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Review: BikerCom - Ultimate Motorcycle Communication Gear? #3

27
May
2009
  Posted at 06:45:05 PM
  File under  Bluetooth Gadgets Product Review
  Author: Mike Werner
  Location: Normandy, France

Part 3 of 3 of the BikerCom Open link in a new window product review.
Part #1 -Introduction and review of the equipment
Part #2 - Installing the Equipment


Read the special articles on Bluetooth and motorcycles:
NOTE: There seems to be a problem with FireFox 3 running the photo window/zoom. After 2 or 3 times opening a photo, your screen will shift and you will no longer be able to click on anything. The only thing you can do is re-load the page. I'm working on it!

First Test - Turning Things On

Once everything was installed, I ran the first test, turning both headsets, walkie-talkies, iPhone and Control Box on. Now things turn into a NASA countdown and checklist, since you need to turn things on in a reasonable sequence.

First the walkie-talkies, followed by the headsets, followed by the motorcycle power (I was connected to the ignition, so it needs to be turned on), finally followed by the Control Box. I think the only real thing to worry about is that you turn your headsets on before your control box.

Once the power was on to the bike, and therefore the Control Box, you need to turn on the Control Box. That is accomplished either by pressing the Power On button (#4-6), or, and this is pretty handy, if you've placed the Control Box out of sight, you press the supplied PTT switch (#3-6) for a few seconds. There's a small indicator light on the PTT switch that will light up, so you know the Control Box is on. The PTT switch becomes a sort of remote control... nice touch. Even if you don't use bike-to-bike, the lead is installed by inserting it into the back of the Control Box (#5-2), that's all.

The only issue I could have, is if you don't have the PTT lead (if you don't use bike-to-bike, there's no reason to have it), and you have placed the Control Box out of sight, you're stuck. You need to get at the Control Box to turn it on. My advice to OpenRoad Solutions is to have the Control Box go automatically to the last state it was in when power is resumed.

Once the Control Box is on, it goes through some self-check diagnostics, turning devices on one-by-one. Like the NASA Space Shuttle, lights go on and off, start blinking, change color. Impressive....

Click for bigger version of BikerCom Control Box
Open image in a new window

Figure #21 - Control Box Lights


After powering up the Control Box (press the power button #4-6), the power light goes from off to red to green. The left indicators (HHR & HHP) are to say that it has found the rider and pillion Bluetooth headsets. They are turned on in sequence, first the rider, then the pillion. You don't have to do anything, the system goes and checks connections.

If you're on your own, and don't need the pillion connection, and you don't want to waste the energy, you easily turn off the pillion system by moving the HHP (Pillion Headset) switch (#4-4). It's a slide switch (don't be like me trying to push it, since that will not get you anywhere, just slide it). The light (#4-5) goes off.

As I said before, you don't need to worry about all these lights, since things go automatic.

It takes a good few seconds before everything is synched. It's not a turn-on-and-everything-is-connected system. Count about a minute before you can start communicating. This is professional and comprehensive gear, so let it settle.

Music Test


I connected up my iPhone via wire to the Control Box (#5-6), and turned it on. The iPhone started playing music. Damn! The music was very, very loud! You turn down the volume level by pressing the Volume Down button on the head set (#7-1). If you've reach the maximum (or minimum), the light in the head set (#6-4) stays red for a few seconds. Of course, you need to have taken off your helmet to see the light.

In fact, it was a good sign that the volume can be very loud. Many bikers complain that at speed, and often with ear plugs, they can not hear anything. This is so loud, that people in cars should hear you....

Anyway, the music was great, and in stereo. Good sound reproduction. Of course, it's not a concert hall with top-of-the-line audio equipment, so if you're an audiophile, forget it. But to listen to some riding music, it's great.

Intercom Test


While I had the music full blast, I tried the intercom. Nothing! The music kept playing. I got a bit disappointed and said a few 4 letter words pretty loud! And presto, the music stopped and the intercom was enabled. Had I found a hidden magic word that would turn on the intercom? Nope, after some research and a quick email with the manufacturer, you can adjust the Intercom Activation threshold. It's a bit like the squelch in a walkie-talkie. You can set the level of sound coming out of the microphone that will enable the intercom to switch on. VERY NICE!

All you need to do is press the Volume Up button (#7-2) for a few seconds. The Headset Indicator light (#6-4) will display a still red light and double blinking blue light, telling you that the Activation threshold has been increased by one level (meaning that it will cut over to intercom with LESS noise).

You'll need to experiment a bit to get the best possible match for your circumstances, motorcycle noise, wind noise and helmet noise. Each headset can be adjusted individually.

Recommendation: Remember if you adjust the Activation Level in your garage, when riding there's going to be a lot of noise coming from the wind and your motorcycle, which will turn on the microphone even when not talking. My advice is to go riding with the level as-is, and if that is not good enough, adjust the level afterwards. I changed the level in the garage, and by the time I had got the correct level, it was back to the factory default..


Bike-to-Bike Test


While the music was playing, I pressed the PTT switch (#3-6). Immediately, the music stopped and I could hear my Alinco Open link in a new window walkie-talkie spring into action. I'm running small Alinco DJ-S41C UHF/FM transceivers, and they worked like a charm. After letting go of the PTT switch, the music does not immediately cut back in, it waits a few seconds.

The same goes for when someone communicates on the channel. You can be listening to music or your SWMBOShe Who Must Be Obeyed but the walkie-talkie gets priority and silences them all.

Riding Test

Equipment used:
BikerCom Control Box and Headsets, iPhone, iPod, Alinco DJ-S41 Walkie-talkie and a Garmin 550 GPS.

Test 1 - Solo


Now we need to put it all in practice. On a cloudy and windy day, I rolled out the BMW R1150GS. I was on my own, since my wife was at home with instructions to call me.

The BikerCom Control Box was powered on, and all lights were a "go". The headset was on the BMW Enduro helmet, so I was riding in a semi-quite noise level (measured at 98 db).

Music on the iPod was on, Walkie-talkie was on and the Garmin Zumo was on with a complex set of instructions to follow. The Garmin was linked in via the MPR (Mobile Phone Rider) port. The iPhone was connected to the Garmin via Bluetooth.

I drove out of the gates with music blaring through my headset (still too loud, so had to turn it off a notch). 10 seconds later, the first GPS instructions arrived, loud and clear. Music was interrupted (it does obviously continue to play, it's not paused), and when "the GPS voice" stopped, a second later the music was back.

The mini route I had programmed took me back close to the house. My wife was instructed to try to contact me via the Walkie-talkie (the WT has a limited range, so couldn't go too far). While listening to music, I heard the unmistakable sound of the bike-to-bike switch on. Again, loud and clear. A press of the PTT button, and I responded.

Next, after a few minutes my wife called me on the phone. The Garmin showed that she was calling, and in about a second, the music was stopped and the phone was answered automatically. By this stage I was on an open and long straight road, so speeds were up to "slightly" over the speed limit of 90 kph. (note: when receiving a call, pull over!)

Sound quality was excellent, both for me and for my wife. Due to heavy winds, I deemed it not too safe to try it on the autoroute, so I turned back.

BikerCom to iPhone phone call

Figure #26 - Calling via the iPhone


Making calls is simple. Obviously you'll need to be stopped (which is safer). Do whatever you need to do to make the call, and you are talking via your BikerCom.

Test 2 - Duo


The following day the weather had improved, little wind and sun. Both my wife and me set of for a ride. The bike-to-bike was off since there was no-one to talk to, but the iPod, Garmin and iPhone were all on, and most importantly, the intercom was on.

Interrupting the music proved to be more difficult than expected. The Activation Level has to be adjusted if you've played with it (like I have). Once the intercom is active, you can talk normally, but I found I had to make a sharp noise to activate it. In fact, I noticed the easiest way was to give a short whistle to "wake it up".

Note
: After several stop and adjustments, we did manage to get it to a reasonable and useable level. Obviously it will depend a lot of a) your speeds, b) your helmet noise level and c) your own voice volume level. You'll need to experiment to get it right.

We did not need to test interruptions with walkie-talkies, phones etc, since that was done the day before, and we know if works. A lot of also depend on how you configured your Control Box. Initially I had set the Garmin to me only (#4-11), but that bothered my wife. She also wanted to hear the instructions, so I reset it to the "other" port ((#4-9). Now, she can hear the GPS and the Mobile phone.

It'll depend on your own wishes, but whatever you want, the BikerCom can be configured to do it.

Summary

OpenRoad Solution's BikerCom is a very complete, but complex bit of kit. It does everything you want communication gear to do on a motorcycle. You have several ports you can connected devices to, either wired or wireless. Phones, music, bike-to-bike, GPS, radar detectors, etc.

I know a lot of people think it is heresy to have comms gear on their bike. They see the motorcycle as a way to escape it all, and I believe them. But there are a lot of bikers who do want to listen to music, their GPS, their pillion and/or their riding buddies.

Recommendation: Remember if are going to use a mobile phone, when someone calls you, pull over to talk. We've all seen car drivers who are on the phone, and you know that they are not paying attention anymore to the road, traffic and their own position. So it's far more dangerous on the bike. PULL OVER!

Anyway, the BikerCom worked like a charm. Despite the Chinese restaurant menu of setting things up, it's really not difficult. OpenRoad have tried to allow for any possible way of communicating and setting things up, and they have succeeded in this.

The kit is really good, and does more than what it promises. It's a real rolling communication center. Recommendable!

Nice Things
:
  • Pre-paired Headsets
  • Sliver Strip on microphone to show you where the mouth should be.
  • Ear Loud Speaker place holders
  • Dual charging both headset from one charger.

Improvements
:
  • Make a sound when adjusting head set volume when you've reach the maximum
  • Allow an automatic power-on of the Control Box if so desired
  • The protector rubber for the charging ports (#7-2) on the headset can be removed, and since they are very small, you'll loose them. Best is to have one part stuck to the headset.

Click here for more information from OpenRoad. Open link in a new window





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