Infotainment has moved past just cars and has started finding its way into motorcycles. But before Harleys offered Apple CarPlay, bikers needed to find ways to communicate with the world outside their helmets. Not just with their phones or music, but with each other. For some time, Bluetooth headsets have been the standard for modern motorcycle helmet communication systems. However, they’re no longer the only choice available.
Motorcycle communication: Bluetooth and beyond
To be fair, motorcycle communication systems existed before Bluetooth. Radio-based wired intercoms, using either FM or CB technology, are still in use today IntercomsOnline reports. However, although they use helmet- or ear-mounted microphones and headsets, they also require bulky additional electronics, WebBikeWorld reports.
The latest motorcycle helmet communication systems, though, are considerably more compact. They typically take the form of headsets that clip onto the helmet itself, RideApart reports, with clip-in microphones. Some helmets come from the factory with headset slots. And some helmets even have built-in Bluetooth communicators, RideApart and Motorcyclist report.
But, while Bluetooth may be the standard, there is another option available. Following Cardo’s example, another prominent headset supplier, Sena, has begun offering mesh communication in its products. And while the two technologies are somewhat similar, they’re not quite the same thing.
Which motorcycle helmet communication systems are best?
Cardo offers 2 products with both Bluetooth and mesh: the Packtalk Bold and the Packtalk Slim, Cycle World reports. Meanwhile, the latest products to feature Sena’s mesh platform are the 50R and 50S, Motorcyclist reports.
Both Cardo’s and Sena’s motorcycle helmet communication headsets offer phone and GPS connectivity, as well as voice control. So, if you have an iPhone, you can just say, “Hey Siri.” In addition, both suppliers’ headsets support audio streaming. The Cardo Packtalk products, though, have JBL audio, and are certified as waterproof. But the Sena 50R and 50S offer faster charging options.
However, the key differences lie with the Bluetooth and mesh. Both systems work using radio waves, rapidly hopping between frequencies to send and receive data. Bluetooth, though, requires each person to be linked together in a kind of ‘daisy chain.’ If even one rider breaks away, the chain breaks, and everyone has to reconnect later.
Mesh communicators, on the other hand, connect riders using a web. So, if one rider leaves, the rest of the group stays connected. And if the lone rider comes back, the web reforms seamlessly.
Range is another category where Bluetooth and mesh differ. Both operate using radio waves. So as a result, in small groups, both technologies tend to hit their limits in under a mile. And, as with other radio signals, elevation changes can cut down that range.
However, with mesh-based motorcycle helmet communication systems, the more riders you add, the more range you get. Sena’s 50R and 50S have the edge here: both can add up to 24 riders, while the Sena Packtalks are limited to 15, Champion Helmets reports. But even so, Sena claims, with more than 6 connected riders, the Bold has a 5-mile range.
Are they worth getting?
Mesh-equipped motorcycle helmet communication headsets can be somewhat pricey. Both Sena’s and Crado’s models retail at about $340. Plus, these headsets do add additional weight and bulkiness to your helmet. However, the Packtalk Slim distributes it between a slimmer headset and a rear-mounted battery pack.
Luckily, both suppliers also offer cheaper Bluetooth-only helmet communication headsets. They don’t have the mesh features. But, in small groups, you wouldn’t see the benefit of the longer range. And they still let you keep in touch with those around you. That’s especially useful if you’re going off-road, where communication is vital.
But what if you don’t do regular group rides? Then it becomes more of a personal issue. If you’d like to have GPS directions, the compact Beeline Moto is an even cheaper alternative. And if you want to listen to music, you can either install Bluetooth speakers or use Bluetooth headphones. At that point though, you may be approaching the budget point of a dedicated communications headset anyway.
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