Motorcycle Navigation: Mounting a GPS Device to Your Motorcycle, Part 1

Oct 20, 2016 View Comments by

It is surprising how much energy riders will devote to deciding which GPS device is right for them, while overlooking or ignoring issues related to mounting it on their motorcycle. I’ll try to shed some light on why choosing the proper placement is so important.

gps-mounting-layersGeneric Mounting Stack
With a generic stack, the proposed layout is modular, which means each module can be separately selected or replaced as needed. This ensures a functional and versatile solution that can be applied to virtually any motorcycle and fulfills different rider requirements and constraints. Finance is one good reason to apply such a reusable design. With standalone GPS receivers, given their high cost, the initial investment could be lost if the device cannot be reused on different bikes. Alternatively, smartphones are upgraded once a year on average, so when using one as a GPS it is wise to invest in a modular mounting system that can work with different models. I can imagine a motorcycle being owned for 10 years but not a smartphone.

Components in the Proposed Stack
GPS device:
GPS unit (standalone or smartphone)

Case: Protects the device from the elements. Typically it is water-resistant, shock-resistant, hardened, and designed for the given model. Motorcycle-designated GPS devices do not need an external case, as they are usually hardened and waterproof out of the box.

Cradle: Wraps around or attaches to the back of the device or its case and fastens it to the connecting bracket. The cradle may also charge the GPS with electric quick-disconnect charging points. Some even offer anti-theft locking.

Connecting bracket: An arm with optional joints that connects the cradle to the frame mount while allowing adjustments for positioning and ergonomics.

Frame mount: Attaches to the frame and acts as a mounting point for the connecting bracket. It usually fastens to a factory mount or a bar behind or above the instrument panel, clamps on the handlebar, or is a bespoke aftermarket piece that affixes to some other location.

Electric power: All GPS devices, smartphones included, have batteries. While battery technology is improving every year, they last a few hours at best. When traveling, it is important to keep the GPS device continuously operational. This can be done by charging it with the motorcycle’s 12-volt electrical system.

Head-up displayMounting Position
Ergonomics and electrical wiring should be taken into account, but the most important factor is the safety concern that arises when the rider looks down at the device or operates it while riding. A few seconds of lost attention at any speed can quickly become dangerous. In military aviation, the problem of pilots losing focus when looking at the instruments has been known for decades. Add the lag time needed to process information and switch between contexts. At highway speeds of 70 mph, two seconds of operating the GPS translates to 200 feet of riding without actually looking at the road. A scary thought.

To counter this problem, the HUD, or head-up display, was invented for pilots. Information is projected onto a screen in their field of view (FOV), ensuring their eyes are kept level. The original HUD solution should not be confused with recent motorcycle products that are marketed as HUD but could actually distract the rider with unnecessary information. The closest solution to an airplane HUD is to mount the GPS above the bike’s instrument cluster, slightly below eye level. Other mounting positions are possible—in the center of the handlebar, near the end of a handlebar, or on the tankbag. However, they all fail to solve the core problem of maintaining focus on the road.

You might be thinking at this point, But my GPS has turn-by-turn audio instructions, so this is a non-issue. It is true that audio instructions greatly reduce the need to view the map, but at important waypoints such as turns or when exiting a highway, I never rely solely on computer-generated recommendations and instead double-check the map for visual confirmation. The taunt “If someone told you to jump off a cliff, would you do it?” could literally become a reality if you don’t apply critical judgment when listening to that automated voice.

While riding, there are dozens of tasks the brain needs to perform—shifting, accelerating, braking, and leaning, all while avoiding surrounding vehicles and obeying traffic rules. It should be clearer now why choosing the correct mounting position is important. In part two, we will examine in more detail each module in the suggested mounting stack.


Text: Yuval Naveh
Photography: Yuval Naveh and RAM Mounts


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