Updated: Apr 11
Communication and transportation developed almost together. In the days of four-legged transportation it was easy to ride up next to your traveling companion and communicate with them about anything on your mind. As we transitioned to noisier horseless carriages, and motorcycles, communicating between vehicles fell backwards to voice-less methods like hand signals. Then came the wireless radio. It made communicating between vehicles as simple as if the operators were standing next to each other.
Today we have wireless phones with hands-free connectivity. And if you ride a motorcycle now you can use those systems to connect with people, listen to music, or even get directions from a navigation system. The first time that I used a helmet comm system was when I was a motorcycle police officer. The system was wired to our portable radios. We connected to the motors and then we could press a push-to-talk button on the handlebars when riding. Since I left the job, that equipment has gone Bluetooth.
I like to listen to music when I work in the yard, when I drive a car, just about any time that I’m alone doing something. I listen to all genres of music from classical and country to rock and soul. So, it was just a natural move for me to get a sound system for my motorcycle helmet.
I have a 2009 Kawasaki Concours 14 as my primary motor. When I was a motor officer, I used the Schuberth modular helmet. As my new helmet for riding the Concours 14, I chose a Schuberth C3 Pro. Schuberth is a very fine helmet for touring. Schuberth has their own comm-system powered by Sena.
The model for the C3 Pro is the SC10UA and it mounts internally. Once installed it connects easily with your cellular phone. You can listen to the FM radio band or your own music from the various phone apps available. The Sena cost around $300.
Pressing the volume + and – buttons simultaneously will turn on the power. Once it has been paired with a cell phone the system connects when it is powered on like most Bluetooth devices. Changing modes, switching through a playlist, or changing the radio stations is all done with the + and – buttons.
Phone calls are great. Sena claims 10 hours of talk time on a fully charged battery. The first call that I received was riding on the interstate at 70 MPH. The person on the other end was surprised when I told them that I was riding my motorcycle. The noise control feature works very well. I was very impressed with the Sena system, except for one thing.
The speakers were not what I would have expected from a German audio system. They were good for phone calls but terrible for music. I ended up buying some good quality headphones and taking the speakers out and putting them in the Sena system. It worked, but why should I have had to do that?
Add to the original cost the better speakers that I had to buy and hooking them up. The new speakers did produce the sound quality that was missing from the original ones, but that too came at a cost. The new speakers were a little thicker and had a bigger magnet and coil which meant they would draw more power from the battery. This meant a shorter battery life. The 10 hours claimed by the manufacturer dropped to about 8.5-9 hours.
My first real test of the was when I used the system on an Iron Butt Challenge to go 1000 miles in 24 hours. I got about 9 hours of music listening out of the system. I used a power bank to recharge the battery. It took about an hour. The system works great now after my upgrades even though the battery life is shorter.
The Sena SC10UA system is in the helmet that I use most. So it’s going to be with me for a while. Sena does make externally mounted systems and they offer a handlebar mounted remote control, but I don't plan on making any changes.
I also have a 1995 Kawasaki Ninja ZX7R. It had been sitting in my shop for many years. I decided to get it road worthy again, and after a lot of work on the fuel system, charging system, and the brakes she was ready to ride. As part of the Ninja refresh, I decided to put some new graphics on the plain mono-color deep purple. The kit that I bought turned out great. See my write up on that here, Ninja Graphics Upgrade.
I used the only helmet that I had, the Schuberth, when I first rode the ZX7. After just a few minutes of riding the back of my neck would start getting fatigued. I realized that the Schuberth helmet was the cause. That helmet was great for riding a touring style motorcycle where you’re sitting upright. However, on the sport bike where I was leaning forward I had to tilt my head back in order to see further down the road.
The solution was to just get another helmet. I found a full-face helmet by Icon at my local Cycle Gear. It called out to me from the top shelf saying, “I was created for your Ninja.” So, going with a different helmet made me think about trying a different brand of communication system.
A couple of years ago I went to a rally with a buddy who had a Cardo system. We were able to link our systems, but our communication results were not that good. It seems that the two brands were not compatible with each other. For this new helmet I went with the Cardo system. I got the Cardo PackTalk Edge Headset. When I bought the helmet. The system was $350. The salesman installed it.
My first use was on a short ride. The Cardo paired with my phone as easily as the other Bluetooth devices. As started down the road leaving my house with music playing I was surprised to hear the volume increase as the ambient noise increased. Very impressive I thought.
The Cardo control unit mounts on the outside of the helmet. One of the things that I found frustrating about the Sena SC10UA was that if you want to make a change to anything you have to open your visor. This can be a pain especially if you’re traveling at highway speeds.
The controls located outside of the helmet are so much easier to operate. To change the station, the volume, or answer a call you simply press the control unit. The mode button to answer a call or change modes, the Channel Up/Down to change songs in a playlist or radio channels, and the volume is managed by the cylinder just adjacent to the LED.
The Cardo Edge system uses JBL 40mm stereo speakers. That accounts for the great sound that I got. There is a Natural Voice Operation that allows for "hey Cardo" functionality instead of using buttons. And, as I stated earlier, the Automatic Volume Control can automatically adjust your sound based on the outside ambient noise. You get up to 13 hours talk-time.
When I first got the Sena system I was very pleased with the overall function of it. I initially liked the all interior placement. It was the system that was made for the model helmet that I chose. So I went with it. Despite the flaws that I discovered I still think that it is an acceptable system. My friend who rides for the police said that they chose Cardo when they were upgrading to Bluetooth communications for their helmets. They also went with Shoei helmets after many years of using Schuberth. Hmmm.
Whatever you system you decide to go with there is nothing like having the convenience of being able to get navigation assistance or listening to your favorite tunes while riding. So try one, and keep the rubber side down.