Long-term Review: Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

I have ridden my 2007 Suzuki V-Strom 650 with a Garmin Zumo 220 GPS several thousand miles, through all kinds of weather, over the past year and have a follow-up long-term review.

This unit has been up into Canada with me and around Washington, Oregon, and California. In that amount of time a few issues have cropped up, one of which has proven to be very inconvenient.

Because the unit doesn’t snap into a connected docking station, I have to plug a mini-USB cable into the back of it before mounting it into its cradle. This doesn’t take very long, maybe 15 seconds more than it should, but that’s not a big deal. The problem is that when I’m stopped, even if I turn the unit off using it’s power button, it still draws power as long as it’s plugged in. I forgot to do so on two different occasions and both times it completely drained my battery within 36 hours. Fortunately both times occurred when it was parked in my garage at home. If this had happened when on a big trip the inconvenience would have had me tossing the confounded thing into a ditch or against a brick wall.

I had my local motorcycle shop rewire the power cable so that it was integrated into the ignition switch circuit. Theoretically this should have disconnected power to the unit whenever the ignition switch was off. However, this doesn’t seem to be the case. Regardless of how I wired the unit, if I power it off with its own power button, it should halt the current draw and protect my battery charge.

On a recent trip to Canada, I also noticed the unit would spontaneously reboot itself while I was traveling down the road. There was no obvious cause or trigger for this behavior. Fortunately it came back up after a few minutes and it maintained the route I had programmed in it at the time. However, this is an unnecessary distraction and a potential inconvenience. It also makes me lose faith in the unit’s reliability.

I am currently researching a new GPS unit for my bike that uses a docking cradle rather than a cable. I will also verify the power cable is in fact disconnected when the ignition to the bike is in the OFF position. If anyone knows of a unit that meets my requirements, please post the make and model in the comments section.

Latest gear: HJC CS-R2 helmet and Garmin Zumo 220 GPS

When you ride as much as I do, no matter how well you take care of your gear it will eventually wear out. So is the case with my Garmin Zumo 450 GPS and my HJC SyMax II modular helmet.

My Zumo 450 GPS partially crapped out in Nevada on a recent 5,000 mile trip. It still showed my current location, speed, elevation, etc. but the touch screen stopped registering my input. The unit had been reliable although it occasionally became confused, as most GPS units are prone to be from time to time. I had to navigate the rest of the trip the hard way, using paper maps and turn logs that I would plot out the night before.

Getting around is easy enough the old fashioned way, but a GPS unit on your bike is very handy in some other ways. When you’re in a city, they can efficiently guide you to nearby gas stations, restaurants, and motels. In larger cities, they help you find your way through the concrete jungle to critical junctions and highways leading out of town. A GPS can also tell you how far you are from the nearest gas station, which is invaluable when determining if you should fuel up now or head on down the road.

Garmin Zumo 220

I replaced it with a newer model, it’s little brother, the Zumo 220. It is a no-frills unit that gets the job done with the features I need. Unlike the previous unit, the 220 uses a mini-USB connector to attach to the bike’s power. Rather than snapping it into its mounting cradle, you must first plug the mini-USB connector into the back of the unit, then lock it into the cradle. This is an extra step, and it makes me miss the docking station used by the 450.

On the plus side, the 220 seems to lock onto satellites much quicker and the display is easy to see. I’ve yet to rely on it for city navigation or route plotting, but most of the functionality I need seems to be present.

HJC CS-R2 Storm Helmet

My first helmet was the HJC SyMax. It lasted about two years before an upgraded model came out, the SyMax II. Of course I upgraded, even though my old helmet was still functional. The SyMax II was comfortable and versatile and has served me well for several years and tens of thousands of miles. One of the drawbacks to both models, however, was an ill-fitting face shield. During moderate to heavy rain, water would run down the inside of the face shield because the top of the shield didn’t seat completely against the rubber gasket across the brow of the helmet body. On especially cold rides I could feel the chilly air coming through that gap and onto my cheeks.

I’m loyal to the brand, both because of its value and because I know that their head shape fits me. My SyMax II has been showing its age lately and helmets should be replaced after 3-5 years of use anyway — due to the gradual collapse of the interior padding, lessening its protective effectiveness in a crash — so I shopped around for a suitable replacement.

This time I decided to go with a full-face model instead of a modular design. I wanted reasonable cost and features, no internal flip-down sun shade, and DOT-only certification; no Snell rating (Snell rated helmets subject the human skull to higher G-forces in an impact event; look it up). I also wanted a helmet with a design pattern on the outside rather than the plain colors I’ve been wearing to date.

I settled on the HJC CS-R2 “Storm” in grey. It is lightweight, has the feature set I wanted, and was surprisingly inexpensive. I paid $98 for it with free shipping from Motorcycle-Superstore.com.

I’ve ridden about 500 miles with it so far and really like it. I have to get used to the fact that I can’t flip up the whole front part of the helmet like I could with my modular SyMax II. One downside is the face shield only has three detent positions; the first is barely open, which is great when fogging occurs, the other is in the middle and the top is all the way up. I wish it had 5 positions instead of three. The fit is fairly tight around my cheeks, so I find I ride with my mouth slightly open — this narrows my cheeks, basically. I’m assuming the padding will deflate slightly over time. The size was spot on; I wear a small in all three HJC models I’ve owned. There are no hot spots, either. Although the helmet is quiet, there is a slight amount of wind noise from the top air vents, even when the vent is closed. When I raise my head into the full oncoming rush of air above my wind screen I can tell that a decent amount of air passes through the helmet. This is handy when riding in hot weather.

I’ve yet to wear the CS-R2 in rainy conditions, but close examination (and online reviews) show the face shield is pressed firmly against the brow gasket. Although I haven’t treated the inside of the face shield yet, it fogs up very easily. I also noticed the clear face shield that comes with the helmet seems to have a slight gradation of tinting or perhaps polarization from top to bottom. It’s subtle. I’ve ordered an additional shield, the HJ-09 in “Silver”, from Motorcycle-Superstore.com, to provide better tinting in sunny conditions.

Willamette Valley Loop

The weather in Oregon this Spring has been extremely cold and wet. Dry, sunny days are as rare as a Congressional Republican in favor of tax hikes on the wealthy. Sunday was dry, partly cloudy, and not overly cold (meaning, it was above freezing). So I rode.

I had never been to Gaston, Oregon so that was my first destination. I fueled up in Sherwood, then headed west through Laurel and Laurelwood, two amazing little communities. The climb up and over the hill between Laurel and Gaston provided phenomenal views east, and then west, of what the northern Willamette Valley has to offer. Once in Gaston I headed south on Hwy 47.

I was getting hungry by the time I got to Monmouth so I stopped at J’s 99 Cafe for second breakfast. Once that was done my GPS got confused, thought Philomath was north of my location, and got me lost in a neighborhood trying to find the highway southeast. I had to use my Jedi Navigation Skills to find it, but once I did it was smooth after that.

The Kings Valley Highway, 223, runs from Rickreal south to Philomath and is a must-ride. I saw 30+ sport bikes heading northward as I rode south. The skies were cloudier the further south I rode but the pavement remained dry. Even the rooster ring-necked pheasant standing on the side of the road in Pedee agreed it was a day worth enjoying.

In Philomath I turned east and crawled through the Corvallis area before crossing over I-5 and into Lebanon. Again, my GPS was ass-backwards and steered me wrong. I had to ride north on Hwy 20 before cutting back east through Crabtree. From there I knew the way by heart and only referenced my GPS for speed verification.

I fueled up again in Sublimity and noticed something interesting, albeit purely coincidental. My second fuel-up of the day was only 7/100ths different than the first, in terms of gallons consumed. Once in Mulino I veered east again to pass through Colton, then up to Estacada and Sandy and home. The day’s ride was 250 miles.

Map route

Zoom Zoom Zumo!

I’m a Jedi navigator for the most part, able to find my way around even without a map or any prior familiarity with the area. But sometimes I get lost. I got lost last year in Missoula trying to find my motel. After an hour of riding around town, I somehow discovered I was on the wrong side of the city entirely. Just a few weeks ago I got lost following Washington state’s road signs that led me to a closed road. Their signs misled me.

Anyone that knows me is aware that I’m somewhat fond of gadgets. Maybe not at the chronic “Hi, my name is Steve and I’m a gadgetaholic” stage, but I do like electronic gizmos. The solution to my getting-lost-on-the-bike situation was to install a Garmin Zumo 450 GPS.

The Zumo 450 and 550 models are specifically designed for use on motorcycles. They can be used entirely with the left hand, with buttons that are bigger than most and have plenty of space between them — handy when you’re wearing gloves. They even come with a handlebar mount in the box.

It took me about 30 minutes to install my Zumo, with most of that time snaking the power cord through the fairing, under the tank, and over to the battery underneath the seat. I gave it my first test ride to work and back today and really like it. The screen is very easy to see, the buttons are easy to use, and the directions are easy to follow. It’s just easy.

I paid $403 through Amazon.com, with another $13 in shipping. The day it arrived, someone sent me a link to Costco’s web site where they listed it for $349.99 with free shipping. Figures.

Four volcanoes in one day

The goal was to enjoy a guy’s weekend at a vacation home in Long Beach, Washington. Going from A to B in a straight line is not my style, so I chose a scenic, albeit circuitous route to get there. I decided I would travel around four area volcanoes in a single day.

Departure from my home in Sandy was at 8:30 AM, as usual. My ride up and around Mt. Hood was pleasant, with blue skies and calm wind. By the time I reached Hood River my bike’s fuel light was flashing. I had 215 miles on that tank and it only took 4.5 gallons to fill it up. It has a 5.8 gallon total capacity, so the flashing wasn’t needed. I took a break in Starbucks with a mocha and slice of lemon pound cake. Paying my $.50 toll, I crossed the bridge to Washington and headed west on SR14 to Carson.

In Carson I headed north on Wind River Road. My destination was Randle, Washington, on highway 12. My route would take me in between Mt. St. Helens to the west and Mt. Adams to the east. The road was in rough shape and I had to really stay on the ball to avoid hitting some nasty potholes and dips. I came to a junction with Trout Lake going to the right and Randle to the left. I turned left, only to discover the road was closed. There were no signs warning me of this. Frustrated, I took a break and consulted my map for options.

The road I was on was so small it wasn’t even on my map. I didn’t have a GPS on my bike, either, so there was no other option but to backtrack. I eventually made it back to a junction to Cougar, Washington. Cougar was west of my location and I knew I could get to I-5 and continue my journey, so I took that junction. Just a few miles farther was the correct turn off to Randle. I became very frustrated with the terrible maps and lack of valuable information on the road signs and vowed to get a GPS for my bike. I turned north to Randle.

Once at Randle I turned left and headed westbound on highway 12. By this time it was mid-afternoon and I was hungry. I also needed fuel. I gassed up at a Chevron near I-5, then got on the freeway. Just a few miles later I took the first exit to Chehalis and stopped at a Subway for a club sandwich and a bottle of water. By this time it was 3:00 PM and I needed to make some time.

At the next exit I took state highway 6 westward toward the coast. This section of highway was cluttered with very slow drivers but I had ample opportunities to pass. By the time I hit the junction with coastal highway 101 the sky was clouded over but the pavement remained dry.

I pulled into the vacation house a little after 5:00 PM, with my buddy Mike standing in the driveway talking to his wife on his cell phone.

Unfortunately, none of the other guys showed up so it was just Mike and I. We had dinner and drinks and laughed a lot, watching movies as well. Something I ate didn’t agree with me, however, and the resultant food poisoning really took a lot out of me.

It misted overnight so our bikes were wet by morning, but the air was warm and the pavement was already drying. I spent most of the morning drinking a lot of water and just laying low. We watched several episodes of “Long Way Round” with Ewan Magregor and Charley Boorman and had a light breakfast.

By 1:00 PM I had decided to make my way home, taking a more direct route instead of the scenic route I had originally intended. I crossed back over the Columbia River into Astoria where I stopped for a quick lunch and fuel-up. The traffic was thick as I made my way back home on highway 30, to cross back over to Longview, Washington where I caught I-5 southbound. The high speed limit from Longview to Oregon allowed me to make good time. I eventually got home at 4:50 PM. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing and regaining my strength.