Product Review: Garmin Nuvi 500-series GPS

Is it worth a few extra dollars to ensure that products work as advertised and last through the rigors of motorcycling? Most of the time, I would answer with a resounding “yes,” Ease of use and the ability to withstand Mother Nature is worth something to motorcyclists.

Garmin Nuvi 500 with topographical and road mapsUnfortunately, the marketing hacks have tuned into this willingness to spend more money for motorcycle-specific accessories and Progentra. Just try to buy an aftermarket shifter or foot pegs. The price gouging is very easy to find in the electronic accessories that motorcyclists buy off the shelves faster than the new BMW S 1000 RR runs the quarter mile.

I often find myself deep in the woods along forest service roads up and down the Cascade Mountains. These areas are quite remote. These roads require good topographical maps that are current enough to show the often changing road conditions of forest service roads.

In order to better navigate the back roads and even the inner city roads, a GPS unit was recently added to my V-Strom’s list of farkles.

After quite a bit of research I narrowed down the GPS search to three Garmin units: 60csx, Zumo 660 and Nuvi 500 or 550.

The 60csx offered great on- and off-bike features, including: high-sensitivity receiver, altimeter, compass, IPX7 waterproof case and basic road maps for navigating. The $399 list price was a bit steep, but more affordable than others on the market. It offers a 64mb microSD card for expanding maps, 1,000 waypoints, 50 routes and 20 saved tracks for hiking and riding. The Garmin 60csx is a solid GPS for motorcycle use. The price put it just beyond my cheapskate budget.

Since we’re on the topic of budget, I’ll jump into the next GPS unit that didn’t find the RAM ball on my V-Strom. The much acclaimed Zumo series of motorcycle-specific GPS units are easy to use, have street maps pre-loaded, have internal solid-state hard drives and microSD card expansion, 1,000 waypoints and 20 routes. The Zumo 660 is designed to be glove-friendly and the screen resists fuel spray and UV rays. The Bluetooth audio is handy for sending verbal directions to an in-helmet Bluetooth-enabled communications system — a useful feature for keeping your eyes on the road. The entire Zumo-series of motorcycle-specific GPS units are truly rugged and would be at home on any motorcycle’s handlebars. So why didn’t it make the cut? This is a prime example of the marketing hacks price gouging. The Garmin Zumo 660 lists for $799. Good god that is expensive.

Garmin Nuvi 500 screenThat left me with Garmin’s multi-use Nuvi-500 series GPS units. This series has two options. The Nuvi 500 includes preloaded City Navigator NT street maps and topographical maps for the lower 48 states. The Nuvi 550 includes City Navigator NT street maps for the United States and Canada. Both units list at $299, but can be found online for under $250. That’s a price that doesn’t make me choke.

The Nuvi 500 and Nuvi 550 are true multi-purpose GPS units. They have four modes: walking, bicycling, driving and scootering or boating. Here’s another marketing hack alert. This terminology was obviously conceived by the Garmin marketing team. By all means the only difference between “scootering” and “motorcycling” is the changeable vehicle image that marks where you’re currently riding on the maps. This image is easily changed by downloading a motorcycle from Garmin’s website.

Both Nuvi units are fully ruggedized to withstand the vibrations and abuse that motorcyclists put them through. I put this to good use when attempting to remove the Nuvi 500 from my RAM mount with one hand. It popped out with enough force to send it through the air, smacking against the pavement with several bounces. The two-day old GPS withstood my clumsiness with only minor scratches to the bezel around the screen.

Garmin Nuvi 500 electronic compassBoth Nuvi units are IPX7 rated to be waterproof for one hour submerged at a depth of up to three feet. I don’t plan to submerge the V-Strom anytime soon. It has proved water tight by my standards so far.

The motorcycle-specific GPS units on the market such as the Zumo series brag about being easy to use with gloved hands. Well, I have used my thin summer gloves and thick winter gloves to operate the functions on the Nuvi 500. The touch-screen is very easy to use with gloves on.

The only real downfall that the Nuvi 500 series has is the lack of Bluetooth functionality to send directions to a communications system. It does have a built-in speaker for use in quieter environments.

Forget about the marketing segmentation telling you that these GPS units are for scooters. It is true; they work great  on scooters, hikes, bicycles, cars and boats. They are also affordable, feature-packed GPS units for motorcycles. To top it off, when they help get you to the destination they can use the rechargeable lithium-ion battery for several hours of use off the bike as well.

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