Riding motocross demands accuracy and precision. So does the GPS device you choose. Welcome to the 2023 GPS Device Shootout by LITPro.
Here’s the backstory:
GPS data has been our obsession since we founded the company in 2012. We found that what works brilliantly for a jog in the park or a scenic bike ride may not necessarily rise to the challenge of a motocross track. Motocross is a sport of extremes, with rapidly changing motion and speeds. Unlike the predictable paths for running or long stretched-out roads for cycling, motocross tracks have winding layouts. They feature tight 180-degree turns, abrupt elevation changes, and lanes running opposite directions. Simply put, a dirt bike’s dynamic motion profile radically differs from other sports. It can change direction and speed far quicker than a person running or riding a bicycle. This rapid, multidimensional movement challenges GPS watches' inherent design and tracking accuracy.
We were so obsessed we designed our own hardware (RIP OG LITPro). At that time, no consumer product could deliver accurate enough GPS data to enable us to identify the difference between two motocross laps. So we invented one that did.
We stopped making our own hardware in 2018 for various reasons – an important one being we believed that the quality of GPS data would improve drastically over the coming years regardless of our involvement.
We were right. GPS quality has improved. And it’s going to continue to improve at an even faster pace over the coming years. All that said, not all GPS devices are created equal just yet.
Technically speaking, the challenge with motocross lies in the architecture of many GPS devices, especially watches. Most are designed with built-in algorithms and filters, such as the Kalman filter, primarily intended to conserve battery life or augment weak signals. In more predictable terrains, these filters excel by predicting the next movement based on past data. However, these algorithms may perform poorly in the unpredictable world of motocross, where rapid and unexpected changes are the norm. The results can be a lagging representation of the bike's path or wrong altogether.
Tracking motocross laps is a unique challenge for any GPS device. Our shootout aims to discern which of these twelve devices performs exceptionally well.
Here’s the plan:
We have chosen 10 popular consumer GPS devices and we’re putting them to the test.
GPS Watches Under $500
GPS Watches Over $500
- Apple Watch Series 8
- Apple Watch Ultra
- Garmin Forerunner 965
- Garmin Epix Pro
Precision GPS Devices Under $500
Here is the GPS Shootout Official Bracket:
Here is our rating criteria for devices:
- A top-down visual comparison to a reference GPS device (subjective)
- Lap timing accuracy (non-subjective)
- Show data from #1 and #2 in two mounting locations - on the wrist versus on the handlebars
Why are we testing watches on the handlebar instead of just the wrist?
We test both from the wrist and the handlebar primarily because we know mounting the watch to the handlebar (and wearing a paired chest heart rate strap) is a popular preference for Moto athletes. The heart rate accuracy on the wrist is typically compromised by vibration and debris. For some, the wrist is also not an ideal location due to considerations for injury and comfort. The second and most important reason is that we’ve long observed some watches (especially Polar watches) have much higher GPS accuracy mounted on the bars versus the wrist. We speculate that the GPS antenna on some watches isn’t tuned as well when the human body is blocking signals from satellites. The actual problem goes beyond the scope of this blog post. Still, the difference for some watches is undeniable (as seen in the results below).
What is our reference GPS device?
Choosing a reference GPS is essential because it is required to establish a baseline for comparisons. This isn't a perfect baseline, but you're looking for a tight pattern of laps in the data below. A tighter pattern is considered more accurate and therefore can be regarded as more authoritative. Ideally, you should see the route lines from one lap to the next appear right on top of each other. Variation should only appear when the line is intentionally different (i.e. in corners). Our reference device for this shootout will be the RaceBox Mini S.