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Do Garmin think we’re idiots?

This is my desk, with retired helmets and Basecamp. But why can't it be better for bikers?

Every biker who’s used it moans about the Basecamp route-planning software. Probably because, if you admit to being a biker, it becomes almost unusable.

Do any bikers jump off and on motorways like this?

I should start by saying that I love my Garmin sat nav (an older Zumo 590) and I actually do love Basecamp. But I completely understand why so many people hate it. I switched from Garmin’s previous mapping programme, MapSource, as soon as Basecamp came out. It’s evolved over the years and I’ve stuck with it, so I've had plenty of time to get used to its quirks, but generally each iteration seems to be a little bit less helpful than the one before.

I think that’s largely because Garmin thinks motorcyclists are idiots. Genuinely. That’s the only explanation I can come up with for the utter irrationality and stupidity of the way Basecamp behaves when you tell it your activity is motorcycling.

Why turn off the main road like this? Why? WHY?

Ask Basecamp to go from A to B in motorcycle modes and it will do anything apart from go directly there. Even if it looks almost direct when you're zoomed out, just zoom in and you'll discover it's making all kinds of pointless deviations along the route, as if somewhere a programmer has encoded into the very fabric of the software a belief that bikers make bad life choices.

Logical and direct route in driving mode...

If you’ve wrestled with it yourself, you probably know this. But let me give you a few examples. Here’s one just generated while I’m typing…

Say I want to go from West End Café in Llandovery to Newtown: it’s one of the great Welsh biking routes – just take the epic A483 all the way (maybe hopping on the B4358 through Newbridge on Wye to avoid built up Builth Wells). I know that if you’re in Llandovery and just punch Newtown into the nav as a destination, that’s the way it’ll take you – in “fastest route” mode, anyway. Perfectly sensible.

...or round the houses in motorcycle mode

Plotting it in Basecamp, though… If you have it set to “motoring” activity mode, the one for all those sensible car journeys, it does the sensible thing, more or less (bar one pointless shortcut at the top, near Dolfor). But put it into “motorcycling” or even “motorcycling – fastest” and it spits the dummy out, going all round the houses to avoid using the A483. Why would a bike want to use a lovely wide, smooth, twisty A-road when there's a farm track with grass growing up the middle right beside it? They must think we're idiots...

A sensible mix of motorway and good roads for cars

It can be even more annoying for planning big trips. Imagine rolling off the Eurotunnel, wanting to do a few miles on the motorway to get clear of the port before having a bit of a decent ride. If you tell Basecamp you’re in a car, it’ll let you use the motorway to get to the start of the good roads.

...or a crazy, indirect mishmash on a motorcycle

On a bike? Forget it… Random deviations everywhere, jumping on and off the motorway, doubling back, swerving even the single-carriageway N-roads (the A-road equivalents) that make up the intended route can pretty much double the journey time. Calais to Reims, half on autoroute and half on good roads, should be four hours… and it is in driving mode. But in a motorcycle mode Basecamp makes it more than eight hours.

Why won't it go through the town? Why? WHY?

Even if you aren’t planning to mix main roads into your route, it’s still a nightmare if you stray near a town. I recently had to plan a trip through the Pyrenees that involved crossing the town of Mirepoix. That’s simple: sit on the main D119 – then carry straight on at the roundabout on the far side of town on the D625. In driving mode it does that.

It took SEVEN points to get across town sensibly

In motorcycling mode, it won’t even go near the town…

Now obviously the route planner earns his corn by adding points (preferably non-alert shaping points) to make the route go where it needs to go. As a rule, working in the motoring mode, I normally use two or maybe three of these shaping points between each fixed waypoint (a POI); maybe five on a complex route. A whole day’s route will use 15-20 points.

Getting across Mirepoix in motorcycling mode took me seven shaping points. For one town. Because Garmin thinks we’d rather be fannying around in back alleys than just riding through a town on the nice big main road to get out to the fun stuff on the other side. Plotting that one day used nearly 80 shaping points – and it was a short day...

Traditionally, I’ve avoided all these issues by using the car mode to plan every route. Because it works. It doesn’t get off dual carriageways at every junction, it doesn’t leave main roads for back streets in towns, it doesn’t want to take the most wooden-headed, pointedly arse-about-face indirect and idiotic route detours between two given points. It just shows the most obvious sensible routes – the ones I’ve worked out using paper maps and memories of riding around and working out which roads are best on a bike.

Complex touring routes can be planned


Back when I was testing sat navs, I got to play with the Zumo 395 and 396 and I discovered that, if you put a route that’s planned in car mode into it, the unit puts itself into a car mode. Great… until you come to a corner. At which point, it feels the bike leaning over and assumes you’ve rolled the car – so covers a chunk of the screen with an error message. You can only avoid that by leaving it in bike mode… so for customers who use a 395 or 396 as their sat nav, I have to plan routes in “motorcycle - fastest” mode. These need four to five times as many shaping points and take twice as long to do.

Every route in my Bikers' Britain books - tested on Garmin

Which I wouldn’t mind but it’s so unnecessary. Why are the motorcycling modes so bad? Why are they based on the assumption that bikers, faced with a choice between a direct twisty road or a network of goat tracks, will naturally favour the indirect and inefficient option? It really does feel like they think we’re idiots and all our choices will be stupid ones. And that’s what gets my goat (track).

I think perhaps Garmin have fundamentally misunderstood how Basecamp is used by the consumers. It isn't for finding routes. It isn't for letting the computer decide the best way to get from A to B.

It's for communicating knowledge. It's for reproducing the routes we already know, the ones we've already plotted (and ridden and tested). It's for making it possible to turn plans into reality, dreams into memories, when we get on the bike and go off to ride somewhere special - it's for making sure that when we get there, we don't miss the road we came to ride or the sight we came to see because the sat nav's decided to cut a chunk out of the route we actually want to ride.

And it would be so easy to fix. If Garmin just ditched the pointless “activities” distinction in Basecamp and simply had a single planning mode that behaved with the predictable and reliable consistency of the “driving” setting, everyone could use the software. It would be as simple as Google Maps but much, much more sophisticated. Plus you wouldn’t have 99% of touring motorcyclists of forums slagging Basecamp off or just using their phones instead of a sat nav.

More than anything else, making Basecamp work for motorcycling would make more people use it. They’d see how powerful it can be at compiling and combining routes, how useful it is for building up a library of great rides and how it really unlocks the potential of the sat nav for getting you direct to the kind of roads you dream of riding.

But what do I know? I’m a biker, so I’m just another idiot…

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I have just bought a Garmin XT and it is really quite delightful. So what to do about Basecamp? Simple, just consider ditching it and using MRA. Install Garmin Drive app on your mobile, email the route as an attachment, open the file and share to the app. Hit send and (wowzers) it appears on the XT. Other file transfer methods are available such as drag and drop but please note that at the time of writing us Apple Mac users are compromised as MacOS will not see the Garmin via USB as a volume on the desktop. The workaround is to install Android File Transfer. This leads me to believe the Garmin OS is now based on…


I just hate Basecamp. It was the worst thing about finally caving and getting a satnav - I would have to use this bizaare piece of software that reminds me of when computers were for experts only. It's really really difficulty to use.

I use MyRoute as mentioned in one of the Ride guides to Europe some years ago, and its been really good. And as another commenter said, compose your route on there, and simply drop it into the Garmin. Why use Basecamp?


john connell
john connell
Sep 02, 2020

Strange, BaseCamp does wind me up sometimes, but generally I don't see this issue. I have tried plotting the Mirepoix example you gave, and it just routes me straight through the town. I have tried switching routes from Motorbike to Car and, for me at least, I have not seen any change in distance or time. What I do see is that for any given route my Nav V often predicts a different travel time to BaseCamp, sometimes faster, sometimes slower, and by occasionally by a large margin, eg, Garmin 5h 40min, Nav V 6h 20min, with identical routes.


Jonny P
Jonny P
Sep 01, 2020

Fully agree with the article, and the comments above. I've had my BMW Navigator VI for over three years now (including obtaining a replacement due to malfunction - quite common in early Nav VI's. My goodness, the steepness of the Basecamp learning curve! I discovered all the hints given above by trial and error. Lately I have been creating a cloud database that is shared between my home PC and my laptop (the latter joining me on my tours). Thus I can edit routes in hotels etc that I previously created at home, by logging on to the common database. There's some helpful stuff on YouTube regarding this. But for £600,one would expect much more from Garmin - Basecamp itself…



A great article full of meaningful despair. The clue however, is in the title; Basecamp. This programme is not for motorcyclists. The target market seems to be for hikers and walkers some who might aspire to ascend mountains from encampments. It is wrong for Garmin to continue to market this tool as a planning aid for powered two wheelers. Apart from hours of frustrating time-wasting, I contend that that Garmin routes cause much disharminous screen gazing with resultant loss of attention to the roads and hence the product is actually rather dangerous when over-used whilst riding a motorcycle.

In the world of the Garmin algorithm, an presumption is made that the average user can rely on Basecamp to compile…

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