When riding in a group of motorcycles, riders may have differing experience levels and riding abilities. One of the key aspects in enjoying a successful group ride is communication. Like in any relationship, communication is key.
Forget to turn off a turn signal?
Need to stop for fuel?
Your butt hurt?
Motorcyclists have many different tools at their disposal in order to communicate with each other. From hand signals to turn signals, riders usually find a way to get their point across to other motorists and riders.
With the ongoing development of Bluetooth headsets in the last couple years, riders have another very useful tool in their communicative toolbox. At the start of the riding season, I decided to dive into the headset market and picked up a pair of SENA SMH-10 headsets. I have been surprised… more than I thought I would be.
I ended up purchasing the SENA SMH-10 dual pack for snowmobiles. Even though it is labelled as a snowmobile headset, there is no difference (in form or function) between these sets and any other SENA SMH-10. The reason for choosing the snowmobile set was based on the fact that the pack included both the boom microphone and the wire microphone at a better cost than buying them separately.
Installation on the headsets was fairly straight forward. The two helmets that would be getting the headsets were my Bell Vortex and a Scorpion EXO-1100. To install the headset, the main bracket (base) is slipped between the liner and shell and then secured with 2 hex bolts.
Once the base is set in the proper position, one must install the speakers inside the helmet. Most helmets have recess within the helmet for a riders ears and the SENA speakers are placed easily within the space available. The kit also includes a velcro sticky, as well as velcro pillows, to allow a rider to get the speakers in the most comfortable position possible.
From here, all that was left to do was place the microphone at the front of the helmet. I opted to install the wired microphone as it had a lower profile and was not as noticeable as the bulkier boom microphone.
Overall, the installation on the Scorpion EXO-1100 was the cleaner install of the two as I was able to tuck the wiring completely within the liner of the helmet. As you can see, the wires still need to wrap around the outer portion of the Bell helmet. In the end, both installations have remained intact and have given us no problems.
Interface and Controls
Like the installation, using the SENA headsets is simple and straightforward. The headset has only one button (phone button) as well as a jog dial / button that can be rotated and pushed. With both headsets, there have been no problems working the headsets with motorcycle gloves. The jog dial rotates very smoothly and has a proper amount of feedback / friction when adjusting the volume or changing songs. The headset also has a blue / red LED on the side which gives an indication of the headset status (ie: looking for devices, indicating battery life, etc)
Pairing / Communications
The SMH-10 can be paired with multiple devices simultaneously (up to 4) making it easy to switch between the intercom, phone, music and whatever else a rider wants. I was able to connect my Android Galaxy S3, iPod, and SENA headset without any problems. That being said, the bluetooth receiver on the iPod is garbage and I have reverted to a wired stereo connection (SENA headset base has an Aux input).
The headset works on a priority based system, where the phone will override the intercom, the intercom will override the navigation / radar detector / misc which in turn overrides the music. This is very handy as when the conversation is complete, the music will continue playing once the other rider has hung up without having to hit any buttons.
Paired with my Android phone, the headset runs phenomenally well. As I traveled down the highway at 100km/h, I randomly called a few friends and made idle chit chat before telling them that I was on my motorcycle. The feedback I received was very positive and the audio was coming through loud and clear with no noticeable wind noise. Pressing the phone button would automatically initiate S-Voice and I could direct my phone as needed.
One thing to note is that the speakers on the SENA are very clear and the volume range is quite impressive. Each input volume is independent as well, so if you want your music at one volume, and your phone at another, a rider can set each individually. Although there is very little to no bass to be heard with the speakers, I was able to easily hear music / phone calls with ear plugs in at speed cruising down the highway… and that was not even at full volume.
Range / Battery Life / Durability
SENA claims that the battery life of the SMH-10 is approximately 12 hours talk time and a whopping 10 days of standby time. In order to test this out, we took the headsets on a weekend trip to Alberta through Highway 1.
Both headsets were on continuously for 12+ hours each day of the ride, alternating between the phone, intercom and music. I am surprised to say, even when encountering wind and rain along the way, the batteries lasted for the entire ride on both days. I was hoping to run them dead to get an idea of what the battery life was like but I will have to find that out another day.
As for the range, SENA claims the headsets are good for a range of up to 900 meters (980 yards). When researching the models, I was under the impression from other reviews that this distance would only be supported with a direct line of sight. Any corners / urban environment was supposed to limit the range significantly.
As we wound are way through the mountains, we steadily increased our distances in order to test out the range of the headsets. Although I can not give an exactly distance in meters, I was surprised at how far we were able to separate from each other before the headsets lost the connection. The other rider had to be a significant distance away, far outside what would constitute riding in a group type setting.
If I can describe the SENA SMH-10 headsets in one word: Impressive.
Without a doubt, I can say these are probably the best accessory I have purchased for riding in the past two years. With a price point of approximately $400.00 CAD for a pair, I have a feeling that I will probably to pick up an additional spare in case another rider wants to be connected on a ride.
After testing the headset in real world riding conditions, from all types of weather conditions and in mountainous to urban terrain, the SENA headset was everything it is advertised to be and more.
For a system that offers so much with such little installation / set up, I would recommend it to anyone looking for a better way to communicate or even just listen to music during a road trip.