Bike to Base Camp Communications

assquatch20

New member
Been thinking about how to communicate from my truck to my bike when the girlfriend is at camp with no cell service and I'm out on day rides. GMRS might be good but unsure about practical range in Appalachia. Any advice on this sort of stuff? How do you do it? Starting to lean towards satellite units but we would each need one and I'm not sure we travel enough to justify even a monthly subscription, but I do ride enough to probably justify one.

Still curious about radio options though. GMRS seems good on paper but maybe not so much in the mountains. Easier to get into for my girlfriend and myself versus ham but I'm not sure either would work well here without well placed repeaters.
 

Ozarker

Pontoon Admiral
I've never heard of a guy leaving his GF at camp to go riding! Where do you camp? (LOL)

All primary means of radio commo is "line of sight" regardless of mode (AM/FM/CW) or frequency. A secondary means of radio contact is by "skip" or "bounce" where a radio signal bounces off of atmospheric conditions and returns back to earth, this type of transmission and receiving a signal works best at lower radio frequencies covered by the Ham frequency bands, but includes GRMS, and the type of antenna becomes critical to direct a signal in the desired direction.

GRMS frequencies are generally operated with omni directional antennas, an example is the "whip" vertical antenna attached to a handheld unit. Search for images of radio antennas used by Hams, most likely the most diverse use, to show directional and omni directional antennas.

So, without going to radio school, just about any radio will do if you're both in Kansas, in the mountains, it doesn't really matter what radio or mode is used, commo will be hit or miss as the signal works or is blocked by terrain features.

Power used to transmit is also critical, generally, the more power used the better the chance the desired contacts will be, but power has several limitations. Radios have limitations, regulations limit power within frequency bands, antennas will also limit power output. That said, good radio operating procedures dictate that no more power than necessary to affect the intended contact should be used. Using too much power can cause problems for the parties attempting to communicate as well as other problems for other operators and, in general, the public. Using too much power can also be illegal.

Satellite phones are an obvious solution but the cost of equipment and usage deter most from casual contacts. I'll mention that Ham's who specialize in the use of low power rigs (QRP) using advanced directional antennas bounce signals off of terrain features and the Moon, to direct signals back to earth, but this can only be accomplished by a stationary operator. There are also Ham communications with satellites but I'm not in that group.

All said and done, I'd suggest you try 2 meter and 6 meter mobile rigs as your camp station and a handheld or small mobile rig on the bike. BTW, was "bike" a motorcycle or a bicycle? A mobile rig will need a 12V battery, the bigger the better, but a motorcycle charging the batter during operation will work, but may not have full power output if the power input is limited.

The range is limited with GRMS radios, they are low power, antennas are limited and they are only reliable within a few miles, often less than 5 miles on a good day. If you ride anything for more than an hour away from the base station, chances are very slim you will make a radio contact. Which is why I suggest 2 and 6 meter Ham, you are allowed to use more power, there are various antenna types that would benefit your operation and you'll have different modes to meet local conditions.

I assume you can pass a simple Ham radio test, it's only a couple of degrees harder than a driving test. If you bear down and get an "Extra" class license, you could use 500 watts of power, a beam antenna on 80 or 160 meters and talk to almost anyplace in the mountains, with a better understanding of radio operations.

If I were you, I'd get her a bike so she could go with you, if she can't or won't, make simple contacts on a schedule that is prearranged and you can make a point of getting to a desirable area to transmit on 2 or 6 meters, then on GRMS but with limited range.
 

DaveInDenver

Middle Income Semi-Redneck
How far do you intend to ride from base camp? If don't plan to be more than a few miles dead reckoning from each other satellite comm isn't really necessary and regular two-way radios are free air time.

Although an InReach two-way isn't nearly as costly as sat phones so it could work just for checking on each other. If you intend to hold text conversations it could get expensive and it's not necessarily going to be real-time, immediate like you're used to. InReach and SPOT messages require having a satellite in view so you might have a few minutes of instantaneous communication followed by 15 minutes of delay as the constellation visibility goes through it's normal pattern.

For this discussion GMRS and 70m/UHF amateur is essentially the same thing. The difference being mainly the quality of radios. Off the shelf GMRS portable and handheld radios tend to be fairly low quality compared to ham radio. They don't have to be per the FCC rules it's just that true 5W, full bandwidth (20KHz) GMRS radios aren't typical.

Both ham and GMRS may use repeaters but there are many more well placed ham repeaters. Here in Colorado there's rarely not one that I can reach, although it may take moving to a high spot locally to reach it.

This is one system we have, a state-wide connected system call the Colorado Connection as an example for coverage. If you reach one repeater your message will be on all of them in this case, so it's a good system to have available for help.

colcon_repeaters.png

You can look them up on the Repeater Book. It's got most all amateur radio repeaters and GMRS are being populated.

https://www.repeaterbook.com/index.php/en-us/

In dense vegetation amateur 2m/VHF will have a slightly better performance over GMRS/70cm/UHF. VHF is not going to be perfect but UHF tends to fade more in vegetation.

Satellite comm will suffer some of the same issues with tree coverage and landscape shading, so don't expect miracles. If you're in a canyon and a handheld GMRS doesn't work then it's possible your window of visibility to satellites is also small. Either way you will have to get out of the radio shadow.
 
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deserteagle56

Adventurer
What Ozarker said!

In mountains only reliable communications is by satellite - and then you have to make sure your units have a clear view of the sky.

I'm part of a Sheriff's Search and Rescue unit. We use HAM radios, and the fancy Hi-band units the Sheriff's Department uses with their mountaintop repeaters. And I can tell you that down in a canyon where the radio can't "see" a repeater or the other unit, they do not get out. Why we also carry a satellite radio and InReach units.
 

craig333

Expedition Leader
I'd give GMRS a try. Radios are fairly inexpensive and all you have to do is pay $35 to be legal. May work okay for you or may not. You probably should be carrying some type of satellite device just in case of an emergency.

Around here we have a plethora of 2m repeaters. You can usually hit one no matter where you are. Not always. If you and your GF want to get your technician licenses you'd probably find that would work better than GMRS.
 

Hegear

Active member
I use ZOLEO, takes a little while to get comfortable with it but it has never let me down. Light very small, and so long as it can see the sky it works.

Once you have paid the sign up fees and had activated for 3 months you can switch off/on service anytime. It costs $4 a month to keep your number. I just activate when leaving on a trip.

Hope this helps.
 

assquatch20

New member
Thanks for all the replies. Definitely want to get the girlfriend riding as well (motorcycles) and I probably do need an SOS device so I'm considering satellite options pretty seriously. That said, I'll probably still pursue radios as time goes on. Might be more useful when wheeling in the truck with other vehicles. Will need helmet comms if she starts riding as well. I have two dual sports for this kind of stuff but one bike doesn't really have a charging system. It may get one someday.
 

Ozarker

Pontoon Admiral
IMO, GRMS is fine for short distance como, say you're staying in a campground, you can call back to camp from the outhouse and ask for more paper if they run out. They are cheap radios and handy, but don't expect reliability a mile away in high terrain.

Just to be clear, every radio, or any radio transmission device is subject to FCC regulations, that includes GRMS. All radio frequencies in the U.S. and its territories are governed by the FCC, while an operators license isn't required for every gizzmo, the manufacture of the gizzmos is under license.

Which kinda leads to another point. Operating radios correctly and efficiently is a skill that requires a bit of knowledge. Running around in the middle of nowhere, where others don't usually go can be a dangerous thing, especially by yourself. (part of the adventure!)

So, being out there, you should be able to operate any mobile radio rig out there. You may never need to operate someone else's radio in an emergency, but then again, you might. Might check out the different mobile rigs and HT's, youtube has all kinds or reviews and instructions. Need to know before you go.

BTW, I agree about those repeaters, Hams have pretty well covered the country. given the time, patients and knowledge you might contact someone in San Fransisco from Dallas on 2 meters, but it will take awhile.
 
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In case this wasn’t already clear, a higher antenna in base camp will improve performance of radios that rely on ‘line of sight’ frequency propagation (e.g. VHF/UHF ‘ham’ as well as GMRS radios). Antennas can be elevated on lightweight telescoping aluminum poles that are attached to a tripod base or a flat plate that is held firmly on the ground beneath the wheel of a vehicle.
 

craig333

Expedition Leader
You do need to know your radio. Just got back from a trip where we used GMRS. Only they used privacy codes. Quite a cluster**** getting everyones radios programmed up. Worked well once we did.
 

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