Motorbike Maps, GPS and Columbus

Old MapCHRISTOPHER COLUMBUS AND OLD-FASHIONED MAPS: Maps for motorcycle adventurers have come a long way since I was a kid back in the days of that famous Italian, Christopher Columbus. There certainly wasn’t any GPS for motorbikes back then. Heck, there wasn’t even widespread consent that the earth was round. (At least the maps were flat).

In fact, if there had been GPS back then, Columbus wouldn’t have bothered to discover America, since he was looking for a way to get to Asia in search of more profitable opportunities transporting spice and herbs, in the service of Spain.

Instead, he would have competed in The Dakar race, or something of the sort, to get his adventure kicks.

In spite of all the advances in map technology since those younger days, I still prefer to use good old-fashioned paper maps to GPS, just like old Chris the sailor.


Don’t get me wrong. I believe the development of GPS is a great advancement for riders, and non-riders alike. Furthermore, there have been times when I have been riding far off the beaten path, for example on a desolate gravel road in the outback of Idaho, and a GPS system would have helped me to locate civilization much more efficiently.

However, most of my riding, even when it’s far from urban areas, takes place on well-mapped terrain. Hence, I prefer the elegant simplicity of pulling out a map and checking out what’s further on down the road – just like Mr. Columbus (except my maps are more accurate).


At times I’ve wondered if some folks don’t recognize the richness of information that many road maps avail to the touring motorcycle rider.

Good road maps aren’t just a visual depiction of paved and unpaved highways and byways, they are a communication media that may feature mountains, valleys, forests, lakes, rivers as well as villages, cities, counties, states, countries, national parks, state parks, local parks, monuments, etc. And that’s all in addition to the varying roads that maps proffer, like a breakfast menu of choices for a day’s adventure.

My map collection covers much of North America, not only in broad maps that cover huge swaths of geography, but mostly in state, regional and local maps, which offer the less-traveled roads that are going to be of interest to myself and many riders.

Additionally, while at home, I’ll make generous use of various internet map services, too, although the larger, printed maps, with their complex folding patterns, are still my main choice for any ride.

When I’m heading off on multi-day journeys, I go to my map collection and pull out the ones most pertinent to the general direction I’m headed.

On the other hand, even if I’m going to the neighborhood store, I still have maps stored with the bike, just  in case I get diverted by a motorbike muse to pursue an impromptu adventure much further afield than the need to pick up bread and eggs.


My main advice to anyone unfamiliar with the use of maps would be to become acquainted with any map’s legend, which lists and defines the various symbols appearing on the map itself. Giving that legend a few moments of your attention can really open up the meaning of the map beyond the primary road you might be interested in.

On the other hand, what may take more of a commitment it trying to fold the darn things back up when you’re ready to hit the road again.

Back in my earlier days when Christopher inadvertently discovered America, we used to roll maps up in a scroll. That made for easy opening and closing, but it would not make for efficient motorbike storage. (In that regard, modern folding maps are an advancement). Unfortunately, when rolled open, those earlier maps also befuddled some people into thinking the world was flat.

Modern maps with their confusing unfolding and re-folding operation are a better reflection of the true nature of our world: it’s not as simple as it might be.

Wishing you safe riding, in whatever way you navigate your bike around. And in the tradition of Columbus, let’s make new personal discoveries, regardless of our maps, GPS, or lack thereof.

11 thoughts on “Motorbike Maps, GPS and Columbus

  • I’d much prefer a GPS anyday over a paper map, especially on the go. I do have a road atlas for Australia which I use to plan a route before I go. But lately I use Google maps to check out possible travel stops and camping sites and plan fuel stops as way points at up to 350 – 400 Km. intervals.

    Only problem I have found with GPS is that whoever does the mapping software never seems to find out if a road is still actually there. Or a road has been realigned and not updated even years later.

    I’d prefer to use Navman or it’s cheaper cousin, Mio Moov as they cover a lot more of Australia than the other brands or so I have been led to believe. There is an Australian motorcycle GPs available but it tends to be a bit more expensive than the portable car GPS.

  • An additional benefit to paper maps is their use in the winter, or rainy days, or any time I’m not riding. They offer a great way to pleasantly dream about (and even plan) road adventures to come….

  • Ha! Silly writing. I don’t think you’re old enough to have been around when Columbus was using maps!

  • Hey how are you. I found your blog through Google and I just wanted to saythanks for providing this content. I like maps AND GPS!

  • I use to not travel that far off the beaten path of well known roads myself. That is until I got my gps and until I decided I wanted to live in the real country. With my motorcycle GPS I can venture out more and not worry about getting lost or running out of gas with no station for miles. I have gotten to see some great places that I wouldn’t have before and find some great stores and restaurants that are in the middle of no where but beat regular stores and restaurants by a mile. I have enjoyed riding and adventuring a lot more since I got my motorcycle gps system.

  • I have noticed that Garmin product is the best gps over all. This GPS is worth every penny, easy to use and the signal is always good.

  • Good tip, Matt!

    Charlie, I like that about the GPS/maps redundancy. Also, I’ve been using Mapquest since the mid 90’s so I’ll check out, too.

  • I use GPS with maps as a backup. My GPS is an automotive model, it was cheap (compared to motorcycle types) and I just read the directional, & how many miles to the next turn. The best thing is to create your own route, I use and it does a great job, its easy and its free. Combined with the GPS, I use both as I travel. The folded maps I bring are for reviewing in the hotel or coffee shop before heading out..and seeing the elevations/national parks/points of interests are very valuable. Point-to-point maps, GPS & folded maps are have their positives & negatives. I have lost power on a business trip to my GPS and without a map, really struggled. So redundancy is really a good idea.

  • GPS technology is great for a motorcycle rider in unfamiliar territory. I found a waterproof reconditioned Garmin 2720 (waterproof) unit on for just over $100. These units I believe were selling for $300-$500 just a few years ago. The reconditioned units come with a 1 year manufacturer warranty. I’m not specifically recommending this unit or brand, just suggesting that riders on a budget that interested in a GPS may want to look for reconditioned or new old stock models that are a couple years old and still reap the benefits of the technology.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *