Review: Six months with the Beeline Moto motorcycle navigation system
The Beeline Moto motorcycle navigation system takes a very different approach to traditional sat navs. Over six months touring the roads of the UK and Europe Jock discovers if it’s the right direction.
While it may feel like the automotive sat nav has been around for ages, commercially, it’s a relatively young tech at 15 years (2004). They found their feet, and windscreens, before smartphones started to get in on the navigation act with Google Maps, released as an app, ironically, for the launch of the first iPhone, in 2007.
Dedicated bike sat navs started to fill handlebars around the same time as modern smartphones filled pockets. Times have changed, and we’ve seen smartphones taking on all electronic devices and squeezing them, albeit with compromises, behind their screen protectors.
My first sat nav was a Garmin 350, one of the first for cars. A trip to Halfords one morning secured me a world without paper maps for navigation. After packing some fresh pants, by the same evening myself, my killer Fiat Panda and Garmin combo were parked outside the Nürburgring’s Nordschleife, waiting for it to open the next day. Following an uncomfy night sleeping in an automobile far too small for that purpose, a day was spent ragging as-best-you-can a small Italian city car around the ‘Worlds-Best-Track-Dot-Com’.
After a day overtaking the odd bus, broken down/crashed supercar or van trying and failing to beat the newly laid out challenge of 10 minutes, killer Panda, Garmin and I headed home. For the first time on a trip away, I didn’t have to stop to get my bearings or get lost once. Those few frustration-free days sealed my undying love for these little chatty, electronic mappy guide things.
Over the years they’ve got better, much better and I’ve owned and used more than I can care to recall. This memory loss is partly down to the fact that they’ve got more expensive. They’ve also got bigger than that tiny 350 I had, becoming much less tight-jeans-pocket friendly. Particularly relevant with motorbikes, if you own more than one bike, and plenty of us do, it can be expensive purchasing mounting kits for each bike. With N+1 in full effect, I seem to spend as much on mounting kits as I do on coffee, and I love coffee.
Some fairly smart mapping apps arrived on smartphones during this period of improving sat navs. For a large percentage of bikers, even with the pros and cons, a smartphone, mount and USB power outlet has been a suitable alternative.
However, some people just don’t want their ever more expensive smartphone sat on the bars, or the clutter it makes. Or want the bother of getting a cheap alternative Android just for navigation (let’s be honest, there are no cheap iPhones). I can see why some don’t want their phone sat on a moving vehicle, in all the heat and cold we can see in the UK.
Some don’t have the desire or confidence to fit a USB power point and then realise all that navigational screen time will drain their already precious smartphone’s battery life in no time.
If you do hook up to power from the bike, it’s a potential kick in the nether regions to battery longevity too. Also, motorcycle gloves and smartphones are rarely designed with the other in mind.
Fitting a satnav mount is about the same effort as fitting a USB power point and smartphone mount to your handlebars. In the end, some people can’t be bothered, or perhaps lack the confidence to do either and end up erring on the old school method of ‘winging it’. Paper maps are great for planning and still have their fans but aren’t exactly compact. There’s a great argument for stopping every 5 minutes or taping written directions to the tank the old school way. But that’s not much help in cities or more complex journeys when so many other options are available. Some riders are happy just to get lost and put it down to the freedom provided by riding a motorcycle. But if you’re following a mate who does this all the time, it wears thin pretty fast if all you want to do is to get to your planned destination.
In 2016 TomTom took a different view on satnavs, launching the scooter focused and since discontinued VIO. It wasn’t that small, but it fitted to mirror stalks or the handlebar. It connected simply enough to your smartphone and used TomTom’s interface which, while billy basic, was effective enough. However, with only 5 hours of battery life in the VIO itself, it was always going to be a difficult sell in a marketplace dominated by smartphones and dedicated motorbike sat navs.
It was a nice idea in 2016. Smaller (though not by much), cheaper and easier to mount than a dedicated satnav, it was a reasonable option to having your smartphone strapped to the bars. However, for ‘business reasons’, TomTom stopped production of the device very early into its life cycle. A quick read of the forums show users feel TomTom did little to support the device or app through its short life, which is a shame for those who invested in one.
So, queue a fresh take in 2019 on the idea of smartphone-driven motorcycle sat navs, from Beeline Moto.
The difficult sell is still there, especially within a community where bias and tribalism are so keenly communicated. Any time something new is released to the biking community context is all too often left at the door. This provides riders space to express a deep-seated opinion or express a like or dislike, based on their own purchasing choices and prejudices. And all too often this is with no hands-on experience of what they show their disdain towards.
Whether it be clothing, equipment, even racers careers, ‘A fool and his money are soon parted’ is the mantra rolled out. ‘No real biker would buy that, only people who own bikes’. It’s this sort of commentary that would see biking come to a standstill with the negative, parochial feckers who are at the centre of it if it were not for those who understand that there is all too often space for new ideas.
Those ideas and concepts don’t have to – and rarely will – apply to everyone, and you’d think that would be obvious. Spend 5 minutes reading bike-related social media and it would seem it’s not obvious enough for some. I say two wheels good bro, there’s room for progress, difference, change. People just have to see it and embrace it. Or judge it’s not for them, maybe others and move on.
However, Beeline is no stranger to pushing a new concept, having designed and successfully delivered their bicycle-focused version, the Velo, via Kickstarter in 2017. The founders Mark and Tom, both bikers, believed the idea that was successful within the two-wheeled, human-powered community, with some development, would work amongst the combustion-engine two-wheelers.
The marketing of this device led me to believe they were targeting the casual user, perhaps solo riders or mates just looking to get somewhere without the faff of smartphone or satnav mounts, cables, etc. I will admit for that demographic I thought it would have its place, but for die-hard satnav fans like me who tour abroad for large parts of the year, I wasn’t so sure.
So, when I was sent a Beeline Moto unit to try out, with plenty touring trips planned in 2019, it was going to be a busy time for me and the Beeline.
To get up and running with the device is simple enough. Fully charged in an hour, the device is claimed to sit on standby for months and provide up to 30hours of navigation from one charge. (I charged mine every few days when touring, every couple of weeks when back home, I’ve never had the unit run out of power). Download the Beeline app, connect the unit to your phone in the app via Bluetooth and in a few short minutes, you’re ready to go. It takes little effort to fit one of the Beeline mounts, seconds if using the supplied universal mount.
I didn’t read the instructions. Being a bloke, I don’t, and that hasn’t hindered me once. It’s all quite intuitive. The device has external buttons that once pressed; their action will let you know what they do, gloves or no gloves.
The app itself is clean and simple, and pleasantly has just a handful of simple functions.
The main ones I used were the Route Mode to navigate a route you’ve designed on the app, which is as easy as touching the screen, or typing where you want to go. Compass mode, which lets you ride as the crow flies to your chosen destination. Or via a simple method to download a GPX route and follow that.
I use myrouteapp.com for all my planned trip and day ride routing, which made using pre-planned routes easy with the Beeline. Download a route held on Cloud from your library to your phone, then simply upload that to the Beeline app. It takes 30 seconds of your life at the very most. When you press start on the Beeline app, the connected device leaps into action and tells you where to go, so to speak.
In the app, you’ll also find a Heatmap to show you previous, saved routes, which you can use again. In Settings the basics are covered, like Units, 12/24hour clock, Activity (which can be set to Bicycle if you have the need) and Auto Re-Route options. You can link to Strava which I guess is a carryover from the Velo unit and a helpful Help section.
If it were more complicated than that, I’d say so. It’s not, so I won’t.
I’m long-sighted so using the 1-inch ball mount option, with the ram mounts flexible positioning was ultimately preferred to the handlebar mount Beeline also supplied. I did still use that on occasion, as the photos show, and it too works well.
So, lid on, route set, smartphone in the pocket, gloves on, ride.
There are differences to all devices and having spent a good few years listening to a soothing female English voice telling me where I should be going, the absence of that took a little getting used to. The Beeline doesn’t give voice commands, just simple on-screen directions.
The device itself is quite small compared to a traditional bike satnav, at 51.3mm wide it’s bigger than my Samsung smartwatch, but not by a huge amount. It’s this compact design that makes it pocket-friendly. When not in use, I leave it in my bike jacket pocket usually. They have crammed a fair amount of detail into that small face though. With simple, easily learned graphics, the Beeline Moto will guide you to your destination, with on-screen information such as turn left/right, changes to your route via slip roads, roundabout exit numbers, etc.
Yes, there have been times when the moment has got the better of me, and I’ve kept riding when I should have turned and where a voice prompt would have taken me out of my road focus. However, there have been many times when I’ve wanted to throw my Garmin Zumo off a cliff. I’m used to voice-prompts when navigating, but lord at times that thing is like having your chatty gran turn up on a ride. Less would often be more.
By design, the Beeline is the opposite of this. With some adaption to my usual process, it wasn’t that difficult to get years of voice-enhanced navigation out of my system. Of course, if you’ve never used an electronic navigational aid, or indeed switch off voice prompts, then none of this is an issue. I know plenty of riders who use navigational aids, but never with voice prompts. Without the voice prompts, it makes for a far quieter ride.
In towns and cities, the placement of the device helps address the need to keep up to date with the visual directions, and using the flexibility of the 1-inch ball mount was for me, an inspired choice. Raise it in line with the dash, or indeed near a mirror and you’re not looking at much more than normal. Better than guesswork, maybe not as reassuring as the voice and screen showing the route ahead that I’m more used to, as a substitute for digging your phone out every few blocks to try find where you are, and if you’re still on route, it’s superb. I find it updates faster than the latest Zumo anyway, which was a pleasant surprise. With auto re-route if you go wrong, it very quickly reroutes you back on course.
Regarding connections, the only time this year I’ve lost connection and struggled to get a route was understandably in Alpine tunnels and one day in the mountains near Col Agnel, on the French border with Italy. I put that down to a glitch on the day, rather than the coverage which on release was impressively global, rather than simply the UK. Since that particular day, I’ve not had a problem.
Battery usage on the smartphone is pretty fair. I never plug my phone into a USB power point; I’m in the ‘too lazy to fit one to the bike’ category, preferring just to put my phone into a lower power mode. It seems to have had no impact on the effectiveness of the Beeline, with my phone battery lasting full days navigation, home and away. I’ve carried a thin power-bank in my inner pocket for ages, just in case, but didn’t have to use it once this year.
And with European climates at least, you’ll be pleased to know the device is waterproof with an IP67 rating. I can vouch for the fact that this unit is more waterproof than me. Soaked in the Pyrenees, in terrible conditions, the Beeline ran fine. I had water in my waterproof boots, my not very waterproof undies, the only thing dry was my scalp.
I’m now using mine on my winter hack. Why not, I don’t need a full-blown satnav for that bike, and I certainly don’t want to strap a grands worth of contracted phone to my handlebars, on a bike that cost little more than the phone itself. The Beeline works superbly well for those needs: pretty cold, horrible riding conditions, backlit for short daylight filled rides, it’s been no dramas at all when in the past my smartphone mapping apps have frozen as much as my toes.
Price of the Beeline Moto starts at £149 and that provides you with all you need to get started. Spend a bit more, and you get a variety of design and mount options. Me, for jumping from one bike to another, I’ve been using the 1-inch ball mount via a ram mount, as well as the handlebar clamp they supplied and those two have fitted all the bikes I’ve had access to this year. If I were to buy a Beeline right now, my preference would be their Xmas special, the Black Mount Pack, £188 down to £164, which would give you the unit, power charger and a couple of basic mounts as standard. In addition to that, with this pack, you get extra mounts to provide more fitment flexibility, or perhaps just to fit onto your N+1 range of bikes you’ve told yourself can’t get any bigger, but likely will at some point if your luck is in.
So, TL; DR….In a parochial community, the Beeline has its place alongside traditional satnav or smartphone setups as a viable choice to consider. If you have one of those setups already, you may not be swayed by the pros and cons of the Beeline Moto and that’s ok, if they work for you, job done.
However, the strengths of the Beeline Moto are inviting. The compact, uncluttered and easy to setup fundamentals, sizeable battery life, simplicity of operation that works home and abroad with an IP67 level waterproofing, make this device worthy of further investigation if you’re in the market for a navigational aid.
If you are happy to step out of the traditional and you find this device fits your needs, rather than it not fitting some other persons needs, then given the Beeline Moto succeeds in its design brief, it’s sure worth a look.
You can find more details here…. https://beeline.co/pages/beeline-moto
Jock has been impressed enough with what he has seen of Beeline to make his own investment in the product via Kickstarter. Read the full story here.