The best shortwave radio for cross-continent cycling?

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SWLing Post reader, Pat, is an avid cyclist and is seeking a radio for his next cross-continent adventure. There are a limited number of products on the market that meet Pat’s requirements, so I thought posting his inquiry might bring a few options out of the woodwork. Check out Pat’s requirements and please comment if you have a suggestion!

Pat writes:

I’m a professional ski coach from Colorado. When I’m not on skis, I like to get on my bicycle and go explore the world. I’ve ridden across the USA a few times, covering all 48 states in the Continental US. A couple of years ago I got my 49th state when I rode from Alaska back home to Colorado.

Next year I plan to ride to Argentina, a journey of 12,000 miles over six months.

One of the things that keeps me sane is to have a radio strapped to the handlebars of my bike. I used to have a cheap AM/FM transistor, but have slowly improved the choice of radios on each trip.

During my Alaska ride I used a Degen DE1123, which was a great item. Not a great radio, but having an mp3 player built in made a world of difference. There were some mighty long distances without radio signal, so having the mp3 was great. But like I said, the 1123 wasn’t the most user-friendly item. Plus, it ate up AA batteries, which were pricey in the Yukon. So I upgraded to the Degen DE1125. Certainly an improvement, but still some things that could be improved. [See photo above.]

For my Argentina trip I want to have something really good; something that works well and will hopefully last six months. Also, I really like the idea of having a radio with a mini SD slot. I’ll have to download a lot of music and podcasts to keep me happy.

Someone suggested the Melson S8. I purchased one and it is a great unit, but way too big to fit on the handlebars.

You obviously have experience with many different portables and I was wondering if you could give me your suggestions. Maybe something from Degen, ShouYu, Tecsun?

Things that are important:

  • Ease of use (I’ll be using the controls while pedaling)
  • Weight (smaller and lighter is better)
  • Durability
  • Mini SD capability
  • Radio reception
  • AM, FM and SW capability
  • Li-ion batteries

Not overly important:

  • Ability to scroll through songs/find songs
  • Sound quality (I’ll have wind in my ears anyway)

Things that are not important:

  • Recording ability (I don’t foresee recording anything along the way)
  • Looks
  • Cost (I don’t want to spend $150 on a CC Crane, as the radio may get broken or stolen, but I’m willing to spend some money on a quality product if available).

[…]I’d love to select the best option for this silly ride I’m taking next summer and will happily take any advice.

A cycling trip to Argentina? Nothing silly about that, Pat! What an adventure!

Shortwave radios with MicroSD slots are somewhat limited in numbers, but more and more models have appeared on the market in the past few years.

Readers: can you help Pat with some suggestions/options?  Please comment!

22 thoughts on “The best shortwave radio for cross-continent cycling?

  1. pjmm

    Hi Thomas,

    Great to hear about your planned adventures. Here you have some ideas for the radio. At first I just though about TECSUN PL398 SD but doesn’t comply with all your requirement:
    .-Not miniSD (but you can use an miniSD adapter card)
    .- Not Li-on battery, (but it uses Ni-Cad)
    .- Not the smallest but still small

    Pros:
    .-More than excellent SW, MW and FM reception. (I love it)
    .- Ease of use (IMHO very good ergonomics)
    .- Not very expensive (around 70 Euros in Ebay)
    .- And very good looking radio (not the most important but nice to have)

    Alternatively I have been browsing Ebay and found this reference that seems to fit also into your requirements ( unfortunately I have not tested it):

    http://www.ebay.es/itm/Radio-AM-FM-SW-Rechargeable-Radio-with-MP3-Supports-USB-flash-drive-Micro-SD-/121789016955?hash=item1c5b30eb7b:g:FBQAAOSw5VFWIGiu

    Good luck and enjoy your adventure.
    Pedro

    Reply
  2. Mehdi

    I think if I was a cyclist, I would choose the smallest portable available, which I think currently belongs to “CountyComm GP-5/SSB”

    Reply
    1. William Pietschman (W8LV)

      And Yes…I forgot one more thing….
      For outside use, IF I have a choice of a black coloured case, or a white coloured case, I prefer the white case, as the black case becomes, in my opinion, way too hot in the sun. At the worst, it’s heating up components. And at the least, It will shorten battery life. I DO always carry a zip lock bag for my electronics when I am camping… this is because in Ohio and Ontario, when I wake up in the morning while camping, I always find that everything is quite damp. At least, tbats my take. So, before I drop off to sleep, I put the radio in the bag. And if I get caught in a sudden downpour, I can put the radio in the bag. And I always keep the AA’s dry… And in a Canoe? goes without saying. I do see those “dry bags” and such at the Camping Store, but I don’t understand how they would really be better, and those “Dry Boxes” are just more weight. Maybe someone can tell me an advantage of a specially made “dry bag” as opposed to a ziplock?

      Just forget about carrying the White Protein Powder, though…. Otherwise if they think you’re a Contrabandista, they will throw you in Prison. And they only allow CLEAR plastic radios there, as I understand it, but don’t want to find out!

      Reply
  3. Edward

    How about a Zenith transoceanic; You will need a trailer for your bike, but it is a sensitive radio. I used to bring mine to Field day. Not sure if the vibration of the road in a bike trailer will damage the tubes. You will need a battery substitute holder that takes 60 pen lite cells.

    Reply
      1. Edward

        Harbor freight tools sells a 2 cycle 900 watt generator that is just a tad lighter than the SP600 but should have no problem running the SP600

        Reply
  4. Ken Hansen n2vip

    It may be a bit big, but the Grundig G2 Reporter may be suitable. It includes rechargeable battery (with a USB power connection, solar recharge/use of phone rechargers could be a big help), it is a reasonable AM/FM/SW radio, accepts flash cards with MP3 files and has stereo speakers.

    http://www.universal-radio.com/catalog/portable/5002.html

    It does NOT receive SSB signals, but for broadcast AM SW broadcasts it is very nice.

    It apparently sells for over $100, I got mine as a promotional item when I bought my Icom Ham radio in January from Universal-radio.com.

    Reply
    1. Guy Atkins

      The Stiletto 2 is a cool device, but the product is already eight years old and has some drawbacks for a lengthy trip such as Pat’s Argentina adventure in 2016.

      Problem points include the fact that the Sirius satellites’ footprint doesn’t reach south of Mexico, and the battery life is a mere FOUR hours of live satellite reception. The battery will last a paltry 20 hours when playing back recorded content though.

      Satellite reception is stronger with the included Altec Lansing on-the-ear headphones that has a better antenna built in, but the odd plug is proprietary and Pat would probably like to just use earbuds while cycling.

      Still, this would be a fun device to use in North America with the Sirius service if you could find one deeply discounted .

      Reply
  5. The Professor

    Pat, as I was the one to recommend the Melson to you a month ago, I feel like I should speak up.

    It seems to me that just because the Melson doesn’t fit the jerry-rig you put together to hold that little Tecsun to the handlebars (as seen in your photo) hardly seems like a reason to reject it out of hand.

    I specifically sent you a link to a handlebar mount that easily fits the Melson snugly on the handlebars. How do I know? I had previously researched this, and bought one just for that same radio. Here’s the link for that mount, which I sent you at the time:

    http://tinyurl.com/o83vgdz

    There are quite a few similar devices available, as you can see on eBay or Amazon. You want an adjustable one that will clamp onto some of the larger cell phones. Although I didn’t research this one, I quickly looked there and found something similar, just so I could see some reviews. Over ninety percent of people like this one. It looks like it uses a similar adjustable clamp setup as the other one:

    http://tinyurl.com/ocfdxts

    You had told me at the time that sound quality was important to you, and you’d be hard pressed to find anything the same size or smaller than Melson that will have any kind of audio fidelity. I know for a fact that the tiny Tecsun you have in that picture sounds really bad. Anything that thin is going to sound thin. Tinny.

    All that said, if for some reason you need or want a smaller receiver than the Melson on the handlebars, maybe you might want to look into Bluetooth speakers for your helmet. I haven’t researched this, but I’m sure such things exist by now.

    Otherwise, the only other size compromise that I imagine would fit your current travel jerry-rig and be an improvement might be the Tecsun PL-360 or the CountyComm GP-5/SSB. Although I might be a little worried about that plug-in antenna on those popping out if you hit a bump and It won’t sound nearly as nice as the Melson, it will certainly be an audio and reception upgrade over that lowly little Tecsun in your photo. But of course, there’s no SD card slot on either one.

    Reply
  6. Chuck Lovett (W7ACI )

    So about 5 years ago, I spent a month backpacking in Chile and Argentina. Also, previous to that I had an additional month backpacking in Ecuador. After thinking and evaluation about what to take with me, I decided upon two radios, both of which I have purchased since those trips and plan to use in the future: The Tecsun PL 380 and the Tecsun PL 310 ET. Why? 1. Both have the ETM function. When you in a traveling in a foreign country, you dont want to spend a lot of time screwing around finding stations and frequency schedules. The ETM function scans in the stronger stations and can be updated easily. 2. Battery use. Although you may have the ability to recharge batteries, it is also true that in the countries that you are headed to, AA batteries are usually available at least in all but the very most remote areas. Both of these radios use AA batteries, and I have found on the Tecsun PL 310ET that, with moderate use, a set of AA batteries will last almost a month. 3. Size. Both radios with a small external wire spool antenna are very compact. You can add a small wall power supply conversion kit, available at places like REI and still be able to stuff the radio, antenna, earplug type earphones and spare batteries and wall power voltage converter into a very small gear bag. 4. Cost. Both radios are less than $ 50 or about with shipping from a reliable source like Anon Radio. With a $150 limit, you could buy 2 radios, one for backup, and you would still have plenty extra for accessories. Good Luck! Be sure to brush up on your Spanish: Hello, Goodbye, how much?, I would like, and, most importantly, wheres the bathroom? !!!

    Reply
  7. William Pietschman (W8LV)

    Hard to get the recording capability, maybe a separate mp3 recorder from Iriver would fit the bill…cheap, very low power consumption. An “AA” would last the whole trip. and a spare “AA” or four is going to last a long shelf life, and weigh less than a recharger.The Skywave costs $89. That would surely be the best size to mount, and carry. A Crank Job with SW would eliminate a charger, the PLL jazzamatazz, both in noise and price, and even then you could carry a couple of trusty AA’s INSIDE the radio. And give you an LED light source, ALWAYS at the ready, WITHOUT having to carry an additional flashlight.

    OR, you good go with the SWATA (t.m.) : The Shortwave Advanced Towable Array:

    This would, as I envision it, be a Towable device, one of those kiddie carrier thingies that fifth wheels behind the bike… I’d go for an oldie but a goodie, the R-390A Receiver…built like a tank, and just about the same in weight! It might be best to get the one with the Radium removed from the signal meters, since these days they get so darn uptight about these things making Radiac Sets sing at Border Crossings, and especially the Airport.
    A couple of twelve volt batteries, the good open ones that YOU can add distilled water to, and not those Sears Sealed Jobs would be best. And carry a few litres of distilled water…good for the batteries, or your OWN replenishment , in an emergency. Add a Motor-Generator from Good old Fair Radio Sales, (STILL open and doing a brisk business from Lima, Ohio!) for a bargain price over those modern inverter ones. Place a small windmill generator on top, like those ones the NWS and Environment Canada has set up periodically along the highway, or that you might borrow from a more lonely two-laner, and now you are powering AND recharging, day AND nite! One of those rear view mirrors that fits on your glasses will let you reach down behind you to tune the R-390A, at least on straightaways, and you likely already own one anyway. Add a solar panel on top, or that NOAA/EC one, add a fewblinking LED’s on the back and the sides for Safety AND Bling, and you’re ready to go….You’ve Pimped Your Ride, SWL Style!

    Reply
  8. William Pietschman (W8LV)

    P.S., I forgot, along with the water, you are going to need a lot of energy to pedal that SWATA ™, and Protein fills the bill: The White Powder Protein from the Health Food Store that bodybuilders drink will be best, light , and easy to carry… you can reconstitute it with some of the distilled water that you are already carrying for the batteries, anyway. To keep it from getting damp, it would be best to double seal a couple of kilos in zip lock bags, and then duct tape them right onto the corners of the SWATA…and with all of the space inside of the R-390A case, one could go there, too. With a little I ingenuity, you might even be able to heat your reconstituted protein with the R -390A itself, and if you get questioned a Customs, just remind them that you aren’t piloting a fiberglass submarine, so it’s all okie dokie!

    Reply
  9. Anonymous

    C.Crane Skywave is your best bet, it is small (1x3x5 inches) sensitive, reliable and is loaded with features, it costs $80.

    Reply
    1. Anonymous

      As attractive as their price tags are, I would avoid the Degens, except maybe the older Degen DE1121 or Degen DE1102 models, as their DSP chips still need some refining.

      Reply
  10. Francis Frankenne

    I don’t know if it is still available, but I have a Degen DE32 I use when travelling. It takes about the same room as a cigarette pack and weight about the same. It is multiband : FM, FML, MW & SW (8 bands from 5.6 to 22). The screen is analogic, not digital, meaning a very low power consumption. Importantly, it is also an MP3 reader with a micro SD slot. It comes with a Li-Ion battery which can be charged directly through a mini usb slot on the radio. It is really incredibly small and light.
    The main caveat as regards to your criteria is that the tuning and volume control are through old-style knobs mainly recessed in the casing, thus probably less easy to use than other devices.
    As regard to performance, it has been reviewed on this site. To me, FM is pretty good (through earplugs), AM good for robust signal broadcasts, SW isn’t the best by far (but I managed to catch fairly remote broadcasts when on the Greek coast) and the MP3 sound is quite good.
    Thus, I guess it ticks many of your boxes and it is so small and light you could potentially take a second as a backup 😉
    Wish you a very pleasant and rich travel

    Reply
    1. William Pietschman (W8LV)

      After thinking it over WITHOUT the Peele Island Ice Wine, I still think an Iriver mp3 player/rrecorder, (takes ONE AA battery) and a Crank Master Red Cross type radio, with SW/AM/FM, WB, a built in LED light source, and a couple of AA batteries that fit inside the radio would give you the best option. Yes, no line out, but I am sure you can easily add one, and then the only PIA would be a small male to male jumper cord.

      Reply
  11. Marty

    I don’t have any experience with this radio myself but it looks like the Kaito KA29 may fit the bill for you. Tom Stiles (hamrad88) on Youtube recently did a walkthrough of this radio on his Youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRrAq4y5gX8

    The radio is AM/FM/SW. It plays MP3s via a USB drive or a micro SD card. It will also record radio onto the SD card. Its also pretty small

    Tom usually does a walk through and then goes through performance in subsequent videos. It is probably worth checking out.

    Reply

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