Add helmet communicator to the long list of new tricks this old dog resisted learning. Riding always felt like the only quiet time in a wired world, where I could do a little of what felt like meditating – I always enjoyed the solitude. Well, screw that. The voices in my head are increasingly pissed off lately at the absurdity of it all; how about a little diversion?
As it turns out, having a little background music doesn’t much detract from whatever deep thoughts occur to me, and it’s just as nice as having a really good 8-track player, though the Cardo PackTalk Bold system is quite a bit more advanced and higher fidelity. All you have to do is pair the thing up with your phone to use as a music source, then listen to whatever you want including FM radio. You can program in six stations when you’re in town, or Cardo will seek out the strongest ones when you’re not, via its little flip-up antenna. The system comes with a microphone you mount in front of your mouth, and responds well to voice commands: “Hey Cardo, radio on,” or you can twirl the controller with your left fingers, even gloved.
Most of the time, though, I just say “Music on” and listen to all the greatest Abba hits and Lawrence Welk stored in my phone. The kids do the Spotify and whatever.
Brasfield already wrote an in-depth test of the Cardo PackTalk Bold system in July, 2018, where there’s more tech and more information; Part 2 here is really what I think about communicators in general, and the Cardo in particular, since it’s my first one.
I wasn’t super-impressed with the system at first because we must’ve had faulty speaker placement with the Arai we installed it in; above 60 mph it was inaudible. You need to get the speakers directly over your ear holes, and since heads are different, the speaker pockets in your helmet’s liner aren’t always going to line up. When I stuck the excellent custom JBL speakers into my Shoei Neotec 2, though, we were suddenly cooking with gas – though even at full volume, most of us agree we’d still like a bit more. Maybe it’s a liability thing; you do need to be able to hear sirens and things. Even with foam earplugs in, the sound is clear and crisp, even if it’s not quite audiophile quality.
It’s not called a communication system for nothing, and communicating with your fellow riders is really what it’s all about. For us MOrons, these things are fantastic for group rides: Now Brasfield can easily communicate, “ride past my camera another 15 times,” and everybody’s on the same sheet of music, or “let’s go to Starbucks” or whatever. Sadly, when you start talking, your music pauses – which makes it impossible to serenade the rest of your group. If you have a passenger, you can buy the two-pack of PackTalks and easily comm with that person – and there’s a way to shut the others in your group out for private conversations (which sounds almost as dangerous as Reply All if you get it wrong).
I do sometimes miss the Thomas Guide maps we SoCal people all had in our cars and houses not so long ago, but now that Google Maps and Waze are here, the voices in your head work very well to give turn-by-turn directions. It’s taken away all the romance of being lost.
The best use of the communication feature, though, was when we MOrons were riding back down California Highway 1 a few months ago. The best parts of that fantastic road along the Pacific are always packed with the slowest sightseeing RVs, and normally it’s a real bummer for one bike at a time to pass safely. With the PackTalk, though, the lead rider can pull out and pass the slow vehicle, and can then let the rest of the group know if the road ahead is clear or not. “Clear… clear…. clear…” Just be sure you trust the lead rider, and these things are a Godsend on two-lanes with limited passing zones.
I was a little worried about my ability to field phone calls and ride at the same time. So far that hasn’t been a problem since nobody calls me anymore but robots, and when anybody does I go with “Ignore.” I am not giving up my right to plead the motorcyclist’s 5th, “sorry I was on my motorcycle,” which we all know comes in handy lots of times even when you’re not.
Oh, I just tried “Hey Cardo, battery status” for the first time. And she says 50%, even though I can’t remember the last time I charged her up. The literature says up to 13 hours, and you can charge while riding if you need to.
So yeah, I’m pleasantly surprised by how nice it is to ride with the Cardo, whether with a pack or alone. It doesn’t rise quite to the must-have level of cruise control or heated grips, but it’s another thing you won’t want to do without once you’ve done with.
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