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Why you should use a paper map on your next motorcycle ride

Added August 2, 2016

We live in an always-connected world where technology offers us solutions to everything. It wasn’t very long ago that standalone GPS units were pricey, cutting-edge gadgets promising to guide us to our destination—unless, of course, they were recalculating the route. Well, prices have dropped and accuracy has improved and GPS navigation is now available as an app on the ubiquitous smartphone. If you need turn-by-turn directions, and can use a device while still remaining fully aware of the traffic around you, the GPS will get you to your destination. In a GPS-driven world, one must wonder whether paper maps are still relevant?

It’s how you get there

The best part of any riding adventure is rarely found at the destination. It’s in getting there. What we cherish most are the roads less traveled, great scenery, the people you meet in small towns that make up America as you ride toward your destination—that is if you even have a planned destination. GPS technology can guide you to the nearest gas station or fast food joint. But the small screens and digitized maps are not the best for finding those lesser used little twisty roads that bring so much joy to our rides.

Back to basics

Paper maps to motorcycle riders are like suspense novels to bookworms. They speak to us of mysterious little colored lines and offer clues to investigate where they lead. Map reading can be a mystery in itself, since it’s rarely taught outside of groups like the Boy and Girl Scouts. Here are two online resources to sharpen your map-reading skills:
  1. Learn basic skills, including how to understand contour lines
  2. Learn advanced skills and more road focus 

Choosing maps

Maps come in a wide variety of prices, sizes, and levels of detail, ranging from free travel bureau or tourist maps to book form atlases. Folding maps of individual states are easy to carry on a motorcycle and can be acquired free at interstate welcome centers. The limited size of these maps limits the level of detail. For finding great motorcycle riding roads, more detail is better. At the other end of the spectrum are state road atlases. If you have saddlebags, it’s worth carrying these as you explore. The level of detail will reveal twisty roads and out-of-the-way points of interest, along with terrain types. Each page of these atlases can provide you with days of exploration. Grab some old school paper maps and see America!

Till next time, ride safe and remember that with a map you’re never lost!