Cardo Packtalk Bold Review 2019

Up to 15 riders can communicate, making group rides easier.

Cardo’s new Packtalk Bold with motorcyclist riding in front of mountain.
Cardo’s new Packtalk Bold features improved speakers and new voice command functions.Cardo

When I first started riding, about 15 years ago, part of what I loved about being on the bike was the solitude; I enjoyed being alone in my helmet. I took part in lots of group rides, and we would learn a certain number of hand signals to communicate without pulling over. Or we would just wait to talk to our fellow riders until we stopped at the next lookout or lunch stop. Fast-forward to today, and there are a number of helmet-mounted communication headsets on the market, making it a million times easier to communicate with our riding buddies.

Packtalk Bold on motorcyclist helmet.
I already had a Packtalk installed on my Klim TK1200, so it was an easy switch for the new Packtalk Bold. Click out, click in. Done.Cardo

Cardo was one of the first communication systems available specifically for motorcyclists. Founded in 2002, Cardo released its first dedicated motorcycle comm system, the Scala Rider, in 2004. Over the past 15 years, it has released about 10 models of communicators, including its most recent model, the Packtalk, brought to market in 2015. Over the past few years it has made software and firmware updates, the latest iteration being the Packtalk Bold. Cardo invited a number of journalists to try out the new communicator, leading us on a ride through the Malibu hills along some of SoCal's best riding roads.

Packtalk Bold on table.
The Packtalk Bold is the same size and shape and functionality as the previous Packtalk, with the added function of voice command.Cardo

Full disclosure, I’ve had a Cardo Packtalk system for a while now, and have had it installed on my Klim TK1200 modular helmet. Over the past couple years of using this system, my main complaint with this headset was that I couldn’t seem to get the speakers to go loud enough to hear my riding buddies while they were speaking at regular conversation level during freeway rides. The Packtalk Bold features new upgraded JBL speakers, which I was eager to try and compare to my previous experience. Along with new speakers, the newest version of Cardo’s communication also features voice activation, so I wouldn’t have to fiddle with buttons to make simple adjustments or commands to my Bluetooth-connected phone.

Cardo Packtalk Bold in helmet on motorcyclist.
We were able to keep in contact between the nine riders in our group, so long as we kept each other within line of sight.Cardo

There were enough of us joining on the ride that they broke us into two groups. The group I was with had a total of nine riders, so we were well within the 15-rider maximum capacity of the Packtalk connectivity ability. After downloading Cardo’s newer smartphone app, and linking my phone to my communication set, we started the process of pairing all the headsets. At this point I joked about it being a race, “Whose headset will pair up first? I’m having flashbacks to being picked for dodgeball teams.” We all huddled in a circle waiting for each headset to pair (I wasn’t last! Yay!). And we each grabbed our gear and headed out to our bikes.

Motorcyclists in fog.
We hit some fog during our ride, but the Cardo Packtalk is waterproof, so we kept in contact without a hitch.Julia LaPalme

As soon as the group of us were gathered outside the hotel, saddled up and ready to go, everyone was chatting with each other. I was giving small feedback to the conversation and comments from each rider, and then I realized nobody was responding to me. Turns out my microphone (from my older Cardo headset) hadn’t paired with the new headset. So we did a reset on the system. I unplugged and replugged the microphone jack, then restarted the headset. And we were in business! If you come across a similar issue, try a hardware and software reset, and it should do the trick.

Motorcyclists using the Cardo PacktalkBold.
Connecting all the riders within our group was quick and fairly straightforward.Cardo

As we were sitting in the densely populated urban area of downtown Venice Beach, I was noticing some of the audio from one or more of the riders was cutting in and out, going from a clear audio transmission to a more static-filled lower-quality sound. But as soon as we pulled away from the cluster of taller buildings, and got more distance in between each of us, the audio became clear and I could hear everyone. We made our way up Pacific Coast Highway, cutting through traffic, making good time. The riders up front were able to call out any problem drivers or potholes or debris in the road, which was helpful. Then we turned onto Las Flores Canyon Road and started twisting our way into the hills.

Cardo Packtalk Bold worn by motorcyclist driving in front of mountain.
The audio quality is definitely improved with the JBL speakers.Cardo

Getting up into the canyons was where Cardo’s claimed 1-mile reach was challenged. There were plenty of roads that twisted and turned so quickly, carving between the hills, that it was easy to lose line of sight on a rider ahead of or behind me. The riders farther back, even though they were easily within a mile of me, weren’t coming through my headset, revealing the Cardo’s weak spot of needing line of sight to maintain communication. As soon as we all met up at our lookout point, we were chatting away again.

Motorcyclists ride on rode in front of hills using Cardo Packtalk Bold for communication.
The mesh connectivity allows up to 15 riders to be connected in one group. The only point where we lost communication was when our group of nine riders spread out and were separated by hills, which blocked signal between the communicators.Cardo

A few miles before we reached the lookout, we found ourselves riding straight into a thick, heavy fog. The road became shiny with mist, and we warned each other of slippery or gravelly corners. Once we reached the lookout, there wasn’t much to see. Normally this large turnout at the top of a ridge is a great spot to get a view back down toward the Malibu coast, or, looking the other way, you can see down into the San Fernando Valley. Today we saw nothing but fog. There was no view of anything beyond 100 yards from where we were; just a thick, dense, white fog, like we were up in the clouds. I hadn’t worn proper rain gear, but it seemed nobody else had either. But at least we knew the Cardo Packtalk Bolds were going to keep us connected, since they’re properly weatherproof.

Cardo Packtalk Bold on motorcyclist on helmet.
All the physical buttons remain the same as the previous Packtalk system, but with the voice command, even turning up volume was as easy as saying “Hey Cardo, volume up!”Cardo

The clouds finally broke through and we were enjoying sunshine again. There were times when any one of us could be heard saying, “Hey Cardo, play music!” or “Hey Cardo, next track!” As long as we remembered the specific terms to differentiate between playing the radio (“Hey Cardo, radio on!”), playing your most recently used music player (Spotify, Pandora, or your phone’s music player), or any of the other functions available with audio command, the system was responsive and easy to use. We continued our ride through various favorite twisty roads in the Malibu hills, until we ended up at the famed Neptune’s Net for lunch.

Cardo Packtalk Bold worn by motorcyclist riding on road in front of mountain.
Cardo claims the Packtalk Bold offers as much as 13 hours of talk time. We didn’t test that anywhere near to capacity.Cardo

After we enjoyed fish and chips, calamari, and other appropriate seaside fare, we set out again, this time taking a beeline route back to Santa Monica, where we would end the day. Heading south along PCH, the road becomes six lanes wide, and we had plenty of opportunity to chat with each other and test out the audio quality of the newer JBL speakers at high speeds. Previously, on my first-generation Packtalk communicator, I would need my riding buddies to almost shout into their comm sets so I could hear them. This might be due to my TK1200’s carbon-fiber shell creating a loud helmet experience and/or the fact that I do ride with earplugs, but I was always rolling the audio scroll as far up as it would go. The new Packtalk Bold definitely delivers louder audio with the JBL speakers, as I never needed to ask any of my fellow group riders to repeat themselves. I still argue the system could go a couple of clicks louder, but I understand if there’s a concern about eardrum safety.

Motorcyclists riding away with Cardo Packtalk Bold in mountains.
Even if you forgot to charge your Packtalk Bold, you can still use the system while you charge. (You’ll just need an external battery pack or direct USB plug dongle connected to your bike’s battery…not included.)Cardo

All in all, I'm much happier with the Cardo system now that the company has released the Packtalk Bold. The voice command function is incredibly convenient, saving myself the annoyance of fumbling with buttons on the side of my helmet with clumsy gloved fingers. The speakers are noticeably louder and improved audio quality, though I argue the system should be programmed to go a little louder. Aside from that, I'm impressed with the Cardo Packtalk Bold. For $339.95, you get one communicator with a set of 40mm JBL speakers, a wired microphone and boom mic for the half helmets or modular helmets, and all the mounting hardware and Velcro pads to install the unit and speakers in your helmet. You can upgrade to the 40mm HD speakers for an additional $49.95. If the stock JBL speakers are too thick and rub against your ears, you also have the option to get a thinner set of JBL speakers for $49.95. Additionally, Cardo recently released a set of 45mm speakers that include an additional software upgrade from JBL, which goes for $89.95. Cardo offers a two-year warranty for all its communication sets. You can purchase the Packtalk Bold now, likely available anywhere you purchase your motorcycle gear.