I’ve got a SPOT

TMI? You’ll have to decide that for yourself. The SPOT I’m referring to is a satellite-based tracking device. It can be used for several things but the main functionality is sending periodic reports of your position that can be viewed via a web browser. You can create a private (password protected) web page or a public web page that will show your position. If you ride alone it can be a comfort for a spouse to know that you’re OK.

In addition to tracking your progress, you can also set a “send help” message, and can send it by pushing a button. People on your notify list will get an email or sms message that you need help. You’d use this if you had a mechanical problem in a area without cell phone coverage. I know, the Verizon guy doesn’t want you to know that those areas exist, but we all know they do.

If the worst happens, and you (or someone riding with you) needs medical help, just press the 911 button. The local ambulance/search/rescue people are advised along with your exact location.

If the best happens, and you’re happily motoring along, you can send an “OK” message. The difference between tracking and the OK messages is that the tracking messages are sent every 10 minutes with no current way to alter the timing, and the OK messages are sent when you push the OK button. A lot of long-distance riders do not use the tracking feature, they just push the OK button at the top of the hour.

There are some interesting websites springing up that use the position information sent by the SPOT unit. The SPOT service only displays the last 50 OK messages, and maybe you’re on a long distance multi-day trip. There are ways around the “last 50” limitation.   You can enable Yahoo Fire Eagle to receive your tracking messages too.   Then you can use Jason Jonas’ website Spot Trip Manager to manage your trip / adventure location information and it can contain any number of tracking/OK messages.   It works very well.

GPS Update

I decided that it was time for a new GPS.   The weather radar feature on the Garmin 478 is very difficult to beat – it shows areas of precipitation and storms superimposed over your position on the map.   With the animation, you know which direction rain or storms are moving, and you can gauge how quickly they’re moving.   You basically have 3 choices – sprint ahead and get past them, slow down and let them pass in front of you (not really the best choice), or alter course to avoid them.   I guess there is actually a 4th choice – seek shelter for the night and not worry about running faster or slower or changing course.

After receiving a bill for XM’s Sailor package that runs $30 per month, on top of the $9 per month for XM, I decided the monthly charges were simply getting out of hand.   Time for a change.   I have an iPhone that gives me real-time weather radar, so I can see storms and areas of precipitation and alter travel plans with that information.   No, it’s not as convenient as seeing the information directly on my route of travel, but at $40 per month that’s just too much since I’m already paying for the iPhone as well.   So, I sold the 478 and the XM receiver/antenna.

I bought a Garmin Nuvi 760.   No, it’s not waterproof.   No, it doesn’t show weather radar on my route.   What it does is eliminate $40 monthly from the biking budget and add two things.   First, it has an mp3 player.   I’ve loaded music onto several sdhc cards – 60s, 70s, 80s, country, rock, and classical.   I just pick one and put it into the gps and select “shuffle”.   Second, it has bluetooth and is now paired with my iPhone.   I don’t make or receive calls while riding, but at least I can see who is calling and pull over to return a call or wait until the next fuel/bathroom/photo stop.   I’ve updated to the 2009 maps, and I can use Mapsource to upload waypoints, via points, and routes to the gps.   I can also download tracklogs from the gps, so I haven’t lost any functionality there.

Dealing with the not-waterproof issue on a motorcycle is important.   Sometimes the simplest solution is the best, and until I know differently I will just cover the gps with a ziploc baggie, secured with a plastic bread clip.   Inexpensive and effective.   Hopefully the gps will spend most of it’s time on the bike without the raincoat.

Stay tuned for more on-the-bike usage reports as the miles pile up this season.

Camera repair needed

I love to take pictures, and because of that enjoyment I bought a really nice 35mm camera a few years ago.   It is a grey market Canon EOS 5 slr – grey market because of the +/- f-stop dial in the viewfinder.   The camera focuses where you look, by bouncing a tiny led beam off your eye and focusing where you are looking.   It works better if you don’t wear glasses, but it still works pretty well for me anyway.   For a long time, I just used the USM 28-105 lens that I bought with the camera body, but recently I added a USM 75-300 lens as well.   On to the repair story…

I was taking pictures inside an auditorium, using ISO-800 film (not really my favorite) and the control dial stopped working.   This is a known problem on this type of Canon 35mm SLRs; the control dial internals will come loose and prevent the dial from turning.   Sometimes the dial turns but has no detent stops to hold it in the chosen position – this is what happened to my camera.   Damn.   I had read about this before, but I had apparently been lucky up to this point.   The camera has never been dropped or even handled roughly – there is not a single scratch on the camera body.   Despite that careful use, the camera still failed and a repair was needed.

With a lot of googling and reading forum posts from other folks unlucky enough to share my dilemma, I found a place that would make the repair.   Several posters pointed to Steve at Camera Clinic.   The repair price was very reasonable, he gives a guarantee with the work, and he turned the repair around in a couple of days.   Very responsive via email and the telephone, I recommend that you contact him for camera repairs.   It’s great to recommend someone without having to add all kinds of disclaimers and conditions, isn’t it?

Helmet issues

Well, I’ve decided to switch to a full-face helmet.   The modular (flip-up) helmets are convenient, but I’m not convinced that the convenience outweighs the safety factor of a full-face helmet.   The other issue is a weighty one – the weights of modular helmets are climbing and that doesn’t make sense to me.   Materials for constructing helmets are lighter and stronger this year than last, and yet the weights continue to climb – high enough that I won’t buy another one until the weight comes down.   I had planned to look at HJC helmets at the bike show in Chicago, but didn’t find any to try on.   So, I used the backup plan of a tape measure and a web browser.   I ordered an FS-15 helmet in the size their fitment chart indicated, and it arrived fairly quickly.   It fit OK, not great, but since I can’t go for a ride now (it’s still February in the midwest) an actual ride report will have to wait.

The quality of the helmet was very good.   The paint and graphics are very well done, and the helmet liner is comfortable.   it is fairy easy to slip my glasses on after donning the helmet.   The only issue with the helmet is not actually an issue with this helmet, it is an issue with any full-face helmet.   Convenience.   With the modular helmet, I could flip it up when stopped at a light in town, or to take a drink from the butler cup while riding the Goldwing.   I guess the tradeoff for convenience is lighter weight and better protection.   So for now, I will forgo convenience – but I hope the manufacturers figure out a way to make the modular helmets lighter and more importantly, to submit modular-style helmets to the testing labs to demonstrate their ability to protect the wearer.

Protecting the wearer is really what their all about, right?