April 23, 2007 – A technology that crosses segments

By Steve Bauer
Managing Editor
Although an overwhelming majority of motorcyclists don’t have a GPS system on their current bikes, nearly 60 percent are interested in having this emerging technology on their next motorcycle, with a balanced number of owners from all segments of the market showing interest.
Of 2,174 current motorcycle owners surveyed for the J.D. Power and Associates’ 2006 Motorcycle Emerging Features survey, more than 95 percent said they were familiar with navigational systems. But nearly 90 percent said their current bike did not have a GPS system. Of those who did own a GPS system, the number was made up mostly from touring and dual-sport owners.
The high number of bikes without a GPS isn’t surprising to some in the industry when you consider how new motorcycle-specific GPS units are.
“Up until just a few years ago there wasn’t a GPS dedicated to motorcyclists,” said Ted Gartner, media relations manager for Garmin. “Until recently, the focus for these units was on automobiles, but motorcycles make a lot of sense because their owners are very passionate about them. For them, it’s more than getting from point A to point B, they want to enjoy the ride and know that these next-generation GPS units can help them do that.”
The J.D. Power survey seems to back Gartner’s statement, with the percentage of riders interested in having a GPS on their next bike consistently high among all motorcycle segments. Gartner says he expects that number will rise even more once motorcyclists learn more about what these units are capable of.
“People are starting to understand what a GPS can do and we hear it all the time, particularly from the cruising crowd, where they want a device that they can use in an unfamiliar area,” he said. “They don’t necessarily want to know the fastest or most efficient way to get from here to there, but they want to make sure they know how to get back home or to a restaurant, etc. Motorcycle guys are savvy enough, they know what a GPS is and chances are they’ve got one in their car already. It’s just really within the past 18 months that there’s been the kind of products out there (on the market) that cater directly to motorcyclists and their needs.”
One area where respondents noted a particularly high interest (nearly 64 percent) is in having a unit with real-time traffic capabilities, something Gartner says is eventually going to dominate GPS units.
“Traffic capabilities is something we think is definitely one of those killer applications for a GPS because a lot of people say they don’t need a GPS because all they do is travel from work to office,” he said.
“But if that GPS system will also tell you where there are traffic tie ups and how to get around them, all of the sudden that GPS becomes a lot more valuable for day-to-day travel.”
Other GPS add-ons that survey respondents were interested in included MP3 players (15 percent), satellite radio (23 percent) and Bluetooth capabilities (28 percent).
Gartner says Bluetooth technology is especially attractive to motorcyclists because it doesn’t require wires, which many riders are particularly sensitive about.
So what does this survey say about the future of GPS units in motorcycles?
“I think it’s pretty clear that this technology is going to be a major part of motorcycles from now on,” Gartner said. “Eventually you’ll see a GPS unit that will be an all-in-one device. Something that’s got an MP3 player, Bluetooth capabilities, etc., and it will be able to fit on the tiny bit of real estate available on your handlebars.”

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