Electronic Assistance

I got a GPS. After 58 years of riding motorcycles all over the US and a lot of other places in the world using only paper maps and dead reckoning, I thought, in my 70’s, it might be time to try one.

A few years ago my usual riding partner, my wife’s brother, got one for his BMW and we did find it useful for our travels, locating services and answering the frequent question “where the heck are we?” We tried using it mounted to our Yamaha XT250’s on the Mid-Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route, a mostly off road excursion across several states, thinking that the unmarked trail turns might be a bit easier with some technological help. It wasn’t happy outside of its BMW mounting cradle, with the screen going dark at inconvenient moments and the thing often refusing to give us any directions except back to where we started. I’m not blaming the machine…I’m sure it was something in the translation between Old Geezer and Modern Tech.

The one I selected for myself, a Garmin Zumo XT, looks a lot like his without the BMW logo and comes with a cradle that can be put on any bike with a wiring plug for 12 volts. For the maiden voyage, I picked my DR650 as test mule and hooked it up for a ride.

I put in a destination, my nephew’s workplace in Greenup, Ky, about a hundred miles or so from my house and set off in the early dawn light.

I had selected the “adventurous route” option from the screen, expecting the thing to take me on new paths to this familiar location. I thought I would arrive at his shop drenched in mud, trailing vines behind the bike, with a few arrows in the soft panniers. But no, my electronic guide figured familiar Route 60 was as adventurous as it could find, though it did throw in a five mile up the hill and down route that circled off of 60 and right back to it only a short distance from where it left.

Still, it did give me a heads up for turns coming, but since I don’t have a Bluetooth headset, (there’s only so much technology I can stand at one time) I had to look at the screen which I found a bit distracting.

The routing gave me an estimated time to arrive, which also was distracting since it kept changing. On curvy Rt. 2 I found myself mired in a string of large gravel trucks going to and from some construction project and the arrival time kept getting longer. The psychology got interesting since even though I had no specific time I needed to be anywhere, somehow that increasing time on the screen created a subtle sense of being late. After passing the last truck and traveling for a bit at somewhat “exuberant” speed, the time came back down and I felt, completely unnecessarily, a sense of relief.

After arriving, “on time” and sans arrows, I headed for home without assistance from the screen, but left it on just to see what else it offered me. It does have a speed limit monitor, handy I’m sure, and a compass telling me always where north was located. That is quite useful. There is a little window that gives me what I assume is an accurate speed, telling me that my DR’s speedo is a bit less than 10% optimistic, which is what I thought anyway.

Later in the day I was on some tiny backroads wandering around when one of them became dirt and gravel. The GPS didn’t name the road and it was unclear from the screen if this thin little line on the display actually connected up to any other thin little lines. But there was a guy coming out of a farm driveway in a truck, so I asked him if this one went through or dead-ended. I’ve had this sort of encounter many times and “Where are you trying to get to?” is always, always the question they ask. It’s hard to get across adequately in such a brief encounter the idea that I really don’t have a destination nor do I care where this track goes, I just want to know if it is a dead end. He finally assured me with a wave of his hand that it “goes around there” and so I took off up the rutted, graveled hill. It did go somewhere, though I still don’t know where, exactly, that was, but the view from up there was marvelous.

It is the beginning of the relationship, always a time of learning and adapting. I’m sure we will be able to get along just fine.

About johngrice

Retired small town lawyer, lifelong motorcyclist, traveler and old guy sitting around thinking.
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