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GPS in a Nutshell

If You Haven't Incorporated GPS Into Your Trail Riding Yet, It's a Great Time To Start

Jennifer Rails (March 2014)

GPS technology is not new and handheld GPS units have been available for many years, but if you haven't incorporated GPS into your trail riding yet, it's a great time to start.  Mounting a GPS unit on your dirt bike or ATV is a piece of cake, and with it you can go deeper into the woods and farther out into the desert without worrying much about finding your way back, even in the dark.

Just strapping a typical GPS unit to your bike gives you an instant speedometer and odometer, lap timer, and clock.  More importantly, it allows you to track where you are heading, where you have been, find a specific point or trailhead, or save the location of your favorite spots.  The possibilities are endless, and the units are very affordable, so it is strange that some trail riders still don't use them.  One reason might be that until you use a GPS unit on a trail ride, you may not realize how useful they can be.  Or perhaps many people aren't getting way out there and pushing the boundaries of the riding areas they frequent.  Another reason could be that until RiderPlanet USA came along, nobody had really marked and collected many GPS points of any interest to off-road riders.  (Off-the-shelf applications tend to be geared towards standard city driving and tourism.)   So here's your opportunity to do more, see more, and get more out of your next trip.

Dirt Bike Mounted GPS Unit

GPS Basics

There are 24 satellites that orbit the earth in a very precise path, which are managed by the Department of Defense. A GPS receives the low power radio signals that are transmitted from these satellites and uses a format called triangulation to calculate its location, hence you always know exactly where you are.  A GPS needs three satellite signals to calculate latitude, longitude and altitude and with fourth signal most GPS units can calculate additional information such as speed and heading.  

Useful Features

Once you've got a GPS, and you've mounted it to your dirt bike or ATV, you may wonder what features are useful to you as a trail rider.  The most useful feature found on most units is the “Go To” mode.  This normally invokes a screen with an arrow to point in the direction of the target, along with the distance to the specified point.  This feature is quite useful if you use it to mark your staging area before your ride.  During your entire ride you'll know exactly how far it is back to camp and what direction to proceed.  Just having the arrow constantly pointing gives you a great frame of reference and makes it harder to get disoriented in the first place.  But if you do, whether your are a half mile out or 60 miles out, you can just follow the arrow all the way back to camp.  Most units have a backlit display and that feature makes night riding a blast.  We all have ended a long ride, cruising along in the dark, unsure of where the heck we are.  A backlit GPS makes that part of the ride a blast.

Some GPS units have a group feature that allows you to keep track of others in your party.  This is a great way keep from getting separated, especially if you are riding with the whole family.

Even if you're not too technical and just want something for safety, a GPS unit or Spot locator can be a life saver - literally. 

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