Riding a motorcycle can be one of the most solitary things you can do with a group of friends. You’re out there on your Kawasaki Vulcan 1700 Nomad and your buddy is on his Suzuki V-Strom 1000 Adventure, you’re riding together, but you’re alone in your own mind. If you ride for 100 miles without stopping you are occupied with your own thoughts just as if you were on a desert island all by yourself.
Unless, of course, you have a helmet to helmet communicator set. Then it’s a whole other world.
Communicators come in a variety of designs. If all you want to be able to do is talk with your passenger you can get systems that are connected by wires that directly link the two of you. If you want to talk to another rider on another bike you’ll need something using radio waves. Then the choices are between frequencies such as those used in citizen’s band (CB) radios, which carry over considerable distance, and the newer Bluetooth systems that are more limited in their range.
Another option has to do with the microphone set-up that captures your voice when you talk. Some systems use a boom, which is an arm that reaches around to hold the mic right in front of your mouth. Others dispense with the boom. And then there is the issue of activating the mic. You don’t particularly want to be transmitting endless wind noise to your buddy at times when you’re not talking.
So let’s run through some of the pros and cons.
If all you want to do is talk with your passenger, you can’t go wrong with a wired system. They’re light and inexpensive, and with no need for radio reception you are free of the interference and bleeding in of other people’s cell phone conversations.
But do you want to hassle with the boom? Some systems are better than others, but the boom can be a pain. If it’s not located at just the right spot it may not pick up your voice very well. And if it is voice-activated it may be necessary to say something, even “La la la” at first, so your buddy won’t miss the first couple words of what you have to say.
This is where the Bluetooth sets shine. You know your passenger is never going to be out of range; they’re right behind you on the bike. Plus, many of them use very high-tech systems that cancel out wind and motor noise, and they have a tiny microphone attached directly to the speakers, which are near your ears inside your helmet. Despite being up by your ears, the mics do a terrific job of picking up your voice, with the result that you just talk as if you were standing side by side. They draw very little power so the mic is always on until perhaps you haven’t spoken for 10 minutes. That way, there’s no “ummmmm” to activate things, and if it does shut down after 10 minutes, voice-activation does bring them back on.
And then, one additional factor is that some Bluetooth systems allow you to connect with your Bluetooth-enabled smart phone and make phone calls as you ride, or connect to your Bluetooth-enabled MP3 player and listen to music.
Bike to bike communication is a different matter. With a CB system you can have an unlimited number of riders all on the same frequency, and you can communicate even when you are several miles apart. With the Bluetooth systems the range is only about one-quarter of a mile. Plus, those systems generally only allow communication between two users at any one time.
But the CB systems, at least those on the market today, generally use the booms. For some people this is not an issue, while others find them very annoying. It’s all up to you.