Without a motorcycle intercom, motorcycle
riding is a solitary experience. When you're riding alone it's a
good way to clear your head or get your thoughts together. But if
you've got a passenger, or you're riding with another biker,
inevitably you'll want to talk to them. Motorcycle intercom systems
that mount in your helmet let you do that.
The problem is that there are so many to choose
from in such a wide price range. It's hard to decide which one to
choose. And given that motorcycle intercoms have to work in an
extremely difficult environment, choosing the right one can make the
difference between enjoying your new purchase or hating it. This
motorcycle intercom review will hopefully make your decision easier.
Let's start with a broad overview of the types
of motorcycle intercoms available.
The most basic form of motorcycle intercom is
the acoustic intercom. By acoustic I mean that it doesn't use
electronics at all. It just uses hollow tubes that your voice
travels through. They're like the old ships where the captain yells
down a tube to the engine room to tell them to "give it more steam."
These systems have rubber-tipped tubes that
insert in your ear the same way an earplug would. There is also a
mouthpiece tube for you to talk into and all the tubes connect into
a junction box.
One of the positives is that there are no
batteries or electronics to mess with. That makes them very
dependable. However, there is no amplification which means there is
no way to adjust the volume or filter out wind noise. So at higher
speeds, it will be more difficult to hear. Another problem is that
some people find the earplugs uncomfortable in their ears for long
Obviously these acoustic intercoms only work
for rider-to-passenger and not bike-to-bike.
The next step up is wired intercoms. These
systems have wires that run from the rider and passenger into a
central control box that houses the electronics and battery.
Just like the acoustic intercom, with a wired
system you don't have to worry about any external interference like
you do with wireless technologies, unless you add a radio handheld
communicator for bike-to-bike talking to your system. Some wired
units let you plug in an FRS/GMRS radio, which is described in the
wireless technology section below. The radio has to have voice
activation for it to work.
One of the issues some people have is that the
wiring can be a little bit of a pain. Every time you and a passenger
get on and off the bike you have to remember to unplug the units.
Depending on how you have it set up, this could be two or three
There are four types of radio technologies used in the U.S. for
motorcycle intercoms. They are GMRS, FRS, FM, and Bluetooth (which
may use other technologies to extend range).
Frequency Modulation (FM) radio is similar to
the FM radio you listen to, but for motorcycle intercoms a narrower
frequency is used. Like FM radio, these systems can produce clear
sound, as long as the distance between them isn't too great. FM
radio works best when there are no obstructions such as hills
between the transmitter and receiver. If long range is the most
important feature, then GMRS intercoms will provide better
The Family Radio Service (FRS) and the General
Mobile Radio Service (GMRS) are the modern equivalents to the old
walkie talkies you may have had when you were a kid. FRS radios
typically have a maximum range of two miles with few obstructions in
between, while GRMS radios communicate up to several miles. Like FM,
these are public frequencies so other people can hear your
conversations and vice versa. In some heavily populated areas these
FRS/GRMS radios are heavily used, while out on the open road you
should have fairly private conversations.
One nice thing with the FRS and GMRS radios is
that you can go to your local discount store and purchase a cheap
handheld radio that will communicate with these units. If someone
were following you in a car, or they had a wired motorcycle intercom
system that lets them plug in an FRS/GMRS handheld radio, they can
communicate with you. The downside of this was just mentioned in
that there are millions of these radios out there so in heavily
populated areas you'll pick up lots of other transmissions.
Bluetooth is the latest technology to hit
motorcycle intercoms. Not only can these systems communicate totally
wirelessly from rider to passenger, they can be used to communicate
from bike to bike. Although with these systems the range is usually not in
miles, it is in hundreds of feet. Since you are likely riding close
to your buddies, this is not usually a problem. Range is getting
longer as manufacturers use other technologies to boost how far the
What may be called a Bluetooth intercom may only be using
Bluetooth to communicate to another Bluetooth device like a
telephone. For bike-to-bike communication they often use other
technology like GMRS (General Mobile Radio Service), which is a
two-way radio group of frequencies, or CDMA (Code
Division Multiple Access), which is the same technology some cell
phone carriers use. Systems that actually use the Bluetooth standard
would have a much shorter range since the technology is only
designed for short-range communication. But with these other
technologies you can get a half-mile or even more distance in open
One thing you'll find about Bluetooth intercoms is that they come
with a whole lot of features packed into a tiny housing.
In addition to intercom capability between driver to rider, or other
bikers, they let you connect to cell phones, GPS devices, and music
players like an mp3 or iPOD. While all those features
sound nice, they can make the intercom difficult to use and they may
not work as well as you like. If you look at the reviews on
the Internet about these devices, one of the top complaints is
volume. When you get up to higher speeds they can be difficult to
hear. The noise cancellation does a pretty good job of removing wind
noise, but that same cancellation may be working so hard to reduce
the high noise level, it won't let the intercom get very loud. I've
used some of these intercom on a bike without any sort of windshield
(in a helmet with a shield) and after about 40-45 miles per hour it
gets pretty hard to hear. My kids sitting behind me have better
hearing so they can still understand the communication just fine.
For older drivers, they may be a problem if your bike doesn't have a
windshield. Newer units are getting better all the time, so soon
this problem will likely be resolved.
Another complaint is the controls. There are so many functions
and only a few buttons to control them. Plus, you have to do it all
by touch, which becomes very difficult if you are wearing gloves.
Since you can't see what you're doing on the intercom, anytime you
try to change a function, it becomes easy for you to put the unit in
a state where you don't know what it's doing. At that point you
almost have to pull over and take your helmet off so you can see
what's going on. I've had times where I rendered my unit useless by
trying to change a function while riding.
If you are buying these intercoms to listen to high-quality music
you may as well just save your money. They just don't have the
volume for that. You really shouldn't be listening to loud music
while you're driving anyway if you want to be safe. If you just want
hear some music, they may be fine for you. Just don't expect an
Cell phone connection may work fine for you as long as you aren't
going so fast that the volume isn't sufficient for you to hear the
conversation. But remember, the more functions you use on these
intercoms, the more confused you can get on what button to push to
get a function to work. I've found that these intercoms really work
best at just being an intercom. If all you want to do is talk to a
rider or fellow bikers, they work great at taking the solitude of
riding away. If that's your favorite part of riding, then you may
not want an intercom
Before you purchase a unit you need to identify how many riders
you want to talk to. Lower cost units typically only communicate
between two people. Newer units now can communicate with groups of
15 or more.
Helmet Intercom Features
Here are features to look for as you are
shopping for an intercom to use with your motorcycle helmet:
- If you may be riding in the rain, get a
system that says it's waterproof and not just water resistant.
Some riders will put a water resistant system in a plastic
baggie and that works for them.
- You can get systems that have a headset
speaker for one ear or both ears. Installation and moving the
intercom to another helmet is easier for systems with only one
ear, but some people want to hear sound in both ears.
- Most systems have voice activation of some
kind to keep the headset quiet when no talking is occurring.
This voice activation often has the ability to be disabled and a
push-to-talk switch used instead.
- Many intercoms have noise reduction
capabilities with digital signal processing to help reduce the
noise they pick up from the microphone. The faster you drive, or
the windier it is, the more important this feature is.
- If you want music, look for a system that
has a built-in FM stereo radio tuner or an auxiliary stereo
input for a Walkman, MP3, iPod, or satellite radio unit. You can
also use this input to receive driving directions from a voice
prompted GPS unit.
- Some systems mount on your helmet, while
others have capability to mount on your belt clip or bike. If
the system is big and bulky, you may want the ability to mount
it on your bike.
- You can integrate some intercoms with cell
phones so you can talk while you ride. They require special
cables or you can get motorcycle intercoms that have Bluetooth
capability so they connect to your Bluetooth-enabled phone
Once you find the right motorcycle intercom for
you, it will really make your ride with other people much more
enjoyable. You'll wonder how you got along without it. You typically
get what you pay for when you buy motorcycle intercoms, but even a
bad motorcycle intercom is better than none at all.
Below are two good choices for BlueTooth:
Sena 20S-01 Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom
Sena SMH10-10 Motorcycle Bluetooth Intercom