Motorbike Satnavs

It’s often said that a standalone satnav is far superior than a smartphone app, often for a multitude of reasons that are demonstrably wrong.

Here I’ve a list of some of the available options with my opinions of them, followed by an explanation of why I think phones are only mostly better than dedicated units.

I did give in and buy a Garmin, and I’m documenting my finding out what I’ve been missing here. I had such an interesting time that I’ve since bought another, too!

(Android) Apps

There’s no technical reason for apps to be less good at the important bits than a normal satnav – smartphones have Google Maps

Google maps isn’t intended to be a satnav, really; it’s a businees directory that’s got, as a feature, a way of taking you to that business. And it absolutely excels at that. It’s poor but workable for more involved satnav stuff – waypoints support comes and goes with variously usefully, for instance – but you can always ask it to take you to a postcode and it’ll do that.


  • Probably already installed
  • Has every POI


  • Not great at planned routes; if you go off-course it’ll often recalculate directly to your last point, ignoring all waypoints
  • Offline mapping is strange; you download small regions at a time and they are prone to expire
  • No offline route-calcuation


CoPilot’s popular among people who plan routes with several waypoints; one of their big markets for which they make another app is caravanners and another is truck drivers. It’s now a little dated.

I like it for it’s ‘Routing Profile’ feature, which lets you create profiles each with a set of prefernces for types of road. Before Calimoto and Kurviger came along (see below) I used this a lot for generating ride-0ut roots on the go, and still do occasionally.

Another great feature is “PoI Alerts” where you select a set of PoI types (petrol stations, say) and then there’s an always-visible countdown to the next one of those on your route. This is really handy on bikes where the fuel-range readout on the clocks is accurate.

I think it’s about £35 to get CoPilot premium and the UK maps. You get a few days free as a trial, during which there’s no voices for navigation (but still icons on the screen) and no automatic recalculation – you have to hit a button on the screen.


  • Designed for planned-routes; easy to create and edit routes on the device
  • Handy features – route profiles, up-ahead alerts, traffic routing, speed limits etc.


  • Uses its own route format (.trp) and loading the route into CoPilot involves copying it to the right folder manually; it’s a real faff to import routes


Calimoto’s big feature is routing based on corners; it’s meant to be the ‘windy roads’ option, basically. It’s very good at that, but seems unaware of the sizes of those roads – sometimes you’ll get gravelly singletrack roads, other times it’s swooping major arteries. That said, it’s very good at not being boring. You can use a map region online indefinitely for free; you pay to get all maps, offline maps and to be able to tune the routing.


  • Easy to share routes with other Calimoto users at the beginning of a ride
  • Featureful storage/search/recall of tracked rides so you can find past rides/routes
  • Easy to import GPXes (it shows up on the open-with box on Android)
  • Reliably produces non-boring routes
  • Entirely useful without paying


  • Feels quite different in different regions; I get singletrack roads in Hertfordshire, but major A roads in Surrey, say.
  • Lots of cutesey prompts that get in the way more than they entertain
  • Often it’ll put you into a layby or round an extra junction to get more corners; it’s worth going along with the map very zoomed out to catch and avoid these


Along with the website this is a route-planner and navigator in one. The free version only lets you opt for curvy or not-curvy routes, but on the pay-for one you can also optimise for scenery and it always seems to try to minimise the number of junctions involved. Weirdly, the subscription for the website and for the app are completely separate, but you can only really make much use of all the features if you’ve premium on both.


  • Different legs of the route can have different profiles – motorway for the first leg, then extra-curvy to lunch, then a scenic trip round to dinner, for example. Lends itself really well to touring (I think this is a pay-for feature)
  • QR-code sharing of routes makes it really easy in-person with other kurviger users
  • Optimises for simpler routes (fewer junctions) while also doing twisties or scenery; this for me is the killer over Calimoto, it makes routes that I find more fun
  • website is really easy to use, and generates generic GPX files


  • Need premium separately on both app and website (£10/y for the site and something similar for Pro mode in the app, but I can’t find the price on their site)
  • Voice navigation is a Pro feature
  • Offline maps are a little clunky to set up, offline routing moreso. Good instructions in the app, though.

Here Maps

This is excellent as a take-me-to-a-postcode app; it can’t do multiple-waypoint routing, but it much simpler and clearer than TomTom, with decent traffic estimates (when you’ve got data on) and speed camera warnings, and it’s all free. You can download the maps or use them online, and it’s completely free in either case.


  • Simple to use, feels finished & polished
  • Good traffic estimates & speed limit awareness
  • Lots of POIs
  • Little progress bar to show you how far along the journey you are and where the traffic is


  • Can’t do multiple-waypoints
  • No way to load a route in
  • Increasingly trying to be a do-everything app, so keeps suggesting buses and trains

Locus Maps

The killer feature here is turn-by-turn navigation off-road, but this is also a featureful and functional, if a little clunky, road satnav. I use this primarily to store my PoIs (cafes, ferries, trails, covid-compliant laybys etc.) and for navigation off-road


  • Turn-by-turn off-road routing (but as a bicycle, so you need to have a high-resolution route)
  • Can create, load, edit and export GPXes; it’s a pretty good GPX editor to go alongside any other satnav
  • Useful for all outdoorsy things; can buy OS maps and local equivalents, or use various types of OSM map for free
  • Excellent for PoI management/storing – good categorisation, exporting/importing of GPXes
  • Very configurable in display and instruction


  • Route calculation is online-only and requires the installation of a helper app (bRouter)
  • Quite clunky; definitely a map app first and a satnav second
  • Very poor search; best used as an app you ‘open’ a location with, rather than searching in the app itself

Some I’ve not used much recently

These all might have changed somewhat since I wrote this:


Like Locus, this is map first and satnav second, but it’s a hugely better search for PoIs. I barely use it now because Locus has all my PoIs in it now, but I’ve nothing against it.


The app’s fine; it’s like the modern TomToms (not the Rider V1/2, but the 300 series); the UI is really modern feeling, but a bit surprising and oddly lacking in features. I’ve not yet managed to plan the route I actually want to do in it, and while it’s got this neat ‘timeline’ down the right hand side of the screen to tell you where on your route any roadworks and petrol stations are it doesn’t give you any information about them (like how far away they are). It does have a really handy thing that keeps track of your average speed in average speed camera zones, though. It feels polished rather than finished, really. It’s £30/year, but you get 50miles per month indefinitely as a free trial (maps are free). Aside from the average-speed zone handling and familiarity with the TomTom interface there’s no great reason to get this over Here, to my mind.


It’s completely free, but the user interface is pretty surprising. I know people who’ve got used to it, though, and now don’t mind it. You get one country’s map free with the install and it’s actually pretty good at points of interest, but it doesn’t do anything exceptionally well – I can’t think of a reason to use it over Here Maps.


Garmin’s app. It’s long been famed for being atrocious, I’m amazed it’s still on the play store. But I’m also amazed people still buy Garmins. :)


is now a Google product, but it’s actually good :) For a long time its main feature was the community – it’s all about showing you user-reported cameras, accidents, and traffic. Surprisingly, it still works for that, and despite being Google underneath it seems a pretty reasonable satnav, though I’ve not used it for a couple of years.

Standalone units vs Phones

There’s not any reason for a phone to be bad at satnavving – they typically have plenty of storage space for maps, use the same or similar GPS and GLONASS chips and are at least as likely to be able to use GSM and WiFi to get better/faster fixes.

There’s some obvious benefits, too: a smartphone is more of a general-purpose computer so you’re less dependent on the way the satnav happens to implement podcasts or music, and can just use whatever app you prefer. You’re not tied to any particular route-transfer options since you can just email them to yourself, and you can use the web browser to look up addresses not already in the device. Get your calendaring and route planning right and you can turn up to ferry terminals with the booking reference appearing on your screen as a notification.

You can even use multiple satnav apps – mid-route I’ll often switch to a different one to find a petrol station or lunch stop, for example, and I use different ones for road and off-road riding, and on-road different ones for a dull commute somewhere to a Sunday blast.

Finally, the hardware’s generally better – the maps render faster, the screen resolution is much better so looking at maps when looking at an overview of the route, or modifying it, is a much more pleasant task.

That’s not to say phones are always better, though. Pointedly, using a phone as a satnav generally requires you use a rugged phone or otherwise make it impervious to rain and vibrations. But also you’ll need some way to stop rain falling on the screen stop recording touches, and obviously plugging and unplugging USB cables in isn’t ideal.

So the great thing about dedicated satnav units is that there’s generally a one-handed clip-in bracket that automatically charges the thing, and you’ve no worries at all about rain on the screen. And these are huge benefits over a phone, especially if you don’t want any of the flexibility or features that a satnav app could get you.

When using a phone, you’ll often use a pouch or a  Ram X-Grip which is only complicatedly one-handed and often obscures buttons or bits of the screen, or a Quad Lock which is a bit better, and you’ll need separately to plug in your relatively fragile, not-waterproof USB lead (which has until now just been dangling about) as a second step to just mounting the device. Android’s glove mode doesn’t really work and “touch-screen compatible ” gloves rarely are and that really bright and vivid screen that’s great for looking at photos (and maps) isn’t great for glare (and a case is only going to compound that).

What I do

I don’t think what I do is necessarily universally right, but it works for me. I almost exclusively use my phone as a satnav – I’ve a Cat S52 and a Ram X-Grip.

I use different apps for different sorts of rides:

  • To take me to a postcode as quickly and boringly as possible, I use Here Maps
  • For a planned day-trip I’ll use Kurviger – do the planning on the website and send the route to my phone, and for multi-day trips I’d import the Furkot GPXes to it
  • For a quick fun blast I’ll just stick the destination into kurviger and tweak the twistiness

If I’m going off road I’ll use Locus Maps for navigating, using the OSM maps. I also have OutdoorActive for viewing the OS maps, but I find OS maps too busy to navigate with.