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, we use CB and HAM. That's what we use most. The rest is pretty much hit or miss, but let's continue.
RL4WDA Official Communication & Bands
Preferred - Amateur (HAM) Radio We have been using 446.000 MHz on UHF. 146.460 MHz VHF is the preferred frequency for off-road use. It is best to have a radio that uses APRS, this broadcasts your location so we can see you on maps. We're also programming in the international frequency of 145.5625 for digital FM / Fusion.
Most Used in WI - CB official channel is 16 (no side band) We picked 16 as 4X4 = 16.
Good for Trail Spotting - Family Radio Service (FRS) official channel is 4 (no side band)
The RL4WDA recommends owners of RL4WDs try and get their license to communicate using these types of radios. In a nutshell, Amateur Radio or HAM as they call it, uses the widest range of radio spectrum for riders. It has the highest possible power ratings and furthest range.
Under the right conditions, using the right equipment, Amateur Radio operators can communicate around the globe... without cell towers or satellites. Many consider Amateur Radio the only viable communication tool in the event of a major emergency since it doesn't rely on any 3rd device (servers, cell towers, etc.).
The RL4WDA has a team of dedicated Amateur Radio operators who dictate what frequencies we use.
(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 Trail Guide Ambassadors and riders using Ham radio since it’s so diverse. Ham is also family friendly and you don’t have crude language like you’d find on CB or family radios. However, we're not going to force anyone to use Ham either, CB is usually also fine unless rides specifically say they are going to use Amateur Radio exclusively.
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. Find your nearest testing site and dates here - http://www.arrl.org/find-an-amateur-radio-license-exam-session.
Amateur Radios and antennas can be purchased at many of the same price points as a CB, cell phone, FMRS etc. Anyone can buy a radio like this, but only licensed operators can transmit. Penalties for illegal broadcast can include equipment seizure, massive fines and even jail time. These laws are watched very closely by the licensed public and many are trained to pinpoint broadcast locations very quickly. Point is, don't mess around. We all follow the rules here.
In recent years, it has become far easier to get your license for Amature Radio, you don't even have to know morse code anymore. In 2000 the number of possible amateur radio licenses dropped from 6 to 3. Those are:
Technician - This the entry-level license. You pass a test of 35 questions on radio theory, regulations, and operating practices. The license gives you the ability to use all Amateur Radio frequencies above 30 megahertz. This is usually enough to communicate locally, regionally and within North America. Most of our Amateur Radio rigs have this type of license.
General - This class of license pulls out most of the stops and opens up options for worldwide communications. This license is an additional 35 questions past the Technician class license.
Amateur Extra - This license allows operating privileges on all bands and all modes. It has a 50 question test beyond the General and Technician classes.
Again, it's not really that hard to get your basic Technician license. Lots of us are already licensed. To find licensed active members, please click here.
This is our primary beginner radio communication network for RL4WD. You will want to pick up a handheld or rig mounted unit (or both). Handhelds are great when spotting.
CB or Citizens band radios are meant for short-distance types of radio communication we use in the RL4WD world. They contain 40 channels within the 27MHz (11m) band and are a great way to keep in touch with folks. If you see other radios that looks like CB's but are not the 40 channel 27MHz type, it is typically not legal to transmit with those without an amateur radio (HAM) license. Don't be fooled by folks like Rugged Radios who're trying to tell you their radios don't need a license.
(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. Talk with your group and see if they use CB’s or not.
Common mistakes when mounting the antenna include not being grounded (if mounting to a tail gate for instance, your rubber bushings/seals may prevent a ground when preventing squeaks. Another thing to consider is a top load antenna.
There are 3 different types of antennas,
Top Load, which transmits the signal from the tip of the antenna. This is the most common type of antenna used on the trails.
Base Load, which transmits the signal from the base. Best used on the top of a ground plane like a metal roof. With Jeeps that's hard to do because we can take our tops off.
Mid load, which transmits from the middle of the antenna. Not a typical type used for RL4WD stuff as many have a coil that can hand up on things we see on the trail.
Most trail users use a top loaded antenna mounted from either the side of the hood (best) or tailgate / bumper area (pretty good). We've found that hood mounted antennas tend to perform best and keep your rig from becoming part of the signal interference (bounce back).
The downside of CB is that it's limited to 4 watts of power (or 14 watts on the sidebands). While you don't need a license to operate them, the most range you'll see is 1-10 miles total. Again, great for small groups going out, bad for groups that are spread out over multiple trails that extend over lots of land.
You'll want to tune your antenna. This checks to see how much resistance your system has while pushing out a signal. If a radio system has too much resistance, it can burn out your radio transmitter. It'll also shorten the distance you can be heard. Some radios have a built in SWR (standing wave ratio) meter so you can adjust on the fly. This is preferred as resistance can also come from the environment, not just your radio. Being able to check your resistance and adjust your transmit power will ensure that your radio lasts a long time.
Lastly, you want to make sure you mount your radio in a safe spot so that it's not a danger to you or your passengers.
If you have any questions on CB's please post them below. We'll be making videos on this stuff which will also be posted here. We'll also be reviewing different types of radios and antennas as the years go on and will post them.
Now for the rest of the stuff for those not involved with out rides... 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.
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. But if you're going to have them, we recommend the TALKABOUT T800 Walkie-Talkies by Motorola.
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.
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.