If you’re a travelin’ motorcyclist like I am, you probably have strong feelings on GPS use.  Either you love ’em and can’t imagine living without one, or you hate the damn things.

I fall strongly on the pro-GPS side, but there are many who feel the gadgets ruin the spontaneity of the trip and go against the whole concept of “getting away from it all.”

I addressed the issue in a recent column in American Iron’s Motorcycle Bagger magazine, which I’ve adapted here:

In what may be a case of the tail wagging the dog, I’ll admit that my GPS sometimes runs me, rather than the other way around. Maybe it’s a symptom of a borderline obsessive-compulsive disorder, but I always like to know exactly where I am, where I’m going, and what time I’ll get there. Sure, riding’s all about the journey, not the destination, but I’m guessing I’m not the only one who feels the need to pinpoint that journey every step of the way.

Early morning crawfish harvest, Louisisana Cajun country

Early morning crawfish harvest, Louisisana Cajun country

My Harley-riding friend Gene Faulk, who lives deep in the heart of south-central Louisiana’s Cajun country, doesn’t necessarily share my compulsion. He owns a GPS, but turns it off for what he calls a “Wonder Ride.”

“A Wonder Ride is when I’m riding by myself, just clearing the cobwebs,” he explains. “And I see a road I’ve never been down, and it’s just ‘I wonder where that road goes.’

Don’t get me wrong,” he continues, “I’ve had to turn around when they’ve turned into mud, gravel, or dead ends, but I’ve also found quite a few hidden treasures that way.”

When his “Wonder Ride” is over, the GPS gets plugged in again: “I like to use the ‘home’ button, because sometimes I just don’t have a clue where I’m at!”

Love ‘em or hate ‘em, perhaps the best use for a GPS is for making your way through an unfamiliar city on an interstate highway. Sure, you can always use paper maps, but when you’re confronted with a maze of on-ramps, off-ramps, and flyovers and need to make a split-second decision, nothing beats having your route plotted out in advance on your trusty GPS.

Florida Keys

Florida Keys

Other times it’s not so crucial. If you’re riding the Florida Keys, for example, or the Pacific Coast Highway, there’s ample time to pull over, “smell the roses,” and check your route on a map if you need to.

I’ll agree that sometimes it is best to just unplug and unwind. Riding the Blue Ridge Parkway a couple of years back, I spoke with a rider who advocated doing just that. “We’re so inundated with technology in our daily lives,” he told me. “Cellphones, email, computers, and Facebook. Embrace the moment – without all the technology – just take it all in.”  Great advice, even if I don’t necessarily follow it myself.

Andy Anderson and his '62 H-D Panhead "Rat Bike"

Andy Anderson and his ’62 H-D Panhead “Rat Bike” – No GPS here!

And there are those who consider GPS to be the antithesis of what motorcycling is all about. Andy Anderson of DeLeon Springs, FL, rides a vintage Harley-Davidson Panhead “Rat Bike,” and is truly an old-school kinda guy. He doesn’t own a computer, cell phone, or GPS, although he jokes he once did. “I used to have a small plastic globe mounted on the handlebars; called it my GPS machine.  I’d spin it around, point to a spot and say ‘I’m exactly right here!’”

GPS is an indispensable part of my touring kit, but of course motorcycling isn’t a “one size fits all” proposition — different strokes for different folks, as they say.




About Glen Abbott
Glen Abbott is a Florida-based travel writer & photographer specializing in motorcycle touring and travel. He is regular contributor to Harley-Davidson's HOG Magazine, and his travel features appear regularly in motorcycle magazines and other publications.

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  1. Lloyd

    January 1, 2015

    Never used GPS, doubt if I ever will.

  2. TRoss

    November 4, 2014

    I always have a Garmin on my Trike. You just never know where you might end up at.

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