Motorcycle Communications Systems
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Motorcycle Communications Systems

This article will explain how to communicate while riding a motorcycle. We'll talk a little about who or what we wish to interact with. There will be a little about present and past hardware used to communicate on a bike. We'll do a mini review on whats state of the art now. It's July, 2012.

Why do we need to communicate on a motorcycle?

Well, riding with a passenger or riding 2-up was the the beginning of the motorcycle personal communicator. Radios have been used on motorcycles since the forties. Of course the cops all have bike radios. We're not talking about these commercial apps. We're talking about personal communications on a bike; be it a touring bike, a chopper, a sportbike or even a dirtbike or ATV. These new personal communicators can be used in almost any power sports activity.

The Chatterbox

The Chatterbox has been around for what, 30 or 40 years.? They are still used today. The chatterbox was attached to the rider's and passenger's helmet. It made talking to each other easy. It was kind of crude in the beginning, but it worked OK. There were many technical improvements over the years. The newer models are bulletproof. The chatterbox pretty much had a monopoly for a long time.

The units got better and better. The range got better. There was less radio interference. Some of the later boxes had issues with the helmet mounting system. Riders ended up having to epoxy or physically bolt the mounting brackets to their helmet to prevent the chatterbox from falling off. The chatterbox was used a lot for group riding. It had a decent range. I think the range eventually got up over a mile. The newest chatterbox models have most of the features everyone else has, but it no longer has any type of monopoly.

Enter the Cardo Systems company. That was about 7 years ago. Maybe sooner. I don't remember. Cardo systems came out with the Scala Rider Solo. This was bluetooth technology. The cardo could be paired with your smartphone. The scala rider solo is a very compact unit. It was much smaller than the chatterbox. The cardo communicator worked well with a cell phone. It had a little trouble with some motorcycle bluetooth GPS devices in the beginning.

The bugs got worked out and the devices started talking together better. All devices became easier to "pair". That could be a real problem in the past. There are several models in the cardo scala rider series at present. I think there is a set with 4 communicators. There is FM radio reception and seemless communication with your cell phone and a motorcycle GPS. The scala riders and many current model communicators use 2 tiny helmet speakers and a small microphone for the rider to talk. Installation is quick and the unit can be moved to another helmet easily.

Open face helmets require a type of boom microphone which connects to the helmet mounted electronics control center. This is what the chatterbox pioneered. A sportbike or full face helmet requires a small microphone to be embedded inside the helmet right around the chin-guard area. Cardo has perfected this design. The scala rider series has done well.

There is newer technology that's been out for almost a year now. This is what I just started researching a couple months ago. Boom mikes aren't needed anymore. Neither is the tiny mike embedded in the full face helmet for the sport rider. The new tech design communicator collects the vibrations from your vibrating jaw and skull and translates this speech by way of your full face helmet shell to the electronic control unit with no microphone needed. Pretty cool, huh?

Here's the latest tech:

Make a call, or talk with another rider via intercom. Now check your GPS. Maybe the GPS is talking to you and telling you the turn is up ahead. Check out the real time weather radar. The group doesn't want to ride into a heavy downpour. "There is Traffic Ahead." She says. My GPS' name is Karen. She's Australian. Chat with your passenger.

Ask a question to one of your riding buddies in the group ride. "Hey, what's going on up there crazyR1?". You can Crank Up some Pink Floyd. Listen to I-Hart. You don't need to pull over anymore to do this stuff during the ride. Just talk to your personal communicator. The voice command software will do everything for you. All you have to do is ask.

And There's more:

Evidently the military has been using this technology for awhile now. They always get the best stuff first. Course the military has an unlimited budget. Some of these pilots don't use a boom type microphone anymore. They've gone boomless and microphoneless. There's new beam forming technology recently patented. From I've read this new tech isolates speech and eliminates that unwanted background noise like wind. The person on the other end of the conversation can hear you quite well even in some challenging surroundings.

There's a new unit coming out soon:

It's July, 2012. The UClear company is relatively new to this motorcycle personal communications field. Their soon to be released HBC200 model brings to market this very cool new group riding intercom system. I don't know what the military called this stuff. It must have had some kind of 3-lettter acronym or something. UClear calls their version the Multi-Hop. Multi-hop makes sense. It's catchy and it's designed especially for the group riders to talk to each other without even thinking about pushing this button or that button. It's all done with the rider's voice commands.

You probably know what full duplex means. This is just like talking on your cell phone or land line. You don't have to wait for the person on the other line to finish talking like being on a walkie talkie system. Well, you get seemless full duplex communications with up to 4 riders with this UClear system. The military pioneered this stuff so it must be good, right? This technology is said to provide excellent sound quality, much better than before. There is vastly improved connection stability.

There aren't those annoying drop outs like when a cell call drops. The bluetooth intercom system has really been improved. Interference is said to be a thing of the past. according the information I read, there isn't a reliance or dependency on line of sight anymore to communicate.

As I understand this, each HBC200 unit works like an access point repeater. You may have a wireless access point repeater as part of the network at your job. It's like a relay station. This multi-hop tech lets the group ride wireless network grow larger as more riders who have one of these extremely small helmet mounted gadgets join the group ride.

The intercom range between the initial 2 riders in the group ride network is up to 700 meters. That's between 1/3rd and a half mile. It might be a little less if you're around some kind of heavy electrical interference. Do you guys actually ride in Hurricanes and/or Tornadoes? We don't. I'm a chicken. When the 3rd rider joins the network or group ride, this wireless intercom range increases an additional third of a mile or more.

Ok, now bring in the 4th helmet equipped rider and you complete the daisey-chain. You remember the term daisey-chain, right? It's like interconnecting all those USB computer peripherals you have connected via a USB hub. I know. Everything is wireless now. Well, you get the picture, don't you?

These 4 riders can disperse themselves throughout the group ride. They can keep their eyes and ears open and watch what's happening during the ride and report any issues. I've been on lots of group rides that have been quite large. I mean up to 45 riders. 20 riders is actually quite common for slow group rides. The faster paced rides work better with less than 10 riders. Experience says this is safer.

With this UClear system, intercom communications will be established between the 4 HBC200 equipped riders up to a distance of 1.3 miles or 2100 meters. The 2 furthest apart helmet equipped riders determines the maximum distance here. This is a real safety tool especially for those large group rides.

Suppose the ride really gets stretched out and these riders drop out of intercom range. Well, if they've swapped cell phone numbers, they can call each other by using the UClear voice commands. Maybe a conference call is possible between cell users. You'll have to try this out for yourself.

So translate this please:

Microphones aren't needed anymore. You can talk on your smartphone or intercom up to 4 riders in full duplex mode with the HBC200 set. The range between individual riders is about 1/3 of a mile. The range for 4 riders in a daisey-chain or wireless network is 1.3 miles. That's more than enough for most group rides. The UClear multi-hop technology was pioneered by the military. There is advanced voice command technology for hands free use.

You can interact with your bluetooth GPS. You can listen to FM radio or maybe an I-Hart radio app on your phone via bluetooth. You can listen to your mp3s. I guess wind noise is no longer a problem especially for the rider using a full face helmet. This is exactly what we have been needing. Technology advances. Group riding is safer and more enjoyable. It shouldn't be long before the other personal communicator companies have this new technology.

The Competition:

In fact the Interfone F-5 unit is very advanced. It beats the UClear with 6 rider capability. The F-5 enjoys a maximum helmet equipped rider spread of 2400 meters for it's wireless network. The UClear has a big advantage though. Getting rid of the microphone is a big deal for full face helmet users like sportbike and sport touring riders.

This would be an excellent product for the solo rider. Interact with your cell phone, the gps and other bluetooth stuff you might have in your riding jacket pockets. Some riders keep the electronics in a tank or a tail bag. Others wear backpacks. The sound quality is supposed to be superior with the new UClear technology.

The existing single UClear unit is priced around 200 bucks depending on configuration. it has excellent reviews. The 4 unit set with this new technology is projected to run around 5 bills, maybe more. Maybe I can buy a setup next year. The price will come down by then. A 2 unit set would work for me. Maybe I'll get a 4 unit set if my buddy Ralph will go in with me. I'm looking forward to using this stuff. The proverbial new unit bugs should be worked out in 6 months. I plan on reviewing a unit soon.

Conclusion:

Motorcycle communicators have come a long way. I wonder what the future will bring. I can envision tiny camcorders, micro monitor displays and internet connectivity involved. I hope you learned a little bit more about motorcycle personal communications. This new technology is small, light and unobtrusive. I hope it works as well as it sounds. We need to know more about battery life too. We'll know soon enough.


Street Talk

Thanks for your comment David. I don't really know if if it's good or bad to help turn a reader into an expert. Maybe I'm going into just too much detail. I'm writing this sportbike stuff off the top of my head. My goal is to help my reader with their questions or help solve a problem. i realize 99 percent of the members here have no interest in the sportbike hobby. These articles must be terribly boring for them. It's OK. These technical articles will help new riders in the future.

Reply
  about 7 years ago

After reading this very thorough article, I feel like an expert :)

Reply
  about 7 years ago
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