Motorcycle Navigation: Putting It All Together—An End-to-End GPS Setup

Sep 21, 2017 View Comments by

Often when meeting with other riders, I get asked, “What is your bike’s GPS setup?” I reply with the same answers and direct them to my RoadRUNNER articles on the subject—but those discuss general principles and concepts. Instead, this article will present a real-life GPS setup as a case study, which could benefit riders who are just venturing into the world of GPS, but also might provide new perspectives to more experienced riders. My friend and colleague Bud Miller modified his GPS stack after a navigational session we had at the 2016 RoadRUNNER Touring Weekend. 

There are two parts to the setup: hardware and software. Both follow the layered “mix and match” strategies I have presented in the past. Even though I’m a strong advocate for using smartphones for GPS navigational tasks, there is nothing that prohibits the usage of a dedicated standalone GPS receiver.

To mount and power a Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge to my 2015 Tiger 800 XCx. The smartphone will function as a GPS device but will also be used as a weather radar and media player connected via Bluetooth to my helmet’s communication system. 

Mounting: A RAM round B-ball plate [2] is bolted to the windshield’s metal brace, above the instrument panel. A RAM short double socket arm [3] connects the RAM plate and a RAM X-Grip cradle [4], which will hold the phone using a water- and shockproof case [5] designed specifically for the Galaxy S7 Edge. The case is used not so much for waterproofing, since the smartphone already has an IP68 rating, but for firmer grip. The cradle holds the rugged case better than the phone, because the phone’s curved surfaces are slick. The case also offers scratch protection and additional safety, with a lanyard that tethers it to the motorcycle’s frame [A].

Electric Charging: The 2015 Tiger 800 XCx has a rather simple 12V electric system, which is mostly non-CAN bus. It comes out of the factory with two 12V Powerlet female sockets, both configured as “hot”—that is, always powered, regardless of the key switch position. The front socket [B], to the left of the key switch, is plugged with a 12V Powerlet to SAE adapter [6]. I also want to power the tankbag while at the same time charging my smartphone—for example, to charge a GoPro camera or a headset while riding. The tail of the Powerlet to SAE adapter cable is connected to a Y-splitter SAE cable [7] that splits one SAE input into two SAE outputs. One end of the splitter is used for smartphone/GPS charging, while the other is used for powering the tankbag. 

For GPS charging, a 12V to 5V voltage converter [8] is connected to one end of the splitter cable. A six-foot USB cable [9] is routed below the handlebar and instrument panel to the right side of the cockpit, where it plugs into the phone’s micro-USB charging port [C].

Components [7] to [10] are normally tucked and hidden under the left cowling [D], but are visible in the image for demonstration purposes.

The other end of the Y-splitter connects to an SAE extension cable [10] that is connected to a tankbag SAE connector [11]. On the inside of the tankbag, the SAE tail is connected to another 12V to 5V voltage converter [8]. It has a USB type-A female connector that enables any USB device to be charged.

A special custom screen was configured on my Android smartphone with all the widgets and apps needed for riding.

1st row: A widget for direct control of brightness and volume helps eliminate the dreaded drag-and-drop user experience when wearing gloves [20].

2nd row: I use the Sena app for quick access to headset settings [16], Dark Sky for weather forecasting [17], and a Nova widget that expands Quick Settings, showing the phone’s settings menu with one click [20]. Other apps include GoPro Capture.

3rd row: Maps.Me is a digital atlas that supports offline maps and works globally with maps for any country in the world [13]. CoPilot USA is a standalone GPS app with offline maps and support for multi-point GPS routes [15]. I use it in the U.S. for most on-road navigation. Google Maps, the ubiquitous online navigation app, recently added some capability for offline maps [12]. I don’t use this app much, but it is always good to have as backup. U.S. Topo Maps Pro is an online/offline topography maps utility that I primarily use when riding off-road, for reading a topo map, following a GPX track, or recording a track for later usage [14]. With the app, tracks and routes are copied to the phone’s SD card by either connecting the smartphone to a computer or using an online cloud storage service such as Dropbox.

4th and 5th rows: Music players. Google Play Music [18], for offline music, and Spotify [19], for online or offline use.

This setup is specific for my bike and needs, but it can easily be adapted to your own requirements. Please consider it as an example, or a base line, for your own customized GPS setup. It is by no means the only way to get the job done. In fact, I encourage you to experiment and try optimizing this design. The beauty of this approach is its modularity. If one component is not solving your problems and needs, then another component can and should replace it.

Text and Photography: Yuval Naveh


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Tags: Categories: Chronicles