Calimoto’s Motorcycle Navigation App: “No more straight roads”

As an insignificant and uninfluential motorcycle blogger I’m sometimes contacted by marketing agencies imploring me to cash in what little self respect I still have and involve myself in some thinly disguised marketing campaign for a motorcycle business I’ve never heard of in the name of ‘content’. These same agencies quickly give up once they realise I have a readership of just six sentient humans and a tame goat called Alan. (Hi Alan!)

This time though I thought I’d give someone a break, not least because German motorcycle navigational app company Calimoto who contacted me told me their product was free to download and so fitted nicely with the ethos of this blog.

Just for the record, I’m not a great fan or user of motorcycle tech. My personal limit for acceptable electronics pretty much ends at the invention of the CDI unit. I do however own an Android smartphone and currently ride a bike with both Bosch fuel injection and a 12V accessory socket, so being fully aware of my own hypocrisy (but still not really caring – one of the few benefits of being over 40) I figured what the hell. In for a penny…

Calimoto would like you to download their app onto your Android smartphone from the Google Play Store and use it as a route planner and bike specific sat nav (and don’t worry rich people, an IOS version is on its way).

All well and good you say, but why not just use an old school TomTom or Garmin? Because proprietary sat nav technology is designed to get you to a destination in the quickest time or the shortest distance is why – and how useful is that to the Moto GP obsessed knee-sliding motorcyclist eh? Calimoto’s usp is that it’ll take you to your destination on the windiest (and therefore most enjoyable) route. ‘No more straight roads’ is the tagline.

So here’s what it looks like in practice with two Sicilian routes I regularly sweat through in 40 degrees of heat on my 1100RT. First up a screenshot of Google’s attempt, which predictably enough uses the Autostrada and main roads. I normally use this route mostly to avoid changing gear (ask any R1100 owner about their gearbox):

And here’s Calimoto’s effort, using the winding Italian equivalents of the A and B road:

The algorithm chooses a route as if it were an angry child presented with a crayon and the possibility of deciding its own school route. In theory then (and BMW boxer gearboxes excepted) it’s a motorcycling good idea and I can say hand on heart that the route it chose in this case was a good ‘un (I’ve done it on a push bike). But how about using it in practice?

With my elderly Samsung Galaxy S3 duct-taped to the handlebars of the Armchair Biker Low Speed Testing Unit (a thirty year old Vespa) results did vary.

Due to the inherent crapness of my phone, the app was jerky and failed to keep up with my progress – that’s pretty slow when you’re on board a 50cc scooter – and even on full brightness it was difficult to see the screen (and so the, er maps) in daylight. Not Calimoto’s fault and overall I liked the app with some provisos:

  • Calimoto relies on the comical Android text-to-speech function when it issues voice commands. On my phone this makes the announcer sound like she’s just finished huffing an entire nitrous oxide balloon.
  • Some of the routes I tested avoided winding roads for reasons I could not fathom. Check this out:

Avoiding the most beautiful and curvy seaside cruise in favour of an arrow straight bypass to the right? Odd. I just could not force the app to use the coastal road, which is a no-brainer for any touring motorcyclists that get down this far. I expect an update will fix this.

  • Some of the routes I chose jerked me around a bit because as well as favouring windy roads, the app also prefers to avoid built up urban areas, which I’m sure Marausa will be amazed to be classified as:

This might be the logical result of using the app in a country with endless opportunities for darting off along infinite numbers of curvy roads. Who knows what it’d do if it found itself boxed into the opposite scenario:

  • One glitch I found was a one-way street not being recognised (arrowed in red). This could be dangerous or at the minimum annoying, Still in Sicily salmoning against traffic isn’t an unheard of practice so perhaps I’d received a special local version. Again an update to the base mapping should solve minor snags like this.

  • Finally be aware that the Calimoto team has a German sense of humour. Each time you enter a route or experience a glitch you must suffer the fate of the developers’ many alternatives to the infinitely preferable ‘loading’. These include:

ok…

interesting but…

er…

What is he then?

Oh yeah, he’s German. I forgot.

Verdict: Nice idea but for my own personal taste works better as a kitchen table tour planner than an on-the-ground sat nav and is limited by its tethering to variable quality smartphones which people like me refuse to update. Luckily for Calimoto, I’m not the target market.

As a postscript, you might be aware that TomTom now offers a ‘winding roads’ mode in their bike-specific sat navs, so one might reasonably ask if Calimoto’s time has  already come and gone. Not quite. The real idea behind using a smartphone instead of bike specific hardware is to utilise the endless possibilities of social networking which come with modern telephones.

If Calimoto takes off, the sharing of routes between touring bikers will no doubt become a ‘thing’ in the same way that Strava‘s similarly social app has become the unavoidable crack cocaine of sporting amateur cycling. Calimoto can only hope to achieve the same level of success.

Download free from Google Play Store and get one map for free. See user reviews in the Google App Store for more detailed user criticism and praise. 

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