Cycling Along The Way...

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Silver City, NM, United States
Riders of the wheel. Racers, Roadies, Mountain bikers, Touring cyclists, Commuters, and others. Diamond frames, recumbents, trikes, and more. Sharing a web of connections often misunderstood or unappreciated by those who don't ride. Herewith, my attempt to share some of the more rational thoughts that flit around inside my head while bicycling, knocking back a brew or three, or just thinking about life. Reviews of bicycles, gear, touring, and more, plus some unsolicited posts about people, politics, and philosophy. Other things, too. Me: retired, gave up my TV in 1988, avid cyclist, several cross country tours completed with more to come. Your thoughts?

Monday, June 4, 2012

BICYCLE GEAR REVIEW: SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger

Today, I want to review an important communications/safety device that I find extremely useful on the bike, even when I'm not touring.  I highly recommend the SPOT, if you're looking for an easy to use device that lets people know where you are in the world.  When discussing my 2010 cross country bicycle trip with my wife before I left, informing her that I'd be using this device helped her feel more comfortable with my solo trip.

Since I live in Silver City, NM, which is surrounded by 3 million acres of wilderness (a good portion of which is presently on fire, I might add), the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger is a sometimes critical piece of equipment to carry.  Because of the terrain here, I can travel approximately 30 miles WNW to Gila, NM, or 8 miles North to Pinos Altos, NM, or about 25 miles East to the Mimbres Valley and lose cell phone coverage.  So, that handy little device that people in more suburban and metropolitan areas take for granted daily is of limited use in this part of the world.  Day to day local rides are no problem, but, when I get past these markers, the SPOT device is a tool that lets my wife know where I am.  The SPOT also allows me to send a pre-set message to her letting her know that I'm ok or that I've reached my turn around point and am heading home.  While touring, I can also let her know that I'm through bicycling for the day.  Another feature, the Tracking option, allows her to view my travels, real time, on a Google map.  Most importantly, it has a "911" button that will summon the nearest EMS personnel to the latest position recorded by the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger.

Please check the findmespot.com website for the specifics on costs.

This is NOT a recommendation, but a used one is available on eBay for $89.99 with free shipping: SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger - USED.  New ones can be purchased at various online sites, including this one at Rock Creek for $99.99 with free shipping: SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger - NEW.

SPOT SATELLITE GPS MESSENGER:


FUNCTIONS: 
(For more detailed information about these functions, please see: SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger)


SOS: This sends your GPS position/coordinates continuously (every 5 minutes until cancelled or batteries fail) to the GEOS International Emergency Response Coordination Center.  A custom message that was written by you and programmed into the SPOT is also sent to this Center with pertinent medical and/or other information.  This Center contacts the nearest EMS and dispatches it to the GPS coordinates.  The GEOS Center will also contact your emergency contacts to alert them of the receipt of a distress signal.  Anyone can become a member of the GEOS for a small fee and it will cover up to $100,000 in rescue costs that might be charged for a rescue.  Check it out here: GEOS International Response Communication Center

HELP:
A custom message written by you and programmed into the SPOT is sent to  a pre-selected group of people, either via email/text/or both, that you are experiencing a non-life threatening situation and you need assistance.  Some use this to notify people to leave a cache of food or other items at a pre-determined location for those doing off road tours or travels.

CHECK-IN/OK:
With this, a custom message written by you and programmed into the SPOT device is sent to a pre-selected group of people via email/text/or both letting them know that you're ok.  I used this at the end of the day to let my wife know that I was through riding for the day.

CUSTOM MESSAGE:
Again, this sends a custom message written by you and programmed into the SPOT device is sent to a pre-selected group via email/text/or both.  I used this to send a message to my wife that stated everything was fine, ride was going well and I'd be in contact later after I stopped for the day.  It let her know I was ok.  I would send this multiple times in a long ride (greater than 8hrs), which, on a tour, can be almost daily.

TRACK PROGRESS:
(This is an extra service that requires an annual payment to maintain in addition to the basic service of about $100.  It's about $60 extra.  Please check the findmespot.com website for the specifics on costs.)

For touring or for where I live, this option is well worth the annual fee.  By pressing this button, the SPOT device locks on to a satellite and begins sending your GPS position every 10 minutes.  These waypoints are shown on a Google map that my wife, or as many others as you want to know where you are, can view my travels and know my location within 10 minutes of where I was last.  This data can also be saved to your computer.
The gray looking buttons in the center are, going clockwise: Top: start button; Right: Track Progress; Bottom:  Custom Message; Left: Check-In/Ok.
The "Help" button is to the upper left of the center buttons.  The "911" button is to the upper right of the center buttons.
The two gray colored indicators above the center buttons are: On the left, the GPS indicator (meaning the device has connected to a satellite) and, on the right, the "Sent" indicator  (meaning your message has been sent).
Here are some photos of my SPOT device:

SPOT Device next to my cell phone for size comparison
SPOT Device on my Arkel Rack Bag on Jandd Rack
Silvio with SPOT Device on Arkel Bag on Jandd Rack
Close up of SPOT Device on Arkel Bag in its carrying case
The device comes with a carrying case that allows the device to be attached to your arm or, as in the photo above, to the handle of my Arkel Rear Rack Bag.  They don't sell a handlebar mount.  On my cross country trip, I had it inside a waterproof bag on top of my Ortlieb handlebar bag.

Pros?
-See the functions above.

-Small and lightweight.

-Easy to use and set up.

-Relatively affordable "insurance" or peace of mind for you and those who care about you.

Cons?
-Sometimes, it doesn't send out the message.  While touring, that didn't happen, but it has happened after returning home from a daily ride and sending a message to my wife letting her know that I'm back home.  I think, for the most part, that has occurred because I shut the device off before it was sent.  In reviews of the SPOT, others have commented on this failure.  Truly, the number of messages that did not go through I can count on one hand since I began using the SPOT in 2010.  The tracking feature has never failed.  Operator error is the main reason for most failures, I believe.  But, that's strictly my opinion.

-SPOT does require a clear view of the sky to function.

-The SPOT requires lithium batteries.  My assumption is that regular batteries don't deliver enough power to operate the device.  Neither does it use rechargeable batteries or have a USB charger.  Replacement lithium batteries, which are expensive, have to be brought along, just in case.  These batteries do last quite a long time.  The GPS indicator light turns red when the batteries are low.  I have suggested to the company that they look at a USB charging process.  Not sure what impact that would have on the size of the device, if any.  Not sure if they even care about my opinion either.  Most don't.

-An issue unrelated to bicycling with the SPOT and others of its ilk is that it allows people, who are probably not stupid, to act stupidly and to think they now can go longer, farther, deeper into areas they would NOT have thought about doing before because, "Hey, I got this device and other people will save me when I push the "S.O.S." button."  Unfortunately, this has happened and all I can hope for is that they make these people pay for their rescues, if for nothing else, for potentially putting their rescuers in unnecessary and very real danger.  I have lots of descriptive adjectives for these folks, but will refrain since, like all of us, I, too, am capable of doing something even dumber than I've ever done before.  I'm am not immune to making this type of error.  I hope that I wouldn't, but I would not bet money on me or anybody to not be susceptible to this kind of thinking.  Read about some rescues and then you'll understand.  We are them; they are us.

SPOT CONNECT:
There is now a new, updated version of the SPOT called SPOT Connect that can bluetooth to a smart phone that will allow to you send text messages even in areas of no cell phone coverage.  Check it out here: SPOT Connect.  The SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger is still available and supported by the SPOT company.

SUMMARY:
Other devices that serve similar purposes that people claim are fail-safe are available.  Fail-safe?  Ah, not certain of that, but that's why people have their opinions.  I've not seen any research comparing the various devices.  Since I'm not headed off to the Arctic or the world beyond, this works for me for its intended purpose.... keep in touch with my wife, family, friends, etc., and use it for emergencies.  I would say that the success rate of messages for me has been 99.99%.  I can live with that considering my success before this device in areas of no cell phone reception was 0.0%.  It is a significant improvement.  

Does the SPOT address all needs for everyone?  No.  Recognizing and working within the SPOT device's limitations will add some level of comfort to those who care about you.  I also enjoyed knowing that people were following my travels.  Made me happy to know that a few people were interested enough to do so.  Blush.

A tune to keep you company.  This one is for my wife, Eileen, who, for whatever reason, still thinks I'm worth sticking with.  I waited a long time to get married, but I waited for the best.  Sssmmmooocchheesss...