Two of my favorite pastimes are riding motorcycles and operating amateur radios outdoors. I especially like it when I can do both at the same time. Ham radio is actually quite popular with some moto enthusiasts. Many folks don’t “get it,” but .002 percent of the population do resonate with the hobby. That’s over 770,000 licensed amateurs in the US, according to the ARRL, a national association for amateur radio and a good place to start if you’re interested in getting involved.
I can’t think of anything I’d rather do that pack my gear into a Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited and blast off. This Road Glide has just about every electronic farkle and amenity one might ask for. Better yet, it’s a heavyweight performer, and riding one is like being on a magic carpet. Although I didn’t need all the room that its top case and panniers had to offer. I figure anything worth doing is worth overdoing.
For Ham on a Hog 3, I headed for the outdoors to show off Icom’s wildly popular new IC-705 transceiver. It’s a QRP radio, which means that its 10-watt output is considered low power and mainly (but not exclusively) for portable operation. Yet, the IC-705’s features and capabilities are like no other radio in or near its class.
It can operate on most amateur radio bands and most modes like AM, FM, CW (Morse code), single sideband (SSB), RTTY, digital, and D-Star digital voice. It receives general coverage shortwave in and out of the ham bands (.030-199.999 MHz and 400.000–470.000 MHz), and aircraft airband AM VHF. There is an almost endless list of features that I’ll get into soon, and it’s all in a 2.4-pound form factor that will fit practically anywhere.
I operated the IC-705 with Icom’s AL-705 magnetic loop antenna, the Alpha Antenna Enhancement Kit for the AL-705, Icom’s LC-192 backpack, and Bioenno Power’s 3, 4.5, and 6 amp lithium iron phosphate (LiFePO4) batteries. An external battery will allow me to run the full 10 watts power out of the transceiver vs. 5 watts with the included onboard battery. More on these later.
For background on my past ham radio related stories, the first Ham on a Hog story was written in 2014. My pal Cocomo Joe blew the engine on his bike about 50 miles from the nearest cell phone tower, and we couldn’t get a call out to anyone for help at the time.
Soon after that, I decided to ride a 2014 Harley-Davidson Ultra Limited back to that remote area north of Ojai, Calif., to find out whether I could contact any repeaters from four different locations. I used a 5-watt HT (Handie-Talkie) and was successful in making contacts from all sites. When I was on top of the highest peaks, I connected with repeaters over 100 miles away. This proved that if something like this happened again, I would probably be able to summon help through the kindness of other hams.
I followed Ham on a Hog with MotoDX Safari, a story published in 2015 when I rode a 2015 Honda Gold Wing with a group of friends to the top of Cerro Noroeste, the highest mountain in California’s Ventura County. We camped at 8300 feet, feasted on amazing food, and I did a Summits on the Air (SOTA) activation with the then-new Icom IC-7200 transceiver. The SOTA activation is an award scheme for radio amateurs that encourages portable operation in the mountains, and my attempt was a complete success. We had QSOs (conversations) with folks all over the country.
In 2016, I wrote Ham on a Hog 2 after I rode a 2016 Harley-Davidson CVO Limited to the famous Doffo Winery Temecula, Calif., and played radio on the property. My pal Marcelo Doffo, his son Damian, and their large family were terrific hosts, and their winery has been voted Temecula Winery of the Year. They have over 100 motorcycles on display at the winery, most of them vintage. They have a nice little hill on the property, and I got to try out the then-new Icom IC-7300 transceiver. It was a weekend of moto and radio I will long remember.
I sure had good times doing and writing about these outings, and you may want to read these stories. After Ham on a Hog 1 and 2, it was only natural to continue with that Harley-Davidson theme because Ham on a Kymco just doesn’t have that same ring.
Icom IC-705 All Mode Portable Transceiver
Let’s take a closer look at the star of the show—the new Icom IC-705 All Mode Portable transceiver. I won’t attempt to do an in-depth review of every feature on this radio because other published reviews get into granular detail. Instead, I will highlight the available opportunities to communicate with it in so many ways and modes to help entice readers with the things that might be done with such a unit. Because of its small size, the IC-705 may be the most capable small-sized rig anywhere, ever.
For the motorcyclist, or anyone, who likes to take a radio off to faraway places and is short on carrying space, wants to travel light, or just enjoys the challenge of operating a low-power rig, this unit has no equal.
Before this, I had been looking for a small QRP radio to take on trips, and there are quite a few manufacturers building rigs that might be considered. Units from Elecraft (K1, KX 1, or KX3) and Xiegu (G-90, X108, and X5105), plus the Yaesu FT-817, the Lab599 TX-500, and a few kit radios are some of the choices.
The Icom’s competitors all have their own styles and feature sets, and some are priced significantly lower than the IC-705. Each has its strengths and weaknesses, good and bad points, and might serve the purpose and satisfy my needs. However, when I saw the announcements for the 705, I realized there are absolutely no radios available that can compete with it in features and functions. To my way of thinking, that justifies the price, which is now hovering around $1300 (street price). My mind was made up.
Starting with the basic design, look, and feel, the 705 seems to have the perfect layout for me. It embodies all the goodness of Icom’s wildly popular IC-7300 in a smaller, less powerful, but more capable unit. It shows excellent build quality with nice button and knob feel. Nothing feels cheap, and all controls are intuitively placed, especially for a current Icom owner.
An experienced ham can likely operate the 705 right out of the box without consulting the manual. Given the immense breadth of capabilities and options, even seasoned operators will find themselves referring to the Advanced manual to get the most out of the radio.
The 4.3-inch color touchscreen offers information and functionality, while the controls’ layout is masterful and just the right size for my hands. It’s the largest screen I’ve seen in this radio class. Although the high-speed, high-resolution, real-time performance is not unique, it is implemented better than any other radio I’ve seen.
This display incorporates the same visual waterfall display (spectrum scope) as on the IC-7300 and other transceivers. Seeing the entire band at a glance—large and in color—ends the need to tune up and down, looking for signals. Now that I’m hooked on this scope, I can never imagine owning a radio without one.
The touchscreen also allows me to change most settings by pressing the screen’s corresponding area, yielding controls for that given function. The intuitive nature enables many operators to dive right in without even reading the manual.
I can put the 705 on a desktop or on a tripod with the built-in 1/4” – 20 UNC tripod socket or in a backpack or just about anywhere. Compared to the competition, it is more attractive and compelling than any other radio designed for this mission.
At its core is SDR (software-defined radio) Direct Sampling technology yielding low-noise and low-distortion receiver performance. Firmware updates are easy to accomplish. Because the radio’s architecture is software-defined, these updates can add features, correct bugs, and change the radio’s very nature.
As an All-Band, All-Mode portable, the list of what can be done with this radio is unique. I can power it to 5 watts with the included snap-in battery, or 10 watts with an external battery or power supply. I can operate pretty much all day on even the daintiest 3, 4.5, or 6 amp, 13.8-volt Bioenno LiFePO4 batteries. Use a bigger battery, and you will enjoy days of operation without worry because current draw while transmitting at 10 watts is under 3 amps, and standby is about .3 amps.
The included microphone has four programmable keys that can be set to change volume or frequencies and may be used as a speaker, as well, if its second connector is plugged into the external speaker jack.
The radio has good sound from the front-facing speaker, even though it’s rather small, and I have several ways to hear this radio. Besides plugging in the microphone’s second jack and listen through the mic, I can use almost any external speaker with a 3.5mm stereo jack or a Bluetooth speaker.
Bluetooth is built-in, so I can connect to Icom’s VS-3 Bluetooth headphone/microphone combination with push-to-talk. I’m not limited to Icom’s offerings, so I bought a pair of inexpensive Bluetooth earbuds. Even though they don’t have a push-to-talk button, I can use them with VOX (voice-actuation) enabled. Anecdotal reports online from users tell of the 705 being able to pair to just about anything.
The 705 will Bluetooth to smartphones, and Icom has several utility software packages available to program the radio and operate it remotely. I can’t think of a scenario in which this radio cannot work.
Digital operation has become quite popular, and the 705 is ready right out of the box, with no need for add-ons. If I bring along a tablet, Arduino, or laptop, I can work digital modes all through the single USB port. No soundcards or add-ons are needed, and I can play with FT8, PSK-31, JT-65, RTTY, and a host of others. Those who have operated with digital modes know that 5 to 10 watts with a decent antenna and good conditions can often yield worldwide contacts.
I can eliminate the HT I took on the first Ham on a Hog ride and reach out to FM repeaters around me on 2 meters (144 megahertz) and 70 centimeters (440 megahertz).
D-Star is built-in, too. It’s one of several digital and voice protocols, and Icom’s choice. D-Star offers capabilities far above analog FM. It will likely transmit farther, but that’s not all—I can send text messages and photos. It connects through the local repeater to reflectors connected to the internet and located all over the world. Through them, I can join in conversations almost anywhere.
Callsign routing can be used to find a buddy anywhere if he is connected via D-Star. I can enable D-PRS and, through the built-in GPS in this radio, have my location shown on a map that anyone can access. The GPS will also let the radio find the nearest repeaters at the press of a button to eliminate hunting around.
On this radio, D-Star is available on any band, so I can operate digital voice in the HF spectrum, too. D-Star on 20 meters? No problem. If an operator can’t reach a local repeater, he can set up Terminal/Access point modes built-in to connect to the internet through almost any WiFi (built-in) or even one’s smartphone. Once connected, he can pursue any D-Star activities as though over the air. No antenna is required in this mode, as all signals go over the web.
I can carry all I need, including battery and antenna, in Icom’s LC-192 backpack designed expressly for this radio. My complete kit weighs just 8.4 pounds. You may choose a different pack or watertight case, but the results will be similar—almost any kind of amateur radio operation, anywhere.
UHF single sideband? Check. D-Star on HF? Check. Digital modes anywhere? Check. There is so much ability in such a small package. Hams are a curious and resourceful bunch, and there’s so much here to explore.
With 500 memory channels in 100 groups, scan edges with 25 channels, four call channels, and SD card memory, I can program the radio with all my favorite frequencies and channels and record QSOs, including location and pertinent information. Plus, I have 10 voice memories to record and then transmit that recording, such as calling CQ repeatedly.
Never before has a portable radio had all these capabilities, and in a 7.9” x 3.3” x 3.2” size. My plans are to take this radio just about everywhere I go, once winter and the pandemic are behind us. In the meantime, it has also been a lot of fun operating in my backyard, the park, and at the beach when the sun is shining.
A radio is nothing without an antenna and power, so let’s take a look at what I’ve paired with the IC-705.
Icom AL-705 Magnetic Loop antenna
Icom offers the AL-705 magnetic loop antenna crafted for them by Alpha Antenna of Pleasant Hill, Mo., and sold exclusively through Icom’s distribution network.
It is designed to operate on the 10 through 40-meter amateur bands. The AL-705 is rated for a maximum power of 20 watts SSB, and 10 watts CW and digital. The deployed diameter is 26.5 inches and breaks down for storage in a small space, or in the optional LC-192 backpack’s lower compartment. The antenna includes 15-feet of feedline with a BNC connector on one end and PL-259 on the other.
Magnetic loops are an interesting breed of antenna. They generally offer quiet reception because they are rarely affected by electrical interference. They’re a bit of a mystery as to how they work, but I selected this because it’s small, portable, and easy to assemble.
I can hang the antenna from a tree branch in a figure-8 or one loop within another. I can prop the tuner on a tabletop or, using Alpha’s optional TM-705 Tripod Mount, mount the tuner on a tripod. This Tripod Mount can be purchased separately from Alpha and is included in the Alpha Antenna Enhancement Kit for the AL-705. More on that below.
All loop antennas require exact tuning because they have a high Q. This means that they are narrowband and need re-tuning of the air capacitor if one changes frequencies around the band. Once tuned, they are only “just right” for a few megahertz bandwidth. I found that the loop is extremely sensitive to exact tuning for transmitting and SWR, as well as reception. What might be a dead band for 358 degrees of tuning, the air capacitor comes alive when you get to the best spot. You will know when you’ve got it right, without a doubt.
If you like to move around the band and pounce on signals you see, the loop will take more work. If you prefer to camp out in one area of the band, then it might be perfect for you.
I found that the difference between being spot on and not was likely one or two degrees on the tuning knob. Perhaps that is why Alpha Antenna offers the SR-705 Speed Reduction knob, which I have not tested. It appears to be a handle to fit over the tuning knob, making minute changes in the tuner position a bit easier. Alpha says, “A lever that is made three times the size of a standard knob is the same as having a 6:1 reduction drive installed on a variable air capacitor with a 360-degree turning radius.”
After spending several days operating with the AL-705, I became more adept at making the best tuning choices. The time and energy required to tune are offset by the size and ease of deployment. Sure, one might deploy a long wire or dipole or other antenna that will avoid the need to regularly tune and offer better performance, but the AL-705 hits the sweet spot for portability vs. performance. The build quality is excellent and, all around, I am well pleased.
Alpha Antenna Enhancement Kit for the AL-705
Alpha Antenna manufactures Icom’s AL-705, and knowing some tricks to help performance has resulted in the Enhancement Kit to get to the next level of functionality.
The kit consists of a longer loop segment, a nice lightweight aluminum tripod, the TM-705 Tripod Mount, a handful of loop clips, and a nice canvas bag. The Tripod Mount is essential because it makes hanging and tripod mounting a cinch. Without it, there are not as many choices.
The Enhancement Kit gives users two choices. The first choice is to replace the standard single loop with a longer loop, which creates a double loop. This enhances both transmission and reception for 20 through 40 meters.
The second choice is to add the longer loop in series with the original loop to create a triple loop. Doing so will further enhance performance and will add coverage for the 80-meter band. However, it limits the antenna to 40 and 80 meters only.
Alpha also offers the optional RM-705 Rig Mount. This bracket mounts between the loop and tripod, allowing the IC-705 to be placed on the tripod with the antenna above. It is adjustable in height and depth, so it is a good solution if a table isn’t available and you don’t want to operate on the ground. Just add a lightweight camping chair or a flat rock, and you’re all set.
As with the AL-705 antenna, the Alpha Enhancement Kit is well-made and does the job it’s meant to do with no fuss. It’s also the largest component in my review due to the tripod, so you be the judge of what you find necessary for your outings.
Icom LC-192 Backpack
How will I carry all this equipment around with me? Sure, any backpack or case will do and maybe save you a few bucks. If you want something custom designed for your new IC-705, then you want the Icom LC-192 Backpack.
It’s about 15” x 10” x 6” (H x W x D), excluding straps and handle. A dedicated, cushioned, and zippered nacelle in the top compartment fits the radio perfectly. A leather tab with a 1/4” – 20 UNC short, knurled bolt holds the radio in place.
The shoulder straps are adjustable and have a hook for the microphone, plus a cross-chest snap for security. An antenna plate riveted on one side allows mounting one of several whip antennas available. Plus, an antenna port allows a small whip connected directly to the radio to peek out.
There are cable pass-throughs, called cable ports, to allow snaking mic/power/antenna cables through the inside of the pack to permit operation without removing anything. That is aimed at the pedestrian mobile crowd.
The lower compartment of the pack is zippered. There are removable and hook-and-loop repositionable partitions to accommodate your load. Within the flap closure are accessory pockets, and there’s a larger web pocket on the side opposite the antenna mounting plate.
The back is padded and has a full-length pocket for papers or even a slim laptop or pad. Oh, let’s not forget the call sign holder on the front flap.
I can fit the radio on top, loop antenna, feedline, power cable, microphone, batteries, some paracord, paper, and pencil in the backpack, and still have room for lunch and a bit more.
The quality is about average for a lightweight backpack; it does the job and still looks new after several outings.
Bioenno Power Batteries
I’ve known about, and used, Bioenno Power’s LiFePO4 batteries since Ham on the Hog 2. LiFePO4 battery chemistry is entirely different than other lithium batteries—it is thermally and chemically stable. Therefore, it is not considered a fire hazard as lithium-ion batteries are.
The Bioenno battery models I have used have two plugs—an Anderson Powerpole and a DC coaxial female 5.5×2.1. I charge with an appropriate charger from Bioenno using the DC plug, and I operate with the Powerpoles.
I have found that their batteries have virtually no shelf drain during the three-to-six months that I sometimes leave them between uses. It’s nice to check the state of charge and see it’s still full.
The batteries also have a relatively flat discharge curve. Voltage remains steady for 80-to-90 percent of the rated capacity, so I don’t have to deal with the significant voltage drop during discharge that occurs with lead-acid chemistry. There is also an enormous weight saving. The batteries are rated for 2000+ charge cycles and have a shelf-life of at least five years.
I am sure there are many fine LiFePO4 battery makers, but I started with Bioenno and haven’t bought enough batteries to try them all. They are one piece of kit I can pretty much forget about and rely on.
According to Bioenno, “14.6V is the charging voltage and the battery’s operating voltage is around 13.2VDC. However, the battery industry rule is to use the most conservative number, which is 12V. This also helps with air shipping for batteries under 100 Watt-hours. Using the lower value helps us ship up to 12V, 8Ah, which is 96 Watt-hours (even though, yes, in reality, the battery’s operating voltage is 13.2V x 8 Ah = 105 Watt-hours).”
So using the real-world numbers here are the watt-hour ratings:
- 2V x 3 Ah = 40 watt-hours (Bioenno claims 36Ah)
- 2V x 4.5 Ah = 60 watt-hours (Bioenno claims 54Ah)
- 2V x 6 Ah = 80 watt-hours (Bioenno claims 72Ah)
On a practical note, when I transmit at 10-watts SSB, I see about 2.5 amps (Icom claims <3 amps) draw on my inline meter. At 13.2 volts, this equals approximately 33 watts per hour when transmitting. Receiving requires about .3 amp (Icom claims .3 amp standby audio), equaling 4 watts per hour.
To compute the life of a battery charge, we need to know the mode (digital modes are typically higher usage) and the duty cycle (receive time/transmit time/standby time). I don’t want to make this complicated so, hypothetically, if I transmit 20 percent and receive 80 percent of the time, I will use under 10 watts per hour. Given the 40 watt-hours available on the smallest 3 amp battery, I can theoretically operate for over four hours with a battery that weighs 13 ounces. Your results may vary, and LiFePO4 is not inexpensive. Yet, given what this setup will cost, one can seriously consider LiFePO4 a must-have.
Thanks for spending time with me, the Harley-Davidson Road Glide Limited, the Icom IC-705, and all the related gear. I look forward to so many fun times together. It was so nice riding the Hog to do the ham activities—what a phenomenal motorcycle.
Happy trails de KA6USA
HAM BUILD LIST
- Icom IC-705 All Mode Portable Transceiver: $1433
- Icom AL-705 Magnetic Loop Antenna: $349
- Icom LC-192 Backpack: $199
- Alpha Antenna Enhancement Kit for IC-705: $199
- Alpha Antenna TM-705 Tripod mount: $40
- Alpha Antenna RM-705 Rig mount: $25
- Alpha Antenna SR-705 Speed reduction knob: $10
- Bioenno Power 12V, 3Ah LFP Battery BLF-1203AB: $50
- Bioenno Power 12V, 4.5Ah LFP Battery BLF-12045W: $65
- Bioenno Power 12V, 6Ah LFP Battery BLF-1206A: $80
Photos by Don Williams, Joseph Hawke and Jonathan Handler