Are navigation, communication, and music really just one touch away on your handlebars?
Reviewed by Mark DT
I am a lucky fellow. I have a wife that not only tolerates my motorcycle habit, she even surprises me with farkles from time to time. The all time best birthday present was when she gave me a Garmin Zumo 660LM GPS Motorcycle Navigator.
I have been using this portable motorcycle GPS since only a month or so after it was introduced to the marketplace. When it works it is a brilliant motorcycle GPS, Stereo MP3 player, that gives call display functions and imports your contact list from your paired Bluetooth enabled mobile phone. When it doesn’t it is an expensive frustration. Overall I recommend this device, but not without spelling out all the good and bad. Here is my review…
Garmin Zumo 660 as a Motorcycle GPS…
As a pure motorcycle GPS there is little to fault. The maps available cover most of the globe. The unit finds the satellites and its present position usually in a matter of seconds. In fact I have extensive experience with GPS navigation on the road, in the air, and on the sea. This unit aligns faster than any other unit I have used to date.
The installation was very simple, and one need not be a motorcycle mechanic to get this device installed on your ride. I used a simple “RAM Mount”, which replaced two screws to my clutch clamp with longer ones, and added a base mount. The wiring went straight onto my battery with a simple line fuse. All in all, it took me less than an hour to install, working slowly. I recently removed the base to move to a newly purchased motorcycle, and again it was less than an hour. If you can remove a fairing, zip tie a wire, and access your battery, you can do this job yourself. Besides Ram Mounts, SW Motec, and others make a variety of mounting hardware for every motorcycle imaginable. I personally like it high on the left handle bar as it is just out of my field of vision for riding, and it is easy to manipulate to answer a phone call when under way.
Navigation functions are very simple. You can input addresses, postal codes, or simply find the spot on the map, touch it, and navigate to it. One simple but frustrating fix I wish all GPS manufactures that have Canadian maps would be to enable automatic keyboard switching from alpha to numeric when entering Canadian postal codes. In the USA all postal codes are simply numeric. In Canada they are all letter/number/letter, number/letter/number. Because of this there is an extra five key strokes necessary to enter a postal code. Poor design and easily fixable.
However, now that my Canadian postal code rant is done, let’s get to the positive. There are features that allow for avoidances such as tolls, gravel, etc. There is a huge internal data base with gas stations, restaurants, hotels, transportation hubs, etc. You can store your home location in the GPS, as well as all sorts of other favourite addresses such as friends, businesses, etc. The unit is really dead simple to use for its prime function which is a navigator. One would never need to open a manual to learn how to get from A to B with the Garmin Zumo 660. Many languages and even accents are included to chose how you wish to listen to navigation instructions.
The display has an anti-reflective surface, and offers a night mode that switches automatically to be easy on the eyes during rides in darkness. The touch screen works as well with gloves on as it does with bare hands. It works so well, that one must resist the temptation to fiddle with it when riding as it is really easy to get oneself distracted. The unit is also completely waterproof so no fear riding in the elements.
To aid in programming longer routes, one can use the free software provided by Garmin. Road Trip is the program I’ve used from Garmin to interface between my GPS and my iMac. It works, but it is not a user friendly experience IMHO. Anyone who has created trips with Google maps will find the software frustrating to use. It takes time to learn, and isn’t overly intuitive. Personally, I wish Garmin would simply sync their devices to Google Maps and be done with it. I have several buddies with different models of Zumo GPS on their motorcycles, and all love their GPS, and dislike using Road Trip. A common thread is that all these riders are Mac users. Perhaps the Windows software is better? Regardless, this software is powerful but is initially frustrating to work with and is a let down in my opinion. However, it doesn’t impact the riding experience which is the main reason we farkle our ride with a GPS.
Firmware updates are done through Garmin’s website and are dead simple to do. I have updated the GPS unit numerous times and it has always been easy and fast to do. Updating maps is also very easy, (I have a lifetime subscription), but it takes a lot more time than firmware updates as the files are generally very large. Make sure your computer’s automatic sleep mode is disabled when updating the latest version maps for your GPS. Simply connect it, start the update, and go for dinner. Reset your computer’s sleep mode/energy saver functions once the update is complete.
Adding music to the device from my old PC was very easy. From my Mac using iTunes took a little longer to learn, but now I find it as easy as before, just faster. Here is a video if
Stereo Bluetooth…heaven or hell?
The ability to connect this device wireless to a stereo Bluetooth helmet device was a determining factor in my purchase. I do not like wearing earphones while riding. I find that it blocks out too much of the outside sound reducing awareness for my comfort level. Helmet speakers, are for me a happy compromise. For my review I have been only using a Chatterbox XBi2 Bluetooth communicator, and an Apple iPhone. (Both a 3g and a 4s).
Pairing my phone to the device was very straight forward. Pairing my Chatterbox unit was just as easy.
GPS navigation directions are loud and clear. The Stereo Bluetooth function makes your MP3s sound fantastic through the speakers. I generally use foam ear plugs when riding. When on the highway at legal speeds, I had no problems hearing the GPS instructions, or music when the volume was set at the highest level. I wear a Shoei TZR full face which is known to be a fairly quiet helmet. This may have also been a determining factor.
Where the unit let me down, is that it drops the Bluetooth pairing, or locks up the music and phone functions from time to time. I have seen numerous firmware upgrades that have been released to correct this and other shortcomings, but in my mind Garmin rushed this product to market, and allowed their clients to trouble shoot the units for them. That would be acceptable if the price wasn’t twice that that of their automotive units. These are expensive devices, is it too much to expect that they will work flawlessly out of the box on the date they are released?
For the most part the firmware updates seem to have addressed this issue. Initially, I was needing to turn the unit on and off to reset itself almost every 20 minutes. Now this rarely occurs. To be fair, the GPS functions, never failed. It was simply the music player and mobile phone pairing. A quick visit to a website dedicated to Zumo users, http://www.zumoforums.com, will reveal all the good and bad with regards to Bluetooth and the Garmin Zumo. I’ve learned from this forum that the music pausing issue is not universal and it seems that some have never had it occur. I guess I wasn’t one of the lucky ones. This forum may require you to register to read postings. It is free and a wealth of information when learning all the ins and outs of the Garmin Zumo 660.
[pullquote align=”left|center|right” textalign=”left|center|right” width=”30%”]So the big question is, would I buy another Garmin Zumo Motorcycle GPS? Yes I would. [/pullquote]
Now, when the music player works, which for me is 98% of the time, (it still needs the occasional power down reset), it is bloody brilliant. You can create play lists of your catalogue, play by album, or artist. There is allowance for audio books. The sound quality is very good. When you are riding and simply using the moving map, it displays the song title on your unit for you. The music automatically stops and restarts whenever a GPS instruction sounds, or the phone starts to ring. You can also run headphones to the unit if you prefer not to use Bluetooth.
Answering phone calls on the bike is very easy and it functions with call display if enabled on your phone. I find above 90 km/h the volume on the phone is a little weak. Those that were on the other end of the line have always stated that I came in loud and clear. The Garmin Zumo 660 also imports your phone book from your paired device making it easy to find a number and dial it. I would never do this though while riding, but rather would wait until stopped.
So the big question is, would I buy another Garmin Zumo Motorcycle GPS? Yes I would. Despite my frustrations with the music player occasionally locking up, and their Mac Road Trip software, I simply love using this device. It makes riding safer in navigating to places you’ve never been as opposed to a paper map on a tank bag. Having music playing in the background reduces fatigue and makes long rides far more enjoyable. My career outside the web requires me to be on call with my employer at all times of the day. Without the ability to answer my cell phone on short notice I can not do my job. That meant I couldn’t ride on a lot of perfect weather days, just in case the phone rang. With electronics like this I have regained that extra bit of freedom to ride.