When out riding, it’s vital that you can communicate with other members. In this page, we’ll discuss the basic recommended equipment and channels we use to keep groups connected when riding together.
The RL4WD recommends two basic types of radios. CB and HAM (amateur radio). CB for starting out or short range and HAM for everything else. While this article is designed to showcase some of the types of communication devices, it can be confusing when trying to figure out what to use. Bluntly, CB and HAM. That's what we use most. The rest is pretty much hit or miss, but let's continue.
When it comes to communication, there are a lot of options. It’s very easy to get lost in these options and show up to a ride without the right way to chat. Below we’re going to break down our recommendations on preferred ways to communicate. It’s up to each local Chapter or Group to decide how they want to handle this.
Communication is essential, group communication is fun! Oh the laughs and joy you’ll share in a riding group when chatting together. Your trail guides will also use communication to explain interesting parts of a trail, history of an area, etc.
Cell Phones (unlimited range) - A good chunk of cell phones are usable in the areas we ride in, with the upcoming 5G networks, coverage should expand many times over. It’s important to get the numbers of everyone in your group before you head out on the ride so everyone can communicate with phones.
Cell Chat (unlimited range) - If your trails have coverage for your carriers (careful here as not all carriers have the same coverage), we recommend using the teamspeak app. These chat rooms will also be displayed on this page so you can see who’s out riding and even communicate with them online! Different chapters will have different channels, some may be password protected. We even have cell radios designed for this use.
Cell Network Radios (unlimited range with cell coverage) - These are becoming very popular and blend a cell phone cell network with a radio-type display. National Motorsports in our office carries these and some Trail Ambassadors are also using these with teamspeak.
Cellphones without data coverage (short range) - If you want to use cell phones where you may not have coverage for all folks, we’d highly recommend getting the Beartooth bluetooth device that creates your own cell grid between your users. The benefit of this is you can still send text, voice, have chat rooms, but also send you location and use may of the features found on your phone for communication. The more users that have a Beartooth, the stronger your local grid will be. This is a newer technology we’ve tested and it works well.
Family Radio Service (FRS), and the General Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) (short range) - Some groups may use simple family talk radios you can buy just about anywhere. They work like a CB but are far less popular.
CB (short range) - Citizen Band Radios are a popular choice for many small groups on one trail system. CBs are cheap and widely available in just about every shape and size. Many getting into riding start with a CB radio for these reasons. However, you’ll begin to have problems with CB range if your group begins to spread out or take a few different trails. Talk with longtime trail riders and you’ll be surprised that many of them no longer use CB’s because it’s only a short distance radio. Combine say, the teamspeak app with a CB and now you have local and long distance coverage (if there is network coverage). Again, pros and cons along with tradeoffs. Talk with your group and see if they use CB’s or not.
Amateur/Ham radio (short, long and almost unlimited range) - Talk with a lot of trail vets and you’ll see that most of them communicate via Ham radio. These radios have the most diverse set of options, are used worldwide, have an outstanding support network, and can communicate over just about any frequency. These radios have a huge range and can be the only way to reach people when there isn’t a cell network and your group is spread out around mountains or over large bodies of land. With a cell phone and a Ham radio, you’re likely to never be out of touch, and that’s the main goal.
Eventually, we’d like to see all Elders, Trail Guides and Chapter leaders using Ham radio since it’s so diverse. Many Ham radios can even jump into the CB, GMRS and other frequencies used by others so it really is the ultimate line of communication that’s used worldwide. Ham is also family friendly and you don’t have crude language like you’d find on CB or family radios.
Ham radio transmitting requires a license, buying and listening you don’t need a license for. This license gives you a unique call sign that only you will own. There are three different classes to this license and each class allows you to operate on more frequencies. The three classes are Technician, General and Extra. The Technician class is fairly easy to obtain, the exam has 35 questions and you need to get 75% f those basic questions correct to get your license. Most say the basic license is a walk in the park and you can study for this test online here https://www.hamradiolicenseexam.com/ among other places. That site has you up and running with a course, class and radio for $75, about the same amount you’d pay for a CB radio.
Please feel free to ask any questions about what your group is using for comms via the online community! You can ask basic questions below otherwise.
Satellite phones, or Satphone, is a type of mobile phone that connects to orbiting satellites instead of terrestrial cell sites. They provide similar functionality to terrestrial mobile telephones; voice, SMS and low-bandwidth Internet access are supported through most systems. Satphones are popular on expeditions into remote areas where terrestrial cellular service is unavailable. Depending on the architecture of a particular system, coverage may include the entire Earth or only specific regions. Cost to use the service run about a $1.00 per minute.
The recent satellite phones are similar in size to a regular mobile phone. Service satellite phones have notoriously poor reception indoors, though it may be possible to get a consistent signal near a window or in the top floor of a building if the roof is sufficiently thin. The phones have connectors for external antennas that can be installed in vehicles and buildings.
An example of a Satellite connection device -