2-way Radios

UHF 2-way radios for motorcycles or scooters

November 2007:  Convoy Communications

In a car, driver and passengers talk to each other naturally during a drive.  On a bike or scooter, each rider or pillion passenger is in a private cocoon of silence, even when riding in a convoy.  This doesn’t need to be the case, and the use of lightweight hand-held walkie-talkies for bike-to-bike discussions is a sensible way to enhance the social aspect of convoy riding.  Not only can route instructions, warnings or incident reports be shared, but general conversations and comments are also possible, and fun.  In large convoys, particularly, the use of radios is a great safety feature.
Similarly, there is no reason why riders and pillion passengers should not use an intercom system to allow normal conversation.  Such close-proximity communication does not demand 2-way radio, and can be achieved with either a wired system or a wireless Bluetooth system.  Bluetooth is a good choice for intercom purposes, but becomes a poor choice if you also want bike-to-bike, where 2-way radio is the only sensible option.
Motorcycles / scooters are a very noisy audio environment, and get worse the faster you go.  Suppressing that noise is a challenge, and cost is the main barrier.  For clean, noise-free broadcasting, you need to use the more expensive active noise-cancelling.
This is provided by a “comms unit” – a multi-channel amplifier with built-in active noise-cancelling.  It uses a corded helmet headset with a small mic that constantly ‘samples’ ambient sound ( wind, engine, and road noise ) when you are not talking so that the comms unit can electronically ‘cancel’ those specific background frequencies when you are talking ( transmitting ).  Your voice is transmitted without any of the background noise inside the helmet.  Because it is multi-channel, you can plug in not only your UHF radio but also your mobile phone, FM radio, MP3 player, GPS... and it also serves as a rider-to-pillion intercom unit.  Comms units are great gadgets!  But that corded headset is an important factor in making them effective.
The next-best option is a BlueTooth headset that allows you to communicate directly with a UHF radio without cords... but they use passive noise-cancelling ( wind-shielding on the mic plus some general-purpose electronic cancelling ) so the radio receives relatively ‘noisy’ voice input when broadcasting.  On the road, BlueTooth users are definitely harder to understand than those using a corded comms unit with active noise-cancelling.  In time, BlueTooth helmet headsets will include helmet sensing to allow proper active noise-cancelling, and will then become the obvious best choice.  It hasn’t happened yet, but it will surely happen one day.
Until it does happen, 2-way radio with a corded comms unit is still the best option for bike-to-bike, and there are 3 main brands:
All three comms units can be used as rider-to-passenger intercom systems.
See here for more information about comms units, including some technical details.
If you don’t want to face the expense of a central “comms unit” to route all audio inputs and control noise-cancelling, or want ONLY bike-to-bike 2-way radio, you will need two pieces of hardware: the radio and the transmission gear ( headset microphone, speakers, cords, etc. ).  But be aware that bike-to-bike without some form of noise-cancelling will never be very crisp and clean.

The Radio:

In Australia, no license is required to use hand-held UHF radios up to 5-Watt power.  Reception is rarely a problem, but transmission power certainly imposes distance limits.  The ideal power for bike use is about 3 Watts, but anything from 1 Watt to 5 Watt power is acceptable.  The choice of radio model is less important than the choice of transmission gear, but there are many minor issues that may influence your decision – for more information about different radios and their suitability for riding use, including a summary of the 2011 Australian 40-to-80-channel system change, see here.

The Transmission Gear:
This is by far the most important aspect of bike-to-bike communications.