Risk/reward analysis of PLBs

A recent thread on Sport-Touring.net described a member’s accident while on a solo ride in remote Colorado.

After separating from his bike and tumbling down a small hillside, the forum member remained unseen with a severely broken leg for five hours. Finally, two German tourists saw some accident detritus and stopped to look over the hillside and the rider was transported to a hospital. He was finally seen by a doctor eight and a half hours after the accident.

The accident report got me thinking once again about Personal Locator Beacons (PLB).

The “Pros” of PLBs are pretty obvious:

  • Could save my life in the most dramatic case
  • Could greatly speed up search and rescue in the case of any solo accident in a remote area
  • Works in areas where cell phones don’t (rural Colorado, for example)

However, there are also some cons to PLBs, which is where the risk/reward analysis comes in.

  • Must be manually activated, thus rendering it useless if I were unconscious
  • They’re pretty big — the smallest one is 10oz and is 5.85 x 2.21 x 1.4 inches
  • Would need to be carried on me (in a jacket), since it’s likely I would be separated from the bike. This is a significant risk given the dimensions above — I’m MUCH more likely to break a rib from landing on the PLB in a minor accident than I am to have a severe enough accident to use the PLB in the first place.

So that’s my brain dump on PLBs for the day. Anyone have any thoughts or experience with them?

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9 Responses to Risk/reward analysis of PLBs

  1. Kim says:

    It seems like this would most come in handy when you’ve been missing long enough for someone to come looking for you, wouldn’t it? It seems more practical to me for people with back-country hobbies than motorcyclists, but what do I know.

  2. Stephanie says:

    Not worth the added weight/risk of keeping it with you is my opinion.
    In the same situation, your hiptop/cell phone might work at least as well and are much less likely to damage you on the way down. Otherwise, letting someone know a projected route and ETA when you go off-roading seems like a better plan.

  3. Ken Haylock says:

    Also factor in the risk of accidental activation, and any consequences of that. Also allow for the ‘well she hasn’t triggered her beacon so she must be OK’ effect.
    It seems that when you weigh up the cumulative odds that this thing would be the difference between life and death (you would have to have a certain kind of crash, in a certain type of location, and have sustained a certain specific range of injuries), and the cost of buying it plus the risk of additional problems/injuries caused by it, it’s not really good value.
    Never going trail riding alone would be a better safety measure…

  4. jayrider01 says:

    Is it possible to some how mount the PLB to the bike. Have some form of rip cord attached to the device and the body. So if thrown from the bike the rip cord would activate the PLB. However one has to remember to disconnet the cord when unmounting the bike.

  5. Chris Weiss says:

    Dont forget, you’ve got that loud-arse whistle in your Adventure Survival kit. Maybe look into one of those super-bright long-lasting LED flashers? Glo-Toobs are about the diameter of a whiteboard pen and half as long and can go 80 hours in slow strobe mode – that’s 10 days if you’re conscious enough to turn it off during the daylight hours. Plus, they’re pretty much indestructible.

  6. Durandal says:

    I simply bring my GPS with me along with my cellphone. Unless I’m unconscious, I can call for help and provide GPS coordinates. I never leave home without my cellphone, and I never go on trails without my GPS. Of course, as others have mentioned, give an iterary or trailplan to someone in case you are missing, and such.
    Also, regarding GPS and cellphones, many newer cellphones contain GPS chips that are activated upon calling 911.

  7. toddrod says:

    Just get the beacon, and figure out a way to strap it to your boot or lower leg. It would be out of the way, and you wont break a rib if it was in your jacket… and it shouldn’t be that much of a inconvenience if it was strapped to your lower body. Just my 2 cents

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