Navigating in the
European Alps




March 12th 2013




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Navigation in the European Alps

GPS - road map - roadbook - tracker




Identifing my location and - the way is the goal

Who is on the road with a motorbike, has to deal inevitably with navigation. He has to ask again and again during the whole tour ride, “where am I” and “where have I to go next”, but what is even more important is the question “am I still on the right track?”. Of course, there are the electronic gadgets, thanks to the earlier navigators and creators of the former paper maps available, but is a navigation system really all I need?
We say NO. Easy to understand when we say there are Garmin and TomTom routes. Both navigation gadgets route different, but a TomTom does always route like a TomTom. This will end up as a fact, that when you just consult your navigation device, you will queue with all other riders using the same device on the same road. So be a little bit more individual, not just dump follow that gadget telling you what to do. Then you will be back to real navigation and not just being a follower.

And as always, there are of course several ways to resolve this issue. Simple or complex, cheap or expensive. The range starts with a simple paper list, written on a paper napkin in a restaurant (works fine), up to high-tech navigation systems with Bluetooth and with hands-free phone connection. Everyone should decide according to his wallet and his love of technology what he believes is best for him. And please don’t talk shit about guys that travel the European Alps equipped like a desert Gobi deep sand rider, even it looks somewhat strange in the middle of all that tourists with t-shirts, sun-glasses and slippers. Everbody at his fun level.

Our motivation is to explain to you why a navigation and route planning is important and show you different planning and tracking tools. Because planning a tour is one of the best parts of the trip we will never miss it. And - of course, we will tell you how we to do planning and what gadgets we use. But since technology is running fast, software sets become obsolete which happened to the really great and outstanding Motorbike Tour Planner “Motorradtourenplaner” that was launched to the market from the German Motorrad magazine. A reason why we are not always up to date on our website.

European traffic sign

 Navigation based on street signs
However, you should know one thing from scratch. Signposts, as shown here in the picture left, can only be used for rough navigation, since they are designed based on planning political issues to route the traffic onto the main traffic arteries to relieve the nice places from traffic. Navigating using signposts will draw you very rarely on to the really beautiful roads. Usually you end up on wide roads, not seeing small villages and beautiful sights. This is the classic emergency navigation according to the motto - I have to go fast from A to B. But it allows to navigate based on a view names on a piece of paper, which then is used as a "Roadbok" to reach your final destination.




General street map of South Tyrol

 Preparation planning and navigation based on street maps .
The classic preparation of a tour is and remains always the road map. Even in times of navigation systems we always recommend the possession of a well chosen set of maps. Here show in the left picture the well-known map type - “Die General Karte”. We  always maintain a current set for Germany and the European Alps countries, since they have best scale. Scale should be at least  1:200.000 or even 1:150.000. Less does not make sense, since oherwise you need to stop every few miles to turn around the map in  the map pocket. At even smaller scales the navigation systems do show their advantage, when equipped with topografic maps scaled down to 1:25.000.
Sandwiched in a clear plastic sleeve, mostly on the tank bag, this navigation gadget is one of the most important ones. Each road map has its place for a very specific purpose. In our map section we talk a bit about a variety of paper maps and sources.




Fugawi planning software

 Planning software for a PC or MAC .
In addition to the previous recommended overview planning using road maps, tour planning today is mostly performed with popular tour packages, or so-called  "moving map software." These are either directly provided by the big navigation system manufacturers with the navigation system, or can be purchased separately. But then in addition, you need to calculate map license fees, which are incurred by the maps from NAVTEQ and Tele Atlas. Pretty much any software package is today based on the maps of these two manufacturers.

In addition, there are of course providers such as Fugawi who offer an own software package to the market. As already stated above, the motorcycle trip planner software package “Motorradtourenplaner” is no longer available. If you still can get hold of an old software package, then you really should buy it.
As a third option, there are software packages that have not included own maps, but online access for example to Google Maps. These packages are then only usable online. All software packages however offer full import and export of track files of a tour, that other people might have already created as download or data file on a stick.




Magellan Crossover and Lowrance Endura

 Navigation with a GPS navigation sytem .
We do not talk about the devices of the so called “leading brand manufacturers” such as Garmin or TomTom, since for these you will surely find enough information on the Internet. No, we would like to explain to you our used navigation systems. Also, why we did choose these types, even the Magellan Crossover is just out of market. The series unfortunately expired.

You see on the left picture at the botton the Magellan Crossover, which we now use together with the IGO8 software. Above, the Lowrance Endura Sierra with the routable topografic maps of Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In addition, the Endura is being used on our bicycles, where we use the MagicMaps Tour Explorer in 1:25.000 scale topographic maps. Details, and screenshots with explanations for their software packages can be found in the individual section.

That’s all you need. Basically electronic map material that reaches down to 1:25.000 scale, a mapping software package, a small MacBook or Netbook on the tour and you are all set. But don’t forget the good old reliable paper map in scale 1:200,000. It never will run out of batteries.

For street navigation we use a TomTom in the meanwhile. This is based on the fact that we have a autocom communication unit installed in our motorbike and the Goldwing Sidecar. We are not a fan of Bluetooth wireless communications, since we use the noise compensation feature of the autocom system. When you have heard this once, you for sure will dump your wireless set. So the TomTom, mobile phone, Goldwing stereo set, my lovely wife passenger are all hooked up and communicate.




HOLUX GPSport 260

 The BLACK BOX - or tour tracker
Since prices for navigation gadgets have fallen steadily, we have always been looking around for a replacement for our bicycle computer, a
SIGMA BC180. This gadget, installed on the handle bar, delivered information about distance, average  speed and a few other values. We were looking for a device that was able to record our track as a black box, if possible all 100ft. Of course, a standard navigation system is able to do that somehow as well, but not so comfortable.

Since then, we use a HOLUX GPSport 260. What is that gadget able to do what a navigation system is unable to do? Well, it fits comfortably in a pocket, has an operational live time of over 28hrs, writes a waypoint with all coordinates all 100ft and can save 160,000 of them. It has a POI button that allows to mark landmarks can be stored easily and comes with a brilliant planning and evaluation software.
We also use this to mark our photo locations and can store that data simply with the supplied software in the EXIF data file of our photos.
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We are member of the Alpentops 20, a platform of websites that cover travel in the Alps regions and supply significant additional information for trips in the European Alps. Owner of the site is Stephan Fennel from the agency DP Destination Publishing KG - the well known Alpentourer Magazin - which we highly recommend. The website has a translation engine for multiple languages and provides up to date information for travel in the European Alps.


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