This latest iteration of TomTom’s motorcycle-specific sat-nav – still called just ‘Rider’, but known around the internet as ‘Rider v5’ – looks straightforward enough.
It’s TomTom’s user-friendly mapping loaded into a tough, waterproof case. There’s a few UI tweaks to suit gloved hands, and a unique new ‘Winding Roads’ feature to suit bikers’ tendency to avoid the most direct route to anywhere in favour of bendy back roads. But can it offer enough bike-friendliness to rival Garmin’s Zumo or, indeed, the wide availability of sub-£20 waterproof smartphone mounts?
Out of the Box
Our first impression on seeing the new Rider was: ‘Crikey’. It’s a chunky thing. The screen size has been upped to 4.3in, from its predecessor’s 3.5in, but it’s the large bezels, screen cowl and depth that really make it look ‘cuddly’. And that means that you have to be careful where you stick it on your bike. The go-to guys for motorbike mounts, RAM, make the ball-and-socket hardware.
Bits and bobs are included to either mount your TomTom on the bars, or clamp it to exisiting bolt-holes on your brake reservoir/clutch lever fixings – but try as we might, we could not find a bar-mount position that didn’t obscure either instruments or warning lights on our test bike, a biggish 850cc adventure tourer. Garmin’s rival, the Zumo 350LM, is just 5mm shorter and 20mm thinner but looks a lot less cumbersome – though even it needs careful placement.
You can run the Rider off its internal battery, having charged it by mini USB. TomTom claims six hours stamina and, although our wizened geek bodies can’t stand six hours in the saddle, three hours did indeed see the (tiny) on-screen battery meter at about halfway. Again, worth mentioning that the thinner Garmin also manages a claimed six hour battery life despite having a built-in speaker and the TomTom has no speaker. If we could find a Torx driver, we’d be keen to see just what is inside it.
The Rider also comes with wiring to connect its cradle to your bike’s battery, transmitting it to the device by a strip of spring-loaded contacts rather than the USB port. These are exposed if the bare cradle gets rained on. Time will tell if they survive a British winter. Or, indeed, summer.
Options; that’s what you get with the Rider V5. You can look up your destination by address, or town, or Point of Interest, just like any sat-nav. There’s a ‘glove-friendly’ three-letters-per-button keyboard option which works, albeit slowly. Unfortunately, the lines on the subsequent results screen are too narrow to accurately stab with a bike glove, which often involves the unit laboriously plotting a route to completely the wrong part of the country. Plus, the oft-used ‘Next’ and ‘Back’ keys are tucked too close into the bottom corners of the recessed screen. For a device claimed to be ‘designed by bikers for bikers’, this seems a glaring error.
Still Setting Up
New feature! The Rider has a Winding Roads button that plots an alternative, potentially more fun route compared to the standard minimum distance or time algorithms. It seems to work, plotting, for example, a route from London to Brighton that took us down the biker-preferred A24 and A272, instead of the M25 and A23(M).
Of more interest to weekend warriors is the TomTom’s Itinerary Planning capability, in association with third-party motorbike routes website Tyre. Via your PC, you can download community-generated routes to your moto-nav where, if you want, you can edit, delete or move the waypoints that make up the route. One caveat: decide you want to take a detour – a petrol station, for example – and it removes all your programmed/downloaded waypoints to add the new petrol station as a single waypoint, re-routing the rest of your journey as a standard calculation. Your custom itinerary is still in the memory, and can be re-selected after you get petrol, but it’s an unsophisticated process. And we dislike unsophistication. The sharers amongst you can record your own route as you ride, then upload it back to Tyre.
On The Road
Destination, winding route or itinerary chosen, it’s go-time. Calculating the route can take a long time, seemingly regardless of the length of the journey. While out testing, after deliberately ignoring a single direction, the Rider seemed to pause to recalculate the entire journey, by which time (in urban areas) further turn options had also been missed and on-the-fly decisions made. Having paid £350 for a dedicated nav device, a kick-ass processor would be welcome.
Mapping is typical TomTom – clear and intuitive, and customisable as always in a variety of different colourways, included one chosen for its visibility in bright sunlight. The Rider’s backlight is powerful and, coupled with the mini cowl over the screen, we had no trouble seeing the screen in British springtime sun. As mentioned, there’s no speaker, so the only way you get voice instructions is by pairing with a suitable motorbike helmet headset.
Fair enough – on a bike at cruising speed, you wouldn’t hear a speaker, but the Garmin Zumo comes with both a speaker and a second mount for your car, which makes it double useful and, at time of writing, it is cheaper than the Rider. And, while we’re at it, the Garmin has better installation instructions, too. Mind you, there’s a TomTom Rider Premium coming out any day now, with car mount, carry case and lockable mount – but that adds around £100 to the already hefty price.
Leading in to the sum-up, a word about live services. The TomTom Rider V5 has no live services. You can subscribe to and download speed camera locations – currently £20 for 18 months – using the TomTom HOME software, and download community-sourced map updates, but that’s it. No live traffic, no fuel prices, no weather reports - nada.
Which, given that you can get a super-connected TomTom Go LIVE 1005 online for £250, plus a waterproof bar-mount case for £20, begs some questions. (If you’ve got a 12v socket on your bike to overcome the 1005’s meagre two-hour battery.) Heck, Google Maps on a smartphone is free, includes live traffic and will also give you voice instructions over Bluetooth. Garmin’s Zumo 350LM – also no live services – is cheaper, (marginally) smaller and has similar, if clunkier, BaseCamp software for sharing routes. If we were being obtuse, we’d point out that Garmin’s Edge 810 cycle computer, bought with the Europe maps bundle, makes a pretty good motorbike nav if you can handle the on/off backlight and small screen.
And yet, for all that, the Rider’s also a pretty good device. Decent mapping, community routes, tough enough for a life on the road. But, bulky, expensive and underwhelmingly featured. One thing’s for sure - if you thought choosing a bike nav was a two horse race – Garmin or TomTom – it isn’t.