Q:

What’s the best radio to use when talking to fellow bikers?

My husband and I would like to be able to communicate while riding our bikes. What would you suggest for a hands-free experience? Dotty Boulder, Colorado

May 12, 2006
Outside
Outside Magazine
Motorola Talkabout T5500AA

Motorola Talkabout T5500AA

A: I suggest riding at the same pace. That way you can just talk to each other!

But maybe that isn’t the right answer. Take a look at the Motorola Talkabout T5500AA ($50 for two; www.motorola.com), one of the walkie-talkie-type radios that have become so popular in the past decade. The T5500AAs work on both the FRS and GMRS bands, meaning that when used in GMRS mode they have a range of up to eight miles. When used in FRS mode, the power output is stepped down and range drops to about two miles. Use of FRS mode is unrestricted, but the Federal Communications Commission requires a license for GMRS mode ($80 for five years; http://wireless.fcc.gov).

Along with the radios, you’ll want a pair of the Talkabout Speaker/Microphones ($40 each). These plug into the radio and clip to your jersey, then you stick the radio in your pocket. A button on the side of the microphone activates it so you can talk—not quite hands-free, but one-hand. It would work well on a bicycle. Motorola also makes a headset that can be used with a voice-activation feature on the T5500AAs, but those probably won’t work with a helmet. Besides, ambient noise will set the thing off.

I tried this radios-on-bikes thing once, when my brother and I were doing a long tour in Oregon. It was a bust. For one thing, even though GMRS radios offer longer range, they’re still line-of-sight devices. Get around a hill and your odds of making contact drop to almost nil. Along with that, battery life (three AAA’s for each radio) is about six to eight hours. So you have to carry lots of batteries, or somehow recharge them with a solar charger. The radios ended up being dead weight.

Pick up a copy of the 2006 Outside Buyer’s Guide, on newsstands now, for a look at the best bike gear and 396 other torture-tested products.

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