Can I Use a Car GPS on a Motorcycle?

Weatherproof GPS case on a handlebarRoughly ten years ago, TomTom and Garmin started to make GPS devices specifically designed for use with motorcycles.  The TomTom Rider and Garmin Zumo series were marketed specifically for motorcycle use.  They sold a lot of them.  There are several key differences between units made for motorcycles versus the car.

Most motorcycle units are weatherproof.  Note we use the word weatherproof and not waterproof.  Waterproof implies you can dunk it in a bucket of water and have it come out fully functional and that’s not the case.  Under most normal driving, a weatherproof unit will serve you well and without any issues.  A motorcycle GPS is also made to withstand the vibrations of a motorcycle better than the car variety (or at least that’s the claim).  Lastly, a motorcycle GPS has more emphasis on bluetooth integration for use with a bluetooth enabled helmet or headset.

All of this comes at a price, with most motorcycle units costing a few hundred dollars more than those made for everyday car use.  That’s quite a bit of money so the question is if you can use a car GPS on a motorcycle and the answer is usually yes.  Today’s car units made by the major manufacturers seem to be as ruggedly made as their motorcycle equivalents, so much so that we seem to see less and less marketing for the motorcycle varieties.  When poor weather strikes, chances are you aren’t going to be riding too far in it so the weatherproof question is also a non-issue.

We have given a lot of advice to those wanting to use their car GPS on their motorcycle and I cannot remember anyone coming forward saying the vibrations disabled their unit.  We have received a lot questions for what to do about the GPS when it starts to rain.  There a bunch of mounts with weatherproof cases available and we wrote about them in an article which you may read here.  The problem again, is that they are weatherproof, not waterproof.  As GPS units get larger, the availability of weatherproof cases gets smaller simply because the size of the case will need to exceed that of the GPS and pretty soon, it’s like you are driving with a television on your handlebars.  We have seen riders use a variety of solutions that typically involve use of baggies or even shower caps which I guess will work, but I always though that putting a ten-cent baggie on a $20,000 HD looks pretty tacky.

There are a lot of mounts available for motorcycle use.  An inexpensive favorite is the Arkon Bike or Motorcycle Handlebar Mount for Garmin Nuvi and Drive GPS made for Garmin automotive GPS models.  The mount features a 17mm ball which is the size that you need to fit the cradle that came with your GPS.  It’s probably attached to your suction cup mount.  Just pull it off and attach it to the handlebar mount.  These fit handlebar diameters up to 1.25 inches.

On the higher end is the Techmount Universal Motorcycle Handlebar Mount Kit.  This is a metal mount that has the 17mm ball needed to fit the Garmin cradle.  These fit handlebars from 7/8″ to 1.25″.  These mounts are compatible with a lot of other mounting attachments from Techmount including the TechGripper for cell phones.  This cradle can be used with a GPS or phone.

If you have a TomTom GPS, it’s a bit more complicated because most of their mounts attach directly to the back of the unit.  For TomTom (and for Garmin), there are some excellent weatherproof cases with bundled mounts available.  The RAM Medium Wide Aquabox Mount fits most units up to a 5 inch diagonal screen size.  This is a plastic case attached to a metal mount.

Another weatherproof option is featured in the photo that accompanies this article.  It is the Arkon Bike Mount & Water Resistant Case for 5.5″ GPS.  These fit GPS models up to 5.5 inches diagonal and will fit handlebars up to 1.25 inches diameter.  There is a port at the bottom that permits running cables for power.

Hey what about power?  We have you covered there too.  There are plenty of hardwire kits available.  We wrote a detailed article on this topic here but our favorite hardwire kit is the Eklipes Cobra which allows use of the Garmin or TomTom charger directly.  This is preferred especially for traffic models where the traffic antenna is integrated into the power cable.  As a side benefit, this hardwire kit also supports a USB power attachment for smartphones so you can charge your phone while your GPS is hooked up.  We wrote a detailed spotlight on this product and like it a lot.

Just my opinion, but I find that a car GPS can work quite well on a motorcycle.  Be sure that you purchase a secure mount for your GPS that will hold your unit very securely.  We recommend adding a safety tether strap to the GPS.  Some units come with a small loop molder onto the GPS or case for attachment of a tether.  Some will use some rubber cement to attach a tether to the back of their unit and tie it to the handlebars.  And when it rains, take the shower cap out of your saddle bag and protect your unit.  Just be sure to take it off as soon as it stops raining and before anybody notices.

We have an excellent article that discusses the differences between a car and motorcycle GPS in depth here.