Listen Up

The most significant change in the motorcycling experience has been the advent of wireless communications systems. Rider to passenger intercoms, Bluetooth capabilities to take phone calls, and stream music from personal wireless devices, has turned riding into an even grander experience.

by James C. Moore

I was contemplating a few days ago that I have been riding motorcycles for around fifty years. Suppose that makes me an old guy. And I’ve ridden many interesting places across Canada, all the lower 48 states, transited Australia, and places I cannot even remember. Most of my memories of the landscape and weather are attached to motorcycle rides.

But through all those years there was only wind noise in my helmet or the occasional yelled plea from my wife riding pillion. We shared, but did not exactly share the experience because we could not talk. She often patted my shoulder or hip to express her happiness or shout a single word like, “Beautiful.” But we were unable to have any type of conversation at any speed.

And then Bluetooth happened. And then wireless intercom came along, though I am not sure which happened first. But helmet communication systems transformed riding. I can no longer imagine the experience without being able to talk to my passenger. As an amateur historian, I love rolling across the countryside and pointing out historical landmarks and telling her what happened on a location a hundred years ago, and if it piques her interest, we stop. And, of course, if she’s hungry or needs to stretch her legs, she lets me know.

The headsets built into helmets, or after-market clamp-ons, transform the riding experience. As a self-employed consultant, I can take calls from clients while rolling down the highway, conduct business, and the sound is clear and crisp for both the speaker and the listener, regardless of whether the modular helmet is closed or if the windshield is up or down. No one ever has any idea I am on a motorbike.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b64LJUhMTlM

Even more enjoyable is the fact that I can stream music off the popular sites or my iTunes, get GPS guidance through my phone or a separate device, and never be distracted. Speaking to a passenger, helmet-to-helmet, is a simple matter of voice activation or tapping the side of the headset’s module.

The prices, quality, and capabilities of these systems vary greatly. Least expensive at an online retailer can be as low as $40 dollars but can also be more than $300 dollars for a top end single headset system without anything for the passenger. My purpose here is not to offer reviews. There are various products to suit budgets and tolerance levels for quality of sound and connectivity.

But if you are riding in 2017 without the capability of talking with your passenger about what you are experiencing, or taking a call from the office to tend to business, or streaming Jackson Browne’s “Runnin’ On Empty” into your headset while rolling up the power on a west bound straightaway, well, you aren’t really, completely, experience the joy of motorcycling.

Share the road. Share the ride. Talk and listen.

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