Since learning to use a sextant and becoming familiar with all of the natural landmarks across the United States may not be practical, the buzzword in today’s techno-gadgetry guidance is global positioning system.
GPS is a system of 27 satellites orbiting the earth, originally put there by the U.S. military to provide guidance for its own use. Later the system was opened to use for the public. Twenty-four are currently in operation and three remain as a backup in the event one fails. These solar-powered satellites circle the earth at an elevation of about 12,000 miles, making two complete orbits each day. The orbits are such that at any given time or place on earth there are at least four of the satellites “visible” in the sky from any position on earth.
The function of a GPS receiver is to locate four or more of the satellites, calculate the distance to each, and, based on that information, determine its own position. This process is based on a mathematical principal known as trilateration. Depending on the software installed and used, the receiver can show you a variety of useful information such as your current location on a street map, your current speed, your average speed, how long you have traveled, and from where you have traveled, as well as plot a destination and estimate your time of arrival based on your current average speed. These features depend on the GPS and software you buy, which brings us to our evaluation of the Harley-Davidson Road Tech Quest Navigation System.
The system is comprised of two parts. Part No. 92106-05 consists of the receiver unit with a built-in antenna, an AC power adapter, a carrying case, a cradle, a PC/USB interface cable, an owner’s manual, a quick reference guide, a set-up guide, and the all-important MapSource software and owner’s manual. Road Tech Quest is available for Harley-Davidson models including 1996-and-later Electra Glides and 1998-and-later Road Glides. We mounted our unit on a 2006 Road Glide using Harley-Davidson Part No. 92109-05.
Installation of the mounting bracket to the fairing of the Road Glide is straightforward: Remove the windscreen and open the fairing. The template provided in the kit is easy to use and accurately locates the holes that must be drilled to attach the bracket to the fairing. Harley has pre-wired the bike for additional accessories. If you have not previously installed additional electronic equipment to the bike, the two required electrical connections are as simple as plugging two wires together. The electrical connections recharge the built-in batteries, which permit up to 20 hours of off-bike use, according to Harley-Davidson. The remaining cable is plugged into the face of the radio using the external auxiliary jack. Reassemble the fairing and windscreen and you are finished. The entire process takes less than an hour.
The next step is more involved and consumes a bunch of time. The system requires you to download the MapSource software from a PC. First the software is loaded onto a PC via the CDs provided, then transferred to Road Tech Quest via a USB cable. Since this may well be your first attempt using this software and these devices, it will be a trial-and-error process. If you’re a techno geek, you’re going to love this phase. If you’re not, it can be frustrating, at best. In today’s world of instant gratification and plug-and-play, it is baffling why the unit is not sold with the software installed so that a potential end user can just use it. Updates could be made available at the dealer or over the Internet.
Snapping the Road Tech Quest into the bike’s bracket is simple. Make sure you have the locks in their proper place. It would probably ruin your day to hit a bump, only to watch in the rearview mirror as the $599.95 unit flies off the mount directly into the path of the semi. Once in place, the Road Tech Quest goes through the mandatory lawyer stuff: “Do not attempt to enter route information or adjust this device while riding. Failure to pay full attention while riding could result in death or serious injury.” When you agree, the unit advances to the next screen and, based on your preferences, permits access to a variety of information.
The screen, which is smaller than a business card and placed greater than arm’s length from the rider, is difficult to see, even when parked. Harley must have forgotten that most of its customers are from the baby-boomer generation and most of us require vision correction of some sort to see these days. The control buttons are so small, it is next to impossible to press less than two or three together unless you remove your gloves.
Using Road Tech Quest is not intuitive. It is likely to take the average rider hours, and even days, to learn the operational systems and become familiar with the functions offered. We tried the little system both on and off the bike (a nice feature) and found it is relatively easy to find where you are, and how fast you are going. If you know where you want to go, you can enter the name or address of a destination and it will find a direct route to that location and estimate the time of arrival based on the speed you are traveling. It even offers voice prompts, like a backseat driver. I am not into creating additional distractions while riding, so I preferred the “unplugged” version.
Getting Road Tech Quest to show you that nice little scenic route with the two-lane twisties is difficult. At best it wants to put you on the slab—and if the address or location you want to go to is not in the MapSource database, you will be forced to select the next closest destination. Once you arrive, you will either have to ask for directions or look it up on a local map. Granted, this will not be the situation for most large cities, but any rural destination (which is where most of us like to ride) will not have much in the way of detailed road information.
Road Tech Quest will locate the nearest Harley-Davidson dealer. It will find places to eat, places to stay, fuel stations, and the addresses of places you would like to visit or have already been (if you can get the software to accept them). You can save your “home” location and that way you will always be able to find your way back no matter how far you have ventured. It is easier to have Road Tech Quest store a current location than to try to enter the location via the address menu. Seems the software wants to help you spell the names of streets and cities and if the word or number you are entering is not in the database, the software will select some other name or number for you. Problem is, it is most likely not where you want to go.
You may be wondering: If you aren’t supposed to look at the information available from the GPS while you are riding, are you supposed to use it when parked? The information is easily read when parked, but how many uncharted destinations are you going to miss because you didn’t talk with the local store owner or station attendant and ask, “What’s your favorite place around here to camp/fish/picnic/relax?” In the end, there are those who appreciate the benefits of a GPS, and others who will ask, “How many maps can I buy for $600?”