TomTom Rider Pro Review
So impressed was I that I went and bought one for my 2005 trip to Greece, and although it didn’t stop me getting lost, it did help me find my way again. That was really the limit of GPS units in those days – all of 5 years ago. Most units were aids for walkers, not motorists, and simply couldn’t hold the level of detail needed for fast moving navigation. Their screens were tiny and what little street-level info it could hold was unintelligible from anything further than about 3cms away.
Fast forward to early October 2010 and I’m stuck somewhere near Bermondsey on a rather mild day, both me and the bike sweating while pulled over on a double yellow waiting impatiently for my smartphone’s GPS programme to catch up and tell me where the hell I am. More importantly though, I want it to tell me where my client’s office is.
But it won’t. “GPS Coverage Offline” and “Try Again Later” are not the words I want to hear, nor is a blatantly illegal U-Turn the manoeuvre it wants me to execute.
Execute? Now there’s an idea........
Eventually I find my client (my first trip from my new house) and all is well with the phone too. This final episode makes me I realise that my review TomTom can’t arrive fast enough, it’s time I got serious with this navigation thing and my recent house move gives me the perfect excuse.
For the last 2 years I’ve found my way by wedging my phone into a map case on the tank, some dead reckoning and sheer bloody-mindedness. But the offer of a TomTom Rider Pro for a month’s trial made me realise that riding my bike around the busy city streets while looking down at a display with only intermittent GPS coverage was probably illegal and certainly dangerous.
It was with some enthusiasm that I received the box from the courier and immediately I scattered the contents on the bed.
A waterproof GPS unit with touchscreen? Check. A Scala headset? Well I never. Serves me right for not checking this out online beforehand, oh well I like surprises like this!
The Rider Pro set does indeed come with one of Cardo Systems Scala headsets so the unit doesn’t have to bellow directions at you like a crazy person, which would be pretty startling for passers-by especially now Brian Blessed is available as a voice. But with a microphone as well as helmet speakers I realised that this unit is meant to process phonecalls too, both in and out it. I was a little sceptical I will admit, sceptical about how I’m going to make myself heard at 80mph in a full face lid but more of this later.
Also in the box were a couple of bags of bolts and brackets for fixing the unit to the bike, plus the Scala microphone and of course the actual TomTom Rider itself.
What was missing though, at least to my mind, was a battery cable. Surely this isn’t a stored power only device?
It would appear so although there is a battery cable available on the TomTom website for the princely sum of £6.84. Why it isn’t included is a mystery to me, no matter how good the battery is on the Rider it will only get worse through use and not everyone will remember to recharge the unit after use, plus it surely means taking a charger with you for overnights etc? Hmmm.
In its defence the mains charger is basically a USB cable and a small plug unit so it’s dual purpose and indeed I suspect could be charged off a computer if you forego the wall plug adaptor.
TomToms are supplied fully loaded before shipping so there was no CD enclosed, and any further map updates are done online via the TomTom software on the unit itself. Plug it in via the mains/USB cable mentioned and it’ll load up. Subsequent maps are a chargeable download normally, although if a new one is available within the first 30 days of you using the Rider you get it free (one only). Upgrade bundles are available – 2years costs £70 for example.
To explain fully, this is the Rider Pro (£400 per TT website) which comes with Western Europe, (except some of the Balkans) as standard. You could save some money and dispense with the headset to get the Urban Rider (£300) unit, the GPS unit on its own. Or there is the Urban Rider Regional for nigh on half the price (£250) of the Pro which has only a map of the UK on it. So you won’t need to be buying maps left and right, city by city, as the buying of maps is about keeping the unit up to date rather than, Regional unit aside, expanding its coverage.
My first chance to use the Rider Pro was actually in the car - the day after receiving it I had to go to Birmingham for a business trip and along with my erratic phone GPS I took the Rider Pro to compare the two, plus it would be a chance to test the battery life.
Without bothering to download the user reference guide (the manual supplied is little more than a fitting guide in about 30 languages) I set about programming both my home address and my client’s address. It is a simple and intuitive task although I did struggle with the keyboard letters in the corner of the screen but if I’d bothered to read the online reference manual I’d have found the ‘Glove Friendly’ screen option which resizes the buttons. Ahem.
The screen sensitivity isn’t a patch on the ubiquitous smartphones but then again it has to deal with gloves and rain, which surely means an acceptable sensitivity compromise and yes IPhone users, it works with gloved fingers.
I liked the suggestions for places to go in Birmingham (it starts with City, then moves to Street and finally Number) which included just ‘City Centre’, handy for none-vital navigation. It has a very detailed database of places to go - points of interest (POI) as it calls them. I will say that my phone system does list businesses at the postcode though, rather than simply postal addresses. I guess TomTom have aimed more at the leisure market rather than say couriers and people like me using it for business locations. However you don’t have to enter a house number if you aren’t being picky, you can just aim for a street and there is also a ‘browse map’ function to allow complete freedom in picking a destination.
My travel time to Birmingham and back was about 8hrs, and the unit came back with a shade under half its battery life intact. I was using it in the power saving mode whereby it only illuminates the display when there’s something to tell you about – a change in direction, a speed camera etc, which I don’t think is too bad at all. There won’t be many times you ride for more than 8 hours without charging opportunities, and certainly it will cope with the occasional night where it isn’t charged. Battery cable? Ok mebbe it doesn’t need one right away.
Compared to my phone’s programme (Vodaphone’s Telnet “Find and Go” GPS software, not Googlemaps etc) it was more accurate, with a far more reliable GPS signal and better use of road names/numbers and junction descriptions. I was amazed at just how much more information and guidance it gave, in fact I didn’t realise how much extra information I could have!
The display screen of the unit, though fairly small (3.5 inch, 320x240 pixel), is very clear and manages to pack a lot of information within its frame. An impressive feature is the extremely clear lane guidance it gives especially on motorways – take the M6/M42/M5 nightmare that is Birmingham for example. Although I’m a regular up there it still requires concentration and planning to get into the right lanes yet the TomTom highlights which lanes you need to be in as it expands the display to concentrate on the junction only. Once the junction has been negotiated it returns to the normal distance view, and the whole thing works seamlessly.
The display also packs in current speed versus the speed limit (highlighted in red when exceeded), eta, distance, and time to final destination, phone and headset status and the all important battery status.
The various panels the display can be tapped to activate different menus and options, I won’t bore you with a rundown here (that’s what the reference guide is for) but TomTom have grouped all the relevant and important functions together this way. For example one tap can turn the display into an overall trip summary, or to repeat the last spoken command.
If the standard display shortcuts aren’t enough for you there is a custom menu (the Quick Menu) you can control which is accessed straight from the main driving screen as the blue pointing hand.
By the time I get a chance to use the unit on the bike I’m really warming to it, and can already see numerous advantages over my current system. But using it in the car is one thing, but how will it work in its proper environment on the bike? And how does the touch screen handle my big winter gloves?
On Your Bike
First thing to sort out was the physical attachment to the bike, a process made simpler with the absence of a battery feed.
TomTom supply a bag of RAM Mount goodies to get the unit attached and I can vouch for RAM from personal experience. I went to their head office in Middlesex to get fitted up for my 2005 adventure and they made me up a custom solution there and then. In fact, the ball mount stayed on the bike and was employed again for this new unit.
You get a ‘U’ bracket to clamp around something – usually your handlebar or in my case the windscreen brace (the benefits of an old bike). Both long and short stemmed ball sockets are supplied, the short one I’ve got permanently attached and used it again. The long one would be needed if the unit is going to be used from the handlebars, you don’t want to be fouling the unit while reaching for levers etc.
To the ball socket is attached a double ended collar, and into this the ball from the unit cradle sits. That way you have movement at both ends of this ‘arm’ and should be able to find a comfortable viewing angle whatever bike you’ve mounted it to. Tighten the arm up and it clamps both ball sockets, and away you go.
My next trip was to Feridax in Halesowen (Birmingham again) and it was the perfect opportunity for me to relegate the phone to phone duties, and get mic’d up!
The Cardo Scala-Rider headset is state-of-the-art Bluetooth enabled, completely waterproof and apparently easily mounted in the helmet.
With that marketing guff in my head I set about my beloved Xlite, and a few minutes later I’d attached the mounting plate (with microphone attached) to the side of the lid, a small cut being needed in the plastic collar on the neck padding, and I’d run the very thin speakers through the lining and velcro’d them into position. The main guts of the Scala-Rider is a waterproof rubberised ‘pod’ which clips over the fixed plate and lives on the outside of the helmet where you have the on/off and volume controls.
I tried the helmet on and it was no bother. I could feel one of the speakers against an ear but it was far from uncomfortable and something I’d spend more time fiddling with if I was keeping the unit.
Prior to departure I synched up the headset to the TomTom unit, and likewise with my phone. Bluetooth can often be a source of frustration with the various passwords etc but actually went off without a hitch and all units synched up nicely come departure morning.
Hello? Anyone There?
So did the rain. The Feridax trip let me try all the kit in the rain while I navigated the southern leg of the M25 around to the M40, and I gave it all a good poking and try out without problems. It does take some familiarisation when you’ve got your thick gloves on so the odd mis-press here and there is to be expected.
I called home and once the mic was better placed Lou could hear me and despite having my ear plugs in I could hear her too! Amazing, and I was really impressed. I hate riding without plugs, albeit only cheap everyday bike-shop plugs, and really doubted I’d be able to hear the conversation. Operating the phone via the TomTom is easy although I’d advise pre-programming all numbers you want – tapping in a number while riding really isn’t on for safety reason as much as the practicality of it.
There is an option to upload your phone’s numbers into the TomTom which I didn’t do, with it being a review unit, but is definitely the way forward.
I was surprised to receive a call while en-route too, I had the TomTom set to answer automatically after 3 seconds and no sooner had I realised what the warbling in my ears was then someone was asking how I was! I will admit that at illegal motorway speeds it was difficult to hear this call and he couldn’t make out properly what I saying either. I slowed to about 50mph and it was much better but stopping was the answer.
I’m not a fan of phone calls on the move, hands free or otherwise, anything other than a social chat and too much concentration is involved. So I pulled over when it was safe to do so. Despite this advice, I would still go equipped as it is so much easier to deal with a call after pulling over than to remove helmet, gloves and plugs then dig out the phone to hear the voicemail and make a call.
Another thumbs up and I’m converted especially by the simplicity of it all. Oh, and you can also listen to music this way too directly via the Scala Rider headset (not the TomTom).
The final thing I was able to test was the speed camera alert system. Since I hadn’t studied the reference book I was somewhat taken aback by the level of detail in which the speed cameras are notified. All the current types of camera have their own symbols and noises, including the average ones which don’t work on bikes as they face forward – I would disable these to be honest. Which is a shame because you are warned on approach, when entering the zone, while in the zone (aural if speeding), and at the end of the zone. All very clever but on a bike, in this country, we don’t need warning of average speed cameras.
You can also report new camera sites to TomTom.
- Itinerary Planning – for touring and sightseeing. You can list where you want to visit (destinations) and where you want to go through without stopping (waypoints). The schedule can be reorganised at anytime should plans change, and the schedule is ticked off as places pass by. Multiple Itineraries can be stored.
- Avoid Roadblock – accessed from the quick menu on the main driving screen this option will quickly reroute you around a queuing motorway as well as the popular Smokee and the Bandit style police roadblock.
- Travel Via – something sorely missed on my phone system, the option to insist on going a certain way. The desired route may not always be either the quickest nor the shortest route, something which frustrates me again and again currently.
- Route Recording – to share with mates or simply to build up a back-catalogue of favourite roads.
- Mapsharing – Has the council suddenly and permanently blocked up a road? Update your map and (in your first year) those of every other TomTom user. TomTom decide on the importance of your change and either allow it to be released immediately (smaller issues) or investigate and incorporate into a new map release (larger issues like Motorway changes and roundabouts appearing).
- Huge list of Points of Interest – I didn’t get to fully explore this list, as it is vast. And you can add your own - main dealers for your bike for example.
- Winding Roads – Yes, specifically for bikers there is a function which gives preference in the route planning stage to winding roads, avoiding unnecessary motorways. It will still get you out of cities as directly as possible, the function apparently only kicks in when out of urban zones. You can even adjust the level of priority given to winding roads (in case the proposed 50mile route will take 4 hours!).
Overall I’m very impressed even with this fairly minimal testing I’ve been able to give it. Without doubt it’s better than my phone system and since I often travel around for work it would be worth the £400 investment. The fact that it offers a very practical comms system too, which could become multi-person with a small additional investment too is another bonus. Cardo System headsets are the best out there, likewise are RAM Mounts and as such TomTom have made wise additions to this already sound unit.
In use the TomTom Rider Pro excelled, and given the limited size plus screen sensitivity requirements I would have no problem using this unit in all weathers. Add the battery cable if you are planning a long trip and you’re sorted.
I am still reeling at the level of options and customisation available on what was once a very basic tool. Go on the TomTom website and have a look at the user reference guide if you doubt me, it really is taking a simple journey to the max.
LB verdict = Bang Tidy!
1 - RAM Mount Arm and TomTom 'cradle' ready to receive unit
2 - Powering it up
3 - Mounted ready to go.
4 - Rider's Eye View
5 - Cardo Scala headset mounted on helmet
6 - Closeup of helmet mounted headset control pod
7 - Underside of helmet with comms gear in place
8 - Waterproof control unit for headet
9 - Headset mount and control unit seperated for displaying clip attachment
10 - Closeup of headset mount showing cutout made in helmet neck seal collar
11 - Helmet comms installation in progress
12 - Slim headphones velcroed in place
13 - Headphones before installation showing their lack of depth and velcro base
14 - Headset mounting plate about to be tightened onto helmet side
15 - The unit from the box
16 - Some of the options in the setup menu showing default icon sizes
17 - Example of some of the speed camera options available
18 - Some of the types of cameras detectable
19 - More camera types
20 - Some of the route planning priority options
21 - The TomTom Rider handshaking with phone
22 - Example of dial screen on TomTom