Tuesday, September 10, 2013

An Easy way to Track and Be Tracked

I do almost all of my riding solo. In fact, I do nearly of my training solo, the occasional lane mate in the pool not withstanding. That’s fine, but I have always been concerned about someone knowing where I am. It might not help, but it certainly can hurt should the worst happen.

Over the years I’ve looked at various devices but have always been turned off by two factors:

1)      Initial price
2)      The cost of ongoing service.

For example, Garmin makes a device called the GTU10 which essentially combines a GPS unit with a cell phone. You can pre-program it to send alerts to your choice of recipients and they’ll know where you are.

There are similar devices such as the SPOT Satellite tracker which also contains some messaging ability and costs a little less (though the annual service fee is apparently quite a bit more than what Garmin gets).

Nevertheless, I’m not particularly interested in forking over a hundred bucks or so plus more money each month (or year). I already do enough of that between Directv, Sirius Radio, etc.

Last week however, I heard a new product from Road ID mentioned on Brett Blankner’s “Zen and the Art of Triathlon” podcast. This is an iPhone app that provide the basic services of tracking and, should you be stopped more than 5 minutes, emergency alerting.

Truthfully, I would probably pay a few bucks for this app, but it’s actually free. I simply downloaded it to my iPhone, entered a few details and, using my contacts list, was able to send a text to my wife when I headed out the door. That text included a URL to track my progress. Road ID calls this process an “ecrumb.” If you stop moving for more than 5 minutes, an alarm will sound indicating that an alert is about to be sent to your contact(s) advising them of possible trouble. This provides you with the option to cancel the alert.

Did it work? Absolutely. I headed way south of home but since I was in cell phone range the whole time, my wife was able to track me multiple times during the ride. In fact, when I got back to the house, she was expecting and was holding the door open for me to bring my bike inside.

One other feature that I did not use is the lock-screen feature. This basically turns the lock screen on your phone into a sort of Road ID on its own. Assuming whatever calamity that caused the need for you identification did not wreck your phone, anyone coming upon you will see the data on the lock screen.

Of course, because any kind of bike crash could very easily mean a trashed iPhone, they still recommend using one of their physical ID bands. That’s probably sound advice.

As the welcome e-mail I got from Road ID indicated, that this is still in beta testing so there may be a few bugs. My wife noticed that the auto-refresh was not working so well and she had to reclick the link to see it again, but that’s not such a big deal.
Another drawback is the fact that at present, this app is only available for the iPhone though they say an Android version should be out soon.

In any case, for those of you who hit the open road on the bike, sometimes a ways from home, this is just a little bit more reassurance for you and for those who care about you.

Thanks for reading!

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