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For years, the ideal helmet-to-helmet motorcycle communications system has been a unicorn. Taking or making hands-free calls, listening to music, or discussing lunch or gas options with my riding buddy—all these things seemed like they could be cool perks, but the stupid units never worked right. I tried several. But I’d use it once, get frustrated by its ineffectiveness, and yank it right out.
It wasn't just me that felt the frustration. In-helmet motorcycle comms systems are notorious for dropped calls, weak signals, lousy sound quality, and clumsy UX. Any one of those is unacceptable (and potentially dangerous) to a rider.
The ideal motorcycle comms system needs to be hands-free and voice-controlled, and if fingers are ever required the actuation needs to be instinctive and easy, without looking and with gloves on. Most importantly, I’ve got to be able to hear the damn thing over the roar of the road, the wind, and the engine. For me, all of these boxes have to be ticked. Otherwise, it's pointless.
Unboxing the Cardo Packtalk Bold
Naturally, I was skeptical of the Cardo Packtalk Bold. Cardo, one of the pioneers in the industry, has partnered with JBL to add high-end speakers to its waterproof, helmet-mounted Packtalk unit, and this Bold version promises top-notch sound quality and easy connection with up to ten other units at once. But I ride alone, mostly. So I was more interested in the improved sound quality and Siri-enabled actuation.
Well, consider me hooked, because the Packtalk Bold is a revelation. The sound quality is excellent and once you get used to the buttons—it took me a few rides—the UX is pretty seamless. Using voice commands via Siri, I can access my iPhone to play music, take and make calls, and communicate with a riding buddy up to a hundred yards away. I can listen to a podcast or the dulcet tones of NPR, follow map directions, tell my partner it’s time to gas up, and even have Siri read and respond to texts. (Yes, it works with both iOS and Android.)
It attaches to the helmet with no tools, just a metal clip that slides up under the padding on the jaw. The mic is on a wire, and sticks to the chinbar with velcro and double-backed tape; same with the speakers. Admittedly, I sometimes have to jiggle the helmet and move my head around a bit to get my ears unfolded and comfortable before a ride. But once on, the Packtalk Bold pretty much out of sight, and out of my mind.
Until I turn it up using the easy roller volume control, that is. Then, the sound comes through clear no matter what I'm listening to. At any point, I can say things like "Siri, read me that last text" or "Siri, play the WTF podcast with Marc Maron on Spotify" and occasionally, "Siri, call my wife" and it happens, no problem. You can request specific albums or playlists from your device or stream most any music service.
I do wish the buttons on the unit were a bit more tactile; they're designed to be subtle and unintrusive and they are. But all three feel the same so it's sometimes tough to distinguish between them, especially wearing gloves.
Blips do occur though. I find that, like most electronic doohickies, turning the Packtalk off for thirty seconds then back on again usually remedies whatever issue it seems to be having.
If there’s a real drawback to the Packtalk Bold's design, it’s that when Bluetooth-paired with another unit, its mic is continuously hot. So whoever I'm connected with another rider, both of us can hear every cough, sneeze, song lyric, and random thought we happen to utter inside our helmets. I can't imagine the cacophony if paired with several units on a group ride.
You do get used to it and learn to check yourself. Riding with a good friend helps! My advice? Connect only with someone with whom your secrets (and your singing voice) are safe.
Well, I never thought I’d admit this—but in-helmet comms bring a whole new dimension to motorcycling. I really like listening to music on long interstate slogs, or during a commute. And the Cardo Packtalk Bold delivers the goods. It works great, it's intuitive, and easy to hook up. The best part is that when you're not using it, it's hardly noticeable.
And it's on sale! Available in single or dual packs, the Cardo Packtalk Bold takes in-helmet comms to the next level. Both are discounted right now, just in time for summer roap-tripping with your mates. The markdown is just 15 percent, but these units aren't cheap—so the savings is substantial. Save $51 on the single Packtalk, and 90 bucks on the set of two at Revzilla.
Tuning out the noise and becoming one with road and machine is part of what makes motorcycling so special. Alas, the world is more connected than ever. While I don't use it all the time, I can’t deny the security and convenience that in-helmet communications offers. The Packtalk Bold is currently attached to my favorite helmet, and I haven’t yanked it out yet.