Not everything goes as planned during a test of Cardo's Scala Rider PackTalk Communication System, but the group's ability to keep in touch delivered a solution.
For new motorcyclists just getting into the sport, Bluetooth communication devices can be perceived as a luxury item. But more experienced riders know that the ability to answer and make phone calls, chat with other riders in a group, or hear riding directions from a GPS or smartphone is more than just a nice-to-have, but a matter of safety. A point proven during our test ride with Cardo's Scala Rider PackTalk Communication System.
If you’ve used Bluetooth communication systems in group riding situations then you know how convenient it is to be able to talk to the other motorcyclists with whom you’re riding. Playing a game of charades with another rider trying to pantomime that she has to pee while ripping up a canyon road can be an amusing, but it's an unwelcome distraction from the business of riding.
Getting everyone paired up and in constant communication can be anything but simple. I can't tell you how many times I've been on group rides that were thrown into confusion when the comm links broke down. I would wind up talking to myself, "Hello? Can you hear me? HELLO?" You know the routine. What you may not know is that all Bluetooth communication systems require that riders be paired up and connected to each other in a daisy-chain. This means that if riders lose their connection with a person acting as their hub the whole system breaks down... Hello? Hello? Can you hear me?
READ MORE: 5 Quietest Motorcycle Helmets | RideApart
The Scala PackTalk Communication System addresses exactly this problem with DMCTM (Dynamic Meshwork Communications) technology.
How It Works
The new PackTalk headset also provides lots of other features we have come to expect. There are the fun spins, including parallel audio streaming, which allows users to listen to music, talk over the phone or intercom, and receive GPS audio directions all at the same time. According to Scala’s publications, the units boast up to 13 hours of talk time, and one week of standby. If you want to take them out to the desert or the snow, each unit is both water- and dust-proof, provided the rubber cover to its power/data port is shut. And did I mention the pretty colored lights? Well, you've got blue, red, green, and purple flashes to help users know which mode they’re in, or if they’ve successfully paired with other units.
DMC maintains uninterrupted full-duplex intercom conversations between up to 15 riders, at a range of up to 5 miles. The mesh technology keeps riders connected as a group not dependent on someone acting as a hub Whenever a PackTalk user cannot directly connect with group members beyond his/her intercom reach, the comm will re-adjust instantly and re-connect to the most suitable member in the group to ‘leapfrog’ the remote PackTalk user, and then automatically reconnect to the group when back in range. This does away with the whole talking to yourself in your helmet routine.
Still don't get it? Here’s a video featuring animated floating helmets and a Don Lafontaine-like, “IN A WORLD GONE DEAF,” voice-over that explains how the mesh technology works:
Charged up and fresh out of the box, the Packtalks automatically synced up to each other in DMC (Dynamic Meshwork Communications) mode when powered-on.
Mounting is pretty simple and pain-free; each unit comes with both very secure clip-on and adhesive plate options. They also feature interchangeable audio output options, allowing the use of in-helmet speakers or personal earbuds. This is a rather nice touch for those with custom-molded earplugs featuring in-line speakers— riders retain both their hearing protection and audio clarity. In our case, some riders opted to skip installing the helmet-mounted speakers, plug in their earbuds, and go.
The Test Ride
We set out to test some of these units on a Saturday morning, taking only a moment to set them up before hitting the road. Our only pairing issues came from one of our riders fussing with buttons and searching for something other than Spanish radio to listen to in the background as we rode. To rectify the situation, we simply turned the unit off and back on, and it reconnected with little difficulty.
The plan was to hit the road and make on-the-fly decisions about our route, enjoying some canyons and making detour calls along the way. As we left, starting on a quiet residential street and making the trip from the beach cities out to Angeles National Forest, the active volume adjustment kicked in, which kept sound and microphone sensitivity consistent with the ambient noise of wind and traffic. Those of us using the parallel audio features noticed that music, while uninterrupted by intercom use, remained fairly quiet, like background noise. One rider commented that he liked it, since it didn’t keep him from missing out on conversations, but still allowed him enjoy his tunes.
Everything was going smoothly as we hit the freeway. We chattered about the weather at Angeles Crest, gave directions to a new rider on which interchanges to take (allowing him to lead while setting a comfortable pace) and discussed detours to bypass some backups on the road. However, we had made it only about half-way to the Crest before a couple of us noticed a problem on the road: One of our newer riders had a severely flat rear tire. Talking to her on our headsets, she confirmed that her bike felt strange, but she wasn’t sure what was wrong.
Initially, we thought we could make it to a gas station at the bottom of Angeles Crest Highway and fix the tire at the base of the mountains. However, as we continued along the 110, the flat seemed to worsen, and it became clear we needed to pull over to address the problem immediately. Since our rider with the flat hadn’t had the experience of riding on such a severely low tire before, we coached her over the intercom, warning her about how it would affect cornering and the bike’s handling. After turning off of the freeway, it took a couple tries to find a gas station with working air and water, but when we did, we were in for an unpleasant surprise.
No matter how much we filled it, the tire wouldn’t hold air. A cursory look and spin of the wheel didn’t reveal any nails or debris, but attempting to fill the tire while pouring water over the rubber told a different story. Only slightly hidden in the treads, a large tear in the compound spewed air and liquid, like some miniature geyser spitting all over our plans. Any repair shop in the surrounding area or on the way to the Crest had already closed, or was closing within ten minutes, and we were scrambling to simply get the thing fixed. Our best bet ended up being Hudson Motorcycles in Gardena, backtracking from the way we came. They confirmed on the phone that they had a tire in the size we needed in stock, and that they could do it that same day, if we got there in thirty minutes.
There was no way we’d be making it in thirty minutes if we waited for a tow. We’d be lucky if the truck showed up and managed to load the bike in that time, let alone get through the gridlock of the 110 South. With minimal discussion, we hopped back on our bikes and merged onto the 110, using the PackTalks to contend with traffic and setting up spaces into which our inhibited rider could safely merge. Once in the carpool lane, she checked in about how her tire was looking, and we asked how she felt on the bike. At our exit, the units allowed us to give her directions when we got closer to the shop, so she could lead at a pace she felt her bike could handle.
The guys at Hudson were waiting for us, tire on-hand, and paperwork ready. As soon as that was squared away and the bike was wheeled into the shop, our group began chattering about how useful the PackTalks had been throughout the minor misadventure. “Can you imagine trying to do that with hand signals? Or letting you know your tire was flat in the first place?” One of the riders asked, while another explained to the guys behind the counter how helpful the communication devices had been.
It wasn’t the ride we had planned, and we certainly will be hitting some canyons for further testing another day, but everyone had a great time all the same. Beyond that, it showed how tools typically used as a luxury can be helpful in critical moments. So maybe we didn’t get to play with all the bells and whistles the PackTalk has to offer just yet. There will be a next time, and our first impressions could not have been more positive.
This product is available worldwide (Cardo is currently found in 80+ countries). Sold as a single kit ($329.95 USD) or double kit ($579.95 USD).
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