In our Stayin’ Safe rider training program we rely on bike-to-bike communication to conduct real-time coaching on the road. Naturally, the latest comms technology is always of interest to us, so who better to test the new Cardo scala rider Packtalk communication system? My lead instructor in Georgia and our training partners at MotoMark1 in North Carolina kindly agreed to rendezvous in Asheville, North Carolina, to help me out. Four riders and two passengers hit the highways, boulevards and backroads to challenge the system in a variety of common riding environments.
The new scala rider Packtalk is designed to seamlessly bring multiple riders together for conversation using the choice of Bluetooth or what it calls Dynamic Meshwork Communication (DMC) technology. What’s DMC? As Cardo explains it, “In DMC intercom mode, each rider acts as an autonomous hub that maintains simultaneous and independent communication links with each of the other members in the pack, operating in a mesh network.” That means riders can join, leave and rejoin the pack conversation without compromising the integrity of the ongoing multi-point conference call, and the system instantly readjusts and reconnects pack members to optimize connectivity. We sent two of our four riders on a separate loop that later rejoined the main route and it worked brilliantly.
The tremendous clarity of communication impressed all of us. Voice quality was always crystal clear and full duplex technology enabled natural conversation, allowing multiple pack members to interject rather than waiting for the line to clear. Think conference call vs. two-way radio. Our boisterous Type A personalities did have a tendency to talk at once, so we can certainly understand why the system limits active conversation to six riders at once, although as many as 15 can be in the overall conference.
These remain largely line-of-sight radios. Although the booklet claims a range of up to 5 miles, we found the practical range to be significantly less. An open Interstate extended the range from front rider to rearmost rider whilst twisting mountain back roads with blind curves and hills tended to dramatically reduce the reach until the terrain opened up.
A nice feature that worked flawlessly (once we figured it out) is the “Bridge” technology that enables passengers equipped with older scala rider or competitive Bluetooth products to get in on the DMC conversation. That quickly expanded our conversation from four riders to six participants (one passenger equipped with a scala rider G9 and another with a Sena device). Other features include the ability to receive and place phone calls (including being able to conference in a caller with the rest of pack), listen to FM radio, GPS or an MP3 device, and carry on private intercom conversations with select pack members.
The new Packtalk units are streamlined and have fewer buttons than earlier scala rider devices, simplifying operation. To make management even easier, the free Cardo SmartSet app converts your smartphone to a remote for the Packtalk system. Easily switch between Bluetooth and DMC intercom modes, make adjustments, add or drop pack members, set radio stations and more with the simple touch of your (ungloved) finger.
Each Packtalk Duo package comes with two pre-paired units (retail $579.95). The box itself says “quality” (you won’t want to pitch it). We updated the software of each unit to version 2.0 and also downloaded the updated user manual (both highly recommended). Physical installation was straightforward; simply slide the device mount into place between the helmet shell and liner and position the helmet speakers and microphone—a 5-minute installation on most helmets.
While some users have stated online that they had some difficulty, pairing the devices was a snap for us and was almost automatic in DMC mode. I set my device as the “pack creator” and, with the other units in pairing mode, they simply found it and followed it. Easy peasy. It turns out there are some simple steps that, if not done precisely, can prohibit vital connections from being made. Get the sequence right and you’re golden. A series of videos (not produced by Cardo) that walk you through setup step-by-step can be found on YouTube. I used these to better understand the SmartSet app (which comes with no instructions).
Unanimously, our guys really liked the Packtalk system and enjoyed having free and easy conversation among our group (or are we a “pack” now?). The DMC technology is outstanding—so much so that I’m not sure we would ever opt for the Bluetooth intercom option. We can see how this system could be indispensible for riders who enjoy time together, sharing the experience and making decisions as a group. It can even be helpful in calling out potential threats along the way. And that’s something our Stayin’ Safe pack can certainly appreciate.
For more information, call (800) 488-0363 or visit cardosystems.com.