We live in an area of France that is famous for the off road Enduro trails throughout the extensive countryside. The type of terrain is principally forest with a few open sections and the tracks and trails themselves range from agricultural vehicle width to narrow and technically challenging with various obstacles. The obstacles themselves vary according to the season and can include mud, running water, fallen trees and boulders.
As a keen off-road motorcyclist falling within the age group of somewhat more mature years the agreement that I made with my wife was that if I were to ride in the forest alone we had to have a mechanism of being in contact if anything went wrong. That would include mechanical, physical problems or incapacity due to a serious fall. With this in mind the obvious starting point was always to ride with a mobile phone and a Spot GEN3 GPS Tracker.
The Spot seemed initially to be a good idea, as it is a satellite based system and can be set up to report position on a regular frequency and if need be automatically send an update when there is zero movement for an extended time such as after a bad fall. Apart from other messaging options there is the fallback of alerting and calling in emergency response services.
This all sounds ideal except that in a heavily forested area, when the device does not have a clear view of the sky, the satellite link can be extremely patchy. On some of my trips the positioning log has reported me leaving home and returning with nothing in between.
PTToC in France
France has a very good mobile (cellular) network infrastructure even within rural areas. Fast 4G data services are extremely common in the some of even the most remote locations. That then takes me to the utility of carrying a mobile phone. In our area a mobile phone works perfectly well in the forest.
A Spot GEN3 and a phone therefore seemed like the perfect combination as one can back up the other. It is worth taking some time to look at the practicalities of taking a mobile phone off-road. Apart from the risk of irreparably damaging the phone in a fall there are the issues caused from being wet for extended periods during rainy conditions or river sections. A number of the high-end, high value phones are IP68 rated but would you really want to take that risk on a bike if your safety depended on it?
Also, if you do fall badly, to be able to use a modern mobile phone properly you would need to take off gloves and ideally helmet and goggles too.
The ideal solution is an affordable, simple and easy to use robust device where you could talk to someone if needed and do that when fully kitted. A bonus would be to report the GPS position at the same time. In looking for a solution to the comms conundrum, I happened upon iPTT through their UK sales partner Wildtalk.
Essentially iPTT’s system is push-to-talk radio that uses the cellular data network for voice which means in practice that one radio unit can speak to the other radio unit from and to anywhere in Europe. As it is a pre-configured device designed for a more industrial environment it has a high output loudspeaker, a sensitive microphone and good for a full day battery life. Using it with a helmet and gloves is a cinch, just ‘push-to-talk’. The voice quality is also really excellent. The latest radio, the Samcom CP-320, sits comfortably in the hand and can clip to a belt or sit in a waistpack.
The benefits of iPTT PTToC
iPTT have also thought about the GPS positioning and reporting through a dispatcher software application that can be running on a home computer.
Having spoken to Hans Becker, Director of iPTT in the UK, he is also looking at IP68 rated units to work in extreme conditions as well as other technical innovations to further increase the capability of the handsets.
I was looking for a solution for comms between my wife and I. The iPTT radios fulfil perfectly. If you extend the concept, it is simple to add radios to the ‘personal’ network where everyone can keep in contact, at any time. For motorcycle club use, either on or off-road, the system offers great utility rather than all the usual hassle of messing around with a mobile phone with limited battery life. With the iPTT system you get immediate comms at the push of a single button.
Another great feature with the CP300 and CP320 radios is they use the standard Kenwood style audio connector which makes them a drop-in replacement for anyone using Kenwood radios with say, Autocom or the professional helmet kits available from Wildtalk.