By Richelle Redekop
When I first started riding, I was vehemently against the idea of helmet communication systems. Riding was my ‘me’ time, the last thing I wanted to do was listen to the inane chatter of someone talking just for the sake of hearing their own voice (Yes, I am a bit of a grump). I have no time for idle chit chat while trying to think about hard hitting issues like creating world peace, ending hunger…or more likely, how I can convince my husband that we need just one more dog.
After years of resisting buying a communication system I was forced to join the party when my husband ordered a system off of eBay for a trip we had planned to take from our home in Edmonton, AB to San Francisco. It was a cheap, no-name system from China that barely worked but much to my chagrin I was hooked. It only worked if you were basically right behind your riding partner, and even then the static made it nearly impossible to hear them talk, but being able to ‘sort of’ talk to each other when trying to navigate through strange cities or tell your partner you wanted to stop for a break was fantastic (you just had to learn to decipher garbled gibberish). There was no more frantically waving in hopes your riding buddy would see or just stopping and hoping they noticed that you had disappeared. There was no more having them miss a light that you got through and not knowing where to go to catch up. Trips through unfamiliar territory now went smoothly and staying together was simple and stress free. Not long after this trip, the communicators broke (not surprisingly as they were absolute garbage); however, I was able to use them long enough to know that I was a convert.
For our next foray into a rider communication we decided to get the best system we could find in hopes of finding a system with audio that you could actually hear and decipher. We ended up buying the Cardo Scala Rider G4 PowerSet for snowmobile helmets. Initially, we made the mistake of ordering the motorcycle version and quickly found that the motorcycle set only worked for open face cruiser style helmets due to the boom style mouthpiece. The “for snowmobile helmets” label is a bit of a misnomer as really they seem to mean for closed face helmets. If you use a closed face helmet, such as an adventure style helmet, you need the snowmobile version. Luckily we were able to exchange the motorcycle version for the snowmobile one and we have not looked back since. This intercom system has worked flawlessly for the 4 years we have had it, and we would not hesitate to buy the exact same set again if anything were to happen to it.
The system comes with 2 bluetooth enabled headsets with the following specifications:
- Up to 1 mile/1.6 km rider-rider intercom
- 4-way intercom conference mode between 2 riders and their passengers or between 3 separate riders.
- Make/receive/reject calls either by voice command or by the push of a button
- Upgradeable software
- Receive in ear GPS navigation voice instructions
- Built in FM radio with 6 station presets
- Wireless connection to MP3 players (or your cell phone audio player)
- Automatically adjusts speaker volume to according to driving speed and ambient noise level.
- Voice operated control for receiving/rejecting incoming mobile phone or intercom calls.
- Dual ultra-slim speakers for tight helmets
- Up to 13 hours of talk time, 1 week standby
- Waterproof and dust proof
Everything you need to install the system onto your helmet is included in the box and the process is quick and easy. Once the audio kit is in place you simply slide the charged G4 PowerSet in and click it securely into place. The two headsets that come in the box are paired from the factory so you only have to worry about pairing additional headsets if you want to communicate a third or fourth rider. Pairing mobiles phones to the system takes 2 minutes or less, and is so easy even I can do it.
As my husband and I don’t have riding buddies with the Scala system I can’t comment on how the system works with more than the two headsets paired, but I can say that when just working with the two factory paired headsets this system is awesome. The stated range of 1.6 km (1 mi) is probably a bit optimistic if you are riding anywhere but the bald ass prairie but there is more than enough range to do the job effectively. The operation of the units is very simple, if you want to listen to music during your ride you simply press the MP3/Channel A button and if you want to skip forward, repeat or adjust the volume you can easily do that by tapping the appropriate button. You can answer calls on your mobile phone by speaking loudly or tapping the mobile button, similarly you can make calls by tapping the mobile button and using the voice dial feature to make your call. To use the intercom you can either press the channel button or use a voice command. In all cases, after about 30 seconds of silence your system goes into standby and reverts to your music playlist if you were listening to music before the call. When talking on the phone or intercom I have never had an issue hearing or understanding the person on the other end and I have never heard any complaints about my voice being hard to hear. That being said I would imagine this is heavily helmet dependent, as a helmet with a lot of wind noise will make things a lot more difficult.
The system is quite easy to use, and even when wearing gloves I don’t find that the buttons are hard to press or find. As I have the memory of a 70 year old with pre-Alzheimer’s I find that every year I have to re-familiarize myself with what each button does but then I am good to go (or I just stab at all of the buttons repeatedly until it does what I want). The battery life is excellent, the only time I have ever had the batteries die mid-ride is when I have forgotten to charge it for a day or two. If you charge it nightly (which can be done via USB or wall charger) you will easily make it through even the longest riding days. Every once in a while I find that I have difficulty getting my music going again after using the intercom but I think that is more a product of my crappy phone and my ‘stab at the buttons until it does something’ approach to problem solving. The PowerSet slides easily out of the audio kit for charging or if you want to put it in your saddle bag when you are off the bike. The durability and weather proofing of these units is top notch, as proven by their ability to survive 4 years of being used by me. They have never skipped a beat despite enduring constant abuse from me (I drop things a lot), heavy rain, dust storms, hail…you name it.
Aside from the convenience of being able to talk to my husband while trying to navigate and the joy of jamming to my tunes while riding through the twisties I have found that having this system (or any communication system) actually improves my safety on the road. As I mentioned before I have the memory of a pre-Alzheimer’s 70 year old and unfortunately I think I must also have borderline narcolepsy because sometimes I get so tired I can barely stay awake during the ride. When I feel myself fading a bit I can turn the intercom on for a chat or crank my music and this perks me right back up again. You can also warn your riding partner of any road hazards such as debris or wildlife that you want to make sure they have seen.
The biggest con to this system doubles as a pro…the voice activation system works a little to well sometimes. The voice activation is often sensitive enough to turn the intercom on if you cough or clear your throat, causing the other person’s music to cut out and force them to listen to you hacking away. It will also cut off your music and turn on the intercom if you become to enthusiastic in singing along to your favorite song, thus ending in you unintentionally serenading your riding partner with your less than perfect rendition of ‘Can’t Touch This’…or so I’ve heard. Overall, these little niggles are pretty minor and don’t take away from my love for this system.
As much as it pains me to admit that I was wrong, I have been completely won over by these helmet communicators. After four years of using the Cardo Scala G4 PowerSet I would be very surprised if there was a better set out there (aside from the newer version) as this one is absolutely flawless. I can confidently say that I would replace it tomorrow with the newer version of the exact same set if I had to. So if you are looking for a rider communication system that does it all, you won’t regret purchasing the Cardo Scala Rider PowerSet.