Late last year Waze added motorcycle-specific features to their popular navigation app. We decided to give it a go and find out how well it works in the real world.
If you're not familiar with Waze, it's a community-based traffic and navigation app for smartphones. What that means is everyone using Waze is feeding traffic data back into the central hive. So, unlike other technologies, the traffic congestion you see on Waze really is traffic. Instead of using patterns or roadside transmitters, the Waze app makes you (and thousands of others) a traffic reporter. Think about it as social media meets GPS.
I'm guessing some of you reached for your tin-foil hat as you read that. Obviously this app is not for everyone. But Waze makes their privacy statement readily available (link below), plainly states what they share, and allows you to bypass the new user account setup altogether—yet still enjoy the benefits of their app. Like most "free" technology, you must decide if the price is worth it.
That said, I'm a longtime Wazer and use the app constantly. Even on a mundane drive to work I might be alerted to an accident ahead or a hazard in the road. My car has a factory sat-nav system, but I never use it, opting instead to dock my phone and open Waze. I have also used Waze when riding. Typically only on longer journeys, I initiate navigation then put the phone in my pocket and listen to turn-by-turn directions through my intercom. I have found the routes generated by Waze more accurate than my Garmin GPS.
Hitting the Road
So how well does the latest version work for two (or three) wheels?
We'll assume you have already installed the Waze app on your smartphone (iOS or Android). First we have to look under settings for Vehicle Type and change it to Motorcycle. You can also change your little Wazer icon to one of the new helmet-clad avatars for ultra cuteness. If you have young eyes you might choose to mount your phone on the handlebars or fairing. My eyes are too feeble for that, so I just listen to the app's directions and keep the phone in my pocket. Either way, now it's time to hit the open road.
But do not expect a vastly different experience.
Depending on where you live, the difference might not even be noticeable. The reason is mentioned in a press release from Waze UK...
In addition to the real-time road updates and alerts, Wazers riding in motorcycle mode will be directed on routes optimized for motorcyclists based on where fellow Wazers-on-wheels are riding and the more you ride in the motorcycle setting, the smarter the routing will become. To sweeten the deal, better routing also means you'll see a more accurate projected arrival time at your destination.
That bit about fellow Wazers-on-wheels is crucial. Until the app has collected data from other riders in your area the value of this feature will be questionable. I assume the scenic roads of Arkansas or California will be cataloged much sooner than Kansas? Or possibly your route will detour toward the local biker bar?
Not coincidentally, the app update that introduced this new motorcycle mode also included a voice commands feature. So if you ride with a Bluetooth-enabled intercom system now you'll be able to listen to directions, as well as interact with the app. You can initiate a drive, add a pit stop or (my favorite feature) send a report about road conditions. To enable it you'll need to edit the settings under Sound & Voice. Look for Talk to Waze. Voice commands currently only work in English.
It will be interesting to see how this feature develops. Maybe someday we'll see preferences for adventure riding, or routes with covered bridges? And what about using your mobile device's accelerometer to automatically switch the vehicle type setting? So the real value of Waze to motorcyclists relies on... well, other motorcyclists. The next time you go ride your favorite local twisties, be sure to turn on Waze before you leave!