POTA by Bicycle: VA3MZD’s QRP Ham Radio Journey

Many thanks to Rod (VA3MZD) who shares the following guest post:

POTA by Bicycle: A Ham Radio Journey

By Rod Murray VA3MZD

First, some background: I earned my Canadian Basic With Honours Amateur Radio License in February of 2022 as a retirement goal while taking advantage of pandemic isolation time to read and study for the exam. I then chose VA3MZD as my call sign. Back in 2007, while teaching in Australia, my students gave me the Aussie nickname, Mr Muzzdog, and it stuck. I’m now Victor Alpha Three Mike Zulu Delta.

At about the time I got licensed, I acquired a Yaesu FT-818ND QRP radio. I had read and heard a lot about POTA and was eager to get on the air but also to operate outdoors. Being active in hiking, cycling and paddling, my immediate goal was to activate a local park on one of my outdoor adventures. I learned as much as I could about QRP and POTA from subscribing to Thomas’ QRPer Blog as well as numerous other channels. I was thrilled when I made my first HF QSO followed shortly thereafter with my first POTA contact as a Hunter from my QTH. This made me even more intent on activating a Park.

My activation attempts from a local park, however, were unsuccessful. QRP with a compromised, mini loop antenna wasn’t working for me. My first successful activation was unique and did not occur until a few months later, far from home.

In May 2022 I traveled to Vancouver, BC to visit family. One of the regulars on my radio club’s morning net (The Elmira Radio Club), a long distance Elmer, so to speak, offered to take me to a local British Columbia park and help me make my first activation. Despite having never met, Trevor VE7BM, scheduled a rendezvous east of Vancouver at VE-3304, Castle Park, and in half an hour, we had over 10 QSOs in the log. I was hooked!

My First Activation with Elmer VE7BM at VE-3304, Castle Park, BC

Upon returning to my home province of Ontario, I acquired an EFRW antenna that I eventually tested for the first time on Field Day in June of 2022. The Nelson 9:1 worked well with my FT-818 and I began taking it on visits to my local Conservation Parks and on hiking trips. I made several successful activations with it but I then ordered a much more portable Tufteln QRP EFRW that Thomas had demonstrated on his QRPer channel. It performed very well and became my regular POTA antenna after installing the Nelson 9:1 permanently in the attic.

Having four POTA units close to home, all within 10 km, made it very convenient to make trips by vehicle to activate them. What makes those 4 parks even more interesting from an outdoor activity perspective is that they are linked by a well maintained rail trail, The Elora-Cataract Trailway which just happens to be part of VE-5082, The Great Trail of Canada! The rail trail connection means that all of these parks can be easily accessed on foot or, my preference, by bicycle.

The Elora Cataract Trailway / The Great Trail of Canada VE-5082 near Shands Dam and Belwood Lake

I started taking my pared down kit, the radio, antenna, tuner, battery and throw line in my bicycle pannier on my regular rides. Then I’d set up the radio for a POTA Activation while visiting a park. My most frequented and my most favourite is VE-5319, Belwood Lake Conservation Area, because of the 10 km eastbound ride through farms and forests, over Shands Dam into the park. Not only is it a pleasant ride, it’s a 2-fer with The Great Trail!

POTA by Bicycle at Belwood Lake Conservation Area – VE-5319/VE-5082

In the westbound direction, The Trailway ends in the scenic and historic tourist town of Elora, and just beyond the town is The Elora Gorge Conservation Area, VE-1392, where the Canadian Heritage designated Grand River cuts a 22 metre chasm through the limestone bedrock.

It has serviced campsites, trails, picnic shelters and tables near mature White Pine trees (Ontario’s Provincial Tree) perfect for deploying a wire antenna. I’ve been fortunate to have met each of these Parks’ Superintendents, and have been able to promote Amateur Radio, my radio club, and also received their full support for POTA activations and Winter Field Day.

Activating VE-1392 Elora Gorge Conservation Area from a picnic shelter with a radio club colleague

Between the two historic mill towns of Fergus and Elora that make up the municipality of Centre Wellington and accessible from The Trailway, stands The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge National Historic Site, VE-5928. Now renovated to serve as the Wellington County Museum and Archives, the historic limestone building has an interesting, well documented history.

It is perched on the top of a hill overlooking the Grand River, and its grounds, with picnic tables and large pine and spruce trees, are perfect for a POTA activation. I discovered in the late summer of 2022 that it was an ATNO, so I made a point to activate it right away and have made numerous activations since then, many by bicycle.

The Wellington County House of Industry and Refuge National Historic Site – VE-5928

There’s a 4th POTA unit too, which I’ve yet to activate due to its limited, summertime only access. Lying just a few hundred metres off The Trailway, The Elora Quarry Conservation Area, VE-5600, is a local swimming hole, as the old quarry is now flooded with aqua blue spring water, perfect for a hot summer’s day. My goal for next year is twofold: firstly, to activate the 4th park, and then, departing early one morning, to activate all four parks, all by bicycle, all on the same day! Perhaps I’ll plan to end up at the Quarry to cool off after over 50 km of cycling. With the approach of Winter in these parts, that will have to wait until next summer, however.

A screenshot of the POTA Map of my local area with the 4 POTA Units connected by The Trailway, which parallels The Grand River.

Thanks to the many hunters and fellow activators I’ve had the pleasure to contact since my foray into QRP ham radio and POTA. If you are visiting South Western Ontario, make a point of stopping in the area, and exploring our Grand River Conservation Parks and other POTA units, and hopefully make a few activations!

Meanwhile, do you have POTA units accessible by bicycle near your QTH? Why not consider adapting your field radio kit for POTA by bicycle and give it a try?

Rod VA3MZD calling CQ POTA

73 and POTA on!

Rod (VA3MZD)

My POTA by Bicycle Field Radio Kit

  • Yaesu FT-818ND
  • Tufteln EFRW 9:1 Antenna – 41’ radiator and 17’ Counterpoise
  • Bioenno 3Ah Battery
  • ATU-10 tuner (sometimes I use an old MFJ-16010 manual tuner)
  • 50’ RG-58 Coax
  • 75’ 2mm throw line
  • Rite-in-the-Rain logbook and Mechanical Pencil
  • Optional – Windows 10 laptop
  • POTA by Bicycle Field Kit

13 thoughts on “POTA by Bicycle: VA3MZD’s QRP Ham Radio Journey”

  1. Hi Rod, that trail system connecting the parks is great!

    It’s FB to have several POTA options accessible by QRP travel methods.

    POTA On!

  2. Great report Rod. I know that area very well; I used to own a business in Elora. It’s a beautiful area. I moved to Owen Sound a few years ago and my new area is blessed with many POTA entities. I’m a frequent activator, but only CW. Maybe I’ll try an SSB activation some day and we’ll meet on the air.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Working on my Morse Code right now! I’ve attempted some activations farther north up Highway #6 in your area, which is equally, if not more beautiful than here!

  3. Nice story Rod! I’m just curious why the random wire and not a resonant EFHW? By time you take into account 41’ + 17’ = 58’ you’re at almost an EFHW for 40m. This would allow you to lighten the load by not having to carry a tuner. POTA ON!

    1. Good point! I’m on the hunt for a better antenna now that I know a lot more. My initial thinking, taking everything one step at a time, was to have tested an antenna that would fit in my attic, and give me easy access to more bands. So I went with the 41’ EFRW. Once it was in the attic I replaced it with what I already knew for portable operation. But as I said, now that I know a lot more, my next antenna will be a resonant one, and yes, I won’t have to pack the tuner anymore! Yes, it’s a journey and I’m having fun learning from every long distance Elmer along the way. Appreciate the question!

  4. Nice report Rod,
    fresh air, beautiful countryside, radio and bicycles. Don’t really get much better than that!

    Did you 3d print those rails for your ft-818? Do you have a link please?

    You could switch to an 40m EFHW and ditch the ATU, but you would lose a little frequency agility. Weight not so critical on a bike vs a sota hike. Think you already have a wining combination with your kit.

    Best 73

    1. The rails were 3d printed by an ebay seller in Italy and purchased a while ago. The seller’s name was: maxmazzinghi. I don’t see the listing anymore but I’m sure there must be others who have a similar file that would do it.

  5. Wisconsin recently got the (rest) of the state trails added to the POTA reference list when the database reopened last month. That means three references in my area that are almost more easily accessed by bicycle than motor vehicle! With some 2-fers between another trail and a recreation area, that’s a POTA rover for me to look forward to in warmer seasons.

    1. I think my first K-10*** in the log was from WI. I’m seeing many new ones more frequently on the POTA spot page now. Hopefully some are bicycle friendly!

      1. An inspiring report.
        Thanks Rod.
        And thanks also for mentioning that you included the park superintendents in your PR activities.
        POTA On!

  6. As one with as many bicycles as Thomas has radios, POTA by bike has been in the back of my head since I got a FT-817nd. I recently upgraded it to the Wincamp battery so it is practical.

    Curious if you have any cycling specific tips for portable ops?

    1. I’ve upgraded my FT-818 in numerous ways and the one that I haven’t done, but intend to do at some point, is the Windcamp internal 3Ah LiFePo battery. There’s 2 reasons that’s a good addition- I’ve left home without my Bioenno (accidentally left it at home on the charger) and had to make do with 2.5w. Having the battery inside is less stuff in the bicycle pannier too. Currently I leave 8 rechargeable batteries in the AA tray just in case. Of course, as mentioned above, moving to a resonant antenna will maximize my 5w output.

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