Setting up the Rider is a similar tale of ups and downs.
On the positive side, TomTom packs a wide array of handlebar mounts with the Rider that should fit most scooters, adventure, tourer and naked bikes. On the downside it doesn’t provide any sort of RAM mounting, which is required for sports bikes and sports tourers as their handlebars are obscured.
Since we test on a 2011 Honda CBR600F - a hybrid sports tourer with sportsbike handlebars - this caused us an immediate problem. Given Honda's Fireblade super sports bike has been the biggest selling bike in the UK for years, it will cause problems for plenty of others too.
RAM mount specialist Telferizer helped us out with a mount that retails for £20, so you won’t be breaking the bank. RAM mounts allow the Rider to be mounted centrally, which is better for wind resistance in any case and is our preferred setup on any bike for that reason (see below). TomTom can be criticised for not bundling a RAM mount, but in truth rivals don’t either and different bikes have different RAM mount sizes so it is best to buy what you need.
Beyond the fixing of the TomTom Rider v4, the second question is whether you want to connect it to your motorbike’s main battery. TomTom claims the Rider is good for up to six hours use on a single charge, which should be enough for most, but if you plan to go on a riding holiday it may not be sufficient.
Connecting the Rider to your battery will also switch the unit on and off automatically with the ignition. We would advise casual riders to have this done by a garage to keep cables neat and tidy, especially with faired bikes where access to run cables is more difficult.
For all its motorcycle-centric customisations, the TomTom Rider v4 is at its best getting you from A to B. TomTom’s mapping, routing and lane guidance technology is second to none and at no point did we find ourselves lost or going round in circles.
What we did find, however, is the loss of HD Traffic is a blow - even on the nimbleness of two wheels. Hitting jams you know Live devices would have avoided is frustrating, especially on roads too narrow to filter (taking road width into account in a future Rider would be a major plus).
Worse, though, is having to re-route because of closed roads that the Rider cannot see. It re-routes quickly, but avoiding them in the first place is better.
On the rare days we enjoyed good weather with the Rider we can report the screen is easy to read in direct sunlight. Yes the resolution could be higher, but it isn’t crucial and the chunky glove-friendly UI makes it easy to adjust settings and routes without mis-hitting options. A downside is the postcode entry buttons cannot be large enough for each letter, so you are reduced to text-style cycling through buttons labelled ABC, DEF, GHI, etc, but it works well enough in practice.
We were also impressed by the battery life. TomTom quotes up to six hours, which we found was slightly conservative with our sample lasting beyond six hours 30 minutes in some instances when spread over multiple journeys. It also switches on and off very quickly.
Where the Rider isn’t so strong is when time isn’t the main concern. The Winding Routes option is a handy shortcut and can provide some excellent options, but we found it almost as effective to just tell the Rider simply to ignore A roads whenever possible. The feature remains useful, but it still has rough edges (such as once picking a twisty route through a town centre) and planning an itinerary manually on the Rider or using TomTom Home or Tyre on a PC will bring better results.
Spoken instructions could also be more detailed. The Rider’s instructions are no worse than a standard TomTom, but when riding a motorbike you can't look down as often. As such, being told “turn left in 300 yards” then “turn left” would be improved if there were some more incremental interjection as well. Garmin recently announced it's adopting more natural language (”Turn right after the lights/after the petrol station”) and this is an area that would particularly benefit the Rider and motorbike GPS in general.
We were also surprised to be occasionally given onscreen messages about our ‘car’. This is far from fatal, but something TomTom really should have ironed out. Two wheels and four wheels famously don't get on.
But the Rider has a more significant issue: the lack of speakers. We admit at higher speeds instructions can be difficult to hear (though less so when RAM mounted with a faired bike's slipstream profile - see above), but no speakers means the Rider cannot be used effectively without a headset because riders cannot and should not look away from the road regularly. A knock-on effect is calling - which we actually found to be good when paired with a smartphone - is off the menu since there are no turn-by-turn directions for this setup.