Posts Tagged ‘motorcycle radios’

Portable radios can be added as a functional communication system for bikers if it is done right.

There are basically three types of systems.

CB Radio, GMRS, and FRS. The most compatible type of system is CB Radio. This system has been offered by several bike manufactures for some 40 years. If you want to communication with others at rallies or other events you will find that most bikers will be using CB Radio.

FRS and GMRS are high frequency FM transceivers. I prefer GMRS for several reasons. The first is GMRS provides the best performance. 20 to 30 miles of range is possible with high end radios. The second reason is high quality water proof radios are available.

The CB system is set up slightly different from FRS and GMRS. The CB system will require a permanent antenna system, a PTT (Press to Talk) switch mounted in a convenient and safe place such as the left hand grip, and a tank bag.

We recommend a tank bag for several reasons. The radio will be isolated from the elements, and all cables will be routed to one central location other than the biker. If the radio is mounter to the bikers belt for example, the PTT switch cable, the antenna coax cable, the helmet headset cable and the pos/neg power supply cable will all be connected to the radio that is the bikers side.

This is a spider web at best and can’t be safe in the event the biker must dismount quickly.

If the radio is in a tank or windshield bag all cables are routed to the bag. Only one cable (the helmet headset cable) is attached to the biker. Most headsets have a quick detach connection inline making a quick dismount possible.

FRS and GMRS systems are set up the same with the exception of the antenna system. No external antenna system is required and exceptional results are possible with the rubber duck antenna on the radio. CB radio will have poor results from a rubber duck style short antenna.

Expect 25 to 75 yards of distance from this type of antenna on a portable CB and 20+ miles using GMRS with the short rubber duck style antenna.

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There are several communication options available for the biker today. In this blog I have outlined the type of systems, pros and cons of each, cost, and their performance characteristics. In my experience, an educated customer is a happy customer, and a happy customer is a repeat customer.

That said, I am providing the information that I have found to be true for communication systems from my 31 years of experience as an electronic technician and head of R&D.

Here are some comparisons on a few systems on the market today.

Citizen’s Band (CB)
Pros – has been around for a long time. This is the type of system is installed from the factory on Honda, Harley, and Kawasaki.

You must use this type of system in order to stay compatible with factory systems.
CB is very compatible, can communicate with all factory systems (the systems that come on Honda, Harley, and Kawasaki).
Cons – Expensive- the radio, cables, and antenna system must be installed on the bike by a professional that knows what they are doing. The system is a wired system.
It is difficult to integrate other devices such as a GPS, radar detection, phone and MP3 player. Most companies (factory & aftermarket) don’t offer any solution for integration.
There are many pieces to install- radio, mounting bracket, antenna system, helmet headset, lower cord section, and an integration module for other devices such as a GPS, radar detector, phone and MP3 player.
Distance is limited- 1 to 3 miles typically depending on the length of antenna and performance enhancements ordered. (Such as performance tune ups)
Cost– (The J&M System) This system will normally cost around $600.00 for a single user and $850.00 including a passenger. If you add integration of other devices such as a GPS, radar detection, phone and MP3 player the cost will be raised to around $950.00 for a single user and around $1150.00 including a passenger. As of Feb 2011 J&M was the only manufacture we could find that offers an integration module for integrating other devices such as a GPS, radar detection, phone and MP3 player.

Wireless systems – normally Bluetooth
Pros – inexpensive, easy to install, No costly installation required, and the systems follows the user when the user changes bikes. This is because the system is attached to the helmet and not the bike.
Pairs to most other Bluetooth devices such as GPS, Phone, MP3 player and another headset for the passenger. No integration module required.
Scala Rider Q2 and G4 units can pair to other bikers headsets allowing for a closed system conference. (Max 3 bikes)
Will work on any helmet.
Cons – Not compatible with factory systems (the systems that come on Honda, Harley, and Kawasaki).
Max number of bikes in a conversation at one time (3).
The riders in the group must use the same brand of headset. Other brands and models are not compatible.
Limited range- 1640 feet for the Q2 and 1 mile for the G4
Cost – (The Scala Rider System) The headset for a single user is around $200.00 for a Q2 and around $325.00 for a pair. The G4 is around $270.00 for a single headset or around $440.00 for a pair. These prices were as of Feb 2011 but have been informed that the prices were about to increase soon. It appears the supply and demand rule has had an effect on the market. These units are in very high demand and have been for several years.

GMRS and or FRS – small portable radios that are added to another manufactures system.
Pros – Moderate cost, small radio, no antenna system has to be added to the bike.
Can communicate the most distance. Typically 7 -15 miles
The Moto-comm system is extremely integrated. Designed to integrate a GPS, MP3 player, tape player, CD player, phone and intercom system. The cost of this system is moderate especially when comparing to the J&M system.
Cons – System must be put together and installed by a professional.
Normally dealing with two or more brands of equipment. One manufacture for the basic system and another for the GMRS radio.
System must be installed on the user or in a tank bag. The system involves multiple pieces and all are portable operating on batteries. This system can make you feel like you are in a spider web. A cable connects from the headset to the main unit in your pocket or tank bag. Another cable connects from the radio to the main unit. Another connects from the PTT switch on the handle bar back to the radio. Another cable connects from the GPS to the main unit and finally another connects from the MP3 back to the main unit. I think you can see my point. J&M tried this approach and with a few years pulled the item from the market.
The GMRS radios are not waterproof and the primary unit is not waterproof.
Cost – (The Moto-comm system and Motorola T series radios) This system will normally cost around $450.00- $500.00 including a passenger. The system includes integration of other devices such as a GPS, radar detector, phone and MP3 player and I have added the cost of the T series Motorola radios (1 per person) as well.
Consideration- The Moto-Comm system is extremely versatile. It can be used with a portable CB radio for about the same price or with two different radios (CB and GMRS) for maximum compatibility for about $100.00 more. The use of a tank bag to house most of the individual pieces make the most sense.

Other technical considerations:
Experienced communications Technicians and Installation experts are hard to find and are worth their weight in gold. These types of dealerships or service centers are normally referred to as servicing dealers. From our research we could locate only a handful of dealers that fall into this category within the US, and I’m not talking about the local motorcycle dealership that assigns the communications task to a mechanic. I am referring to a business that specializes in mobile communications primarily motorcycles. Our recommendation is that if you find a good servicing dealer that employs technicians stick with them, tell others and prepare to travel.