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MAKING A BEELINE (work for you)

Updated: Aug 16, 2022

One of my Facebook regulars takes the time to share his experience of the inexpensive Beeline Moto GPS aid with you


Almost three years ago, I took a quick look at the Beeline Moto GPS ‘aid’. it’s essentially an upgraded – and up-priced – version of the £100 Beeline Smart Compass which appeared around 2015 and got mixed reactions from cyclists.


I say ‘aid’ since despite the advertising, it’s far from being a GPS. It’s actually dumb mini-screen that mounts on the bike and provides just enough navigational information to follow a route whilst an app on the phone does all the hard navigational work.


To my mind, the biggest issue was the price. £150. That’s a LOT of money for a small round LCD display and a mount.


But just because I wasn’t impressed doesn’t mean there aren’t people who DO find it useful. Over to Kevin Gladstone who sent me this review recently.


Making a “Beeline” work – the alternative Sat-Nav


Whenever I read a write-up on a product, I always wonder about the CV of the writer and what kind of rider they are.


So in almost all groups I have spent any significant time with, I have tended to find myself the lead navigator, be it on foot, cycle, motorcycle or car.


From a young age (7 in 1972) I did milk rounds with my Dad on Saturdays (and school holidays) and he being a supervisor, saw over four different rounds. So I learnt my way around Gravesham early and was always taking my friends on cycle rides that looking back probably would have made their parents cringe had they known or actually believed the stories their child told.


This carried me through my ATC years where I learnt to map read in conjunction with the sun, setting me right for my outward bound hiking adventures and of course into motorcycling in the UK and €pe.

2005 and I find myself out of work and I take up a 5 year stint as a courier. Armed with A-Z on Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield, Leeds & London on board, complimented with a top notch UK road atlas with city centre maps, I would have to be going out into the wilds to call on my phones sat-nav capabilities.


I always found that once I found an address by maps, I wouldn’t need the map again. Go by Sat-nav and I would need to use the Sat-nav next time too (just as I can never remember a route someone else has led), so Sat-navs have never really been a thing for me.


Then there was the spaghetti of wiring that is still required by Tom-Toms and Garmins today. Plus the empty cradles for said make the bikes dash look like a cannibalise cyborg. Then there is the security at your destination, carrying £300+ of waterproof Sat-Nav with you while sightseeing. Read through our forum and you’ll find a plenty the question asked, “Which is the current best Sat-Nav” to which you’ll frequently find my response, “A map”. By now you’ll probably gather I am not a Sat-Nav fan.

However, in 2015 events conspired that I headed off on holiday with a bunch of strangers (then) who were going by Sat-nav. They put on a very good tour, but they didn’t just tell the Sat-Nav the destination and follow it. They used a technique I use when planning a ride, only they to a far greater extent.


I will jump on Google Maps and at every junction I will go on street view and ride the junction virtually (on line) finding visual land marks. They go further, and ride the whole route and ditch a road if it is too straight or too rough. I have since toured with them twice more and I started to see the merits of a Sat-Nav used as an aid, rather than a guide.


2020 and lockdown is in full swing and I am browsing Tom-toms and Garmins and trying to justify £300-400+ for something that would only get occasion use, and then only for small segments of my Sunday rides. Having ridden out from Manchester for closing on 20 years and establish multiple routes to any point on the compass, my routes tend to avoid towns have few road changes and be on B-roads.

But after said 20 years of Sunday ride-outs, even this variety of destinations spanning from Builth Wells to Skegness to Kielder water gets repetitive. However I know there are a multitude of good minor roads to explore inbetween, they are just awkward to navigate between. Hence considering a dreaded Sat-Nav.


Then all of a sudden I discover the “Beeline.co”. A third the price of a regular motorcycle Sat-Nav, it is unintrusive on the bar or mirror stalk and removed from the bike, is so small and light to carry, easily in a jeans pocket, bumbag with a phone and wallet in it or in the Mrs’ clutch bag.


The Beeline offers turn by turn navigation directions in a simple format. In truth it is not actually a Sat-Nav at all in my opinion. It is a second screen for your phone that is rated to IP68. That means it is dust proof and water proof to a depth of one meter (or one yard). It connects to a smart phone by Bluetooth, upon which is installed the Beeline navigation app for which the Beeline unit has like a software key (or dongle) to activate the app.


A destination is input into the phone and way points can be added. Then press “Go” and the Beeline screen starts dishing out the directions as the route is progresses. It is possible to offset the starting point. This means a route can be planned from a future start point days or months into the future. Not much different to a conventional Sat-Nav I hear the cry!


Well here’s the differences, which can be positive or negative depending on view points;

  1. There is no limit on maps. It will work anywhere in the world where a phone location can be accessed.

  2. The display does not show a plan view map. It has a simple arrow showing the way to go plus a distance to the next turn, junction, roundabout, waypoint or destination (whichever is next). On a Garmin in the top corner you get similar information that is displayed on the Beeline.

  3. There is no audible notifications (which can be bliss).

  4. There is no cabling on the handlebars. The beeline has a 30 hour in use battery life. That is three days solid riding by anyone’s standard and the charger is compact and plugs into any USB port.

  5. Data usage is surprisingly low. My SIM-only package has 1GB of data per month and a good spin round Wales barely showed on the data graph.

  6. Phone battery usage, well my phone is getting on and didn’t have the longest life from new. I have wired a USB port under the seat of my Nevada so that the phone is on constant charge. That said I have run it for a few hours on a full charge and it zapped 40%, but I can do a similar drain with social media over the same time span.

I put this route together over a breakfast without a map or accessing the internet. The route the Beeline led me was true to my input. Unfortunately, I did not pay enough attention to my last way point and it took me up a lane to a goat trail. On the XPA I may well have gone with it, but on the V11 I decided better of it. This is the second time I have made this mistake of not taking enough time over the sections of the journey I am familiar with.


A few weeks ago I had a ride-out with some fellow Pennine Guzzisti in N. Wales. On that trip I researched the first 75% of the trip which consisted of a whole heap of turns across minor roads that I had not ridden prior and would not have attempted with company in the past. The last 25%, knowing basically where I expected to go, my attention to detail was not so hot. At least the first 75% of the route went very well indeed.


Three features I have not mentioned;

  1. Up until now I have been reviewing “Route mode”. There is also “Compass mode”. I mentally discarded this as only really useful for off-road riding such as riding green lanes. However, it does come into its’ own when things go wrong, such as a road closed or Sat-nav pilot error. Switching to compass mode, the Beeline will simply point to the next destination, keeping you orientated whilst trying to find an alternative routes. A typical Sat-nav will just point you back to the problem until you are far enough away that an alternative route is calculated.

  2. Importing of .gpx files (which is the cross platform file type for navigation devices such as Garmin or Tomtom) can be done. On my very first ride with a Beeline I did this and switched it off after 3 miles of 330. This is probably going to turn out to be my error too. I will try again at a later date.

  3. The Beeline Moto, is a development of the Beeline Velo for cyclists. The option to go Velo seems to be there and as I do a little, I shall be exploring it.

Lastly, the Beeline display options. As well as displaying the route, you can scroll through options on the Beeline unit without your phone to hand, and display the time, your speed and the battery state of the beeline and your phone.


The speed display might be useful for some machine with where speedo parts are scant.

You can probably already see this device is not for all. If you are looking for a navigation nanny, this device is not for you. If you are looking for a device you are going to use as an occupational tour guide, this probably is not for you.


For occasional use? For minimum handlebar clutter and minimal off bike baggage? Looking for a navigation aid/memory prompt? Looking for budget Sat-nav?


If the answer to any of these is “yes”, then the Beeline may be for you.


“Hang on”, I hear the cry, “why not just use a smart phone in a handlebar clamp”? Well you need an IP67 rated phone at least for all weather use and a Meccano kit of clutter on your bar to hold it. A phone with those specs is likely north of £300 on your bar, making it attractive to thieves and if you have an off, your means of communication is pretty venerable, as is your contacts list, banking details and loads of other data.


The Beeline can be viewed as a sacrificial unit that has a relatively low cost to any other techno alternative and less inconvenient to lose or break.


It was my choice and not a bad one “for me”. Certainly won’t be right for all.

 

Thanks to Kevin for that comprehensive user review.


I still think it’s about three times over-priced at £150, with additional mounts being anything from £15 to £30 if you want to swap it from bike to bike. But clearly, it’s just what Kevin wanted so there is a market for the Beeline.


To give you an idea of what was available at a similar price – sadly it’s no longer in production – my waterproof, 2 x AA NiMH battery powered, Garmin Oregon 200 was only £130, offers full colour routing, the ability to upload updated maps, clips into a £10 handlebar mount, and is compact enough to slip in a pocket. Although phone navigation means Garmin have largely killed off the Oregon line of handheld GPS units, there are still some of the later and higher-specc’d models available on eBay for not much more than I paid new. When mine finally packs up, I might try grabbing a used model.


Anyway, there you have two viable options for waterproof navigation that avoids leaving your phone out in the rain!

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