If you’re the kind of person that thinks a good ride is one that takes you as far away from people and civilisation as possible, then you’ll likely be aware how quickly a small accident or mechanical issue can turn into a real problem.
Even the most misanthropic adventurers amongst us will still probably have some people we'd like to reassure of our safety or reach out to in the event of a problem, and that’s where this box of tricks comes in.
As the name suggests, the Gen3 is a GPS tracker, but it’s a very different proposition than your common or garden GPS. It doesn’t do navigation for a start but it does have a whole host of other features built in.
It’ll obviously track your location and it’s possible to share and let people track your progress via Google Maps. It’ll send your location at 10 minute intervals, though it is possible to reduce that down to 2.5 minutes if you cough up as additional €99 on top of the annual €165 service subscription. That might sound like a lot of cash for real time tracking, but the Gen3 has a few other tricks up it’s sleeve, namely the ability to send pre-set ‘check in’ and ‘assistance’ messages via SMS or email to a preselected list of people, independently of there being any mobile phone coverage.
It does that by using a commercial satellite network to pass on your location from the GPS satellite system and it means you should be able to get a message with your position through within 20 minutes pretty much anywhere on earth.
If the unmentionable really has hit the fan, then the Spot has an ‘S.O.S.’ button that fires your location to the GEOS emergency response centre, which will then dispatch a search and rescue team to your position.
Gen3 trackers have actually been used in almost 5,000 rescues to date, so while it’s not something you’d hope to use – or that we tested – it’s nice to know it works.
The unit itself is a tough little rubber-cased item that is easy enough to attach to a backpack or bike. Special mounts are available, but to be honest we just popped it in our backpack and it worked just fine.
As with all GPS devices, location accuracy varies dependent on the terrain – heavy overhead coverage such as in a forest will affect it negatively – so the better view of the sky is has, the better it’ll work.
Battery life is provided by four AAA Lithium cells, but it’s possible to also use NiMH rechargeable items or keep it running from a USB power source. The unit has motion activated tracking so it switches off when you’re not moving, saving battery life.
It’s also waterproof to a depth of one metre for 30 minutes, which should help it survive all but the most harrowing of river crossings.
The user interface on the unit is pretty basic, with rubberised buttons to do the basic functions. The assistance and S.O.S. buttons are protected from accidental use by simple flaps that cover them. It’s not fancy but it does the trick. Settings for the tracking interval, custom message and more are all altered using a web interface, but there is also a smartphone app for iPhone and Android that allows you to see what messages and track points your unit has sent.
It’s small wonder the Spot Gen3 is compulsory equipment for a number of ultra-endurance events such as the Highland 550 and the Tour Divide. If you’re looking for something to reassure yourself and loved ones if you’re nipping out for a quick solo spin, it’s probably overkill unless you regularly push your limits in an area with no phone signal.
The subscription costs also begin to mount up if you want the shorter tracking intervals, too, which probably is a bright idea for mountain bikers – you can get quite far off track in that time. However, if you’re heading out on a big adventure, then the peace of mind given by having this little unit gently flashing away and sharing your location will outweigh any cost issues.