Printed with permission from Dirt Sports Magazine from the 2009 June issue
While many off-road enthusiasts and Dirt Sports readers may think of massive bypass shocks or grippy new tires before they think of electronics for their vehicles, the electronic components can be a vital part of the entire modern off-road experience. There are many electrical components that go into your off-road machines, and the conditions that you race, compete or play in will have a huge impact on the ones you choose. This month, we will turn our focus to the “on-board” electronics typically found in a modern off-road cockpit including GPS, cameras and video equipment.
Racers and weekend adventurers alike can enjoy the benefits of knowing where they are, where they are going and where they have been thanks to modern GPS and mapping systems. Family and friends can even track you online and receive updates about your safety and progress. We can also use camera and video systems to record our racing, testing and play riding or driving. The recorded footage can be used for promotional efforts like Web sites and sponsor meetings, as well as coaching, driver improvement and even for vehicle dynamics testing.
We have pulled together a selection of various on-board electronics products that should help you to get the most out of your dirt adventures. Keep in mind that this is not an all-inclusive list as manufacturers are developing new product and constantly updating and improving their offerings, so check their Web sites for the most up-to-date products.
In the last few years GPS systems have gone from top secret military technology to something so ubiquitous that it is even included in many cellular telephone handsets. Of course, GPS has found its way into off-road racing and adventure riding where drivers and riders rely on the magic box and screen to give them directions and warn them of hazardous situations. In the off-road market the biggest name in the GPS game is Lowrance, who now offers dirtready versions of their GPS units in the Baja series including their new HDS (high-definition) models. Lowrance has been a leader in outdoor electronics since 1957 and GPS navigation since 1992 so they are surely a name that is familiar to many.
Carrying a suggested retail price of only $749, the HDS-5 Baja is a 5-inch GPS unit designed to meet the high-stress and high-impact demands of off-road racing and hardcore off-road recreation. This new GPS chartplotter supports
Lowrance FreedomMaps EX, high-detail topographical electronic maps as well as the standard features that we have grown accustomed to with our GPS units. New options include LWX-1 ($399) Sirius satellite weather and radio receiver and LGC-4000 Baja ($299) external GPS receiver.
Its compact chassis is easy to mount and measures in at a scant 7.24-inches wide by 5.27-inches high and 3.46-inches deep. The unit is designed with a special dampening material on the inside for unparalleled shock absorption. An easy to read 480 X 480 pixel 5-inch color display incorporates the exclusive Lowrance SolorMax PLUS sunlight-readable enhancements for ease of viewing in all conditions. It also uses a new menu that provides quicker and easier access to the most-used features in addition to an improved backlit keyboard design. Fast screen updates and redraws combine with great waypoint management and a huge selection of marker icons to make this a great GPS unit for the serious offroader.
For optional map display and GPS data recording the HDS-5 Baja uses a highspeed micro SD card slot. When connected to the optional LGC-4000 Baja antenna it offers a true 5 Hz satellite signal update rate that provides superior real-time locational accuracy by updating position 5-times per second.
The HDS-5 Baja is backed by an unprecedented two-year warranty and is designed to handle the bone-jarring conditions that we subject ourselves to on a regular basis. It is fully water and dust protected to make sure it can bring you home even in the worst conditions.
LOWRANCE ENDURA HANDHELD GPS UNITS
If you thought you couldn’t afford to use GPS technology for your off-road adventures maybe you should think again. With the introduction of its new Endura handheld GPS line Lowrance delivers high quality GPS units starting at just $230 MSRP for the entry level Out&Back (yellow) moving up to $385 for the Safari (gray) and topping out at just $549 for the flagship Sierra (blue). All three units share the same lightweight 5.1-inch high by 2.3-inch wide and 1.1-inch deep chassis that weighs less than 6-ounces without its two AA batteries. They also use an innovative 2.7-inch color touch screen display for easy viewing and operation. The rugged housings feature rubberized armoring that protects the unit and provides a comfortable grip.
The Lowrance Endura line consists of three innovative touch-screen GPS handhelds for the outdoor market: the flagship Sierra – the most powerful and complete out-of-box GPS experience available, the Safari – the most versatile navigator for any outdoor experience, and the Out&Back – setting a new standard in affordability and ease of use. The Out&Back offers straightforward GPS functionality while the Safari adds the capability to view photos and play MP3 audio through the micro SD expansion slot. The Sierra builds upon that capability with 4 GB of built in storage capacity. Contact your nearest Lowrance retailer to decide which unit is best for your needs.
PCI Race Radios
As one of the leaders in off-road racing communication systems, the team at PCI Race Radios excels in sales and service of GPS systems from Lowrance that are specifically designed for the rugged off-road environment. In the past they would ruggedize standard Lowrance units but with the introduction of the Baja-series GPS units PCI no longer has to go inside and modify the GPS units prior to the sale. PCI is also a Master Distributor for the new Lowrance HDS GPS systems that incorporate features to help racers including the capability to store five times the information of previous units and set separate proximity alarms for all waypoints to allow the user to create a warning for potentially race-ending danger spots.
In addition to selling the latest and greatest racing electronics to suit all your needs, PCI supports their customers at BITD, LOORRS, SCORE and SNORE races along with select DRIVE, MDR and TORC events by actually traveling to the events with their two fully-equipped and staffed support trailers. PCI also offers race map GPS download files complete with danger marks for BITD and SCORE desert race events. The company also offers free technical support on all Lowrance units purchased through them or one of their authorized distributor.
To make sure we properly operate and get the most out of our electronics, PCI also offers training courses at various times throughout the year.
Of course PCI is also well known for its driver communication and intercom systems that are not covered in this particular buyer’s guide—but they can be integrated into most in-car audio/video recording systems. This will allow the user to have an audio track of the driver and co-driver in-race communications. The experts at PCI also sell safety gear and many other products to help you race better and safer.
PCI Race Radios, Inc.
2888 Gundry Ave.
Signal Hill, CA 90755
As a communication and safety retailer, ProComm Radios carries just about every item off-road race enthusiasts would need including Lowrance GPS units and communication systems. Additionally they carry the GoPro Motorsports Hero video cameras, which have applications for dirt sports as well as other extreme sports where small cameras are necessary.
The GoPro Hero camera is the smallest wireless on-board video camera but don’t let its small size or small price fool you. Despite its $199.99 MSRP and 4.9-ounce weight, the Motorsports Hero Wide camera has a 170-degree camera angle and built in 5-megapixel digital camera, while the $179.99 Motorsports Hero has a 54-degree viewing angle.
Both cameras are tiny measuring in at 1.75-inches high by 2.3-inches wide and 1.25-inches deep so they can fit almost anywhere in or on your race vehicle. The cameras operate on two AAA batteries (not included) and will run for up to 3-hours when used with lithium batteries. Using a 2 GB SD memory card (not included), the cameras can record up to 56-minutes of 512x384 pixel video with audio or 1,945 jpeg photos. The camera can be set for video or photo mode where it will automatically take a photo every two seconds.
Each system comes with a waterproof and shockproof housing as well as a selection of mounts including a suction cup mount and several adhesive mounts. The suction cup mount is GoPro approved for external high speed driving and riding. Additonal mounts, such as the roll bar mount, are available to allow you to mount your Hero just about anywhere.
Racer X Motorsports
Racer X Motorsports is enjoying their eighth year of serving the off-road racing and recreational markets by continuing to offer their customers the latest and greatest products. In addition to the electrical products, communication equipment, safety equipment and pit equipment they carry, Racer X also sells Lowrance GPS units including the new HDS models and video recording equipment. Since we’ve focused on the Lowrance GPS units already in this buyer’s guide, we’ll focus on the video recording systems that Racer X offers.
After extensive testing on video recording systems aimed at the off-road market the team at Racer X decided to sell and support the VIO Sport POV1 system. To date they have had no returns and zero defective units, according to Racer X President Michael Cohen.
The VIO Sport POV1 is an easy to use and easy to mount in nearly any race vehicle. It is fully self contained operating from 4 AA Lithium Ion batteries that will power the system for up to 12-hours. For those wanting longer life they sell an optional 12-volt hard-wired accessory that will allow you to power the system from your vehicle’s electrical system.
The Racer X POV1 package retails for less than $800 and includes the complete POV1 recording system, 8 GB SDHC memory card, a storage/mounting pouch for the recorder, 4 AA Lithium Ion batteries, a RAM adjustable mounting kit for the camera and proprietary Windows compatible editing software. The camera can easily be mounted on virtually any size round roll bar tubing in any position. The included 8 GB memory card will hold approximately 5.7-hours of high-resolution recording time at 420x480 pixels at 30 fps for good video quality.
Racer X can also provide interface cords between the on-board communication systems and the POV1 to capture vehicle and ambient audio as well as communications inside and outside the vehicle. Systems are available for short course and desert race vehicles as well as single and multiple seat applications. They are also currently in development for additional enhanced features that would integrate GPS information such as vehicle speed, altitude and direction along with vehicle instrumentation information into the camera display.
SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger
We all know that racing or recreation can be dangerous and we build our vehicles and wear protective gear to minimize the risk of injury. One factor that increases the potential for turning an inconvenience into a life-threatening situation is the proximity of help. Unfortunately a lot of our off-road activities take place in remote areas where help— even for simple mechanical breakdowns—is not always easily accessible. Having a cellular phone is not always a solution either as we commonly find ourselves in areas with no service. So what is an adventure rider or desert racer to do?
Well, with the release of the SPOT Satellite GPS Messenger we have a viable option for personal safety and security. The SPOT system is a personal messaging device that allows users to notify friends, family or even an international 9-1-1 emergency call center based on their situation and needs. SPOT uses both GPS and commercial satellite technology to provide coverage far beyond the capabilities of a normal cellular phone. Coverage is available nearly around the globe and includes all of the continental United States, Canada, Mexico, Europe and Australia, portions of South America, Northern Africa and Northeastern and Southeast Asia. Additionally hundreds or thousands of miles off shore in these areas are also covered for those that like to get their kicks on the sea rather than the dirt.
Simple operation is handled by one of four buttons on the SPOT messenger that can send a signal to track and save your location for tracking on Google Maps, check in, ask for help or notify an emergency response center of your GPS location. The unit is lightweight, weighing just over seven ounces but it is built to handle extreme conditions. It is waterproof, it floats and it is designed to work in temperature extremes from a low of –40 degrees to a high of 185 degrees Fahrenheit. Racers in the SCORE Baja 1000 have successfully used SPOT devices where communications can be very difficult if not impossible at times with traditional methods. The unit costs less than $170 with annual service fees starting at $99.99, a small price to pay to give your family peace of mind and potentially save your butt if things go wrong out there.
461 South Milpitas Blvd.
Milpitas, CA 95035