One of the issues of riding in the remote places we love to go is, what if something happens? Cell phones don’t always work, and there are a lot of guys who just plain ride alone. How would anyone know if something has happened? Well, now there are a number of personal tracking devices that utilize satellite communication, and one of the most popular is the Spot 2.
It is basically a beacon that sends your position information and has the ability to send a few different types of alerts to notify others. About the size of your palm, the GPS Messenger is built into a rugged plastic case, is basically waterproof and can be attached to bike or body or carried in a pack. It has a number of functions, some of which depend on the service you purchase. The unit retails right at $150, but there are some rebates to put the price at $100. The yearly basic service package includes an SOS, Help, OK and Custom Message transmittal and costs $99 a year, and I’d suggest adding the $49.99 Tracking Service and the $12.95 GEOS Rescue Benefit. Then someone sitting in front of a computer, with access to the Internet, can watch where you are in 10-minute intervals, as well as receive notifications via text or email.
The groups I ride with and the people who watch us have a system of knowing what to do and who to contact for each person depending on the limited information that can be transmitted via the Spot. The unit has been, thankfully, just a way to check in and say, “I’m OK” when off the grid and cell phones don’t work. I’ve personally seen and been involved in responses to “Help” messages sent out (it sends the help text or email every five minutes until turned off, but doesn’t notify rescue authorities, just friends) and I’ve also read many of the stories about people having to push the SOS button (which contacts rescue authorities) in horrible situations. The instructions for the usage are simple and complete, and for the most part the units operate perfectly. You set up the messages that will be sent out and the contact lists on Spot’s website, and you can have different profiles for different groups or trips.The issues that arise are due to limited or difficult satellite reception; for instance, in deep canyons and in very dense forest or storm cover. Another difficulty is that the user of the Spot cannot be sure the person on the other end is receiving the information, either by lack of reception (rare) or by not paying attention (much more common). The indicator lights on the Spot tell you if there is reception. Neither is the fault of the unit itself, with which I’ve had no problems in two different variations over two years. The buttons aren’t the easiest to use, but they are also designed so they don’t get pushed by accident. In fact, the Help and SOS buttons now have protective covers. The additional custom message button has been useful as a “help light” notification when things didn’t go as expected and I end up late arriving someplace. Tracking allows someone watching you via computer to see that you are moving. There are even ways to set it up so the Spot posts to your Facebook, Twitter or a specialized adventure page so the world can watch you. Overall the Spot has brought peace of mind to both myself and those who worry about me, and has been one more layer of a security blanket when out alone.