Navigation units for motorcyclists have had a bad rap over the years, often deservedly so. More than one rider has told me they simply aren’t worth the trouble, and with smartphone apps offering lots of the essential functionality of a GPS device, their popularity has waned further.

So let me start this review with a recommendation you don’t buy a Garmin XT2 (or any other dedicated GPS navigator) if all you want it to do is tell you the fastest way to your Tinder date’s house. Just use your phone, mounted securely to your bike.

However, for touring riders, for adventurers, for groups and for anyone wanting to track their ride, record their ride and find a better way between points A and B, a good navigator is the way to go — and the Garmin XT2 is probably the best unit available today.

It would want to be with an RRP of $999, but its functionality is such that I don’t consider that bad value for money if you get the use out of it. My experience so far (and this article just scrapes the surface of the unit’s features — I’m planning more articles on navigation and a more detailed review in the future) is the XT2 is a bit like buying a new smartphone. There is so much more it can do than you first realise.

Garmin map 2

One thing I really like is the XT2 can interact with your phone, so you no longer need to have it mounted on handlebars where it’s exposed to the weather, vibration and is highly exposed in the event of even a minor spill. For me that’s nearly a two grand unit with just a case providing protection.

The XT2 has a rugged build and it’s designed to be used on handlebars, plus it can play music/take calls from your phone through your helmet headset in addition to giving turn-by-turn directions. The screen is big, bright and easy to read, with the roads on the map views being easier to follow than a phone’s maps, plus the unit shows you the speed limit and your GPS-measured speed.

But most importantly, it’s pressure sensitive so it’ll work with any gloves. Phones need a conductive connection, which is why you need special gloves… and being designed for motorcycle use, the Garmin is expecting a fat (gloved) finger rather than skin.

Garmin XT2 rear

However, the biggest reason for having a dedicated GPS is route planning. Not only can you now download lots of routes in GPX format and load them into your XT2, the Garmin software can plan adventurous routing, taking you on winding roads, scenic trips, and all with four different levels of difficulty.

Ever had a phone app decide there’s a better route you should be taking because it’ll save three minutes? I have, many times, despite wanting to go the “longer” way because, well, I actually wasn’t wanting to cut my ride short, I was wanting to take the better road. If you’ve locked in a route, a dedicated GPS won’t do that.

I’ve also had problems with phones not wanting to get back to navigating as expected after a break where you’ve used your phone for other things like taking pictures or checking other route options. A GPS unit’s primary function is to navigate.

Beyond the basics, the XT2 can be integrated into group rides and tell you where the other members of your group are, you can switch from standard to topographic to satellite maps, see popular motorcycle routes, and use the visual route planner to get an idea of what’s along the route you’re planning.

If you’re serious about touring and want to get away from the most direct and well-known roads, good maps can be awesome… but programming the route into a good GPS unit will save you heaps of time on the road. When I think about the time lost over the years to bad navigation — and even sitting on a corner wondering if I should be going left or right — it makes the Garmin XT2 seem like a bargain.

If you’ve got an experience, comment, navigation tip or disaster story you’d like to share, send it to and I’ll try to include them in a future article on navigation.

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