Many of today’s GPS units with route planning software, large color touchscreens and 3D navigational views make finding your way so easy, the makers felt the need to stuff them full of additional features. Take this Garmin Zumo 550 for example. In addition to a motorcycle GPS unit it’s an MP3 player, JPG image viewer, XM satellite radio, TMC and XM traffic receiver and a trip computer with compass, altimeter, odometer, clock, fuel economy and speed calculator (average, max, etc.). Wow! There’s also an SD card slot for additional maps or storage, and it will even connect with and dial your Bluetooth cell phone.
I have tried everything except the Zumo’s XM radio and traffic receiver functions, and found it all works impressively well. Not wanting to mate with it for life, however, the only features I regularly use are the GPS and trip routing, but they alone are worth the price of admission.
That’s because the rugged Zumo 550 is made for motorcycling, with a large, bright, 3.5-inch display that’s readable in sunlight, and touchscreen controls that can be used with up to medium-weight riding gloves. Using the five tactile external buttons is mostly optional, and the only one not on the left is for power. The Zumo is waterproof, vibration-tested, UV and fuel resistant, so it will take most anything short of a drop onto a hard surface.
GPS for automotive use really came into its own when it started speaking to us, a function easily implemented in a unit for your car with a simple speaker. For motorcycle use, though, we usually need a helmet headset connection in order to hear it. The Zumo 550 itself doesn’t have a speaker, so you make this connection either through an 8-inch audio-out jack on the universal motorcycle mount included, or with wireless Bluetooth. For our test we used a Bluetooth Cardo Scala Teamset. A suction-cup-style mount is also included with the Zumo 550 so you can use it in the car, and it has a built-in speaker.
The Zumo 550 comes ready to go right out of the box with preloaded City Navigator NT street maps and a large points of interest (POIs) database, including motels, restaurants, fuel, ATMs and more. Turn it on and you’re presented with the options of viewing the map, which receives signals (as long you’re outdoors) from Global Positioning Satellites to pinpoint your location on a clear color display zoomable from 80 feet to 500 miles. Or you can select “Where To?” and input an address or destination manually, pick from a list of POIs, or use the programmable Favorites, Routes with waypoints and more. The database predicts your keyboard inputs, so it will bring up a list of choices as soon as you’ve keyed in enough information. When you’re done, hit “Go!” and the unit directs you to your destination using your preset preferences (e.g., no U-turns, toll roads, faster time, shorter distance, etc.). A short distance before and after each turn, off-ramp, etc., the Zumo tells you what to do in a voice with the gender, accent and even language of your choice.
Mounting the Zumo 550 with the provided RAM socket-and-ball mount is simple if you have a tubular bar or very basic switch control hardware, otherwise you’ll probably need a specialized part from an outfit such as Touratech (www.touratech.com) or RAM Mounts (www.rammount.com). The Zumo 550 will run for about four hours on its rechargeable lithium-ion battery, but for best results you’ll want to hook it up to your bike’s power with the provided fused cable. Though it can be used silently, you will definitely want to take advantage of the Zumo’s spoken directions–it’s bright and clear under most conditions (including in night mode), but staring at the display while underway can be risky.
The Zumo 550’s suggested retail price doesn’t reflect what it actually sells for most places, so shop around. Whatever you pay, though, it’s worth it.
For more information see your dealer or contact Garmin International, 1200 E. 151st Street, Olathe, Kansas 66062; (913) 397-8200; www.garmin.com.