Riding time is “me” time, with the plush interior of my helmet providing sanctuary from email, phone calls and deadlines. No iPod, rarely a GPS, just the voice in my head. I compose Pulitzer-winning stories on such rides, but something always gets lost in translation when I finally put words on paper. But that’s on solo rides. When I’m riding with a passenger or friends, communicating via hand signals is frustrating. Warning other riders of debris in the road only works if they are right behind you; trying to negotiate when and where to stop raises my blood pressure.
Last year I tested the Chatterbox! XBi Bluetooth rider-to-passenger communicators (Rider, February 2009), and my girlfriend Carrie and I have enjoyed using them ever since. The company’s more powerful XBi2 allows up to three units to be connected for bike-to-bike communication. We tested two XBi2 units during the sport-touring comparison ride in this issue. Installation was a breeze—the bracket is easy to insert and secure to the helmet, the boom mic fits right inside the chinbar, and the wires are easy to tuck between the helmet’s shell and padding. Full-face and open-face kits are available for the same price; we prefer the open-face kit even with full-face helmets since the boom mic doesn’t have to be affixed to the chinbar and can be more easily repositioned. On a Shoei RF-1100, we used the provided adhesive hook-and-loop tabs to secure the speakers in each ear hole; our HJC RPS-10 has handy speaker pockets, which makes removal easy, too.
Pairing the A2DP Bluetooth-equipped units eluded me; after being flummoxed by the written instructions and Chatterbox’s instructional video on YouTube, a friendly customer service rep walked me through it over the phone. With the XBi2 units turned on, pressing the intercom button connects them with an audible beep allowing full duplex communication like an open phone line. This is especially helpful in emergency situations when you want to get someone’s attention immediately without fiddling with buttons. If you pair your XBi2 with a Bluetooth-enabled mobile phone, GPS or audio player, the intercom button lets you switch between the audio and intercom modes. Placing or receiving a phone call overrides both audio and intercom. Pairing the XBi2 to my iPhone and receiving/placing calls was simple, though sound quality was poor. I agree with Chatterbox’s admonition to avoid placing calls while riding; pull over to a safe place and stop, then enjoy the convenience of calling someone without taking your helmet off.
Chatterbox claims bike-to-bike communication is good for up to 500 meters (1,640 feet) in optimal conditions. It’s hard to say exactly how much range we got, but the quality of the signal degraded with more than a few seconds distance between us; in canyons the signal disappeared whenever we lost sight of each other. Also, at speeds above 40-50 mph, wind noise made it hard to understand each other. Cranking up the volume and wearing earplugs helped, but we still found that terse, unambiguous phrases were best: rocks ahead, nice view, speed trap, etc.
XBi2 communicators can really enhance the shared experience of riding with others, as well as provide safer group riding by warning friends of dangers and avoiding miscommunication. The units are lightweight, compact and provide up to eight hours of talk-time on a single charge. Each unit retails for $229.95.
For more information: Chatterbox! USA, 16918 Edwards Road, Cerritos, California 90703; (888) 222-1994[This Chatterbox XBi2 Communicators review was originally published in the November 2010 issue of Rider magazine]