Whats the Difference Between a Car GPS and Motorcycle GPS?

Motorcycle GPS Mount for the Garmin ZumoWe see this question all the time.  What’s the difference between a car GPS and motorcycle GPS?  More than you might think.  This question is often asked by a motorcycle owner deciding if the extra cost of a motorcycle GPS is worth the premium versus one made for a car.  We take a look at both and compare a motorcycle GPS versus a car GPS.

There are hundreds of GPS units made for inside the vehicle.  The big players in the consumer car GPS market are Garmin, TomTom and Magellan.  There used to be a few more but they were either merged with the three already mentioned or closed their doors.  When it comes to motorcycles, there have only been about ten released and the companies are Garmin and TomTom.  Several years back, TomTom owned this market but Garmin is now a major player too, especially in the US.

For comparison purposes, we took the top of the line units from Garmin.  On the car side, we will use the Garmin DriveSmart 50 NA LMT for comparison.  It’s Garmin’s latest GPS entry and has most of the popular features we see in today’s GPS market.  The DriveSmart is part of Garmin’s Drive product line has taken the place of the Nuvi which many are probably familiar with.  The features of the DriveSmart 50 LMT are typical of most mid to high-end GPS units for cars.  On the motorcycle side, it’s going to be the Garmin Zumo 590LM Motorcycle GPS.  The Zumo line has been Garmin’s motorcycle entry for several years and this is one of their most current and feature rich devices.

So let’s compare these.  We are looking at these two devices from the perspective of a motorcycle rider.

Maps – The DriveSmart 50LMT has lifetime map updates.  So does the Garmin Zumo 590LM.  Advantage:  Tie

Traffic – The DriveSmart 50LMT has a lifetime traffic subscription.  The Garmin Zumo does not have this feature.  Advantage:  DriveSmart 50LMT

Connectivity – Both models support Bluetooth.  Advantage:  Tie

Usability – Here’s where the motorcycle GPS has a clear advantage.  Most motorcycle GPS devices are rider friendly.  This means a few things.  First, they are glove friendly meaning you can interface with the display while wearing gloves whereas the car GPS needs a human touch, meaning no gloves.  The Garmin Zumo 590LM has a removable battery and the Nuvi and Drive series do not.  That’s a nice feature for long rides.  Lastly, the Zumo 590LM has some unique add-on features like a tire pressure reader and the ability to calculate how much longer to go until you need gas.  Advantage:  Zumo 590LM

Durability:  The Garmin Zumo 590LM is made to use outdoors in a high vibration environment.  A car GPS is not.  While I have never heard about issues related to vibration on a car GPS, be aware of the potential.  Additionally, the weatherproof features of a motorcycle GPS means that it’s made to ride in light rain where a car GPS is made to use inside the vehicle.  Advantage:  Zumo 590LM

Mounts – Hey, we’re the MountGuys so you know we are going to talk about this topic.  The Zumo 590LM has a heavier duty mount than one made for a car.  The Garmin RAM Mounting Kit is the mount that is provided in the box with most of the Zumo models sold these days.  It’s made of metal and bolts onto the back of the Zumo cradle.  It’s made for rugged use.  Garmin doesn’t offer a motorcycle mount for their car GPS lines but they are available from third parties.  Most motorcycle mounts that work with a DriveSmart 50LMT as well as the Nuvi line utilize the car cradle that came with the GPS.  There is a socket on the back of that cradle and it snaps onto the ball of the typical motorcycle mount that’s sold for the Nuvi and Drive lines.  While many of those types of mounts will work fine, the Garmin RAM Mounting Kit made specifically for a Zumo is a superior more secure mount.  That mount will not fit one of the car GPS devices.  Only a Garmin Zumo.  Advantage:  Zumo 590LM

Well, there you have it.  The Garmin Zumo has a lot of advantages.  It also cost a lot more.  The perspective buyer needs to take all of these points into account.  If you are a light rider, never going too far, won’t ride in the rain, then a car GPS may very well work out for you.  If you are a frequent or long distance rider, the motorcycle GPS model may work out better.

If you have decided to use your car GPS on your motorcycle, read our article that provides some advice on mounts and power connections.