My Garmin zumo 396LMT-S installed on the handlebar of a Yamaha Tracer 900 GT.
My Garmin zumo 396LMT-S installed on the handlebar of a Yamaha Tracer 900 GT.

Motorcycle-specific GPSs are designed for our unique needs as riders: they’re weatherproof, with adjustable mounts designed for handlebars, and they often include moto-related features like Pandora music streaming, real-time weather and preloaded destinations like motorcycle dealerships, hotels and gas stations.

What often makes them unattractive is the price, and that’s part of what makes Garmin’s new zumo 396LMT-S so awesome: it retails for just $399–that’s $100 cheaper than the model it replaces. How often does that happen in the tech world?

The 4.3-inch zumo 396 is the little sibling of the 5-inch zumo 595 LM (which we reviewed last year), and despite its long list of features it’s $300 less expensive, making it the easy choice as far as we’re concerned. And for once most of those features are actually useful rather than just something cool some software engineer came up with.

These include:

  • Adventurous Routing – using three sliders for curves, hills and avoid highways, you can tailor your route to be fast or fun
  • Rider alerts – for things like school zones and upcoming sharp curves
  • Trip Advisor points of interest – very useful when searching for something nearby, like a good place for tacos!
  • Free live traffic and weather
  • Bluetooth connection to your phone and helmet communication system
  • Easy Route Shaping for simple touch-and-drag route adjustments
  • Garmin Real Directions – uses landmarks for guidance (e.g., “Turn right after the red building”)
  • Programmable maintenance alerts for your bike
  • Automatic Incident Notification – sends a text to a predetermined contact in the event the unit detects a “sudden” stop
The 396LMT-S is everything you need, nothing you don't: a power cable that connects to your bike's battery, a handlebar RAM mount, a USB cable and of course the GPS itself.
The 396LMT-S is everything you need, nothing you don’t: a power cable that connects to your bike’s battery, a handlebar RAM mount, a USB cable and of course the GPS itself.

The 396 also features newly simple route sharing, which lets you share a GPX route stored on your GPS with other 396 owners (for now it appears to only work between 396s, but we imagine all new zumos from this point will have this functionality). With just a few buttons, you can share your route directly via Bluetooth or through Garmin’s Smartphone app, which is free and necessary if you want to get the most out of your GPS.

The app also serves as the bridge between your phone and the GPS, so you can search for locations on the phone and with one button send it to your GPS or share it via text message or email with a friend, with or without a preset message (“Meet me at: Little Thai Fine Dining”).

Although obviously kludgier than just looking something up on Google Maps and following the directions, the advantage here is that you don’t have to have your phone out and attached to your handlebar where you can see the map. It’s a few extra steps to look it up on the app or the zumo itself, but not bad once you’re used to it.

Everything worked great on our test unit, in fact, with one notable exception. After working flawlessly for a couple of weeks, one morning (the first morning of my Three Flags ride) my 396 started throwing up Incident Notification alerts. It seemed to think I was continuously crashing, and helpfully gave me the nearest intersection so I could direct first responders to my location.

The problem was, I wasn’t crashing, I was just cruising along, and the alert takes up literally half the screen. Fortunately I hadn’t enable the text messaging, or else my boyfriend would’ve been bombarded with panic-inducing “Jenny’s in a ditch in Mexico!” messages.

This continued the entire trip, more of an annoyance than anything since I only had half a usable screen now. I contacted Garmin when I returned home and they sent me a new unit without question, requesting my defective one to be returned so they could look into it.

Other than that, I have no complaints about my zumo 396, and have been using it regularly. Since it only has one power cable to route and no extraneous USB inputs or jacks (more stuff I just don’t need), it’s super easy to install, and all software updates are done via your computer over Wi-Fi, so the only reason to use the supplied USB cable is to plug it for GPX file transfers.

That’s not to say it’s perfect–the screen could be brighter and please, Garmin, give us an “unpaved” Adventurous Routing option–but its functionality is the best yet and the price is tough to beat. 

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  1. So you want off-road adventurous touring? Well, if this new 396 works as poorly as my disaster of a 395LM does, just select “unpaved roads” in the list of things to avoid in Avoidances – it will ignore your selection and continually route you onto unpaved roads anyway! 🙁

  2. I used a Garmin on my first long solo trip a few years ago, but I quickly gave it up in favour of Google Maps. I like Google’s directions much, much better – it alerts you a lot further away and tells you which lanes to be in – and it also doesn’t come out with “Recalculating!” when you’re in the middle of a spaghetti junction in Ventura with no idea where you’re going!

    Let me see – spend $400 for another electronic gadget – or just use the free one on my phone? The only advantage I can see is if you’re frequently heading places without cell coverage … which most people aren’t.

  3. I’ve been an active user of a Zumo 660. By active user I mean I have been creating routes using the zumo and Base Camp that are shared with hundreds of other riders at many group ride events.
    The ability to share routes and edit routes is very important.
    My Zumo(s), (I had one stolen), have been dropped at speed, rained and haled on, taken the vibration of my bike for over 50,000 miles. I cannot see a cell phone (iphone in my case) taking that abuse. I have mounted the phone on the bike and found it impossible to work with my gloves and watching it vibrate sent shivers to my wallet. I don’t know if there is an app that will record your route, a feature I need.
    My spring trip this year took me to many areas without cell service, my zumo never skipped a beat.

  4. I had the exact same problem with the incident alerts. I’m on my second unit and now it’s having the same problem. Honestly, these units are garbage. I’m about ready to just go put my old 550 back on the bike. Never had any problems with it.


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