Intercom communication devices are not new to motorcycling. It’s common to see two couples on two Gold Wings with microphones attached to the sides of their helmets, rider and passenger talking to each another and rider and rider talking too. A few years ago, Cardo Systems came onto the market with the scala rider line of headset intercoms and reached out to me in an effort to get the word out to women motorcyclists.
I'm testing the scala rider G4 PowerSet system while riding sweep on a group ride with other women. Anyone who leads a group would greatly benefit from an intercom system like this one. You can talk to the rider in back to communicate directions and keep the group together.
Cardo’s scala rider comes in this very nice packaging.
All the components are neatly packed inside this sturdy box.
With women being the primary household purchasing influencers, controlling 85 percent of where a family spends its money, it’s a no-brainer that women are the ones convincing their male partners to buy this intercom system. “Honey, now I can tell you when I want to stop and go to the bathroom, put on another layer, check out that scenery spot, or pop into that shop we just passed.” It makes the communication part of riding that much easier.
But let’s go one step further here. I suggested that with so many women riding side by side—the ladies’ group rides, even two gal riding buddies—why not show how the scala rider can benefit women riding with other women riders? Ladies love to gab (yes, we do!). Now women can share information with one another when riding, adding a whole new element to spending a day on the bike with your friends. Using an intercom system also does away with frustrations like losing riders who fall behind or being unable to communicate to others that there’s a cop following you.
I first tested the system with friend Amy Skaling on our ride to the Sturgis Rally last year. Here she is hooking the iPod connection to her helmet.
Then I tested it with Diane Norton from the Idaho Tourism Bureau. She led a ride of women motorcycle journalists through Idaho last year. I rode sweep, and we talked to each other in an effort to keep our big group together.
Diane and me together, connected to each other wirelessly.
Cardo makes several intercom systems. I tested the scala rider G4 PowerSet (not to be confused with the lesser G4), touted for being the most feature-rich bike-to-bike Bluetooth headset available, with a distance of up to one mile in communication range. On a long open stretch of I-90 in Wyoming, Amy powered ahead of me on her Diva Glide (her blinged-out Road Glide), and when she was at the mile mark, we could still talk to each other as clearly as if she were beside me. I was impressed. This is ideal for riding groups where the lead and sweep are far apart. However, communication disappeared as soon as we lost sight of each other. That’s par for the course with headset systems. If terrain separates you, there goes communication. So in the twisties, if the lead rider is fast and she wants to communicate with the slow poke several turns behind her, no can do if she’s out of sight.
The G4 is “feature-rich” indeed, with a Bluetooth for GPS or a cell phone, FM radio, MP3 connection, and of course voice activation. All these features make for a steep learning curve. There was too much to memorize while reading the instructions at my kitchen table, so I got out on my motorcycle and took the directions with me in case I forgot, say, what the difference is between the blue, the flashing blue and the red lights. If you use the device on a regular basis, you’ll get the hang of it and it will become second nature, but there is a lot going on with the G4. You have to be very systematic in how you approach using it and memorizing what does what.
Here, the “brain” of the unit is detached from the helmet clamp. After a full day’s use (at least eight hours), each helmet unit needs to be charged separately, so consider that with all the other batteries that need charging on your trip. Might want to bring along a power strip.
It takes about three hours for each unit to charge. That will give the system more than enough juice for a full day’s use, about 10 hours. I never ran out of power, and we left the units on through lunch and gas stops. I was impressed with that. It was really handy talking to Diane at the gas stops when trying to corral our 12-person estrogen-fest back on the road. “You ready, Genevieve?” she’d ask as she rolled up to the road and waited for the riders to fall in line behind her. I'd respond, “Hold on, two gals are still putting on their gloves back here."
Voice communication between the two headsets is crystal clear. I was impressed with the high quality of the sound that, yes, can be heard clearly even at 75 mph. It takes some time to get used to the feel of operating the up and down volume buttons on the side of your helmet with your gloves on, as well as knowing which button turns on the FM radio if you want to use that. You’ll fumble a bit until your fingers intuitively know where to touch. I suggest figuring all that out when you’re stopped because I found I got disturbingly distracted the few times I was fumbling with the buttons while riding.
And you mustn’t forget to put up the little antenna on each of the units because without that up, there’s static and little communication ability. You can’t put the antenna up with your gloves on when riding, either. I tried. The tab is too small to grasp. Another thing to add to your pre-ride checklist.
A close-up of the unit, showing the microphone, the antenna, and the earpieces that use double-sided adhesive strips to adhere to the inside of your helmet.
The G4 is voice-activated, meaning you just start talking (loudly when the unit is in standby mode, which happens after 30 seconds of silence) and your partner should be able to hear you. During the times that communication cannot be established this way for whatever reason, you simply press the channel button on the unit to open the line to the other rider.
The unit’s base clamps easily onto most three-quarter and full-face helmets. Everything you need to attach it is included with the system. There is an accessory kit available to attach the system to half shell helmets.
While I do not recommend talking on your cell phone while riding, I was curious to see how the Bluetooth part of the G4 works. I use a Bluetooth earpiece with my cell phone already, and pairing the G4 Bluetooth to my cell phone is done exactly the same simple way. At a gas station, without taking my helmet off, I dialed my husband’s phone number and talked to him using the microphone and listened with the speakers placed inside my helmet—the same ones that transmit the voice intercom system. My husband said he could hear me clearly, as I could him.
We kept talking as I rolled out onto the interstate to see how we sounded at highway speeds. At 75 mph, riding my Street Glide with my three-quarter-helmet face shield down and a shortie Klock Werks FLARE windshield as a wind deflector, I could hear him with the volume turned up all the way, and he could hear me just fine. Later he tried to call me while I was riding, but I didn’t hear the beep in my earpiece signaling a call. Thank goodness. Just as talking on a cell phone while driving is dangerous, so is taking calls while riding a motorcycle. I think the Bluetooth cell phone feature is handy for making quick calls when you don’t want to remove your helmet while stopped.
If you’re a GPS user on your motorcycle (which I am not), you can connect the GPS to the Bluetooth and hear the voice instructions that way. I tried the FM radio feature but encountered mostly static in the desolate stretches of Wyoming, Montana and Idaho where I tested the unit. In the cities, a few stations came in clearly.
Amy tested the iPod feature using first an auxiliary jack cable she owns, shown in pink in these photos. We discovered it’s best to use the supplied MP3 adapter cable, as it’s a better fit in the jack holes, hence better audio quality.
Amy rides with her iPod on her wrist and usually puts the earbuds in her ears while riding to listen to her tunes.
To test the G4’s MP3 feature, she plugged her auxiliary cable into the G4 to route the sound through the speakers in her helmet.
The music can be heard clearly through the G4, but Amy had to pump up the bass directly on her iPod so that the music quality was more balanced through the earpieces. When I said something to Amy through the intercom, her music would stop when I started to talk. For those who enjoy listening to music on their motorcycle and do not have a radio, CD player or MP3 capability, this is one way to enjoy your music.
Amy adjusts her music volume on the G4 before taking off on the ride.
The G4 allows four riders (two drivers and two passengers), three riders (three separate bikers), or two riders (rider-to-rider or rider-to-passenger) to conduct intercom conversations at distances of up to one mile. The headset offers full duplex (simultaneous talking/listening) capability, as well as mobile phone call conferencing between riders, between rider and passenger, or with outside callers. I did not try this feature.
When not using the intercom, the microphone can be moved to the side of your helmet with the flexible boom, as Diane demonstrates here.
This is indeed one of the better headset intercom systems on the market for motorcyclists, and the price reflects that at $489.95. If that seems steep to you, Cardo makes less expensive models, starting with the Q2 at a price of $219.99. The main difference between the two is that the intercom on the Q2 reaches a distance of 2,700 feet (just under a half a mile), and the Q2 units are not paired from the factory, though you can pair them yourself. If that one-mile range is important to you, consider the G4 at $279.95. You can order any of these systems online at CardoSystems.com
. Note that Cardo recently announced an upgrade to its operating system. Now users have access to version 3.0, which enables G4 users to connect with other users in the same area without pairing. Cardo calls this "roadside social networking." For information on this, visit their Web site.
By the way, where does the name “scala rider” come from? La Scala is a world-renowned opera house in Milan, Italy. In Italy, “scala” is nearly synonymous with great sound. There you have it.
REVIEW: Scala Rider Q2 Motorcycle Intercom System