Using a communicator with your passenger or riding partner(s) can improve the quality of your ride dramatically. Just think: No more interpreting hand signals, lip reading, or hoping you remember that important philosophical point the next time you stop to fill up. You’re free to speak at will. There’s no doubt that communicators are great, but without proper setup and practice they can be frustrating to use. (Imagine trying to pair with your buddy but turning the radio on instead, filling your helmet with mariachi music!) In order to make your experience as enjoyable as possible, there are a few things you should do before you hit the road.
Route the wires under the lining by making a slit in the cheek-pad tab with a razor blade.
Take your time installing the components. You’ll have to mount the communicator unit to the exterior of the helmet, place the speakers and microphone inside the helmet, and run the wires beneath the liner in a manner that’s secure and won’t interfere with the helmet’s fit. Just got your unit the day before a big trip? Don’t expect to slap everything together in the driveway before your buddies show up.
First things first: Gut your helmet. Pull out the cheek pads and lining, as this will make installing the speakers and microphone much easier. If your helmet’s liner is glued in place or otherwise non-removable, now might be a good time to upgrade.
The communicator’s head unit typically mounts to the helmet via a clamp that goes between the helmet shell and EPS liner. Some kits come with an adhesive mount that’s preferable for those who don’t want to disturb their helmet’s EPS lining. Removable cheek pads are usually secured via plastic tabs that slide between the shell and Styrofoam as well. You will need to notch the plastic tab to allow the wires to dive under the lining right where they exit the communicator unit. Run the wires beneath the lining and secure any connectors with tape so they don’t pop apart and sever communications mid-ride.
All the systems we’ve tested use tethered speakers, while some have boom mics and others have mic elements at the end of a plain wire. For the best sound clarity, place the microphone high up on the inside of the chin bar, as this will help isolate it from road noise coming from below. Utilizing your helmet's chin curtain (if it has one) will also help reduce ambient noise.
Test speaker placement to make sure they’re comfortable, as even the slightest pressure on your ears can become agonizing by the end of the day. Getting good sound quality and volume is largely dependent on speaker placement; the speakers need to be as close to your ears as possible. Air space between your ears and the speakers will reduce the volume significantly, so close the gap using adhesive foam blocks and/or hook-and-loop fasteners. (Some kits come with small hook-and-loop pillows for this exact purpose.) Yes, you should still wear earplugs, unless you’d like a side of tinnitus with your main dish of moto talk.
Even the most basic communications systems have myriad functions, and it’s best to get familiar with your options before you ride. Do so with helmet and gloves on, and the manual in front of you. Wearing the helmet while exploring the unit’s functions also gives you a chance to identify any fitment issues. Do you know how to turn it on? Connect with other riders? Adjust the volume? Answer a phone call? Get familiar. Then get yourself lost; push buttons at random (as you’re bound to do while riding) and see if you can get yourself back to the desired function, such as away from that awful mariachi music and back in communication with your riding partner.
You’re almost ready to ride. Do you know how long your battery is supposed to last? Are you going on a multi-day trip? If so, have you packed your charger? Bring the manual if you have room (most systems come with a pocket-size quick-start guide), or have the online manual cued up on your smartphone.
Finally, make sure your riding buddies are as educated as you are, or be prepared to coach them. With in-helmet communicators you can hold entire conversations as you ride. That means discussing the scenery as you’re riding through it instead of afterward, working out what flavors you’re after for lunch, and, finally, nailing down the meaning of life.