Easy GPS




March 14th 2013




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GPS navigation - some basics


Why GPS navigation while on tour on a motorbike

We can well remember the days, when I had my good old Garmin GPS12 receiver installed on the handle bar of my good old Kawasaki GPZ1100 and showed up at a biker meeting point. Usually I harvested a tired grin of the other bikers. Then statements came up like "oh man, do you now need to navigate to our bikers point with a GPS?". But those guys, who already had gained some information of GPS systems very soon ended up with us in fruitful detailed discussions.

Well, since time and development is moving fast, those days are over. In the meanwhile, there are the Garmin and the TomTom fans and there were the Magellaner, as we are still fans of the good old Crossover GPS system, even Magellan went out of the consumer market in general. The application for motorbike riding and navigating on those systems became better and better and today people discuss much more complex topics in online forums, because navigation systems are now widespread. More informations can for sure be found in the different user forums. We here would like to talk basics.

So what should a GPS navigation system do on a motorbike. Well, lets recall the basics of navigation. There are signposts. They route traffic always on major roads to relieve the municipalities and to bypass small towns. If you navigate only by signposts, then you'll never see those beautiful places and corners on your tour. If you take a map in the standard scale of 1:200,000, you will have more options. But due to the resolution of the scale you might not always find all the ways and certainly not through complex road setups in villages or towns.

If you opt for a map with a scale of 1:50,000, you can see all the roads, but because that scale is so small, you have to stop all 5mls and turn the map. So not an ideal solution. Then there is the safety factor. Always looking on the map in the tank bag and all the stop and goes may add additional risk to your tour. With a GPS navigation system that does include three navigion options, you will be able to expand touring possibilities on your way through the European Alps regions. So lets go into more details.

Magellan Crossover GPSThe unit on the left picture is just an example and could be any other brand model of a GPS system manufacturer.

Mode 1 , the Car Navigation mode. In the Car Navigation mode we follow a routing engine of the device. The device leads me based on a more or less intelligent route planning software (routing engine), which is integrated in the navigation system, from A to B. In order to successfully ride on beautiful motorbike roads, the device should have a routing engine that serves me as a motorbiker with my demands.
I am not in a car and I don’t want to drive on standard roads quickly from A to B, but on nice curved roads.
Aha, that’s something different. So your motorbike GPS gadget should offer different routing options, like for example the TomTom with its curve slider. Slider to the left means “moderate amount of curves”, slider to the middle “give me that baby” and slider to the right “oh man I’m gas sick, give me more”.

Mode 2 , Boat Navigation mode. In that mode we need to navigate when we missed the ferry and were unable to stop at the shore.

Mode 3 , Outdoor Navigation mode. In the Outdoor Navigation mode we usually plan our motorbike routes with a mapping software package or a tour planner. We then convert the track with the Waypointer tools into a track, which we then simply load on any of our GPS gadgets and off we go.

What does GPS mean?

GPS stands for Global Positioning System. Actually the complete name is NAVSTAR GPS, where NAVSTAR is derived from NAVigation System with Time And Ranging. A navigation system, based on time and distance determination. GPS is used by the U.S. Department of Defense as a military navigation system and was made for civil use artificially inaccurate. This artificial inaccuracy was set back in a first step in May 2000 by the U.S. government. So a standard GPS receiver reaches now an accuracy of less than 30ft.

Today's modern devices on the market have made the old 12-channel receivers obsolete and replaced it by the new integrated SIRF III chip with a, by far better receiver performance. This technology was available in the market from 2005 on and manufacturers are now offering more and more navigation system in SIRF III technology. The advantage is the much higher signal quality and accuracy. But beware. Also among the SIRF III receivers are devices with good internal antenna technology and some that, unfortunately, can not score that great.


How does GPS navigation work on a motorbike tour?

Magellan SatmenueAfter switching on the GPS system, you will see after a while a similar satellite setup as shown on the left picture. In our example, these are the satellites 09, 12, 17, 26, 29, 22, 05 and 30, where the satellites 12, 22 and 05 are although received, but the information is not taken into account at the moment. I had this status displayed at my home office desk in my house. With a 12-channel device, old technology, the screen would be blank, since those units are unable to get satellite connections in rooms.

The meter bars on the right side show the signal strength. When the bars are green, the GPS receives data and uses it in its calculations. Since more than four satellites are found, the device operates in  3D NAV mode. So it will not only output latitude and longitude, but also the altitude.


How can I use a GPS as motorbike tour rider?

Magellan Crossover GPS compass viewA navigation without great input of data is available to me as shown in the picture to the right, which is shown immediately after switching on the device. The receiver has usually found within 40 seconds three or four satellites and calculates the current position by using its algorithm nearly exactly.

The position is shown in latitude and longitude.
In this example its N(North) 51°03'06" and E(East) 006°24'18". The output in seconds, as well as feet, meters, time 24h, 12h can be configured. On the right side of the picture you see a compass, which does show the direction you are walking towards. In our example, the user and the device moves by hand only. Therefore, the indication of the speed is only 4.2km/h.

The icon in the bottom right corner with the map and the pin allows the storage of a waypoint based on the actual position. The date and time is generated by the satellite. To view the current time, for example in Germany, you need to set in the setup menu the time zone to Greenwich +1h.


Magellan Crossover outdoor modeSo far we have not yet navigated, we only know where we are. For navigation you needed in earlier, simple GPS receivers still coordinates of the points to which you wanted to navigate to. These waypoints then were entered into the receiver manually, or planned on a computer with a software package and then transferred via  a RS232 interface into the receiver.

Thanks to God that those days are over. In the left picture you see as an example a Magellan Crossover GPS in outdoor mode. On the GPS device, the MapSend Topo 3D maps are installed, easily recognizable on the detailed layout. Not only roads are presented, but also terrain features such as contour lines, rivers, lakes, forests, swamps and very important, lots of POIs.

What are POIs? POIs are points of interest, or better said, important sites. You can see in the picture a petrol station, a camera and a hotel with a bed. These POIs can be tapped up on the touch screen with your finger and you get more details such as address, phone number, or the gas station brand. A modern navigation system must show POIs and provide the user with more information from its database.

Magellan Crossover car navigationFor riding a motorbike tour, we do plan in the outdoor mode, create our tracks with the Motorradtourenplaner mapping software package, store that track onto a SD card, which we then plug into the navigation system and then just follow the pink line on the screen.

The right picture shows the Car Navigation mode. Here too, POIs are displayed when the map scale with the "+" and "-" buttons on the screen was set down to 1,000ft. In the Car Navigation mode, the motorbike tour is planned by the routing engine.

That’s all you need to know about GPS navigation basics. Independant which GPS gadget you buy and which user group you join. Think always about the fact that only a navigation device that lets you choose options in the routing engine, will make you happy when riding tours. And believe it or not. In the past we often spent time in front of a computer planning our detailed route. In the meanwhile we sit with friend at a beer, look over a paper map, write down some places we like to see during our trip (yes, mainly on paper napkins) and punch them into our TomTom nav gadget. Then curve slider in the routing menue to the right and digital trigger to the right gas hand.

Take care and ride safely!


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