When most people think of Ham Radio, they think of large antennas, big radios and people talking around the world. That is one aspect of Ham Radio but there are many other options such as Amateur TV (transmitting TV pictures over the air), Packet Radio (sending digital information over the air), Echolink (using the Internet to talk to other hams around the world) and using small handheld or mobile radios to communicate with others in a local area. The last is the one that works great with ATVs. There are mountain top repeaters that will rebroadcast a signal to other radios in the local area. The repeaters are located in places that cover most of the state and can be linked together to increase the range.
This is great for someone on an ATV in a remote location to be able to reach other hams for assistance. Many repeaters even have the ability to make phone calls. A mountain top repeater can cover an area up to several hundred miles. The radios can also be used to talk from one radio to another, not using repeaters (simplex) and with a mobile antenna can cover a few miles up to 10 or 15 miles depending on terrain. This is the part I enjoy most, while out riding with others. It makes your ride much more enjoyable to be able to visit while wandering down a trail and discuss which trail you might want to explore next or make plans for the next rest stop. If a rider in the rear has a problem, they can let the rest of the group know right away and save backtracking. Riders can also talk back to a Ham in base camp, to check in and give up dated status. The radios can also be used when in route to the ride.
The ATV can be equipped with an antenna that can be connected to a small radio. There are headsets with microphones that can be easily mounted in a helmet (full face or open face) and a button on the handlebars that will operate the transmitter on the radio. Many handheld radios can also receive a wide range of frequencies which will allow you to listen to NOAA Weather, Police, Fire, BLM, Search and Rescue, Fish and Game, etc. You can also use the radio to scan frequencies of your choice so it operates like a police scanner. This is also very handy if you ever help with search and rescue missions. You can even listen to your friends if you are unable to go on a ride.
A lot of people think it is very difficult to get your ham license and that you must learn Morse code. The ham test is actually given by local hams from a fixed pool of questions and Morse code is no longer required. There are study guides available on the Internet and with very little studying, a person can get their license in less than a month. I have some friends that only studied the night before the exam and were able to pass the test.
So what does it cost? A headset for your helmet will cost about $45. You can pick up a handheld radio with the features I list above for about $125 and an antenna will cost around $25. The hams charge $15 to administer the exam so for a little over $200 you can have a great setup. You can also save some money by getting a less expensive radio and using the small antenna that comes on the radio.
Keep in mind that you can use the radio while not on the ATV. Ham radio is a lot of fun and a great way to meet new people. You could even have a weekly net on the radio where everyone with an interest in ATV could meet to discuss things like upcoming rides, share tech tips and whatever else may be a common interest. There are a lot of good resources for more information on Ham Radio. There is a web site for a local Ham club that has a lot of good information. Check out www.voiceofidaho.org for more information. Also, feel free to contact me [email protected] if I can help in any way. My wife and I have both been Hams for over 25 years and enjoy it as much now as we did when we started.