You are on your way to South Dakota for the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally the first full week of August in a group of six bikes. You are feeling really comfortable about having a large group of friends to be traveling with. Two of the group are motorcycle mechanics, and everyone is wearing helmets. Everyone is feeling that group ride feeling with precision two-second spacing and a clear road ahead. A deer jumps out of the underbrush right in front of the second rider. He hits it, and the motorcycle behind him hits his ride as it tumbles. You see all this unfold in slow motion and stop quickly and reach for your mobile phone: “No Service”.
You enjoy getting out for a Sunday ride to clear your mind from the week that was. The route you take is less traveled, and that is how you like it. You keep your motorcycle in perfect condition. Oil Changes, good rubber, and tire pressure are always checked before each ride. You have ridden this route 50 times over the years. You know all the turns and all the bumps. Some idiot dropped a board with a nail in it right in the middle of a corner. You see it, stand up your bike to not wash out your front tire, and then you lean back over and finish the turn. Worried you might have some damage, you pull over to check. You can hear the hissing from your front tire as you hit your kill switch. You reach for your mobile phone: “No Service”.
Most of us see No Service at the top of our mobile phones and see it as a temporary inconvenience. But what if you really need service at that moment for a life or death emergency, or for flat tire assistance in the middle of nowhere?
After a lot of research, I narrowed down the list of personal locator beacons (PLB) to the Somewear Global Hotspot. It is a four-ounce, cigarette-pack sized lifesaver in a military-spec water-resistant case that turns your mobile phone into a satellite communication device or single press SOS PLB. I passed on the one-way SOS type PLBs for two reasons.
- You can’t be sure someone got your SOS
- Not every issue requiring help needs to be responded to with a search and rescue team.
The Somewear Global Hotspot acts as an SOS flare, connecting you to the Geos Worldwide Response Center or a hotspot for your mobile phone. Think of it as a Satellite WiFi connection that is always available. This stand-out feature allows you to send messages to email addresses anywhere, as well as send and receive text messages in the USA and Canada. The system communicates via the new low Earth orbit Iridium satellite constellation, which is accessible from anywhere on the globe.
If you need to be rescued and can’t get to your phone, press the SOS button on the top of the Somewear Global Hotspot unit and wait for help. There is a light indicator on the unit that assures you the message was sent. If you need a flatbed tow truck to pick you up, simply text anyone who cares—and watches their phone.
The device must have a clear view of the sky to communicate with the satellites passing overhead. However, if you ran off the road into a deep ravine in the forest, anyone that you previously connected with from the free Somewear app or Somewearlabs.com web app can see your track and alert authorities to your last known position. The app allows you to select how often you mark your trail with a tracking point from 10- to 60- minute intervals.
The Somewear unit is easy to set up and use. The box contains the Global Hotspot device, along with a micro USB cable. The app is free and user friendly. You connect via Bluetooth to your phone from inside the Somewear app. The specifications state the Hotspot will last for over 10 days on a full charge, with sending/receiving 1000 messages and with 10-minute interval tracking. I read many reviews before getting mine, and they all verified the battery life.
You can keep the unit in your pocket, but it won’t be tracking. To get the full benefit by leaving a map track for your select group of followers to see, you need to mount it on your bike facing skyward. It is egg-shaped—3.6” long x 3” wide by 0.8” thick. The unit has a built-in bungee cord for hooking to a shoulder strap or belt, but it was not designed for motorcycle attachment. Placing it face up in a tank bag or using a universal cell phone mount should work, but I would add a fixed tether cord to it just in case I hit a bone-jarring pothole.
You can press a single button for rescue, or send a convenient text through the phone app that you stopped to help a stranded rider, and you will be a little late for dinner—oh, and please call his wife to tell her he is okay and will be a bit late, too. You can’t do that with almost any of the other PLB units on the market today.
One of the great features of the Somewear Global Hotspot is that the app on your phone is what drives the features. It offers real-time weather reporting, from hourly to seven-day forecasts. Somewear has an upgrade to the app in the works that allows you to communicate with similar units from other manufacturers, plus the ability to purposely show yourself as “public,” so everyone in your riding club can follow along your Iron Butt ride adventure.
The map has topographical lines, in case you are wanting to know how steep the next hill is going to be when hiking or mountain biking. Remember that the Somewear unit only weighs four ounces and does not need a phone to work. The SOS button works independently, so you can leave your phone at home when you go for a long bicycle ride or kayak on the lake, knowing help is a button press away if you need it.
The unit costs $350 (plus initial activation depending on the service level that you are activating) and requires a subscription starting at $8.33 per month when contracted for 12 months. The folks at Somewear Labs know that not everyone needs to use the unit every month, so some plans allow you to start and stop on a monthly basis, with prices starting at $15 per month.
If you are only looking for peace of mind on your annual two-week pilgrimage to Sturgis, Daytona, Laconia, or the ROT Biker Rally, you might only pay $15 for that single month and nothing the rest of the year. Remember that the SOS button functionality requires you to have a current active payment plan. I am sure you or your loved ones will find other reasons for you to carry it, such as boating, backpacking, or hunting.
Having the Somewear Global Hotspot unit with me on this trip was the very first time hiking, driving, or riding that I didn’t get an uncomfortable feeling seeing No Service on my phone. There are several PLBs on the market ranging from single SOS button to satellite phones with two-way voice communication. The Somewhere Global Hotspot is the latest generation of this technology, using solid hardware for communicating with the satellite, plus an upgradable app for ever-increasing features. Taking price, size, features, convenience, and service plans into consideration, the Somewear Global Hotspot is my first choice in personal locator beacon technology.