As adventure motorcyclists head further and further into the backcountry of not only the United States but also around the world the need to communicate has become very important. With the advances in cell phone technology and networks the world is essentially shrinking and communication has become a lot easier. However, we still have areas around the country and world where cell phone service doesn’t exist and this raises the question of “how do I tell those back home that I’m ok or that I need help”?
During the planning for my recent trip on the Mid Atlantic Backcountry Discovery Route I started to realize that cell phone networks didn’t cover too much of the Appalachia region that I would be riding. Since I was going to be riding in some of the most remote areas on the East Coast, I decided to start looking for a satellite communicator. As I started to look at products on the market, I quickly noticed that price and capability was going to be an issue. I didn’t really want to spend over $200 dollars and I wanted something that I could text my family through on my iPhone 12. At this point my options were limited however, the online motorcycle camping store Moto Camp Nerd did have something that did fill my needs, the ZOLEO Satellite Communicator.
As a rising star in the satellite communication segment ZOLEO wanted to develop a satellite communicator that was cost effective yet worked seamlessly with existing smart phone technology. They wanted to develop a product that could act as a locator but enable the user to send text messages through a smart phone app via blue tooth. The ZOLEO will prioritize sending messages through Wi-Fi followed by cell network and finally the Iridium satellite network. Messages that are sent via Wi-Fi and cell network don’t count on your subscriptions monthly limit. Essentially, ZOLEO has extended texting capability for those that go beyond existing cell phone networks. Another great feature that ZOLEO added was the ability to get Dark Sky weather forecasts which is a great tool to have when riding in the backcountry.
Now in order to access the Iridium satellite network you have to set up a monthly subscription with ZOLEO. Theirs three different tiers for subscriptions ranging from $20 dollars, $35 dollars, and $50 dollars. All three tiers have free Wi-Fi and cell network messaging with the biggest difference between the tiers being the number of satellite messages that you can send. The subscriptions are billed monthly and if you don’t think that you will use your communicator that often you can suspend your service for a $4 dollar charge which keeps all of your information and emergency contact info but it doesn’t allow you to send messages through the communicator.
Once I purchased my ZOLEO and it arrived, setting it up was very easy. As the locator charged, I went onto ZOLEO’s website and purchased a monthly subscription for $35 dollars that enabled me to access the Iridium network and set up my emergency contacts and quick message options. Once my communicator was registered and my subscription was set up, I was good to go. The first testing messages that I sent were basic texts and I was able to send my current location. One great feature with the ZOLEO is that it has a check in button and an SOS button that does not need to access the app on your smart phone. Basically, if you get in trouble just press the SOS button and your emergency contacts get your position so that they can alert first responders in that area. With the ease of setup and use I was confident the ZOLEO would work great on the Mid Atlantic BDR.
A few days later I was able to use the ZOLEO for the first time in the field as I spent the night at Back Bone Rock National Recreation Area just south of Damascus, Virginia. In this rural mountainous area, I was able to connect to the Iridium satellite network with no issues and sent my family numerous texts as well as my position for the night. I was kind of surprised at how well the ZOLEO connected to the network since I was under a heavily forested tree canopy which can sometimes play havoc with GPS communicators since a direct line of sight to the open sky is desired.
The only complaint that I had with my ZOLEO was the Dark Sky weather forecasts. While connected to the Iridium satellite network or a cell network the weather forecasts did not update which was frustrating at the end of the day as I was planning the next day’s ride. The forecasts would update if I was able to get Wi-Fi service which was very rare in parts of rural Virginia and West Virginia.
Throughout my trip on the Mid Atlantic BDR I used the ZOLEO at night when I had wrapped up riding for the day. I had no issues connecting to the Iridium satellite network and I was able to send my family and friends texts and my position regardless of terrain or location. The battery life of the communicator was amazing and I never had to charge it on my ten-day trip. For the price point and its capabilities, the ZOLEO satellite communicator has become one of the best gear purchases that I have made in a while and now it resides in my tank bag every time I head out on a ride.
Author - Dana Brown