The Tom Tom Rider is the first GPS made specifically for motorcycles or scooters and fills a large gap in mobile GPS offerings. We think there are four main areas a motorcycle based unit such as this should focus on - durable design, a clear display, ease of use and audio clarity. Tom Tom has certainly achieved the first two, but the latter two are very much lacking.
On first glance, the front of the Rider resembles the popular Go series, but this unit is encased in a hard plastic with rubber trim for protection. Keep in mind the Rider doesn't have the luxury of being protected inside a car - it will be exposed to all the elements and as such, has to be sturdily designed. Not only is the casing rather rugged, Tom Tom has also designed the unit so no connections or ports are left exposed. The USB connection, power socket and SD slot are all positioned at the bottom of the device, and can only be accessed by flipping open a protective panel. The Power switch is on the right of the Rider and it's actually part of the rubber trim so you might not see it at first glance. We had real problems using this button - it wasn't responsive at all and required very firm presses at the best of times to even turn on. This soon became irritating.
The screen on the Rider is a gorgeous 3.5 inch, 320 x 240 TFT LCD and one of the better displays we have seen on a GPS. Being outdoors, it is imperative that it doesn't suffer from glare and even in bright light conditions, we found the screen had excellent viewing. At the other end of the spectrum, the top of the unit is hooded, to protect the screen from rain (the Rider is also waterproof). We'd love to see Tom Tom include some kind of screen protector though, as the screen could be prone cracking if hit by loose gravel or get covered in dust.
To secure the Rider to your motorcycle, you have a number of options - a handlebar mount, a wing mirror mount or an adhesive pad. Needless to say, we recommend using the handlebar mount for peace of mind, but this will depend on the kind of bike you have. Whichever way you mount it, the Rider sits in a specially designed plastic frame, and Tom Tom has included all the screws, bits and pieces you will need to attach it to your two wheeler. While the manual does present the different mounting options, we feel on the whole the manual is very sparse on detail and needs to be improved significantly.
Given that you'll be haring down busy roads in high noise conditions, there's not much point outfitting the Rider with an external speaker, so how does the unit issue audio instructions? Tom Tom has tried to get around this problem by providing a Bluetooth headset with one earphone plug. The idea is that the headset is attached to the inside of your helmet using Velcro and the ear plug fits into your ear, allowing you to hear audio directly. There are two problems with this. Firstly, it's not very comfortable to fit inside a helmet and secondly, the volume on this unit is much too low. In fact we found the audio quality somewhat muffled - even sitting in our (relatively) quiet office. This would be difficult to hear in high noise conditions and we think the audio quality needs to be significantly improved. How about a specially designed helmet Tom Tom? In better news, the Bluetooth headset can also be used as a mobile handsfree kit, since you can pair your mobile with the Rider.
While Tom Tom has stuck with the tried and true interface that has made their other units a success, there has been no allowance made for the size of motorcycle gloves. If you've ever worn a set of riding gloves, you'll know how thick the fingertips are. This means that icons are difficult to accurately press - and as for typing in street names - forget it! Essentially, if you want to use this device, you'll have to remove your gloves in order to it, which is a hassle.
Tom Tom promises five hours of battery life with the Rider and an AC adapter is provided to both charge the Rider and also the Bluetooth headset. A charging cable is also included which can hook up to the motorcycle's battery directly in order to charge the unit, although whether this is viable really depends on where the battery is located on your machine.
The last issue we have with the Rider is size. If you do ride a motorcycle, obviously you can't just leave the GPS attached to your bike. Weighing 300 grams though, it's not exactly small enough to slip comfortably into a pocket, so you'll no doubt have to stow it away in a bag somewhere. At $1299, the Rider is on the more expensive side of the equation, but right now it's really the only custom designed GPS for two-wheelers available.