Communication is key when going offroad.
Ideally, we all ride in tight groups and without issue. However, in the real world, our machines have problems, we miss that important turn, someone lags behind in the group or someone needs to tell the group leader when to stop. For years, having a CB radio in your vehicle was a requirement when going on group rides. CB radios still have their place, however the vast majority of those in the offroad community are transitioning over to UHF/VHF radios and for good reason. Many are budget friendly, are more versatile, can reach further distances and generally aren’t as finicky to tuned antennas.
UHF/VHF radios range from handheld devices that look and operate much like the walkie-talkies that you played with as a kid. The least expensive ones can be picked up at your local Walmart, sporting goods store or Amazon, but are generally limited to two watts of power and operate on the Family Radio Service channels. These FRS radios are generally very limited in what they can do and their communication range. For just a little more money, one can pick up five watt up to ten watt handhelds and still be very budget friendly and get a ton more versatility.
Mobile UHF/VHF radios look and operate much more like a traditional CB, but can get much more range without the knowledge of antenna tuning. Mobile radios generally start out at 25 watts of power and it’s not uncommon to see units with up to 75 watts of power that can be purchased affordably.
Before we go further, it should be noted that while operating a high powered radio in receive mode is ok, you technically should have at least a technician license to operate a radio when broadcasting over two watts. The cost of the exam is only $15 in most places and the license is good for ten years. There are multiple resources online for free and paid study guides for the 35 question multiple choice question test.
Next, most radios are capable of holding 100s of channels in their memory, however most are programmed with just a few starter channels or none at all. You can usually program new stations in memory through the use of the radio’s keypad, however this can be a tedious task. Using a program like CHIRP can make this process much faster and significantly more simple. CHIRP is a free, open-source tool for programming your amateur radio. It supports a large number of manufacturers and models, as well as provides a way to interface with multiple data sources and formats.
Which type of radio you choose depends completely on your needs. Fixed mount mobile radios offer the greatest amount of range. Handheld radios offer the most mobility since you can take them anywhere.
The Baofeng is the king of the budget handhelds. The UV-5R is a five watt handheld that is packed with features for a budget price. For a few bucks more, you can get the eight watt version, such as the UV-5RHP. Both are capable of broadcasting and receiving on both the UHF and VHF bands, along with listening to FM stations. The dual band radio allows you to listen to up to two different frequencies at once and quickly switch between the two if needed. Additional features can be programmed into the radio, such as naming your channels, a custom welcome message, audio alerts for various functions and more.
The Baofeng will come standard with a 1800 mah battery that will last all day on a full charge with moderate use. A 3800 mah battery is available that will allow you to go all weekend long. The radio also comes with multiple other accessories including a belt clip, wrist-strap, AC outlet charger, programming cable and a plug in earpiece that works fairly well in helping you hear in noisy environments.
A Nagoya NA-771 antenna is the single biggest improvement in range that you can purchase for these radios. These high gain, low SWR antennas will allow you to communicate more effectively.
The BaoFeng BF-F8HP is basically an amped up and updated version of the UV-5R. Instead of two power settings, the BF-F8HP has three modes. Low power is one watt, medium is four and high is eight watts. Additionaly, the BaoFeng BF-F8HP has an upgraded 2100 mah battery versus the 1800 on the UV-5R. Despite both batteries being the same size, the BF-F8HP uses newer technology that has a higher cell capacity. The BF-F8HP also has upgraded the chipset, which allows the radio to be programmed faster and functions within it seem much faster versus the UV-5R. The radio also comes with a significantly improved antenna compared to the UV-5R, though we still like the Nagoya NA-771 for this radio as well.
The accesories that come with the BaoFeng BF-F8HP are the same as with the UV-5R and any UV-5R accessory will also work with this radio. However, the user manual that comes with the BF-F8HP is much more comprehensive and this upgraded radio also comes with one year of concierge support for BaoFeng. Even though this radio costs twice as much at the UV-5R, it still comes in well under $100 and is well worth it if it is within your budget.
This mobile radio from TYT was made for harsh offroad environments. The TH-8600 is rated IP-67 dust and waterproof. Water is not the friend of most mobile radios, If you ride in wet and muddy conditions, this is the best option on the market for you.
The TYT TH-8600 is a dual band radio that offers 25 watts for VHF and 20 watts for UHF. The bright LCD color display is easy to read and settings can be changed to have it backlit constantly or for the backlight to only come on for time set intervals as a visual queue.
The metal case of the radio is very well built, providing enough heat sinks and a cooling fan to keep the unit cool when used heavily. The included hand mic transmits clearly. The radio can be programmed automatically with CHIRP or via the keypad on the unit and has room for up to 200 stored frequencies. The compact size of the radio makes finding a spot to mount it very easy. The internal speaker is mounted on top of the radio and even though the output is fairly loud, you may want to invest in an additional external speaker if your mounting location muffles the sound of the radio.
The TYT TH-8600 pairs up well with the Browning WSPBR1015 NMO coax cable and a dual UHF/VHF antenna such as the Tram Dual Band NMO Antenna.
BTECH Mobile UV-50X2
If you’re really needing range, the 50 watt high power output of the BTECH Mobile UV-50X2 is an excellent choice for a feature packed and affordable dual band mobile radio.
The UV-50X2 is capable of monitoring up to four channels at a time, which is almost unheard of on radios as this price point. You can even run a channel scan while monitoring other frequencies. The LCD display is configurable with nine different color options. The radio features an expanded frequency range of up to 520MHz, which many other radios are not capable of.
Audio broadcast and reception and are exceptionally clear on the BTECH Mobile UV-50X2. The angle of the controls on the left hand side of the radio makes using them exceptionally easy and is a very nice touch. The chipset is fast for a radio in this price range as well, making programming relatively quick and switching functions near instantaneous. If you’re using the radio itself to program channels, the ability to edit channels without creating an entirely new channel is a very helpful feature. Most require you to delete and create a new one if you need to make a change in the channel settings.
You can adjust the Microphone Gain with the in-menu audio adjustments. The BTECH include a 3.5mm Line In/Line Out multi-jack to allow remote audio input and output.
The BTECH Mobile UV-50X2 works well with NMO cables such as the Browning WSPBR1015 coax cable and the Nagoya NMO-72 19.25″ Antenna.