Gear Gear Reviews

Gear review: Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder

I’ve lived in Her Majesty’s United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland now for almost 9 years. And I still don’t get the roads.
I mean, I get the basic stuff –– ride/drive on the left, don’t turn on a red light, try not to run into any old ladies or children, etc. –– but the more intrinsic stuff still escapes me. The layout of British roads doesn’t make sense in the way that American roads do.
Here’s what I mean: a few years ago, I was visiting Seattle for the first time and drove into a part of town (Fremont) for which I didn’t have a detailed map. However, with just a basic sense of where I was in the grand scheme of things (i.e., north of downtown, west of Interstate 5 and east of Puget Sound), I was able to navigate to a restaurant I had read about that morning in a local magazine. 
That’s it. I had an address and an idea of where a square mile of space existed on the planet Earth. With that information I was able to find a single building. Because American roads make sense. Or, at the very least, they make sense to me because I was born and raised in the God-Blessed United States of America (Yee-ha!)
In Britain, however, there is no way I could pull the same trick. Primarily this is because all the roads in this country were drawn by 3-year-old children with ADHD while they were riding horses and being force fed candy. Roads are inexplicably curvy and run in nonsensical directions.
Go to Google Maps, mis amigos. Type in directions from London to Swindon. You’ll see that the M4 is the fastest, most-effective way to get between them. Look at how stupidly curvy that route is.
“Oh, come on, Chris,” I can hear you say. “It’s not that curvy.”
No, it wouldn’t be if there were mountains or any other large things in the way, but there aren’t. That part of Britain is flat. As flat as North Dakota. The curves serve no purpose..
Look in particular at the bit of the route between Reading and Swindon. Do you see a lot of big towns in between? No. No you do not. There is absolutely no reason for the road to be weaving all over the place like that. 
It should be a straight line. In the USA and Canada and, well, just about any other country where people understand the basic tenets of the “Getting From A To B” concept, the road from Reading to Swindon would be straight and it would not take more than an hour to travel between two cities that are only 30 miles apart.

The inefficiency of British roadways is exacerbated by the fact I didn’t grow up with them. I don’t have an intrinsic understanding of how roads here work, as I do with American roads; I am not hard-wired to understand this silliness.

All of which explains why I find sat navs (aka GPS devices) to be invaluable. Well, OK, perhaps “invaluable” isn’t the right word. I haven’t been able to justify the purchase of a fancy motorcycle-specific device. Those things are expensive and, for my purposes, at least, don’t really offer anything different than the far cheaper devices you’d use in a car.

The Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder is a handy bit of kit that allows you to use your existing car device or phone on your motorcycle. I’ve had one for a little more than a year now and have found it to be generally pretty handy, with only a few quibbles.

What’s good:

Effectively, the holder comes in three parts: a big case in which you place your sat nav or smartphone, a bracket to mount the case onto your handlebars, and a waterproof cover. The bracket mounts pretty easily to your ‘bars wherever you’ve got space and can be adjusted somewhat for angle. I’ve used this set up on both my Honda and my Suzuki without problems.

The case easily clicks on or off the bracket, which makes it easy to take with you when you leave the bike. The case mounts very securely, but for peace of mind there’s also a safety strap on the case that you can loop onto your ‘bars. I’ve found this strap to also be handy for clipping the case to a bag or my riding trousers when I’m off the bike.

The case zips open and has a few bits of foam padding that you can add or remove depending on the thickness of whatever device you’re using. There is an opening at the bottom of the case to allow a power cord to your device if you’re lucky enough to have a 12v outlet on your bike. On a side note, having a 12v outlet is the bee’s knees –– thank you, Suzuki, for putting one as standard on the V-Strom 1000.

The holder case has a large, clear vinyl window flexible enough that you can type commands onto your sat nav device without too much difficulty (assuming you’re not wearing gloves). In sunny conditions, the glare from this window can make it hard to see your sat nav’s screen but in low light or cloudy conditions it works fine.

All the bits are durable and of good quality. I’ve ridden thousands of miles using the holder and it still looks new. On the bike, I find it “fits” in terms of aesthetic. It doesn’t look cheap or out of place, which isn’t really something I could say for the gaudy controller for my heated grips.

What’s not so good:

I’ve already hit on the biggest problem with this bit of kit: it’s not terribly useful in sunny conditions. Here’s a picture I took recently in Brecon Beacons National Park. You can see the holder in the lower part of the photo.

Note that you can easily read my dashboard display, but the sat nav looks like it’s turned off. It’s not; it was on and set to its brightest display setting. Unfortunately, if the sun is angled right, the holder’s vinyl window makes your sat nav’s display virtually unreadable.

Because I try to only use a sat nav as back up, having spent a lot of time staring at actual maps before heading out to ride, this flaw hasn’t caused me too much frustration over the past year. It helps, too, that I live in Wales, where it’s rarely sunny. But I will admit that the flaw worked me into screaming rage last spring, when I found myself unable to get out of Edinburgh.

I don’t have any sort of Bluetooth device in my ear, so my use of a sat nav on a bike is purely visual. Obviously, being able to hear directions would be helpful. If you’ve got the technology for such a thing, I’d probably suggest using it, despite my personal aversion to having audio devices in your helmet. Without such audio direction I find that the holder places my sat nav a little too low for my liking. I would like for the display to be higher, more directly in my line of vision. Touratech has a bracket adapter that would allow me to put everything a few inches higher. I may eventually bite the bullet and buy one of those.

Meanwhile, I’ve never been willing to test the effectiveness of the waterproof cover. A sort of hood that slips over the holder, I just don’t feel I could trust this cover to protect an electronic device against British weather. In times when I’ve had to ride in heavy rain I’ve tucked the sat nav away.

A motorcycle-specific sat nav, like a TomTom Rider 400 or Garmin Zumo 590LM, is waterproof. Those devices also have longer battery life than a standard car-intended sat nav and a few motorcycle-focused features, such as the ability to deliberately choose curvy roads.

Ultimately, though, using the Givi GPS and Smartphone Holder is a hell of a lot cheaper. I bought mine for about £30. The holder comes in a number of sizes, so be sure to measure whatever device you’ll be using and pay attention to the exact model of holder you get. Pack a map on particularly sunny days.