As an avid cyclist, I like to help out when the annual Great Annual Bike Ride Along the Wisconsin River or GRABAAWR ride comes through town. As a past participant in this and other week long bicycle adventures, this is my way of giving back to the cycling community. Amateur radio plays an important part in keeping the participants in the event safe.
On a typical day the cyclists will ride on about 80 miles for each leg of their 6 day trip along the path of the Wisconsin River as it starts near Manitowish Waters in Northern Wisconsin and ends at the southern terminus in Prairie du Chein. This 450 mile journey has beautiful scenery and a rolling landscape that is a joy to ride. But it isn’t without challenges as the 400 some bicycle riders navigate its course. The biggest challenge in a ride this size is communications and on a daily basis anywhere from 6-10 ham radio operators will volunteer to provide communications along the course.
Cell phones just won’t cut it, especially in the northwoods. There are dead spots galore and the point to point connection of a cell phone doesn’t do anything to keep the other volunteers informed of the status of the ride. Ham radio provides vital communications to events of this size. For example, on the third day of the ride we had an accident that necessitated the call for an ambulance. The injured rider’s companion was able to call in on their cell phone for 911 and to the communications center for the ride. While medical help was dispatched, the communications group then coordinated multiple volunteers to assist at the accident, pick up damaged bikes and shuttle the injured riders that required it. The power and coordination of the ham radio volunteers made all this happen.
For my personal setup in these rides I use a mobile radio powered by a deep cycle battery along with a 2 meter J-Pole antenna on a 12 foot painters pole. The power of the mobile radio and J-Pole antenna assures me that I’ll be able to get into the area repeaters where ever I may be stationed. With an 80 mile course you may be 10 miles away or as many as 40 miles away from the repeater. But what can be more common is to be stuck in a hole or valley, making the high powered radio more effective.
The advantage of using the J-Pole for these events are twofold. With it’s omnidirectional radiation pattern and low noise floor, it gets out easily in a wide variety of locations. Plus the antenna’s simplicity is key; my whole setup can be assembled or torn down in about 5 minutes, making it easy to move to a new location if need be.
This type of setup can be used for any event, not just a bike ride. You can even use the antenna and pole with your handheld radio, extending your range and increasing portability even more.
Have you ever volunteered to provide communications to an event like this? Let us know the challenges you faced in the comments below.