High tech gizmos aren’t limited to the motorcycle itself. Yes, it’s great having the latest injection systems, engine management, LCD display, USB cards for telemetric data, you name the technology. But for the riders, improvements have been made as well. One of them is the use of wireless transmissions. Bluetooth is a wireless transmission standard created for the PC world. It allows peripherals to communicate with each other. Keyboard, mouse, pointing devices can all talk to each other without wires.
Using the same Bluetooth technology, helmets can communicate as well. In the old days, if you wanted to talk to your pillion passenger, either you shouted, or you carried an intercom that consisted of bits of wire, either connecting the rider with the pillion, or via a central hub mounted to the motorcycle.
You could often see a motorcycle ride up to a gas station, and the pillion dismounting and walking to the service area, forgetting that he/she was tied to the motorcycle or rider. Ouch!
Those days are over. By installing a Bluetooth helmet kit, you can now not only talk to each other, but also listen to music, GPS instructions and even talk on your Bluetooth equipped mobile phone.
The first versions of Bluetooth had more limitations. Version 1 of Bluetooth, drew more power (therefore your batteries could not last that long), the sound was in mono and the reach limited 10 meters).
Along came A2DP, a standard that allows for full stereo sound. The most used Bluetooth version is currently 1.2, but version 2 and 2.1 are more and more widely available. Version 3 is in the works, and will give less power usage and more range.
Range can play an important role, since it could allow you to talk to your riding buddy who is also equipped with Bluetooth. Typically, the range is 150 meters for those that have that capability. It will therefore function as a bike-to-bike communication system without the need of a walkie-talkie. Communication is secure, since no one can hear you, or interfere with your communication.
Fitting the Bluetooth kit on your helmet shouldn’t take too long, since most kits have stick on, or screw on mounts (not permanent). Once fitted, you need to introduce the Bluetooth gear to each other (called “pairing”). The only downside is that you need to use the same manufacturer’s gear, you can’t mix & match.
Usually, the Bluetooth gear is intelligent. If you’re talking to your pillion, and the phone rings, it will interrupts the intercom and switch to the phone. The same is applied to GPS instructions.
A wide range of equipment is now available. Helmet manufacturers are selling helmets pre-fitted with Bluetooth (BMW, Schuberth, Nolan, Vemar, NZI, Momo, Givi, Dainese, Airoh and Caberg to name a few).
If you already have a helmet, or want a communication unit that can be moved from helmet to helmet, a growing list of third party manufacturers exist. Some use the same equipment but sold under different labels (such as CellularLine Interphone, Blueant and SuperTooth), other have their own (Albrecht, Scala Cardo, IMC, JM, Motorola, Spyball and Voltronic).
There are also Bluetooth equipped units that do not function as intercom. For example the Parrot SK4000 is a wireless unit that functions as radio, mobile phone interface and MP3/iPod interface. But it can’t be used to talk to your pillion.
At the top of the range are the hub & spoke units. They consist of a central hub mounted to your motorcycle, and Bluetooth receivers fitted to your helmet. The hub interfaces with a wide range of products, including walkie-talkies. Manufactures include AKE, Baehr and Dimton.
Not all units can communicate with all sorts of devices, you need to check carefully. Motorcycle GPSs like Garmin Zumo and TomTom Rider are equipped with Bluetooth, but have in the past proven unreliable with communication links dropping. Always make sure that you have the latest firmware installed in your GPS if you want to use it with your Bluetooth communicator.
But then there are a lot of rides out there who don’t want to be bothered by the pillion, a mobile phone or music. They just want to hear the wind and engine roaring.