I

f you were wearing a Cardo Packtalk Bold headset on Motorcyclist’s Alley Rally, you heard everything. Every exclamation, every grumble. You heard when Senior VP and Managing Director Andy Leisner, riding two-up, put a vast BMW touring bike into limp mode while summiting one of the steepest streets in Los Angeles. You heard Cycle World Senior Editor Justin Dawes talking a little modesty into his dog Gracie while she grinned wildly at sidewalk-bound pooches from the seat of a Ural sidecar. You heard anonymous expletives regarding the road surface—or lack thereof. And, probably, you heard my patter about my favorite street art and side streets in Los Angeles. About the portrait of Hugh Hefner holding a bunny on a Glendale Boulevard overpass, or the iconic Kent Twitchell portrait of Steve McQueen that adorns the entire back of a house in Pico-Union. You heard everything. And that’s new.

Cardo sponsored our Alley Rally. Commercially, that means we get to keep our lights on, and we create a couple of advertising pieces for the nice people at Cardo. This isn't one of those, and Motorcyclist doesn't do paid reviews. Functionally, what that sponsorship meant for our edit team is that we were able to talk Cardo into bringing an almighty ton of Cardo Packtalk Bold headsets to our Alley Rally. Because with Cardo's mesh network technology, it's the numbers that matter, and getting big groups talking is where the Cardo Packtalk Bold really shines.

BMW K1600B Grand America at Alley Rally
Senior VP Andy Leisner brought his daughter to the Alley Rally aboard a vast BMW K1600B Grand America. The machine would balk at climbing the absurdly steep Baxter Street shortly after this photo was taken.Julia LaPalme

About this time last year we rode the Italian Alps with a pair of Aprilia naked bikes. It was brilliant, and the whole time, contributor Abhi Eswarappa and I kept in touch with a pair of previous-gen, Bluetooth-based communicators. And they were…fine. At the time, the tech felt like it was good on the verge of being glorious. Chatting back and forth worked well enough ripping down the road, and the headsets worked great with mobile phones, chirpily giving directions, or playing music. Trouble was never out of reach though.

With previous-generation headsets, the Bluetooth connection would drop out if you put a few stone buildings between riders. Once dropped, a little fumbling would get the connection back in place. No big deal. The gaping hole in the technology was assembling a group of riders, which was accomplished by a fragile Bluetooth-powered daisy chain. The frailty of that system kept Abhi and I from including photographer Julia LaPalme—following in a rental car—in our riding banter. Which was annoying; Julia is good company.

riding motorcycles in downtown Los Angeles
Radio interference in the concrete jungle of downtown Los Angeles would have made a nightmare out of previous-generation Bluetooth intercoms.Julia LaPalme

Our Alley Rally then would provide the ultimate test of the biggest step forward in these headset communicators: A very large group riding through the concrete canyons and stretched long by the innumerable intersections of Los Angeles. And this is where Cardo’s Dynamic Mesh Communications technology steps up to the plate. Mesh networks are everywhere, from your chin bar to the family car. A Google mesh network in my home means I can stay on the same Wi-Fi network, whatever room I decide to work in, and automakers are experimenting with the tech, creating data streams between vehicles that communicate their positions and make the flow of traffic safer. There’s no question mesh networking is an emerging technology; we just didn’t expect it to be to accessible, or so entertaining.

An Alley Rally rider wheelies over the Fourth Street bridge
An Alley Rally rider wheelies over the Fourth Street bridge.Julia LaPalme

Cardo's mesh network establishes a flexible wireless link between riders. Once initiated, if your headset is in range of another unit, you're in the group. It's as simple as that. The range between units can be as distant as a mile, and adding headsets actually stretches that range, rather than constricting it, up to 5 miles. The Cardo system reconnects automatically if you drop out—because you're in a tunnel or getting gas—and if you do, it doesn't break the connections among the rest of the group. And that group can be as large as 15 riders. What that meant in the case of the Alley Rally is that riders stretched out over more than a mile of dense, urban Los Angeles had no trouble keeping the conversation going. And that's very, very cool.

Justin Dawes riding Ural and dog in sidecar
Senior Editor Justin Dawes (and dog Gracie) at the beginning of the Alley Rally.Julia LaPalme

Cardo will boast of a dozen other features for its top-of-the-line headset. It’s highly weather resistant. It has always-on voice controls—so you can ask your phone for directions, or to play music, and you can share that music with another headset through a high-quality A2DP link. It still has an app to support it, or the FM and Bluetooth connections that made the previous-generation Cardo system a utilitarian little bauble. All that tech is neat, but it doesn’t seem special in an age of iPhones. Being able to communicate quickly and easily with a large group of riders though? That’s a game-changing capability, and at least in the case of our Alley Rally, it made our group ride more special.

Alley Rally in Los Angeles
With mesh networking, connecting a large group of riders stretched out by stoplights and traffic is no longer any trouble.Julia LaPalme

Think about that for a moment. When was the last time technology made a ride more enjoyable? Not safer, not more comfortable, but more enjoyable. When was the last time your riding experience was novel, just riding back roads in your own city? Never mind that Cardo’s controls take a little memorizing, or that connecting devices could be easier (and with voice controls built in, they should be). This tech is new, not terribly expensive, and if you’re anything like me—that is, indifferent to the last generation of Bluetooth headsets—totally worth another shot.