The Smartphone: A Poor Man’s GPS

Aug 30, 2014 View Comments by

The Smartphone: A Poor Man’s GPSMotorcycle GPS units are not cheap. In fact, there are plenty of riders who simply can’t afford, or aren’t willing to pay, the $500 or so required to mount a decent navigational aid on their handlebar. Thankfully, there’s at least a partial solution that most likely you’ve already got in your pocket. As you probably already know, your iPhone, Android, or other smartphone is pretty good at getting you from point A to point B using one “GPS” app or another. My personal favorite is Google Maps. Some apps such as Pocket Earth (I haven’t tested this one yet) can even use GPX files, like those you can download from RoadRUNNER. If you don’t want to spend  money on a GPS, then you certainly have other options. But even if you don’t want to use your phone as a full featured GPS, what about when the weather turns south and you need to find the fastest route back to your hotel in a hurry? In that situation, your phone can be the perfect solution, but what do you need to use it on your bike?

IMG_9966I wanted to find a good solution for using my iPhone for point-to-point navigation whether it be around town or in situations like the one mentioned above. One option would be to install a Bluetooth headset in my helmet and pair it to my phone so that I could hear the turn-by-turn directions. This is fairly simple, and works well, but I prefer to be able to see the directions displayed. For this I knew I was going to need some sort of handlebar mount that would securely hold my phone in place where it was easy to see with a quick downward glance. Anyone who’s ever used a phone as a GPS knows that the battery drains very rapidly when being used in this way, so I knew I would also need some way to charge the phone while riding. The last thing I wanted was at least some weather protection for my device, as replacing a phone mid-contract isn’t exactly cheap.

For attaching the phone to my bike’s handlebar I used a combination of Techmount’s Handlebar Mount and Tech Gripper. The handlebar mount is made of sturdy aluminum and uses three different plastic inserts to fit a wide range of bar widths. Two screws secure the mount’s grip on the bar. The Tech Gripper is the part that actually holds the phone. It attaches to the Handlebar Mount via a 17mm ball head that allows you to position it where you want it before tightening it down. The Gripper gets its name from the way it grips your phone (or other device) with a pair of fat pincers with rubber lining. The pincers are held in place by springs. At first I was hesitant about the Gripper’s ability to hold onto my fragile phone over bumps. But after inserting my phone and shaking the mount vigorously, the phone didn’t budge.

The Smartphone: A Poor Man’s GPSThe next problem to address was power. To keep my phone full of juice, I installed a TAPP weatherproof USB power port from 3BR Powersports. The kit includes mounting tape, wiring with battery connectors and inline fuse, and weather sealing. Installation was a simple matter of connecting to the battery, running the wires underneath my bike’s fuel tank to keep them hidden, and attaching the USB port to the right side of the handlebar. With a USB plug-in, the TAPP can power a wide range of devices including most from Apple, Samsung, Motorola, LG, and more.

For protection, I skimped out and bought a “waterproof” iPhone case from Taiwan via eBay. The reason I went this route was that I only plan on using this case when my phone is on the bike, not as my everyday phone protection. Also, it was only $7 and I didn’t want to invest a lot of money in a case that will become obsolete whenever I upgrade to a newer device. After inspecting it, I do believe that it will give my phone enough protection to survive a sudden downpour, though I plan on swiftly seeking shelter and getting my phone out of the storm as quickly as possible when this happens.

For an investment of around $100, I now have a reliable way to navigate from place to place, find the nearest coffee shop or restaurant, and get back on track when I’m lost.

Up next, finding the perfect GPX compatible app…

TAPP Weatherproof USB Power Port
Price: $45.95

TechMount TechGripper
Price: $39.95

TechMount Handlebar Mount
Price: $29.95

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About the author

There’s something relentlessly romantic about riding a motorcycle. I’m blessed to know that feeling. With a background in photography and a love for motorcycles, I’m interested in the beauty and honesty of the open road. You’ll find me riding Carolina’s roads on my Suzuki SV650.