I'm banging my TomTom (drum) but it's not making any noise...

So here's the debate... do I TomTom or do I BMW navigate?

I recently purchased a Palm TX for some stuff I'm working on my off time--trying to write two books that I've had ideas for over the last 10+ years (one sci-fi fantasy and the other is a sci-fi).  I went to Office-Depot to purchase a cheapy palm (e.g. Palm Z22) for $99.  I originally wanted something simple that I can input text whenever wherever I want.  Of course the story changed when I got there and started browsing.  I noticed the Palm TX has a much bigger screen and that it can do things like play MP3s and perform nifty tricks like go into landscape mode.  Of course the TX was $300 and the Z22 is only $100.  There is more memory and more features on the TX than on the Z22, but the Z22 is cheaper.  Bla bla bla... 30 minutes later I was asking the clerk whether they had any more Palm TXs.  Out the door I flew having spent a total of $450 for the Palm, protection plan, protection gadget, and additional Palm styli.

Another reason I bought the TX as oppose to the Z22 is the Bluetooth capability.  There was a little item I noticed while I was in the store browsing the Palm counter.  There is an accessory for the Palm TX that allows you to turn your Palm into a TomTom navigation  system.  My thoughts ... "Way too COOL!!"

Palm TX

So I knew eventually I will turn my Palm TX into a navigation system and mount it on my GS, my car, and even my wife's car.  This is a good thing.

palmOne GPS Navigator
(Bluetooth GPS receiver)

About a week went by and I was out sick with the flu so work had to go on without precious me. Of course I was drugged up and trying to get well.  At the same time I decided to do things like... browse the web to search for a cheaper price on the navigation system that was compatible with the Palm TX.  Strangely enough, the cheapest price for the gadget was from Palm.com itself.  $199.  All the other resellers out there wanted something in the neighborhood of $250.  So I was set and ready to order the kit.  Then I started remembering things like... "I ride in the rain."  Last I looked, the Palm was deathly allergic to water, any type of moisture, or any type of drenching.  Luckily for me, the accessories list on the Palm site also included waterproof enclosures.  But now I have to contend with buying the navigation accessory kit, the waterproof enclosure, the Bluetooth headset, a bike charger, and fabricating or purchase a Palm mount for my bike.  That's a mouthful. Not to mention the idea of having the GPS receiver as a Bluetooth device kind of worried me.  I've experience Bluetooth before.  It reminded me of some of the cereal I ate for breakfast (e.g. FLAKY!!).  Bluetooth devices are notorious for dropping the signal whenever it felt like it.  I sure hate the idea of riding along and "POOF!" goes the GPS signal in the middle of traversing places like the Great Lakes or even Mount Rushmore, for example.   There is also the proverbial question of "...will the Bluetooth work OK through the waterproof enclosure?  I much rather have a cabled GPS receiver instead of a wireless one."  The other thought that dawn on me was ... there are too many variables with this setup.  I almost click the submit button for the Palm navigation kit but soon stepped back to ponder and make sure there aren't any live wires where I was about to break ground.

The final answer, I cleared my shopping cart.  When I started doing more research by going to tomtom.com, I saw that TomTom had a navigation system for two wheeled vehicles (e.g. TomTomRIDER).


"This is good..." I thought to myself.  "Let's see what's in this kit."  It turns out the TomTomRIDER kit had everything you ever need for a motorcycle.  The navigation unit, Bluetooth ear piece for the helmet, mounting hardware, battery connector cable, a complete map of the continental US (including Alaska) & Canada, etc.  The major plus, the GPS receiver is built into the unit.  No worries about loosing Bluetooth connectivity as mentioned earlier.  In short, this has everything you need to get yourself going with a navigation system in no time flat.  The price ... $1199.  Ouch!  That is approximately $500 more than what it would be compared to the ad hoc Palm TX setup.  However, the TomTom is a fully integrated system and I don't have to do anything except install it.  At this point, I also took a look at the navigation system from BMW.

BMW Motorcycle Navigator II Plus GPS

BMW's navigator is the Garmin navigation system on steroids.  It's the same unit except it's been enhanced to have more built in memory and can handle a larger compact flash card (2GB).  It has essentially the same stuff as the TomTom minus the Bluetooth and wireless Internet features.  A&S BMW Motorcycles was having a sale on these units so the cost comes in at $1078.66.  At the same time I managed to find the TomTomRIDER at J&R electronics in NY for $1099 (no shipping charges! cool!).

What made me decide on the TomTom as opposed to the BMW Navigator II?  The TomTom had a perspective view (3D view) that the BMW navigator didn't.  I thought having the same vantage point on the navigation system as when you're riding the route was a handy thing to have.  That way the streets and street names will appear in the same perspective as what you're seeing in real life.  Also, if I really wanted, I can activate the TomTom Plus feature which would give me up to date traffic and weather information.  That way the TomTom navigator can reroute my path to avoid bad traffic areas.

The TomTom has nice features like the ability to remove a specific path in the route list to have the navigation system recalculate an alternative path.  You can also tell the navigation system to reroute you to the nearest gas station in the middle of a ride.  You can also designate waypoints in the built in map and travel to those waypoints.  Of course when I get tired of the 3D view (I very much doubt I will be tired of this), I can always disable it to have the regular old 2D map look.  In the end, I bit the bullet and purchased the TomTomRIDER.  I'm very happy with it and think it was definitely worth the money.  I have also recently updated the TomTom software.  It's something very easy to do.  Installing the battery cable for the TomTom was also very straight forward.  You have the option of tying it directly to the battery or (what I did, the slightly harder route) tap into the GS CAN bus so the navigation system won't drain the battery when the bike is off.  However, you might want to have a volt meter handy to know which wire is positive or negative.  Here's a clue ... red-white is + and brown is -.  However, when in doubt, always consult the volt meter.  In terms of what the TomTom does when the bike is powered off, CAN bus is off line and all, the TomTom will power itself off with the rest of the bike.  However, you can always turn the unit back on since it has a built in battery that will last 5-6 hours without an external power source.  This is nice just in case you want to fidget with the navigation system while you're motorcycle is taking a breather.

Oh, one last thing.  There is a reason why the TomTomRIDER comes with a Bluetooth headset.  Make that two reasons.  The first reason is the navigation system will talk to you and inform you when a turn is coming up and which direction to turn.  The second is you can bind your mobile phone to the TomTom and have it make calls from the navigation system or receive incoming phone calls.  Of course you have to have a Bluetooth enabled phone.  BTW, if you decide to have up to date traffic and weather, you have to have a mobile phone that is capable of Internet access.  If you have this mobile networking capability (e.g. WiFi), you can subscribe to TomTom Plus which has all the cool extended features.  As for me, I'm just a plane o' navigation system without any additional monthly charges kind of guy.  So I won't be relying on the TomTom to do any weather updates for me.  In reality, I much prefer out the window weather.  There is something immediate about that type of reporting.  As for traffic... I can see it right in front of me.

Regarding where I mounted the TomTom, it was originally mounted on the right side of the handle bar towards the switch cluster and right mirror mount.  However, there were two problems with this location.  The first problem has to do with how the handle bar is shaped.  The handle bar is tapered towards the end  (e.g. the bar changes diameter as it get closer to switch cluster).  The mounting kit that comes with the TomTom expects the bar to be of the same diameter and not have a diminishing angle.  This caused the mount to remain somewhat loose and shift around when I change the TomTom's viewing angle.  It's just plane annoying.  The other problem is the fact that I had to look down to see the TomTom.  This takes my eyes from the road ahead of me.  Not cool.  Ultimately, I moved the navigation unit to the instrument cluster.  This allows for a quick glance of the TomTom without having to divert my eyes too far from the road ahead.  The good thing is I can still reach the TomTom to make all the input I need to make.

*** WARNING ***
The material used for the mount is NOT very strong.  It can easily snap without too much effort.  Be careful when mounting the TomTom..

As for me, I managed to break one of the two mounting brackets when trying to clamp the mount down.  What a bother.  I ended up fabricating a replacement bracket and used the broken piece to retain the much needed ball mount.  In the end, the replacement piece made the entire mount bracket much stronger.  But wait! There is another thing to consider.  The tubing around the instrument cluster is not round, it's oval in shape.  As a result, the TomTom mount doesn't fit properly.  What I ended up doing was using some QuickSteel to create spacers.

QuickSteel is not very good when it come to shear force but it is very good as filler.  This allowed me to turn the oval shape of the instrument cluster tubing to a round shape where the TomTom mount is positioned.  The new mount bracket, the QuickSteel and (my favorite) 3M double sticky mounting tape made the mount strong enough to rock the bike when I jiggle the TomTom.

The yellow arrow points to the QuickSteel used as a spacer (one on each side) and  the
white arrow points to the new fabricated aluminum mount bracket.

Here are some more pictures of the fixed up mounting bracket.

TomTom Update [May 24, 2006]

After several long trips and numerous rides in the rain, I noticed the TomTom exerting an annoying behavior.  The unit would come on, stay up for a while and then power cycle itself.  Once it started doing that, it kept on power cycling.  At one point I thought it was my wiring, but even after enhancing and rewiring my connections, it wasn't the wiring.  I even went as far as replace the mounting unit thinking it was causing the problem.  BTW, a replacement TomTom mounting kit is $29.  Not too bad.  It turn out it's none of the above, and it's not even the TomTom itself.  In a sense.  It has to do with dirt and oxidation for the connector between the TomTom and the mounting bracket.  The funny thing was, I had just mentioned this trick in a meeting a couple of days ago about pulling computer peripheral cards and erasing the connectors to remove oxidation and allow for good contact between the main board and cards.  Little did I know I was predicting my TomTom power cycling resolution.  Remembering what I had mentioned in that meeting, and doing this periodically on old computer hardware, I proceeded to erase away my problems with the TomTom.  I grab a Staedler white eraser (my favorite type of art pencil eraser) and began to erase away the dark spots on the back of the TomTom and the pins protruding out of the mounting bracket.  The result, the TomTom works perfectly the next day and doesn't have the annoying power cycle problem.  So if you buy a TomTom Rider and see this behavior, start erasing away your problems before trying to do something else more severe.

TomTom Update 2 [May 28, 2006]

Thinking the power connection to the TomTom being the problem was the wrong answer.  It turns out the amount of power supplied to the TomTom from the battery is just enough to keep it going longer.  That doesn't mean it won't use its internal battery.  So if you see the TomTom turn on and off while you're riding, it's a sign that your TomTom needs a good recharge.  My TomTom started doing this during my Death Valley trip and it was as annoying as hell.  When I got to my destination I decided to recharge my TomTom.  The next morning, the power cycling problem disappeared.  That's how I figured that I had to recharge my TomTom on a regular basis even though it has on-board power.  The thing is, I don't recall reading this in the manual.

TomTom Update 3 [July 17, 2006]

Unfortunately, the TomTom has been sent back to the factory.  It turns out the sesures my TomTom has been experiencing is not normal.  When the TomTom started doing it again, after the replacement of the mounting bracket, I knew it was more than just the mounting bracket or the bike's electrical causing a problem.  Sigh!!!  I called up TomTom and they eventually gave me an RMA number.  It has since been shipped to the East Coast pending fixes.  TomTom Inc. was talking about replacing the entire unit.  Any which way it goes, I hope to have a non epileptic version of the navigation system when it comes back.  And so the TomTom story continues.

TomTom Update 4 [August 12, 2006]

The TomTom has been back in my possession for approximately 2 weeks.  It has stopped doing the power reboots so everything is fine.  I don't know what happened to the unit when it was in the manufacturers hands but they definitely resolved the problem.  Now my TomTom is ready to go to Yosemite in the middle of next month.  Cool beans.

TomTom Update 5 [September 3, 2007]

I've actually sold my TomTom for quite some time now.  Instead, I have switched over to using the BMW Navigator III (Garmin StreetPilot III) because I was still experiencing problem with the TomTom's caddy.  I read somewhere on another website that I'm not the only one to experiencing this problem.  The design of the caddy is flawed.  As a result the caddy etches divots into the connectors on the back of the TomTom.  In addition to the etching problem, the connectivity between the TomTom and the caddy is extremely sensitive.  Because of this any type of movement experienced by the TomTom causes the unit to short.  The short in turn causes the TomTom to think the bike power is being turned off.  There in lies the endless power cycle problem the nav system experiences.

Written on: Feb 14, 2006
Last modified: September 3, 2007