Many of those who go 'back-packing' usually need to drive for at least part of the way
to their destination. This provides a quick
method for getting to/from the site, and also enables rapid transit to an alternative
site, should this be necessary.
In my case,
there are plenty of potential sites within cycling distance of my home in Chepstow,
south-east Wales. A comfortable cycling range
for me is about 15 km (a round trip of 30 km). But
even this limited radial distance takes in large stretches of the beautiful Wye Valley;
the local 'Summits on the Air' (SOTA) high point at Wentwood Hill; the unique Gwent
Levels; and the scenic villages and open countryside to the north of Bristol. But I dont think that my location is
particularly unique I suspect that most UK amateurs can think of several potential
stroke-portable locations within a 15 km radius of home.
There is a
certain sense of achievement to be gained when transporting all the essential items of
radio equipment; provisions; and safety equipment by pedal power alone. Apart from anything else, the more leisurely pace
of touring by bike enables a much better appreciation of whats around you than other
forms of transport. So, for me, one of the
main attractions of going bicycle portable (if only for these brief periods) is to do
something that does not involve travelling by that most damaging method of transportation:
the motor car.
cycling is a great way of keeping fit too! I
am advised that, for most people, cycling is kinder on the knees and hips than other form
of exercise, such as road running. Of course,
if you're in any doubt about your own health, it would be worth consulting your doctor
before commencing any form of strenuous activity, such as cycling.
event, if you havent cycled for many years, I would suggest starting off by first
doing several short cycling trips each of, say, ten minutes duration. Then, gradually increase the duration (and the
payload) until you feel confident that you can undertake and enjoy your
first bicycle portable operation. Dont
forget that, on a cool day, youll need to wear more layers while operating than
youll be wearing while cycling. It
would be a shame if you had to return home early merely because you didnt pack that
Given the range of portable equipment now available, bicycle portable operation on any
amateur band from 2200m to 70cm should be possible. I'm
tempted to include the microwave bands too but, given the weight and size of
typical dish antennas; feeds; and tripods it may not be convenient or safe to
transport such hardware to the tops of mountains by bicycle. No doubt someone will give it a go, and let me
know how they get on!
portable activity takes place during the day, so you'll need to prepare for operation on
bands that are likely to provide a reasonable chance of making some contacts during the
hours of daylight. For example, the lack of
daytime ionospheric propagation on the lower frequencies may make 80 m a poor choice. Even though 160 m suffers from the same problem, a
special operation using, say, a kite-supported vertical wire, might generate enough local
interest to make the operation worthwhile especially if the outing is announced
beforehand at the local radio club.
For VHF/UHF, a collapsible yagi or similar antenna is a good choice, together with a
short mast. Sometimes, such masts can be
supported by a fence post, or a sturdy sign post.
But most of
my trips have involved using the bike frame itself as a support. After first guying the bike in an upright position
using two short guy ropes from the seat tube, I then tie an extended telescopic mast to
both the bottom bracket and the crossbar of the bike.
A couple of layers of bubble-wrap around the bike tubes helps to
protect the paintwork from damage; and the added friction introduced by the bubble-wrap
helps to keep the mast firmly in position.
operation, the obvious choice is a wire antenna in the form of either a vertical; end fed
wire; or centre-fed doublet. After carrying
out early experiments using vertical and end-fed antennas, I now prefer to use balanced
antennas for 10 80 m because they dont rely on a good RF earth for effective,
predictable results. A resonant dipole, 50
ohm twin feeder, and balun work well together. However,
my favourite antenna (for both single-band and multi-band expeditions) consists of an
inverted-V centre-fed doublet; a balanced feeder (using lightweight speaker cable); a
switchable 1:1/4:1 balun; and an antenna matching unit.
lightweight telescopic poles and short masts can be transported by being tied to the
crossbar of the bike. Although all the
equipment and batteries can be carried in a back-pack, this is far from ideal. The better and much safer option is
to fit a rear rack to the bike, and use panniers for the heavy items. If I still need to take a back-pack, I use it for
carrying lighter items only such as water-proof clothing.
antenna options worth trying on the lower frequencies include kite-supported antennas. For an RF earth, you can try using crocodile clips
to connect the ATU earth-point to nearby fence wires.
Note that running out your own ground wires can take a surprisingly long
time, and such wires may present a safety hazard to you and to passers-by. Also, keep in mind the safety considerations when
using kite antennas. Apart from the obvious
need to ensure that such antennas do not come into contact with other structures/power
lines, it is also important to ensure that the antenna does not break free, and add to the
litter which already spoils our countryside and coast-lines. Please remember: what goes up, eventually comes
In all cases
you should aim to leave your chosen location as found ensure that all
odd pieces of tape; string; wire; and other rubbish are securely stowed away for the
return journey. Leave only your footprints
and tyre marks behind.
What to pack?
Its all too easy to pack the rig and an antenna, hop on the bike, and take to
the road and then end up being ill-prepared for a change in weather conditions, or,
perhaps a sudden change in tyre pressure! Here,
in no particular order, is a suggested starter packing list for your first
bicycle portable outing.
2 litres water;
waterproof jacket and leggings;
basic first aid kit
(plasters; bandages; etc.)
1 (or 2) spare
fleece, sweater, or similar extra layer;
tyre pump; spare
inner tube; puncture repair kit;
comprising tyre levers; allen keys; multi-purpose knife (Swiss Army knife, or
similar); and spanners;
or large carrier bag;
guy ropes, guy
cable ties; reel of
insulating tape; a few lengths of string;
paper; pens; watch;
information (SOTA/WAB/Maidenhead Locator/county etc.)
luxuries might include: a fold-up stool/chair; compass; GPS receiver. Touring is almost always safer (and much more
pleasurable) if you have a companion. If you
cant persuade someone to join you on your adventure, you might wish to take along a
mobile phone in case of emergency.
Where to operate?
Unless you already have a specific site in mind, you will probably need to study a map
of the area to come up with some possible locations.
But determining the exact site will require allowing time to carry out a
survey of the general area, taking a number of factors into account. Not least will be considering how best to support
the antenna, and a comfortable operating position.
for more than a few tens of minutes, establishing a comfortable operating position is very
important especially when operating CW. On
my very first outing, I was lucky enough to find some large logs to sit on. After guying the bike in an upright position near
one of the logs, I then fitted my home-made plinth to the top of the rear rack (to act as
the operating desk). The Elecraft
K2 transceiver; ATU; SWR bridge; and the morse key were then mounted on the plinth. The resulting sitting position was so comfortable
that, during the many fine contacts made that day, the old expression armchair
copy really did seem to be quite appropriate! From
other locations, I have also used tree stumps, and upturned plastic buckets as seats. For me, using almost any kind of seat, together
with an elevated morse key is far more comfortable than trying to operate CW with
everything at ground level.
choosing a site, I look for a spot without road noise, and well away from power lines. On cool days, try to select a site having some
shelter from the wind; on very sunny days, a shady spot will reduce the risk of sun burn,
and make it easier to see the front panel displays. Be
sure to ask permission from the landowner before setting up your station on private
Operation from almost
any location will produce results that are at least as good as the results that you would
expect from your fixed station at home. OK
perhaps your antenna will not be as high as the antenna at home but it is
likely to be well away from other conductors (such as house wiring), and sources of
electrical noise. Also, you will find that
your novel portable set-up will be of great interest to the stations contacted. I have often received the comment MY FIRST
QSO WID BIKE PORTABLE STATION HI!.
one such contact, Guy F9XN wrote on his QSL card: "Well, since I began hamming in
1948, I have never before had a QSO with a bicycle portable station . . . and I am
72! MNI TKS for a big First. Nice signal from your QRP 5W"
while operating portable will be limited only by the prevailing propagation conditions,
and by your own ingenuity. There is much
scope for improving antennas and equipment, and for refining techniques for stowing the
equipment on the bike; setting up the portable station; and establishing a comfortable
Above all, have fun and
enjoy the countryside.
Books about bicycles in general, bicycle maintenance; and cycle touring
can be obtained from your local library. Articles
about such topics can also be found in specialist biking magazines, and on the internet.
Both the ARRL and RSGB publish
a range of books covering antenna design and construction.
compact transmitters; receivers; antennas; and antenna matching units are published
frequently in SPRAT, the quarterly journal of
the G-QRP Club.
Steve Rawlings, GW4ALG
3rd February 2003