An Off-Road Driver's Guide to CB Radios
How To Choose Your Next CB
The CB radio has been a reliable communication tool since its wide adaptation in the 1970s. Today, most organized trail rides require participants to have their own CB radio as they enable all parties to remain aware of trail conditions, hazards, and delays.
Choosing your CB Equipment
When choosing a CB radio for your vehicle, it is important to understand that all radios transmit with the same amount of power. The FCC limits CB transmission power to 4 watts, so choosing a CB radio (http://www.rightchannelradios.com/cb-radios.html) is less about the power and more about how the radio fits your vehicle and your communication needs.
Picking a CB Radio
Because off-road vehicles lend to have small cabs, a compact CB radio is often a good fit. The most popular compact CB radios are the Uniden 510 PRO XL and the Cobra 75 WX ST. The Uniden 510 is an extremely durable radio that offers reliable performance at an affordable price. The Cobra 75 is a more unique radio that has the controls and speaker built into the microphone. While both of these radios are a good fit for compact vehicles, they don't have all the features found in a larger CB. If you have ample cab space and are looking for a full-size CB with all the bells and whistles, the Cobra 29 is a great choice.
Picking a CB Antenna
Choosing the proper antenna for your vehicle is very important, as it is the antenna that determines your range - not the radio. Generally speaking, the larger the antenna the better range you'll experience. For best results, you will want an antenna that is mounted with at least half of the antenna above the roof. There are many different types and brands to choose from, but for off-road use two antennas stand out.
The Firestik FS CB antenna is very popular in the off-road community as it is built tough and is able to transmit long distances. The Wilson Flex is another popular antenna that can bend up to 180 degree without breaking. The Flex is ideal for people who drive in heavy wooded areas or places with low clearance. While it offers superior flexibility and protection against breaking, the FLEX can't transmit as far as the Firestik FS.
When choosing a location to mount your CB antenna, you will need to ensure the mounting location is metal and well grounded. The CB antenna uses the chassis of you vehicle to create a ground plane and transmit signals. If your mounting location is not grounded, your CB will not perform properly.
Popular mounting locations include the hood rail, front and rear fenders, bumpers, and pickup truck bed rails. Multiple mounts are manufactured specifically for all of these locations, and many are designed for specific vehicles to ensure the perfect fit.
In addition to the radio, antenna and mount, you will need a CB coax cable and an antenna stud. Be sure that the coax cable you choose has an end that is compatible with your stud. Most CB mounts include a PL-259 (screw on) antenna stud, but some mounting locations, specifically hoods, don't have enough room for a screw-on connection. For these mount, you will need a ring or terminal end coax cable.
Once you've selected all your components, it's time to begin installation. This process is relatively straightforward, and as long as you have antenna mounting location with a solid ground you shouldn't have any trouble. Mount your CB radio in your cab, route the coax cable to the antenna, and connect everything up. If possible, we recommend attaching the CB radio power leads directly to the battery to reduce electrical interference when transmitting or receiving.
Tuning your CB antenna
Once you've attached everything, the final step is tuning your CB antenna. All CB antennas need to be adjusted to match the vehicles chassis and mounting location, as the ideal length differs for every vehicle. While this process might sound intimidating, it is actually quite simple.
To tune your CB antenna, you will need an SWR meter. Full-size CB radios, such as the Cobra 29, have a built-in SWR meter while most compact radios do not. If you have a compact CB, you can purchase an external meter (http://www.rightchannelradios.com/cb-accessories/cb-swr-meter.html) for around $26. Once you have the meter installed, you can test your SWR while incrementally raising or lowering the adjustable tip on your antenna until the SWR reading is as low as possible. Good SWR levels are close to 1.0 and anything under 2.0 is fairly decent. If your SWR is over 3.0, you have an installation problem, likely caused by a bad ground.
For detailed antenna tuning instructions please refer to our video tuning guide.(http://www.rightchannelradios.com/tuning-cb-antenna-adjusting-swr)
Testing Your CB Radio
Before using the radio for your first trail ride, it's a good idea to test it out with a friend. Drive away from each other while communicating to determine the range you can expect out on the trail. Keep in mind that hills and canyons will significantly reduce your range. If you're having a difficult time getting the range you want, you may need to make some changes. A higher mounting location or a longer, better antenna will likely help.
About the Author
Right Channel CB Radios (http://www.rightchannelradios.com) specializes in CB radios, antennas, and accessories for off-road drivers. They are dedicated to helping drivers select the best equipment for their vehicle and ensuring it works properly out on the trail.