When we started planning COTR, one of the first decisions we had to make was about trail communications. Trail communication may be the most important part of a safe and enjoyable group trail ride. Over the years I've attended events where trail comms were not a priority. Sometimes it was CB, sometimes HAM, sometimes a mix, but nothing that worked very well for the weekend warrior casually attending the event. I believe a big part of a group ride is hearing and interacting with the radio chatter. When planning COTR, I wanted everyone attending to be able to enjoy great communications with minimal investment or technical know how. For me there was only one option: FRS/GMRS radio.
While there's a lot of small technical differences between FRS (Family Radio Service) and GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service), I'm going to try and keep it out of the weeds and concentrate on how they both work together for us. One of the biggest things to understand with FRS/GMRS is that they share the same channels, 1-22. The main difference is power. FRS radios are limited to 2 watts while GMRS are limited to 50 watts. Although there is a power difference, FRS and GMRS can communicate with each other on all 22 channels. FRS radios are generally handheld radios that you can purchase at Lowes, Walmart, or Amazon. They have a range of a few miles and work great on group trail rides or around camp. On the other hand, GMRS comes in both handheld and mobile units mounted in the cab. Power can range from 5 watts to 50 watts depending on the radio. GMRS units can reach out as far as 50-60 miles and work great with handheld FRS.
So at this point you are probably thinking, "Why not just get a GMRS radio? Why fool with FRS?" There are two simple reasons: licensing and radio cost. GMRS requires a license from the FCC that covers you and your family for 10 years and costs $70. There is no test, only a fee. FRS does not require any license to operate. FRS radios can also be purchased for as low as $20 while GMRS radios will run anywhere from $80-$400. So the price of admission to FRS could be as low as $20, while GMRS will run at least $150 with radio and license.
For 2021, the awesome guys at Rugged Radios teamed up with us as the official communications sponsor of COTR. During the event, our trail leaders and tail gunners tested both their handheld and mobile radios. I'm happy to report they never skipped a beat. Trail comms were both strong and clear. Rugged Radios also provided us with eight handhelds with mics plus a complete 45w mobile unit setup to give away in the driver's raffle. Rugged Radios was born in the racing/off-road scene, so make sure you check them out for you FRS/GMRS needs.
When it's all said and done, FRS/GMRS is a great system for off-roading. Especially with friends or group rides. FRS/GMRS requires no tuning and is crystal clear. As we move towards COTR II, FRS/GMRS will remain the trail comms for 2022. See you in October!!!