Can you really attach speakers and a microphone to a bicycle helmet… And like it?
Not long ago, while out riding, I found myself wondering if I ought to get a Bluetooth headset. Now, it wasn’t that I wanted to listen to music, I’ve never found that necessary – or even enjoyable. Nor did I want to call my friends while riding and tell them how much fun I was having. No, I just figured it would be a good idea to be contactable in case of emergency; from time to time, I’ve come home to find a thousand messages on my phone that I simply couldn’t hear through my saddle bag (that is, the phone was in the saddle bag, not me.)
Still, I thought such an item would probably be a bit dorky, unwieldy, and annoying (not to mention potentially unsafe.) So I left the idea alone. As luck would have it though, BNA had been in contact with Cassons in Sydney who import Cardo Bluetooth headsets for cyclists (both motor- and bi-). So as luck would have it, I got the chance to test out my theory in practice.
Matthew Runciman of Cassons demonstrated Cardo at Ausbike in 2012
Enter the Cardo BK-1 Duo
In a nutshell, the BK-1 Duo is a Bluetooth headset that can connect to your phone and deliver music, GPS instructions, phone calls, and even let you talk to Siri (with whom I have quite the tempestuous relationship!) In addition, you can communicate with other BK-1 users via an intercom mode. Rather than earbuds, the BK-1 uses speakers which is a huge plus for me as I always felt that wearing earphones is too dangerous for our roads.
Operating the Cardo
The Cardo software uses priorities to manage each communication function. If you’re listening to music, it will be interrupted by any incoming intercom communication; in turn the intercom will be interrupted by an incoming phone call. Even though the headset isn’t completely intuitive to use, a thorough read of the manual will make things clear. By the second ride, I was finding it quick and easy to operate.
On a technical level, the software feels very refined. It responds quickly and smoothly every time, so despite having little feedback, I always knew exactly what it was doing with one notable exception. The lights on the helmet blink, but that’s not much good to the wearer – so if you’re riding on your own and you’re not listening to music or anything, you can’t see if you remembered to turn it on. Although practically speaking, this is a minor issue.
The only thing that needs refining is the “speak to activate” feature, which allows you to answer calls or talk to fellow cyclists simply by saying “Hello” (or anything, actually.) The Cardo does its best, but honestly, you have to YELL to get it to work; it made people think I had Tourrette’s! Simply tapping the mic did the job though – and that was pretty cool; beam me up Scotty!
The BK-1’s biggest strength is its audio quality; the speakers are the perfect solution to a difficult problem. Not only do they allow you to still hear road noise, but they never gave me any ringing in my ears, and they are super clear. Not only that, but the microphone works amazingly well. Phone calls from Cardo are much clearer to the listener than those from the Bluetooth in my car, for example (just the standard bluetooth function in my 2008 Hyundai Getz, for those of you playing along at home.)
I was also surprised at how effective the audio was for inter-bike communication. It made me realise how much I usually have to shout to be heard over road and wind noise. By contrast, when talking to my riding partner over the intercom, I might as well have been in a library. Even at over 600m apart, there was no drop in audio quality at all, although line of sight is critical.
But what really demonstrated how well this function worked, is that even when riding side by side, we elected to use the intercom because it was easier and clearer! If you’re a social rider, you might be surprised at how much you actually like this.
I had heard about the Cardo and was interested in trying one out before this review opportunity came along. I admit that I had some preconceptions about it, but I think that they’ve been suitably addressed. Let me share them with you:
Is it unwieldy, time consuming and annoying?
Not really. If you don’t mind charging your Garmin or other bike computer, it’s easy enough to plug in your Cardo as well.
Is it unsafe?
No way. I always thought speakers were the only way to deliver audio safely, and I’m genuinely surprised at how well the Cardo does this.
Is it dorky? Is it expensive?
Yes, and yes again (but don’t those two often go hand in hand?)
Is it useful?
Surprisingly, yes! It might not be “Pro”, but it’s definitely practical. To be honest, if you’re looking for this kind of product I can’t imagine finding one more usable and discrete.
Not long ago, I found myself out for a ride. This time I was riding with the Cardo BK-1 and I decided to call my wife and tell her what a great time I was having. It was 6 o’clock in the morning and she didn’t share my enthusiasm. There was no mistaking her sentiment, though, and I quickly realised I’d better do another lap or two before I dared venture through the front door.
She didn’t sound happy, but boy, did she sound awfully clear…
Cardo is distributed in Australia by Cassons. The BK-1 retails for $549 and includes two setups, i.e. a Bluetooth receivers, speakers, and microphones for two cyclists.