Safety is usually a big priority when mountain biking. It can be a dangerous sport with serious consequences. After all, what sport where helmets are used is not potentially dangerous? On top of the inherent dangers of mountain biking, heading into the backcountry for days on end without cell service, or convenience of a nearby town can add to the risk. I am sure you have been asked by your spouse or significant other, “is it worth it?” A trip that involves sleeping next to your bike in the woods or desert is always worth it. Lucky for your loved ones, there is a simple solution to stop the worry. For the past decade or so, SPOT has given bikepackers the ability to do just that. A SPOT device not only allows us to track blue dots during a race, but it also gives spouses, significant others, friends and family members peace of mind.
SPOT Gen 3
SPOT Gen 1 and 2
SPOT was introduced as a subsidiary of Globalstar in 2007. Globalstar realized their satellites were degrading quicker than they had expected, inhibiting the two-way feature on Globalstars satellites, which happens to be Globalstar main service, satellite phone communication. The idea arose to use those satellites as a simplex transmitter (one way) and the SPOT Messenger was born. Since then Globalstar has upgraded their satellite fleet, and SPOT has gone through 3 generations of their popular messenger system.
SPOT Gen 3
SPOT Gen 1 and 2

Gen 3

The SPOT Messenger has stuck to its roots on the outside, and has had some big improvement on the inside. Like the SPOT Gen 1 and 2, the Gen 3 has kept the ‘Help’ and ‘SOS’ buttons. Also carried over are the custom message, tracking, and ok/checking in buttons. These buttons are located on bottom end of the device, and each button has a coinciding light. Along the top of the device are 3 more lights, each light up as you activate their respected feature on the device. Gen 1 Weight: 7.37oz Size: 4.38″ x 2.75″x 1.75″ Power: 2 AA Lithium Gen 2 Weight: 5.2oz Size: 3.7″ x 2.6″ x 1″ Power: 3 AAA Lithium Gen 3 Weight: 4.0oz w/ batteries Size: 3.43″ x 2.56″ x 1″ Power: 4 AAA Lithium SPOT Gen 3 There are a few new features that are worth noting. The SPOT Gen 3 now comes with tracking on the basic plan. The tracking feature tracks once every 10 minutes. If you need faster or slower track times, you can purchase the unlimited tracking upgrade. This upgrade allows you to preset the tracking time to every 5, 10, 30, or 60 seconds. It also comes with motion activation which you can preset on the user interface, allowing you to send emails to friend and family when you start moving again. The device also now comes with 4 AAA batteries rather than 3.

The Test

Hearing nothing but good things from some Tour Divide racers, I was eager to test the Gen 3 out on the Colorado Trail Race this year. The set up of the device was simple, even more so now with SPOT’s user interface makeover. The new online experience is extremely easy and straight forward, much more user friendly than the past, which is a huge bonus.
SPOT Gen 3
Powering on…
Using the device was just as easy with the upgraded buttons. Unlike the SPOT Gen 2 buttons, you will know right away that you clicked the button, as you will feel and hear an actual click. After holding the button for 5 seconds, you will see a green light illuminate letting you know the function is working. The covered ‘SOS’ and ‘Help’ buttons are nicely stowed away with a plastic flap, yet easy to access if need be. Once I strapped the device to my saddle bag, I almost forgot it was there. Not once did I need to replace the batteries in the 5 days on the trail. I also did not have to restart the SPOT every 24 hours for tracking purposes. In almost 5 days, I never touched it.
SPOT Gen 3
Spot Gen 3 connected to my saddle bag.
More recently I tested times on tracking and messages along with the function of the motion activation. I set tracking at 5 minutes with my upgrade to unlimited tracking. Sure enough, every 5 minutes it updated. Some times 4 minutes, sometimes 6 minutes. I did the same for 10 minutes, and it was spot on. Prior to testing on the 10 minute setting, I did have to upgrade my firmware.
SPOT Gen 3
Tracking being activated
I then tested the custom message. While tracking had already been on, it only took 3 minutes to send the message to my phone. All the while the green indicator light flicked on, knowing I properly initiated the function. The final test was the motion sensor. I set the device to stop tracking after 30 minutes. Sure enough I received 5 pindrops (5 min tracking) on my SPOT shared page, and then it went “to sleep.” I then went for a quick walk to wake it up, and it took roughly 10 minutes to drop a pin. Overall very responsive times, showcasing the power of this unit. SPOT and Trackleaders.com have been working closely ever since the inception of the SPOT Gen 1. SPOT sponsored the first Tour Divide with trackers in 2007. In all modes of transportation, Trackleaders.com is truly the leader of the track. I sure do appreciate being able to SPOT stalk each bikepacking race. 

Overall

If I could describe the new SPOT Gen 3 in one word, it would be ease. SPOT had noted what needed to be improved and they did it. Starting with battery life, we all know ultimate lithiums are super expensive. Between adding another battery and the battery saving motion activation, I now know the batteries in my SPOT will last. SPOT Gen 3 The timing upgrade is also an awesome new feature. The basic plan is more expensive now, so that is how they get you, but if you plan on racing in a few events that require a SPOT trackers, than this is the device for you. The Ultimate and Extreme tracking upgrades also give you the option for tracking anywhere from 2.5 minutes to 60. The overall user experience has been simplified, not having to touch the device for 5 days straight is simply awesome. The online setup has greatly improved making it much easier to set up shared routes, change device settings, and now upgrade Firmware directly from you computer.
SPOT Gen 3
Example of the online UI
The new shape, size and weight are all upgrades over the SPOT Gen 2. Finally we have integrated loops that give bikepackers a variety of options to strap the device down. The power button is cleanly hidden on the top right side of the device, and the new design makes looking at your device less confusing, and more intuitive.
SPOT Gen 3
Example of blocked sattelites
These things are not perfect however. Although I have never had my SPOT device fail, people have. SPOT has a very detailed warranty form on their website to get your device taken care of if something goes wrong. Overall the tracking services were spot on on the SPOT shared page and Trackleaders.com, at times however tracking is inaccurate or not existent. The device is supposed to point up to a clear sky, and thats not always possible.

SPOT Gen 3

Annual Cost: $149.95 Ultimate Tracking: $49.95 year  

7 Comments

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  3. How is the SPOT mounted to your seatbag? I just can’t tell from the pic.

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