PRODUCT EVALUATION SENA HELMET COMMUNICATORS Bluetooth on the fly
q Just as in life, good communication while you are riding is important.With the improvements in wireless technology lately, many products linking riders to other riders are becoming more affordable. One of the newest products to hit the off-road world is the SMH10 helmet intercom set from Sena at $399. This pair of helmet-mounted communicators use wireless Bluetooth technology to connect up to three riders together. With downloadable upgrades, you can link up an additional pair of riders. Single Sena Bluetooth systems sell for $220.
According to Sena, these communicators have a clear-view range of about half a mile, which is far enough for us not to have to ride in each others’ dust on a straight dirt trail in the desert. For even more range, Sena offers the SR10 ($199), two-way radio adapter. With this package you can link your helmet communicators up to any brand handheld walkie-talkie-type radio. The smaller units, which you can find at a Walmart or any sporting goods store, will probably not improve your range much. However, the larger 2–4-watt racing- or police-type radios can extend the communicator’s range up to five miles.
We mounted the Sena SMH10 set on a pair of Xpeed (www.xpeed helmet.com) helmets. They are designed to mount on the left side of the helmet so you don’t have to take your hand off the throttle to operate them. Actually, once powered on and paired up, the units are totally voice-activated. The only time you would need to touch them is if you wanted to adjust the volume using the big volume dial.
Two Allen screws clamped the base units firmly to the poly shell of the helmets. The flexible boom microphone is positioned along the chin bar, then right in front of the rider’s mouth. To mount the two speakers, we simply routed the wiring under the removable liner, then into the ear ports within the cheek padding. Small Velcro pads hold them in place.
Just like with the padding and liners of the Xpeed helmet, everything in the Sena system is completely removable for cleaning. Furthermore, the base unit is the only thing that stays mounted to the helmet. Each control box, which contains the rechargeable battery, clips to the base when you are ready to ride. So when you are not riding, you only have to unclip the control box from the helmet and take that part to your charging station, or you can charge the batteries while the unit is still clipped to the helmet. To charge the fully drained batteries, it takes us about two hours. Sena supplies two household and two 12-volt chargers with the kit.
CAN YOU HEAR ME NOW?
To start communicating, all you have to do to get connected to your riding buddy or 2-up/UTV passenger is hold the power button down for a few seconds and wait for the chime. We found pretty much flawless, crystal-clear audio between our two riders. You can hear a slight buzz in the speakers when you are not talking, which lets you know you are connected. If you ride out of range from your partner, the speakers will go completely quiet. All we had to do to reconnect is ride closer, then push the large “jog” button on the control box, wait for a connection signal and start speaking.
That jog dial also controls the volume, which we found was loud enough to hear over full-race exhaust systems. On this test we rode in some very dense forests. Our riders had uninterrupted conversations 95 percent of the time. There was very little wind noise coming through, even when using open-face, MX-style helmets. If wind noise was an issue, you could even tape the front helmet vent closed to block the airflow.
In the forest, we found the range limits of the Sena system was a little less than advertised, but spot-on in open areas. For us, the best thing was not having to stop and talk. If we want to ride a different trail or change up our test session, we’ll just tell the other rider on the fly. This way we can get a lot more riding done in a day. Battery life also seems to be excellent with the system. We can do two-day rides easily between charges. There is no battery-life indicator, but the charger does have an indicator to let you know when the unit is fully charged. And again, the system comes with a 12-volt, cigarette-lighter charger so you can easily charge them on most ATVs. You can also charge them as you use them.
The Sena kit turns out to be a great teaching tool as well. We have been using it to direct photo shoots and coach new riders all year. For beginners, we can guide them through a difficult section without having to yell. If you want to use the Sena products just as a teaching tool, they do have a headset option ($249) for teachers standing trailside or on the sidelines of a track. On the trail, it sure is nice to have a rider in front of you tell you when an obstacle is coming or to watch for oncoming riders. At long-distance races, it’s easy to use the Sena system to call out mile markers and pit-stop requests. When using the SR10 handheld radio adapter, we could have the guy on the track wearing a helmet and the crew listening in on the radio’s external speaker.
When riding closer to civilization, you can link your cell phone to the Sena system via Bluetooth or a wired connection. Again, this is a big timesaver for us. We would much rather be talking and riding than not riding at all. MP3 players and GPS units can be wired to the Sena base station on either helmet as well. Although the Sena dual-rider kit was developed for street bikes, it works very well off-road.