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Garmin Montana 650 Review
Kevin Burnette
Rally Connex

Rally Connex - Mike Burnette - bike on dirt roadIn my line of business, I am often asked what GPS I recommend for motorcycle use.  I’ve been leading motorcycle adventure tours for the last 6 years, and participating in them for many years before that.  We’ve been actively using GPSs on bikes for the last 10 or 12 years.  They have come a long way in that time.  One of the first units I ever had was a GPSIII which had 1.4Mb of internal memory.  Today I’m staring at my Montana which has 3.0 GB of internal memory, plus a MicroSD slot to crank it up as you see fit.  Wow, we’ve come a long way.  Over the years I’ve owned over 16 different GPS units, most of them Garmin.  For ages I have relied on units like the 276C and 60CSx, due to their ability to manipulate tracks and routes with ease.  They have simple menus for each screen option and allow you to customize your display information to suit your needs.  Nuvi and Zumo models came along and tried to bring touch screen menus into our world, but fell short in their routing processing and buried some of the custom setting deep in the menus. 

This new Montana 650 is impressing me more every time I use it.  It is taking the touchscreen menu to the next level.  As a matter of fact, the only button on it is the power button.  The various pages of menus display 9 options at a time, showing an icon and a brief title for each.  These pages can be customized by using a drag and drop technique, so you can bring all your favorite options onto page 2 if you want.  Rally Connex - Mike Burnette - bike on roadEach of the main information screens like the map, compass, or the trip computer will easily allow you to set up each of the information boxes to display what you want.  Example:  When I am navigating a route using the map screen, I like to have important information like Time to Next, Distance to Next, Pointer and Speed.  Plus, if you want to see more map and less info, you can touch the tiny arrow and minimize the info, touch it again to bring them back. 

The display flips automatically between Portrait and Landscape views, depending on how you hold it, which is great when you are walking with it.  When you lock it to your motorcycle you need to lock the screen orientation to landscape, or the vibration of the machine will keep it flipping all day long.  Speaking of orientation, it also compensates for right hand or left hand preferences and you can calibrate the touch locations on the screen.  This makes a difference when you are using wet gloves.  Other preferences like auto zoom, variable shading, text size, track orientation, and direct routing (instead of auto-navigate) are all adjustable.  You can even change your display to a familiar Nuvi form if you prefer.

As expected, it works great as a car navigating device, like any other Nuvi or Zumo type gps.  The real difference is found in how well it functions as a waterproof adventure gps.  The reason why it looks bulky is because it is armored and tough.  Although it has a great rechargeable Li-ion battery on board, it can also run on a few AA batteries, or when locked into the Rugged mount can be wired right to the vehicle power source.  Note: I had to add small piece of foam inside the battery compartment to keep the battery from vibrating away from its terminals, even though it was hardwired in the Rugged mount.

Rally Connex- Mike Burnette - Montana 650 in rugged mount on bikeThe Rugged mount is a great piece of work as well.  It provides a very solid lock, plus power and communication connections in a waterproof pin bar in one swift action.  Tip it in and click, you are ready to go.  For some added confidence that it will actually stay on the mount, there is a small locking screw and a mini screw driver provided (another 10 seconds to complete).  When the gps is not in the mount, there is a small cover that locks nicely over the connectors, then tips forward and blends into the mount when the gps is mounted.  Very slick.

As expected, you also can choose your map type of choice.  The unit will accept many types of maps so it can be used for land or sea.  Garmin offers detail-rich cartography for boating and fishing, topographical maps for off-road excursions, or detailed auto-routing road maps of various details with full embedded information of all the hotels, gas stations, restaurants, ATMs, and attractions.  Only a select few models will accept the new version of mapping called BirdsEye Imagery.  It is an enhanced sort of topo map that contains houses and highlighting on lake perimeters, similar to a scanned in Ministry Services map.  Very useful for off-road use, but gets blurry when you zoom right in as the map density is not clear enough.

There are other small features that prove that Garmin has been reading the notes in the suggestion box.  When you activate the waypoint finder or city finder, it will immediately display those places or waypoints that are closest to you, not simply putting up a huge list in alphabetical order. When you hit the Waypoint icon, it will immediately drop a waypoint where you stand and within two more touches you have a full QWERTY keypad to type in your custom waypoint name, plus a Note section for that waypoint.  Heck, why not take a picture of this spot and save it as well.  It can do that for you with it’s built in 5 Megapixel camera.  Buried in the picture’s info is the exact location and timestamp.  When you download you tracks and routes into Basecamp at the end of the day, those pictures show up as mini thumbnails on your map.  One touch on the picture will bring up the full picture and your notes.

Rally Connex - Mike Burnette - Basecamp
BirdsEye Imagery on left, MapSource Version 5 on right

Do you like to geocache?  This unit is all you need.  Load all the info at home or share wirelessly with a nearby Garmin gps.  All the notes, hints, and coordinates will be included in the download.  Click it into the car or onto the bike or ATV, use autorouting on the roads to get to the parking lot, then hit the trails and find the hidden treasure.  No paper involved, so you are also saving trees too.  Take a picture while you are there.  Did you get a little disoriented while wondering around in the woods?  No problem, you simply select TracBack and follow the Magenta line out.  All with one device - Brilliant.


  • A True multi-purpose GPS for auto, bike, boat, plane, or handheld uses.
  • Built-in waterproof camera.
  • Large 4” display – sunlight readable
  • Excellent Route and Waypoint capacity
  • Excellent ability to customize and adjust each of the menus
  • Multi-power capability (all waterproof): Rechargeable Li-ion, AAs, or hardwire.
  • A bit heavy and bulky for hiking use.
  • Restricted to using Basecamp as the information exchange program.

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