Bike Rack Vertical

[This is an updated version of a post that appears on my old website. – WB3GCK]

I do quite a bit of my QRP operating from portable locations. I like to use simple wire antennas but, truth be told, I really dislike spending my limited operating time trying to get antenna wires up into trees.  Also, when activating parks for Parks on the Air (POTA), I often operate from the cab of my truck and need an antenna that is self-contained and quick to deploy.  This set up fits the bill.

What I did was modify my homebrew roll-on mast support so I could use my hitch-mounted bicycle rack to support it. This only required the drilling of two holes in the roll-on mount. Figure 1 shows the roll-on mount clamped into the bike rack. In this case, I was supporting a 31-foot Jackite pole. After extending the pole and removing the bottom cap, I just lower the pole onto the 1-1/4 inch pipe. That’s all there is to it.

Bike Rack Antenna Mount. A 9:1 unun is attached to the Jackite pole with a bungee cord.
Bike Rack Antenna Mount. A 9:1 unun is attached to the Jackite pole with a bungee cord.

By selecting the right size of pipe, I can use this technique to support a variety of masts. For example, I’ve used this type of mount to support two 5-foot sections of TV antenna mast. I used this configuration to support a 1.2 GHz yagi for DStar digital communications during an ARES-RACES drill years back.

My new truck's first QRP-portable outing.
The Bike Rack Vertical in use

When operating QRP-portable, I often use a vertical antenna made from a 30-foot piece of hook-up wire and fed through a homebrew 9:1 unun with an 18-foot length of RG-8x coax. The unun is just attached to the 31-foot Jackite pole using some small bungee cords. No radials are used, which gives this set-up virtually a zero footprint. You can find more information on this configuration on the EARCHI website. I’ve successfully used this antenna in the field over the past few years. It’s a bit of a compromise, as antennas go, but it has always served me well. The extra height using the bike rack mount seems to help performance a bit. (Although I can’t quantify that, I’m sure the extra height doesn’t hurt.) With the internal antenna tuner in my KX3, I can work all bands from 40 through 10 meters.  Heck, I’ve even used it on 80 meters a bunch of times.

I used this particular antenna configuration countless times in recent years.  It was my “go to” antenna for NPOTA activations.  Within 5 minutes of arrival, I can be on the air. When it’s time to leave, tear down is just as fast. Now, that’s what I’m talkin’ about!

73, Craig WB3GCK

Outer Banks 2017

For our annual vacation this year, our extended family rented a house in the town of Corolla on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Of course, ham radio was a part of my week’s activities.

I’ve operated my QRP equipment from numerous beach houses over the past 20 years but this year highlighted the need to be flexible and adapt. Before I left for vacation, I looked at some pictures of the house online and did some aerial reconnaissance (Google Earth) to see where I might set up my radio and antenna.

I initially set up a 30-foot vertical on a 3rd-floor balcony on the front of the house. I ran my coax down to an unused bedroom on the 1st floor. That was a great place to operate but the noise levels were horrendous. My vertical was a bit too close to some electronics (TVs, WiFi equipment, etc.). I made one contact before taking down the antenna and moving on to Plan B.

After studying the back of the house (furthest away from all of the electronic gadgets), I decided to go with a 53-foot wire in an inverted L configuration. I ran the wire vertically along a wooden deck up to the 3rd floor. From there, I ran the wire out horizontally to a Jackite pole strapped to a volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so of wire ran back down the Jackite pole. So, I guess it was technically an “inverted J.” Whatever you want to call it, it served me well. I still had some intermittent noise issues but it was more manageable than before.

This is a view of the rear of the house showing how I supported my inverted L. The wire ran up the side of the deck and out to the Jackite pole strapped to the volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so ran down the Jackite pole. So, technically, it was more of an inverted "J" than an "L."
This is a view of the rear of the house showing how I supported my inverted L. The wire ran up the side of the deck and out to the Jackite pole strapped to the volley ball net. The last 6 feet or so ran down the Jackite pole. So, technically, it was more of an inverted “J” than an “L.”

I fed the antenna through a 9:1 unun with an 18-foot run of coax going in through a nearby window. My KX3 was wedged into the corner of a ground floor bedroom.

This is a homebrew 9:1 unun at the feedpoint of my antenna. The wire went up vertically about 23-feet before extending out horizontally to the Jackite pole.
This is a homebrew 9:1 unun at the feedpoint of my antenna. The wire went up vertically about 23-feet before extending out horizontally to the Jackite pole.

On the air, this impromptu antenna worked surprisingly well. It was especially effective on 40 and 30 meters. If I ever get bored enough someday, I might model it to see what it looks like on paper.

My “cozy” operating position next to a foosball table. If you look carefully, you can see the 9:1 unun through the window.
My “cozy” operating position next to a foosball table. If you look carefully, you can see the 9:1 unun through the window.

The bands were pretty flakey this week but I managed to make contacts every day. I fell into the pattern of getting on 40 meter CW early in the morning then doing some PSK-31 on 40 meters in the evening. I had some nice CW rag chews and worked some Carribean and South American DX on 40M PSK-31.

One notable highlight was working Joe N2CX who was doing Parks on the Air (POTA) activations in Canada. Despite the lousy band conditions, I worked him at three different parks. I worked two of the parks on two bands and one of them on three bands.

We had some thunderstorms and heavy rain on our last day there, so I took the antenna down and packed up the radio stuff a little earlier than I wanted to.

It was a fun week in North Carolina and we’re already looking at houses for next year. You can bet that I’ll be ready with several antenna options. You just never know what to expect.

72, Craig WB3GCK

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Holiday Weekend Bike Ride

For a long, holiday weekend, it’s been pretty busy around here.  I managed to get in a bike ride this morning on the nearby Perkiomen Trail.

On my way back to the trailhead, I stopped for a brief QRP session.  I tossed a line up over an opportune branch and hoisted up a 29.5-foot wire.  It wasn’t the highest branch but it let me operate under a shady tree.  I laid another 29.5-foot wire out on the ground for a counterpoise.  I’ve had very good success with this configuration on many occasions, while feeding it through a 4:1 unun.  Today, I tried attaching the wires directly to my KX3 using a BNC-to-binding post adapter.  The KX3 managed to tune it with an SWR less than 2:1 on 40 and 30 meters.  On 20 meters, however, I couldn’t get it below 5:1.  So, I quickly hooked up the 4:1 unun and about 6 feet of coax.

Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.
Once again, I pressed my bike into service as an antenna support. One handlebar grip has a 4:1 unun attached to it. The other grip is where I tied off the line used to hoist the antenna.

Not hearing much activity on 20 meters, I tuned around 30 meters and heard W9CBT calling CQ from the Chicago area.  The QSB was bad and we just couldn’t complete the QSO.

My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.
My station setup today. The food storage container houses LiFePO4 battery.

Down on 40 meters, I had a quick exchange with K2D in Connecticut, one of the 13 Colonies special event stations.  I called CQ on 7.030 and wound up having a nice two-way QRP QSO with John, W3FSA, in Portland, Maine.  We managed to hang in there despite some deep fading at times.

After that, I quickly packed up and rode the last few miles back to the trailhead.  The weather was perfect and I would have liked to stay longer.  However, I needed to get home to put some ribs on the smoker.  I have my priorities in order!

I wish all of my U.S. ham friends a happy and safe 4th of July.

72, Craig WB3GCK

Line Isolator

One of my favorite portable antennas is a 30-ft wire fed through a 9:1 unun.  This type of antenna generally the uses coax feeder as a counterpoise, since the 9:1 unun configuration provides no line isolation.  Most of the time, this has worked well for me with no issues with stray RF getting back into the equipment.

On a couple of occasions, my Elecraft T1 auto tuner began to act up, refusing to load up on one or more bands. (Running through the T1’s diagnostic mode always seems to restore operation to normal.)  I’ve also had one of my keyers behave erratically once or twice.  Since this has only happened when using the 9:1 unun, my suspicion is that common-mode RF currents on the coax shield are the culprit.

My proposed solution for this is to use a line isolator between the tuner and the coax feeder.  (Note:  Using a line isolator at the antenna end of the coax would defeat the purpose in using the coax as a counterpoise.)  A quick survey of my junk box stash of parts showed I had everything I need to build a line isolator from scratch.

Parts List

  • RG-174/U coax (approximately 24 inches)
  • FT-140-43 ferrite core
  • (2) BNC-F chassis mount connectors
  • Hammond Manufacturing 1591MSBK Enclosure (2.2 x 3.3 x 0.8 inches)

Construction

This is a very simple project.  You can build one in well under an hour.

  • The RG-174 coax is wound on the FT-140-43 core for a total of 10 turns.  Take note of how the 5th turn goes across the core.  This makes installation in the case a little easier.  I used a couple of small nylon tie-wraps to hold the windings in place.
  • Drill the holes for each of the BNC connectors and wired up the choke, as shown.  I used a 5/64-inch drill bit and had to use a reamer to get the holes to the right size for the BNC connectors I used.
  • Solder the coax to the BNC connectors.
  • To mechanically secure the core, I used a piece of two-sided foam mounting tape to mount the choke to the bottom of the case.  As an additional precaution, I put a piece of packing foam on top of the choke before attaching the lid.  This foam provides a slight downward pressure on the choke to prevent it from shaking loose in the case during handling.
line_isolator_core
Core winding
isolator_core_installed
Core installed in case

Testing

I don’t have access to the equipment necessary to do any type of exhaustive testing of the line isolator.  In lieu of that, I hooked it up to a 50-ohm dummy load and checked the SWR.  It was basically flat from 160M through 6M.  While that tells me nothing about how effective it is in reducing common-mode currents, I at least know I didn’t make any serious screw-ups in building it.

2015-11-08 13.45.50
Completed line isolator

In Operation

Well, this part will have to wait until I have a chance to get out for some portable operating.  I want to make sure that the line isolator doesn’t affect the T1’s ability to tune my antenna.  Since the initial problems were very intermittent, only time will tell if I solved those problems or not.  I’ll be sure to update this post with any new insights I gain.

Update 5/16/2017:

Since this article seems to get a lot of traffic, I figured it was time for a long-overdue update.  Not long after this post was published, I tested this 1:1 unun in line with the coax to my 30-foot wire and 9:1 unun.  As I suspected it might, it affected the tuning of the antenna.  One or two bands wouldn’t load up properly.  This made sense to me, since this antenna configuration relies on the shield of the coax for the counterpoise.  So, there’s some RF on the coax shield by design.  This device obviously is blocking some RF, as it should.  I haven’t pursued it further and I still have done any measurements to determine its effectiveness.  With a change of connectors on the output side, it could definitely be useful as a 1:1 balun, I suppose.

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