enough to fit into the palm of your hand or tuck in a pocket. It also means it’s easy to mount where it doesn’t block the view of the bike’s dash or get tangled up with tank luggage.

The colour touchscreen isn’t big at 2.6” and it’s fairly low resolution at 160 x 240 pixels, but it’s sunlight-readable featuring big ‘press and go’ buttons and it’s also portrait format which makes far more sense for showing the road ahead than widescreen in my opinion. When it gets dark, you wind up the adjustable backlight. If you’re a GPS newbie, it’s pretty simple to operate.

I also like the fact that it runs on a pair of rechargeable AA batteries, which means you don’t have to buy extra mounting kits if you plan to swap it from bike to bike, and of course you can go cycling or walking with it – it’s great for finding your way round cities on foot! You’ll get at least 12 hours out of a pair of batteries (Garmin claim 20) and it’s easy enough to carry a spare pair to pop in if you do run out of juice. Nor do you need to lug yet another dedicated charger around on holiday – just pack an inexpensive standard AA battery charger or even pop a 12v one under the seat and recharge on the move.

The Dakota 10 allows you to store up to 1000 waypoints, 50 routes, with an active tracklog of up to 10,000 points and 200 saved tracks. With the right maps, it offers turn-by-turn navigation on road just like the more expensive Garmins. I’ve got a very similar Garmin Oregon, and I can attest to the fact that it’s quick to lock onto satellites, and maintains a lock under most tree cover or near tall buildings. I can also attest to the fact that it’s robust enough to survive being dropped and the screen is also reasonably scratch resistant, though like any plastic surface I wouldn’t swipe at it with the finger of a dust and grit covered glove, “glove-friendly” or not – it WILL scratch. It takes moments to stop and remove a glove to operate it.

Now, the downside. You’ll have to add your own maps (and I’ll show you where you can get these tomorrow), because as usual the included basemap is pretty useless and there are no bundled maps, and it won’t talk to you – there’s no speaker or Bluetooth. There’s no miniSD slot either, so you’re reliant on the 850 Mb of internal memory for adding maps, storing waypoints and routes and also on a PC link to upload said maps to the device. If you want to go a little more upmarket, the Dakota 10’s bigger brother is the Dakota 20 which gives you the SD slot that makes installing maps much easier, and it also works with Garmin heart rate monitors and cadence sensors, something that might interest you if you cycle.

So how much is this device? Well, the Dakota 10 is listed at £160 and is currently on Amazon for just £111.99 (The Dakota 20 is listed at £210 and £160 online). You’ll also need a mount and if you’ve got tubular handlebars, the bicycle mount at a tenner will do the trick, even if it’s not elegant. And you’ll need to throw the rechargeable batteries at it as they aren’t in the box.

That still means the total package is less than £130, or around £370 cheaper than the Zumo 660! That’s a ferry crossing to France, a couple of night’s B&B and several hundred miles worth of fuel!

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