Author Topic: Communication  (Read 6968 times)

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Offline Edbu1

« on: February 09, 2021, 02:14:08 pm »
I am planning a coast to coast ride. I will be by myself, with my wife driving a SAG wagon nearby. Being as cell service is not available for the entire route, are there recommendations for keeping in touch? I would expect to stay within 5 miles of each other, and want to be able to stay in communication. GMSR radio does not reach that far. The InReach service is a possibility, but comes with a monthly fee. Are there any suitable options?

Offline John Nettles

  • World Traveler
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  • I ride for smiles, not miles.
Re: Communication
« Reply #1 on: February 09, 2021, 02:49:19 pm »
Maybe a GOOD old CB (walkie talkie)???  I am pretty sure the base unit can get 5-miles but don't know if a the hand held unit does.

You may not have that much area without cell phone coverage and for those periods, the better half could just stay within a few miles of you and if you have not passed by in say 20 minutes (based on riding 6-minutes per mile), she could drive back to find you so you would only be out of range a max of 10 minutes.

Have a great trip!

Tailwinds, John

Offline BikePacker

Re: Communication
« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2021, 10:40:08 am »
Some thoughts "Ed" ….. 
There are 5 main radio 'types' that claim to go 5 miles. 

In summary, as relates to your 5 mile specification:
My experience has been, given that nothing is in the way, that 3 out of the 5 can actually be relied on to do so.   
Furthermore, if one does not want to get an FCC license then it reduces it more so to CB * (& possibly MURS ** …. with an extremely remote possibility of FRS***).

Said 'type' radios are listed in order of stock FCC-legally purchase-able Wattage (aka, power) output which is the biggest determinate, all things being equal, in how far one can reliably communicate 5 miles….
1.   Amateur Radio (aka, Ham Radio). Power output is typically 5 to 100 Watts and even more. The handhelds are 5 to 8.  Legal requirement: FCC License.
2.   GMRS (aka, General Mobile Radio Service).  Power output is 2 to 50 Watts.  I do not know what the typical handheld range is.  Legal requirement: FCC License.
3.   CB (aka, Citizen Band). Power output is 4 Watts.  No FCC License required.
4.   MURS (aka, Multi-Use Radio Service). Power output is 2 Watts. No FCC License required.
5.   FRS (aka, Family Radio Service). Power output is 0.5 Watts. No FCC License required. [2-21-2021 Important Update:
My above statement that FRS is limited to 0.5 is WRONG - APOLOGIES as per my 2-21-2021 Post. One of FROZE's Links
has educated me that as of 2017 the FCC increased the FRS maximum wattage to 2.0 on certain channels.]

Greater Detail:
*Easiest solution is the CB BUT the problem is size and weight on your bike (& part of this is because it takes typically 9 AA batteries to power it … in the vehicle one can use a cigarette plug, IF the vehicle has one – fewer and fewer do.).  IF nothing is in the way, a CB will send and receive 5 miles.
**The next most likely is a MURS.  It is much smaller than a CB; however, the power is only a maximum of 2 Watts.  It might go 5 miles if nothing is in the way.  I do not know for sure.  When you see these for sale if is not unusual for advertisements to give greatly exaggerated communication distance capabilities (e.g., keep in mind that the curvature of the earth actually starts to impede communication at 3-4 miles for a 6 foot tall person, thus 6-8 miles for 6 foot person to 6 foot tall person).  IF there are whole lot of Amazon Reviews saying this is successful for 5 miles, then this would likely be your optimal blend of size – weight – power level.    IF not, then it would probably be best to go with the CB.
***FRS.  It puts out only 0.5 Watts.[2-21-2021 Important Update : PLS see my above CORRECTION - APOLOGIES - In 2017 the FCC increase maximum FRS Wattage to 2.0] Not withstanding the advertisements that portray the capabilities of FRSs sending and receiving 30+ miles, read allllllll the reviews.  I, personally, have NEVER known of anyone to get more than ONE mile with nothing in the way.

If you’d care to discuss in more detail, will be glad to do so - hit me with a Personal Message.  I have tabular comparison chart(s) I could attach and send back your way, e.g./i.e.
« Last Edit: February 21, 2021, 08:29:48 am by BikePacker »

Offline Edbu1

Re: Communication
« Reply #3 on: February 10, 2021, 11:26:23 am »
BikePacker: Thank you for the detailed information. Exactly what I was hoping to see. I am aware of GMRS being only good for about 1 mile, even though the ad may claim 30 miles. I will look into the other options. CB is still around, huh? Keep rhe shiny side up, and catch ya on the flip-flop!

Offline BikePacker

Re: Communication
« Reply #4 on: February 10, 2021, 11:44:25 am »
Ed - You are welcome.  - My privilege.

Offline HobbesOnTour

Re: Communication
« Reply #5 on: February 11, 2021, 10:40:00 am »
Ed, I'm going to tackle this from a different angle. Anxiety.

Anxiety is often the biggest thing holding people back from a lot of things - including a bike tour.

The problem with anxiety is that it can be out of all proportion to the actual risk - and to solve it, or assuage it, may require significant investment in terms of time, money, effort or equipment.

I have no idea of your personal situation, but I'd encourage yourself and your wife to remember that people cycled all over the world long before cellphones were a thing. Anne Mustoe communicated by letter all around the world!

The problem with a system for communication at every moment is that it can induce panic when it doesn't work as expected.

 Managing risk and expectations may be a more comfortable strategy.

Good luck!

Offline Edbu1

Re: Communication
« Reply #6 on: February 11, 2021, 02:20:25 pm »
I hear you, Hobbes! We, as a society, did not know that we couldn't live without cellphones until they were invented. I will ride my bike with or without constant communication. But given the option, I choose to stay in contact. If that can be achieved simply and cheaply, then I will do it. If not, then I will do without. Just like to know my options and make my decisions.

Offline TCS

Re: Communication
« Reply #7 on: February 11, 2021, 08:08:36 pm »
If your group/partners got separated/scattered in the old days on the TransAm Trail, you flagged down opposite-direction riders and asked, "Have you seen..." and described them.   :)
"My name is Pither.  I am at present on a cycling tour of the North Cornwall area taking in Bude and..."

Offline Rixtoy

Re: Communication
« Reply #8 on: February 11, 2021, 10:02:38 pm »

The problem with anxiety is that it can be out of all proportion to the actual risk - and to solve it, or assuage it, may require significant investment in terms of time, money, effort or equipment.

Good points.
When we travel home from a visit, my daughter-in-law always says "Call us when you get home so we know you arrived safely.", to which I forcefully respond - "We will not. If we are injured or killed in an accident I am sure you will get a call. Otherwise, assume we got home safely if you hear nothing."

I might want to stop in a casino for a few days - just sayin' . . .

Offline misterflask

Re: Communication
« Reply #9 on: February 12, 2021, 08:17:24 am »
Entry level amateur licenses are easy to come by these days and would allow you to use the ubiquitous $30 Baofeng handi-talkies.  But 5miles unit-to-unit is a heavy lift and would probably not occur in most areas.  There is amateur repeater coverage in a lot of areas but it wouldn't be 100% US coverage and this is probably way more distraction than you're looking for.

My wife supported my Blue Ridge Parkway tour and we used texting successfully amid -really- spotty cell coverage.  But text messages would queue up in the system and go through whenever you had coverage for a minute.  Our only burble was when I asked her to meet me at the rest area closest to mile 300 and we spent half-an-hour waiting at rest areas at 301 and 299 miles.  But not the fault of the technology.

The Spot X communicator sends texts via satellite, but the recipient would need to have cell coverage.

I used to use an older Spot to let my at-home wife know where I was settling down each night.  It was a pre-condition for touring as she said she didn't want to be one of those spouses whose partner disappeared from the face of the earth and no one knew what happened to them.  She's a pretty good amateur sleuth and figured that armed with a starting point...  But cell coverage has improved quite a bit and I just share my phone location with her.

Offline Pat Lamb

Re: Communication
« Reply #10 on: February 12, 2021, 08:44:08 am »
If your group/partners got separated/scattered in the old days on the TransAm Trail, you flagged down opposite-direction riders and asked, "Have you seen..." and described them.   :)

Or, as my daughter did, when someone pulled over to offer some help, tell them "I had a flat, my Dad is wearing a blue jacket and is on down the road."  The first time I rode that stretch was sweet, coasting downhill at a good clip.  :)

Offline canalligators

Re: Communication
« Reply #11 on: February 12, 2021, 11:21:30 am »
What range do you want?

As stated, CB, FRS and low cost GMRS are only good for a few miles at best.

Amateur or Ham, for utility communication, can cover longer distances, but are dependent on line of sight and a sufficiently powerful (heavy) radio and battery.  Really long distances that you may have heard about are dependent on atmospheric conditions and time of day, so are not what you’re looking for.  Ham is not a turnkey system, you need to learn a minimum to effectively use it, and youtube videos only go so far.  Additionally, the license will take an investment of time and may not be attainable for folks who aren’t generally tech-saavy.  I don’t think ham is a good fit for your needs.

The best bet is probably a higher power GMRS handheld with an upgraded antenna.  I’m not familiar with the market, but shoot for an 8 watt (or more) radio.  At longer distances, the sag driver will need to pull over and exit the vehicle, all that metal shields the signal.  One license is good for your family; it currently costs $70 but the fee goes down to $35 sometime this year.

I don’t mean to scare people off from ham.  I am a ham, but it’s not for everybody.

Offline BikeliciousBabe

Re: Communication
« Reply #12 on: February 16, 2021, 01:41:51 pm »
If your group/partners got separated/scattered in the old days on the TransAm Trail, you flagged down opposite-direction riders and asked, "Have you seen..." and described them.   :)

My first tour (1999) was ACA's Northern Tier unsupported trip. We didn't even bother with that really since the 13 of us never rode as one group. Largest assemblage was maybe 5-6 people, but that wasn't the norm. Groups of 2-3, was more the norm. Sometimes people rode alone. If someone was MIA at the end of the day there was a group voice mail box that you could leave a message in and which could be checked by any tour member.

After about the first week I badly burned an index finger cooking dinner. As a result, I was very slow packing up the next morning and ended riding from Republic, WA to Colville, a day that included Sherman Pass, all by myself. Only the tour leader was somewhere behind me. It started snowing as I approached the summit and snowed for part of the descent, but I was treated to my first ever moose sighting.

Offline froze

Re: Communication
« Reply #13 on: February 18, 2021, 04:15:37 pm »
Even an expensive GMRS like the Moto SL300 at max of 3 watts is only good for an average of 1.5 miles.

And small Ham Radios are only allowed 1.5 watts and are good for the same range as the Moto SL300.

That short range is also true with CB handhelds.

These all say they can reach out 5 miles, but the reality is in a normal environment you'll get half that, and in a city, you'll be lucky to get a 1/4 of a mile, unless you have a line of sight.

However, FRS radios say they reach 35 miles, so I'm thinking 10 to 15 miles would be the norm, which in a city you may get a mile maybe 2?   The Moto Talkabout MR350 is the maximum range model they offer, and the price isn't bad at around $90 each.

Offline canalligators

Re: Communication
« Reply #14 on: February 19, 2021, 10:58:28 pm »
Froze, your info may be out of date, or is not exactly so.

Small ham radios (handheld aka HT) are available with up to 8 watts output.  That will carry farther than a 3 or 5 watt radio, but still not very far.  CB will carry less distance because they're AM and not as efficient.  (Some have SSB, which carries farther, but many CB radios don't have SSB.)  No radio with less than ten watts will reliably reach 35 miles, in any of those systems.  Those are advertising claims based on absolute best-case conditions, not the real world.  OTOH, 35 or 50 watt transceivers, such as a mobile unit designed to mount in a motor vehicle, will reach that range.  But the radio and battery will take up a liter or more of space and weight 2-3 kilograms.  Not an issue in the sag vehicle, but do you want to be dragging that extra weight up a mountain pass?

Another problem is that higher frequency radios (FRS and GMRS are both UHF) are more dependent on line-of-sight and more susceptible to reflections and other phenomena that can interfere with transmission.

I'd still recommend a five watt GMRS, and only expect it to work short distances.  And in most places, just use a cell phone.

BTW, when I tour, I take a 2 meter, 5 watt handheld, with a bike-mounted upgraded antenna and upgraded speaker mic.  And I only take it for fun, not for reliable for communication.