In my first GPS article, Adventure Touring GPS's, I introduced the basics of using a GPS for bike travel. I also discussed how we are always looking for better GPS's for ourselves and our clients. Over the years Garmin has provided a few GPS’s that were benchmarks for Motorcycle use. The GPSMAP 276C (and it’s successor models) was the "gold standard" for the non-handheld's; as was the GPSMAP 60CSx for handheld's. Both are still in use today by many folks even after seven years of technology improvements and they remain on our supported list. The Garmin zumo 660/665 are also on our supported list as they do have the minimum feature requirements and we have put many thousands of miles on them around the world. Some folks have asked about the zumo 550 since I actually used one of these units in 2008 on our World Tour. Unfortunately, the zumo 550 did not have the necessary features we needed and was removed from our "supported" list.
Not having seen a really great replacement for the venerable GPSMAP units mentioned above, it was with great anticipation that I acquired what I think will become the new gold standard for our riding needs. In June of 2011, Garmin released the Montana 600 Series, the newest member of the On The Trial brand. This hand-holdable GPS is targeted by Garmin as the successor to the GPSMAP 276C style chartplotters versatility. It took a couple of years and considerable lobbying on the part of a small group of users to get Garmin's attention but in the Fall of 2009 Cliff Pemble, Garmin CEO, noted in a personal email that Garmin would address the needs of this community. For the first time in Garmin's brand history they are openly targeting all "portable-GPS" user communities with these units: Walking/Hiking, Marine, Cycling, Aviation, Off-road Motor Vehicle's of all types (including Motorcycles and ATV's).
The Montana is about the same overall physical size as the older GPSMAP 276C but there the similarity ends. The Montana has an overall shape much like the smaller Garmin Oregon handheld but it is just large enough, or small enough, to fit in the hand nicely. It has a 4 inch diagonal, high resolution touch screen display that Garmin says is, “sunlight readable”. This is a major understatement. This display is the best GPS display to date in my experience. In direct sunlight, it gets even brighter and clearer whereas most GPS displays tend to washout a bit or become all together unreadable.
Touch screens are the norm today on the larger GPS devices and many of the smaller handheld units. Some folks don’t like using them off-road because they don’t think they can easily clean the dust from the screen without screwing up (technical term) or changing the map page. I've been using touch screen GPS's in off-road conditions for several years now and have shared my approach to dust clearing with many folks. Making a quick single swipe across the display in one motion usually will do the trick. But, even if the displayed page does change, a single touch will get you back.
Aside from the outstanding hardware, the Montana software is all new. Out of the box it looks like it's Oregon brothers but you need to look deeper. This device has the most customizable software of any GPS sold today. As far as I can tell there is only one of the screen configurations that many of us have used for years that is not duplicated on the Montana - that being the four corner data field's of the 276c Series and zumo 66x. What the Montana does offer is access to a variety of Dashboard's that can display almost every known GPS data field plus a few non-GPS items. And, even some of the Dashboards are customizable!
All of this customization is organized around activities using what Garmin calls Profiles. The Montana comes with 8 Profiles for the various target user activities: Recreation, Geocaching, Automotive, Marine, Fitness, Camera(?), Classic(GPS?), Off Road. You can edit these or create your own personal Profile(s) which I recommend since you never know when Garmin might change one of their factory profiles. The advantages of Activity based Profile configurations are significant and I'm still discovering new advantages. For example - with this much customization, one could spend quite a few minutes configuring the Montana the way you want it. Having to re-do all of that for a software update or if your unit needs repair/replacement would be a real drag. The good news is, these profiles are saved as files on internal storage and they are user accessible by connecting the Montana via USB to your computer. These files can and should be backed-up or copied to your computer. If the need arises, all you do is copy your profile(s) back to the Montana's Profile folder and you have all of your configuration back the way it was previously the next time you turn on the unit: no time consuming reconfiguration. Aside from backup and recovery of your configurations, Profile's allow you to quickly change the look and operation of the Montana to better support your activities.
Below is a short Garmin video of the Montana's features. Following the video, I'll give you some thoughts as to why I think this is going to be your next GPS (if you don't already have one!).
Those are some really awesome features and they seem to be just getting started. There are rumors (Shhhh!, they put it in the Users Manual - no one looks there) of a new feature that will make organizing your rides even easier. OK, aside from the display, what makes this GPS so interesting and useful for Motorcycle Adventure Touring and Dual Sport riding?
The video might have given you a few ideas but simply speaking, the Montana meets or exceeds the basic criteria by which we measure all GPS units. Let's take a look at the criteria we use as it pertains to the Montana.
Pre-ride Planning: As with most of Garmin’s GPS’s, the Montana is compatible with data created in MapSource and/or BaseCamp as well as the GPX data standard. Teaser: In a future article I’ll go into more detail on Garmin’s newest planning application, BaseCamp.
Finds stuff for you: The Where To feature on the Montana is just like that on all of Garmin's nuvi brand GPS's and will help you find any data that is included in your map set. It will also find your personal saved data on the Montana like Waypoints, Routes, Tracks, Photos and Geocaches. Once you do find what your looking for you can select the GO option to navigate to it or include it into your Route editing.
Import and navigate Tracks and Routes: As with most of the newer Garmin handheld GPS’s, the Montana can import and/or save a track containing up to 10,000 points. And, it can save as "active" in the Track Manager up to 200 of them. As for Routing, the Montana can have up to 200 Routes saved in the Route Planner. The Montana is also the first Garmin unit to use the newly developed Activity-base routing profiles that are being used by BaseCamp. There were some initial issues with this approach but the Montana Development Team is really on top of these things and has provided fixes in a very timely manner. As long as the Montana has the same map version that the shared Route was created on, in MapSource or BaseCamp, then it will calculate unchanged on the Montana - unless of course you over ride the calculation with local options in your Profile. Both Tracks and Routes can be navigated so the normal nav-aids information like Distance to Destination, Arrival Time, etc, are available to assist you in getting to your destination.
Encourages exploration: Like most GPS's, the Montana is going to show you where you are at all times. It’s also going to record your every movement in the track log which it will automatically archive on the unit for you. With the ability to load onboard maps to either internal storage or a microSD card, what more do you need to go explore? But, just to reassure you, you can always find your way back by using Garmin's TracBack feature. As you can see below in the left-to-right sequence, from the Track Manager application just select Current Track, then View Map. When the Map Page comes up, select TracBack. You're now navigating back the way you came. The TracBack function would be a great candidate for a one-touch shortcut button. Maybe in a future update.
One. . .
Two. . .
Three. . .
Record a ride: The Montana has a robust Track Log which can record every movement when the GPS is turned on - this is user configurable. But, that’s not the only way to record a ride these days. The Montana 650 and 650t both have a 5 megapixel auto focus camera. When you take a picture it is geotagged which makes the photo essentially a Waypoint on your ride. From the Photo Viewer (screen shot on right), select a photo and make it a Waypoint with a Name and Comment information and it will show up in the Waypoint Manager. After your ride, upload your rides data to BaseCamp and your photo’s become an integral part of the journey being displayed on the map in their appropriate location. The photo below was taken at Arches National Park, Utah, while mounted on my GS Adventure. It was cropped in size by 60%. It's not Helge Pedersen photo quality but not bad for a GPS.
Archive a ride: The Montana has an Archive feature that allows you to set the interval for saving your track log whether that be time or distance. I recommend archiving on a daily basis so you can organize your tracks a bit easier later on. It's also easy to find a track segment by Day/Date if you should want to go back and ride it again before you go home.
Share a ride: The Montana has Garmin’s latest wireless technology for sharing your GPS data with others who have similar capability. You can of course connect the Montana to your computer and transfer your data there in GPX format. There are rumors of a new feature called "Adventures" which will allow you to see all of your ride's data in one location on the GPS. Presumably you'll be able to add additional information and name the Adventure. The really cool aspect of Adventure's is that they can be exchanged with BaseCamp (and hopefully other GPS's) where they will become Adventures or List's with all of the same data and info you created on the Montana - and visa versa. I'll hopefully cover this in more detail in my next article
Keep you from getting lost: I already discussed the TracBack feature above but even if the only info you have on the Montana is a Waypoint, you can't get lost. Just use the Montana's electronic compass and Course Deviation Indicator and you'll always know the bearing to your destination. You might not get there the fastest way but you'll get there.
Portable, ruggedized and waterproof: The Montana has a good fit in the hand when you’re walking. It's very rugged in it’s construction and the fit/finish is first class. It is a touch screen device though, so I do recommend a screen protector be used to avoid scratching the display over time. Garmin has made the Montana compliant with the IPX7 water and dust-proof specification. It does not float - but then neither does your motorcycle!
Trailin' the Dog. . .Or,
Doggin' the trail. . .
Powered by Battery and external 12VDC: As you saw in the video above, the Montana meets this requirement and more. It's unique battery compartment supports the included rechargeable Lithium Ion flat pack battery or it can take three AA batteries. The 12VDC support comes via one of the three powered mounts offered for the Montana: the AMPS Rugged Mount for your Motorcycle or ATV, the Marine Mount for your boat, and the Automotive Mount for your four wheeler. The Montana does not have a built-in audio speaker for voice prompts when Routing but the Automotive Mount does have a built in speaker so that you can hear your turn-by-turn Route directions when using a routable map like City Navigator in your car. To support voice prompts, the Montana does have a 3.5mm Audio Out jack and that function is passed to the AMPS Rugged Mount which has an Audio Out cable with a 3.5mm jack. I have one of the AMPS Rugged Mounts on each of my bikes since I’m lazy and don’t want to move mounts around. The rugged mount really is rugged. It has a "safety" screw that locks the release mechanism and is much easier to use than previous Garmin designs. The AMPS Rugged Mount comes with an included security-TORX mini-screwdriver which you can see on the right. I covered mine with heat-shrink so it wouldn't scratch up my bike and I attached it to my key ring with a Stainless Steel swivel I found in the Fish Tackle section at ACE Hardware. This makes it much easier to use. I've had my Montana bouncing around the mountains and arid regions of Washington State now for three months with never a hint of the Montana departing it's mount. With the mount attached to a RAM ball and arm, you can easily rotate the unit as well - remember that cool rotating display?! Oh yes, the mount also comes with three anti-glare screen protectors. I prefer not to use this type as they tend to make the display a bit "fuzzy". Quite frankly, the only time glare is an issue is when the sun is in that one spot coming over the shoulder - I just move my head a little and the big, bright, crystal clear display is all good!
Operate with gloves on: I have not found any feature that can’t be operated with gloves on. OK, fat winter gloves may challenge you a bit depending upon the shape of the finger tips but even then you can manage. I've actually found it easier to use than physical buttons since they always seem to be very small and I could never feel them with heavy gloves on. Using the Montana's Profile's, you can customize the Main Menu Pages. In this case you could create a custom profile called Winter Gloves that presented your most used applications with larger Icon’s on the Main Menu page(s) making them easier to touch with those fat gloves on. Seriously though, I have had no real problem operating any feature no matter what thickness of glove I was wearing. What you see to the right are screen shots from my custom profiles. I, of course, have a GlobeRiders Profile. You can have many profiles saved on the device.
Create waypoints and display their properties: The Montana supports 4,000 Waypoints onboard. You can create them local or transfer them from another Garmin GPS wirelessly or transfer them from your computer. Waypoints can be easily viewed on the Montana and any of the waypoint data can be edited. Waypoints can also be moved and the location data “averaged” to improve accuracy. A newly added feature is the linking of your Montana created data to the Calendar (see Calendar screen shot in the right column). This is just an easy and fast way to locate information by day/date for those times when you're thinking, "I know it was on Tuesday but I can't remember the name I gave that Waypoint."
Can record Tracks and Save them: I covered this above but suffice to say, the Montana will record your journey in the track log and auto archive them for you based upon your settings. I recommend archiving on a Daily basis. You can also save your current Track log or any archived track log to the active Track Manager where you can edit it giving it a more meaningful name for example. The Montana has a handy feature whereby you can archive a saved Track. This removes it from the active Track Manager saving room if you need it but any archived Track can be recalled to active whenever you want.
Can load additional Maps: The Montana supports loading additional maps on either internal storage or your microSD card. Map files can be as large as 4GB in size and there is no limit on the number of files but the total combined number of “map tiles” for all installed maps on the Montana can not exceed 4000 tiles (the segments that compose a map file). If that wasn’t good enough, you can also use Garmin Custom Maps and BirdsEye Satellite Imagery. For a $30/yr. BirdsEye subscription, you can download as much of the world in geo-referenced Sat Imagery as you have storage for on your computer. This subscription is linked to a single Garmin GPS: just like Locked Maps. These Satellite images work well for enhancing your navigational awareness in areas where maps may not have the most detail - or any detail. But, there is inconsistent resolution detail randomly around the world which can make it frustrating if there is poor image detail in the area you are interested in. On the Montana, these images are managed just like additional maps and their on-screen view can be Enabled or Disabled. I left the "Montana face plate" off of the screen shot's below but they are at Montana-screen resolution (272x480 pixels) - nice!
BirdsEye Sat Imagery. . .
. . .down town China!
World Wide Map Products: Garmin is the undisputed leader in consumer GPS sales. I believe that this came about mainly because they “allowed” their map technology to be reverse engineered by third party map developers over the years. Although not officially supported by Garmin, there are many map products that cover the globe and range from free to fee. We use Open Street Maps (OSM) compiled for Garmin devices in many areas of the world we travel when high-detail maps are not available. These free maps often times have routing data and POI's - some good, some not so good. One often gets what one pays for so it is worthwhile to compare map products for an area whenever possible. Check out our friends at www.GPSTravelMaps.com, they have some great high-detail maps for places you want to go. I'm looking forward to the soon to be released China map.
Software is user upgradeable: Garmin’s consumer GPS’s have been software upgradeable for many years. The Montana is no exception and I have found the Montana Development Team to be very responsive to issues and feedback via direct email. They have provided seven updates since the product release in June, 2011. This may sound like a lot of “fixes” but considering the number of features and user communities the Montana is sold into, most folks will rarely experience any bugs. And, new features show up in most updates.
Reduce driving stress: Last but certainly not least, this rather subjective criteria is some times hard to assess - but you do get the point don’t you? You've got a device that was customized by you to operate just the way you want it to. It has maps and/or Satellite imagery of the places you want to go. You've loaded it up with thousands of Waypoints, hundreds of Tracks and a few Routes. You've spent some time with the GPS so you are comfortable in it's operation and have a reasonable level of trust in it as a tool. So, hopefully you're not getting that, “Where the heck am I and how did I get here?” feeling while out on the road or trail.
Security Driver w/ Swivel
Customized Menu Pages
Customized Main Menu
Having invested a few hundred hours thoroughly testing the Montana and riding with it for over 6000 miles, it has moved to the top of my recommended list. I could go on and on about this great GPS but if you've gotten this far I think it's time for you to get your hands on one and see for yourself.
My next article will cover Garmin's trip planning software, BaseCamp. We who use Garmin GPS's grew up using MapSource and adjusted to all of it's faults, quirk's and limitations - for me, those days are over. MapSource is no longer being developed by Garmin although it will certainly be used by many people for a long time. BaseCamp is the go-forward planning software for both Windows and Mac computers. There are some very interesting new features and unlike most of Garmin's previous products, the BaseCamp Development Team is engaging their product users via Garmin's online Forum.
As much as I like the Montana and believe it will be around here for a long time, at GlobeRiders we will continue to evaluate GPS models from many manufactures in an effort to be knowledgeable in the technology and to enable us to recommend the most appropriate GPS’s for Adventure Touring and Dual Sport riding. If you have comments or questions please send me an email by visiting our Contacts page. Or, use the Facebook buttons below and let your friends know about this article.