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Dedicated motorcycle GPS vs. Smartphone navigation

Well, it is not necessarily that riders use a designated motorcycle GPS unit for navigating. A lot of them use their Smartphones for navigation. With a proper handlebar mount, you can quickly secure your Smartphone in place and use it as a motorcycle GPS navigation unit. But as it is with many things in life, different solutions come with different pros and cons.

A dedicated motorcycle GPS unit is specially made for use on motorcycles. Unlike in cars, vibrations from the engine are much more potent on bikes. Therefore, the unit must be built to withstand the vibration and still function accurately and reliably. The motorcycle GPS navigation unit is also exposed to all kinds of different weather conditions. From different temperature ranges, humidity levels and shock levels, the conditions on motorcycles vary a lot from those cosy, warm and dry conditions we usually have in cars.

Quality comes with a  higher price

Quality built motorcycle GPS navigation units often come with a premium price tag. With prices ranging from 300-500 USD, sometimes even higher. The high cost of motorcycle GPS units makes the Smartphone alternative quite attractive. It is crucial that you are aware of the pros and cons of both options. You already have a Smartphone which you can use for navigating.

It shows you the route from point A to point B, many apps even provide several additional information and sometimes it is also hard to tell if there is any difference at all between designated and Smartphone motorcycle GPS navigation. So let’s make a list of differences, that might give you a reason to chose one above the other.

Dedicated motorcycle GPS navigation vs. Smartphone GPS navigation 


Specialized motorcycle GPS navigation units come with pre-downloaded maps. You can regularly update them by connecting them to your PC and installing the latest map updates. However, since your Smartphone connects to the internet through the cellular network, you can update your maps while on the go. You can even access the maps in real-time. Obtaining the maps in real-time means that in case you lose the cellular signal, you lose the navigation as well. Since you are not dependent on the »on the go« map updates, I would say this one goes to the dedicated motorcycle GPS unit.

Especially if you go for longer trips or adventure riding, it is essential to know your location and where you’re heading. Even if you are out of range of the cellular signal, you want to know your location. But, at this point, it is fair to say that some Smartphone apps have the option to pre-download maps. They will work even if you are out of cellular range, only with your GPS enabled.


Manufacturers of designated motorcycle GPS units claim their units are far more accurate compared to the Smartphone alternatives. But are they more accurate indeed? It would make perfect sense, which a device designated for a particular job would perform better. Smartphones should perform worse in accuracy tests, but in reality, it is very hard to spot any differences. While many test reports speak in favour of stand-alone motorcycle GPS units, other tests speak in favour of Smartphone GPS alternatives. In my personal opinion, accuracy tests leave me clueless and unconvinced. I wouldn’t make a decision based on the accuracy claims.

Real-time traffic information 

You can never know what is happening on the road ahead where your eyes can’t see any more. It can get very frustrating if you are in a hurry and get stuck in traffic. Especially if you just passed a highway exit where you could make your way around to your destination. Real-time traffic information can help you a lot with these issues. It can inform you about an accident, congestion or maintenance work soon enough to change your route accordingly. But the question here is, which device does it better – the dedicated motorcycle GPS navigation or your Smartphone?

Both perform the task very fast nowadays. The motorcycle GPS unit can receive the information by accessing the dedicated infrastructure along the roads. This can speak in favour of a dedicated unit. On the other hand, the Smartphone alternative relies on cellular connections to the internet. This may cause some problems in many sections of your trip if you are riding in less populated areas.


Durability is probably the point where the difference between a motorcycle GPS navigation unit and a Smartphone alternative is the biggest. Manufacturers build dedicated units to withstand the vibration of the motorcycle. As well as different weather conditions, so the units are mostly waterproof, dust and heat-resistant. Many come with a touchscreen display that you can operate with your gloves on.

On the other hand, Smartphones are not as near sturdily built as the GPS units. Therefore, you will have to spend some extra money on protective cases and handlebar mounts. Take into account, that the motorcycle vibration will cause problems sooner than you would expect from a dedicated motorcycle GPS unit.


In my personal opinion, a dedicated GPS unit performs better and is more reliable in a broader range of conditions. Especially in both ends of the extremes. However, higher-quality motorcycle GPS comes at a higher price. Sometimes they can cost even a small fortune. On the other hand, the performance of Smartphone alternatives is not bad at all. If you get a second-hand Smartphone and find an app with pre-downloaded maps, your investment can be even ten times smaller. At the same time, far from being a ten times worse alternative.

It all depends on your needs in the end

I would consider investing in GPS units if I made significant mileage every year, often on longer distances in different weather conditions with occasional off-road adventure rides. For weekend commuting and riding mostly in urban areas in pleasant weather conditions, a Smartphone alternative makes it a no-brainer for me. A small compromise for a massive price difference and despite negative aspects of the Smartphone alternative. But if I would ever need a reliable and professional GPS device for long-distance and adventure rides, I would choose a dedicated GPS navigation device.

And what did you chose as a preferred method of navigating around and what kind of equipment do you use? Visit us on our Facebook page and share your thoughts with me.

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