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Sunday, May 19, 2024

Upgrade Your Motorcycle Helmet—With a Bluetooth Headset

Lately, I've been hearing voices. They tell me all sorts of useful information, such as where to go and how to get there. Don't worry, all of this precisely stops when I take off my motorcycle helmet. That's because it's Bluetooth connected, and I love that I can keep my smartphone in my pocket while riding and get all my directions straight to my ears. 

It's the best upgrade I've ever made to my riding experience. You should forget about mounting your smartphone to your handlebars and make the upgrade too. Your sanity will thank you.

Eyes Forward, Ears Up

Ever since reading that smartphone cameras are being shaken apart due to vibrations when mounted to motorcycle handlebars, I've had a fear of wrecking mine. I also generally don't like looking down at a screen for navigational directions while riding. People can do a lot of stupid things behind the wheel of a car in a mere second. 

Call it defensive driving or whatever you like, I always want my eyes to be on the road, especially when I'm on a motorcycle. There's an unwritten law of the universe that says the smaller the vehicle you're driving, the less likely it is that other drivers are going to notice you (or give a hoot that you're occupying a slice of the road). It's bad enough in a small car. Multiply that several times over when you're on a motorbike.

I'd rather get all my directions through a Bluetooth headset, fed from Apple Maps or Google Maps on my phone and delivered straight to my ear without having to remove my eyes from the road. It's safer and makes riding a lot less stressful.

Cardo Freecom 2X$168 at Amazon$168 at RevZilla

Yes, you can just use wireless earbuds, but I'll do you one better: the Cardo Freecom 2X. It's my favorite Bluetooth headset. The controls—a big, chunky scroll wheel—are easier to operate while wearing motorcycle gloves than touch controls on most wireless earbuds, and the 40-millimeter JBL speakers put out some pretty great sound. That's helpful for clearer directions and for listening to music and receiving phone calls (though I rarely do the latter two when I'm riding). 

At highway speed, the JBLs are loud enough to hear clearly over wind noise, although you won't exactly be able to deafen yourself with a surplus of volume. You can listen to music well enough to hear it, but it's not loud enough for a true-blue headbanger.

The Freecom 2X can be used by itself or linked to another Freecom unit if you like riding with a partner, and its half-mile range will let you talk to each other without worry. If you ride in bigger groups, you can upgrade to the Freecom 4X ($216). It's the same unit, but it lets you link up to four headsets across a range of 0.75 miles.

The Finer Details

The Cardo Connect app that pairs your smartphone with the headset works seamlessly, and I haven't had any issues with it on my iPhone. The Freecom 2X recharges via a USB-C connector, which is a nice, modern touch. No more Micro USB!

It comes with hardware to mount it to both a closed-face or an open-face helmet. For closed-face helmets, you stick an adhesive-backed microphone (to pick up your voice) on the inside of the chin bar. For open-face helmets, there's a flexible stalk that mounts near the ear and hangs in front of the mouth. Routing the wires and speakers underneath the helmet padding takes a bit of DIY work, but it's nothing a little determination can't solve, even if the directions aren't great.

Cardo gives you options for mounting the headset itself to the side of the helmet. There's a clip if you're using a helmet with thin sides and an adhesive-backed mount if your helmet is too thick for the clip. I mounted the Freecom 2X to my Shoei RF-1200 closed-face helmet with the adhesive clip, and it has held on through broiling East Coast summers and late-year frigid rain without any sign it's going to weaken and pop off.

If you use GPS apps while you ride—who doesn't these days?—consider wiring up your favorite helmet (or helmets) with a Bluetooth headset such as this. The phone calls and the ability to listen to Spotify while you cruise are perks, but the real sweetness is keeping yourself safe enough for another day's ride.

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