This one’s a guest contribution from Shih. Because when one of your biker buddies happens to be a techie and gadget freak, and you’ve both spent a long time riding together with an intercom system, you just ask him to write a review on that, right? Here we go.
Last year I went on a tour in the Pyrenees with Jean. A full week on the road with tent, sleeping bag and a bunch of luggage. Since it was my first bike trip ever… needless to say I had a bunch of questions.
One of which was: how the heck would we communicate while riding? Was I supposed to perform a drive-by, start signaling or waving my arms? I had a better idea: how about a bluetooth intercom system?
My helmet already had one installed, so if Jean would get one too, we’d be good to go. But my BMW Motorrad Communication System wasn’t up to par. Sure, it’s a great system when you ride alone and want to listen to music or answer phone calls. You can even have a talk with your pillion, if he or she sports the same system of course. But chat with the rider in front or behind you, let alone a whole group of riders? Forget it.
Which brought us to the Cardo Packtalk Bold. On paper one of the top systems for rider-to-rider communication, partly because of its DMC technology (which stands for Dynamic Mesh Communication). Check this video to learn more about DMC:
After digging into official videos and user reviews we were convinced: my OEM intercom system had to go. Cardo Packtalk Bold was to be installed in both our helmets.
Two to go please.
We opted for the Cardo Packtalk Bold Duo, which means you get a double set for a more competitive price. In the box you find both units, plus all accessories needed to install it on your helmet.
The installation is easy, thanks to the included manual and the crazy amount of velcro stickers you get. Just carefully remove the liner of your helmet and you start installing all components. It’s clear Cardo paid a lot of attention to make sure you can seamlessly integrate everything.
The high-quality speakers come with simple wiring, in stark contrast with the BMW setup. You can choose between a mic mounted on a flexible rod (ideal for flip-up helmets) or a simple cabled mic. The latter has a sticker so you can attach the mic to the inside of your helmet. The cradle – in which you click your unit into – can be mounted with a metal clip or a heavy duty sticker onto the helmet. We both chose to go with the stickers because the clip didn’t fit well on our type of helmets.
Then put the liner back in and finish by installing the Cardo Connect app on your smartphone. Which you’ll need to adjust the settings of your unit (volume preferences, radio stations …).
Before we left for the Pyrenees I thoroughly tested the non-intercom-related functions during my daily commute. Listening to music and doing phone calls, but also trying out different speech commands. “Hey Cardo, battery status” for instance. But also “Hey Siri” and “Okay Google” commands. It all works pretty well, although you need to get used to it. The ambient sound from riding with an open helmet or visor can make it tough for the unit to understand you, plus I have the impression the Cardo understands you better when you sport a thick American accent. Another noteworthy point is that none of us could get the RDS functionality working. Normally this will automatically switch to the strongest radio signal of the station you’re listening to. Using an app to listen to the radio digitally bypasses this issue, but does eat into your mobile internet plan.
With normal usage without intercom functionality, the battery performs very good. During my daily commutes, around 1.5 hour a day, listening to music, I had to juice up my Cardo about once a week.
The first time
Time to leave for the Pyrenees! Our first practical test. When we met up, we first needed a few moments to figure out how to connect both units and off we went.
There wasn’t much chatter on the way, but how nice is it to be able to discuss practicalities on the go? “Watch it, gravel in the turn”, ‘Wow! Pull over. Let’s take a picture”, “I need to fill up man, running on fumes” but also “Need to take a leak”.
We’ve noticed that the microphone is best placed really close to your lips if you want to be heard five by five. When riding with your flip-up helmet open, or with an open visor, the Cardo sometimes tends to pick up some wind noise. But in general the Cardo Packtalk Bold does a good job at filtering all secondary sounds. In fact, while on the phone when riding, the receiving end rarely notices you’re on the bike.
In theory, two Cardo Packtalk Bold units can cover a distance of 1.6 km. Cardo claims that’s about twice the reach of the competition. This number seems somewhat exaggerated, but we have to admit the range is very good. You could say that, as long as you see the other biker, the Cardo’s will have a good connection. On twisties with mountains or rock in between turns, you could get some crackling or loss of network, but as soon as you get back into range, the system picks up the connection automatically. You can connect up to 15 riders and – theoretically – cover 8 km.
In the Pyrenees we did not listen to music while riding, we only used the Cardo’s for their intercom function. Doing that, our units lasted a full day riding, which was about eight hours. Ample stamina for our day rides, but when returning home – which took us about 12 hours for 1,200 km – the batteries ran out of energy. The Cardo’s warned us in time, so we stopped to have a good meal and some rest, while recharging our Cardo’s using a powerbank. About half an hour of juicing up was enough to get them lasting till the end of the trip.
Tip: bring your powerbank on your camping trip, and recharge it while you ride. You’ll thank me later.
Three is a magic number
This June we were supposed to hit the Alps, but CoViD-19 screwed up our plans. We quickly came up with an alternative: a week in Belgium, wandering out to the Eifel area and the north of France. With a third rider: Jan F. After hearing us raving about our units, he got himself a Cardo Packtalk Bold too. On day one his unit was quickly added to our group and the DMC immediately proved its worth.
Going on a tour without my Cardo Packtalk Bold? I don’t think so. Staying in touch with your buddies while riding is fantastic, its battery life is very good, and the sound quality is crisp.
With a pricetag of 279 euro for a single unit (with JBL speakers) it doesn’t come cheap. But you get a lot in return. If you can buy the Cardo Packtalk Bold Duo Pack together with a buddy, you can split the more friendly 449 euro.
My Cardo gives me more peace of mind while riding. The rider in front can issue warnings, like potholes, drain covers or dangerous oncoming cars, while the rider behind you can give you tips and feedback about your cornering technique (or he can just have a good laugh, in your ears).
And of course it’s just fun to be able to listen to music on the road, or being able to answer a phone call.
+ Excellent build quality
+ Great connection quality (over bluetooth and intercom)
+ Easy install
– Pricey (Just get the Duo, it’ll save you some bucks)
– Not great if one of your buddies just can’t stop chatting
– Couldn’t get RDS to work