Road Rash: GPS’d OFF

Sep 29, 2015 View Comments by

Road Rash: GPS’d OFFWhen Technology Gets Under Your Skin –

“Recalculating! Recalculating!” The synthesized female voice of my new GPS begins chanting this familiar mantra 
the instant I turn into the parking lot. “Pop a Valium, Erma—I’m 50 feet off the route to pump gas and process my last cup of coffee, so deal with it,” I mutter, adding accusingly, “You seemed perfectly calm when you wanted me to play pioneer and forge a new path through a stand of virgin timber 10 miles ago.”

Erma is the name I’ve chosen for my new navigational friend, and we have a rather tenuous relationship. Although I doubt I could live without her after succumbing to her charms, I strongly suspect she has a substance-abuse problem due to her erratic behavior. The problem is she’s so smooth, I can’t tell when she’s on a bender. I wish she’d start playing some Hendrix music or something so I’d know when to break out the map.

My first encounter with a GPS unit occurred during an AdvRider dual sport ride a number of years ago. I was amazed that some of the riders were signaling for upcoming turns before the roads were visible. Since much of my riding consists of exploring backroads, the concept of knowing when and if I would be able to obtain food and gas was quite appealing. I began researching some units and their capabilities online, but soon had more questions than answers due to the confusing (to me at least) list of specifications provided by the manufacturers.
I finally settled on a small, handheld unit from a local store, figuring I could take it back if I didn’t like it. This basic GPS was the pre-Erma model and did not have voice capability. The fun started when I tried to read the instruction manual and repeat the procedures on my new toy. The image on my display rarely seemed to match the picture in the manual. The instructions were a mind-boggling list of detailed steps nearly 80 pages long, and I often found myself searching the entire manual for clues on topics that never quite made it to the index. I thought I was done playing “Where’s Waldo?” when I put my kid’s books in the attic! I finally tossed the manual over my shoulder and started punching buttons to figure out how it worked.

I soon mastered the unit’s compass mode, allowing me to navigate the maze of backroads near my home by simply following a red arrow pointing to my destination. Life was good . . . until I needed to load a route onto the unit from my computer. The computer told me it didn’t recognize the GPS, which didn’t surprise me since they were different brands and probably ran in different social circles. I considered leaving the GPS unit on the computer table with a couple of glasses of wine in the hopes they’d get to know each other, but decided on another approach instead.

I rode the route with someone who had it on his GPS and recorded it as a track so I could retrace it when I needed to lead a tour. Sounds good in theory, doesn’t it? The first time I tried to reride the circular route, the GPS asked me where I wanted to start. I told it “here.” Where do you want to end? Once again, the answer was “here.” I hit “navigate” and was informed that I was arriving at my destination. I hadn’t even fired up the bike yet. That concludes our gas-saver safety tour, folks, thanks for riding with us! I later realized I needed to break the route up into two tracks, with the first ending at the lunch stop and the second ending back at the starting point. I decided it was, perhaps, time for a new GPS.

Which brings us back to my new flame, Erma. I still have the older unit and still use it for backroad navigation simply because it works better for that purpose. What it lacks, however, is Erma’s sultry voice and the ability to guide me to a specific address like she can. I hate to admit it, but Erma and I have exactly what it takes for a long-term 50/50 relationship: She tells me where to go about half of the time, and I tell her the other half.

Have your own GPS related problems? Be sure to check out Yuval Naveh’s series on GPS Navigation!


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