The 10 Best Motorcycle Communication Systems
This wiki has been updated 22 times since it was first published in October of 2018. When you're out on the road with one or more fellow riders, it's very useful to be able to stay in touch. In the old days, you would have had to rely on a litany of complicated hand signals for communication, but with today's advanced technologies, you can employ any of the motorcycle intercom systems on our list to safely and clearly talk with all of your friends in the group. When users buy our independently chosen editorial picks, we may earn commissions to help fund the Wiki.
July 16, 2020:
With the vast majority of our previous selections still proving to be excellent picks for this category, it was a relatively painless round of updates, with two notable exceptions being the FreedConn T-Max — which we removed due to availability issues, and the Cardo Scala Rider PackTalk Slim — which we decided on eliminating, noting that it was carrying an unusually large amount of poor reviews for such an expensive option. In their places, we introduced two exciting multifunctional choices that have cameras integrated into their designs: The Fodsports FX30C — which features a 110-degree wide-angle lens and a two-megapixel photo camera, and the Sena 10C Evo — which shoots 4k video at 30 frames per second and can accommodate 128-gigabyte SD cards.
A few things to think about for this category:
Range: While basic models like the FreedConn T-COMVB feature modest, 1/2-mile communication ranges, top-end options like the Cardo Unisex PackTalk SRPT0102 can purportedly function at impressive distances of up to five miles apart. While users on a budget can certainly get by with short-range devices, many will appreciate the flexibility and convenience afforded to them by a device with a longer range, so it may be worth investing in.
Connectivity: While many selections – like the Sena 10S-01D, Cardo Unisex PackTalk SRPT0102 and Lexin LX-ETCOM – feature univeral pairing, which enables them to connect to most units on the market, there are some like the Fodsports BT-S3 that cannot. Do your best to select a universal model, or at the very least a model that’s compatible with the communication systems your friends use.
Note that the Fodsports BT-S3 was not included during this round of rankings, but the Fodsports M1S Bluetooth Intercom, which was included, is in fact compatible with some other brands.
Also, how big is your riding crew? While the Cardo Unisex PackTalk SRPT0102 can connect a pack of 15 riders, other models – like the Cardo Unisex Adult Freecom 4 Duo and Lexin LX-FT4 – can only link up four, while the Lexin LX-ETCOM maxes out at two. Make sure you’re investing in a unit that’s suitable to the size of your riding group, and always err on the side of caution, because you never know when you’ll pick up a few new friends.
Battery Life: Put simply: quite obviously, longer is better. While models like the Fodsports M1S Bluetooth Intercom feature batteries that can last for up to 20 hours, others – like the seven-hour FreedConn T-COMVB and eight-hour Lexin LX-ETCOM – don’t have nearly that endurance, which means you risk losing power toward the end of a long day on the road. Know what your riding habits are like, and select a unit with a rated battery life that can keep up to you.
Models like the Fodsports FX30C and Sena 10C Evo, which feature built-in cameras, can be a lot of fun, but some users have noted that they drain your battery life quite quickly. So, if that is the way you’ve decided that you want to go, perhaps consider one that can charge via USB while in use.
July 10, 2019:
We revisited this list to investigate claims of weatherproofing a bit further, as these systems need to effectively resist both dust and water to operate on the road. While three of our previous entries specifically spoke to their weatherproofing, we noticed that others made claims that were largely unsubstantiated. Sena was one suspect, but a conversation with their company indicated that they stand by their water resistance claims and back up all incidences of rain damage for a warrantied period of two years. Cardo specifies in their promotional materials that all of their headset units hold an IP67 weatherproof rating. FreedConn was the only other company to rate their product in this manner. Readers are welcome to take other companies at their word, but those are the three manufacturers most likely to offer the best water and dust resistance.
November 07, 2018:
Safety is a prime consideration when evaluating anything for motorcycle riders, so reliable voice commands, easy-to-find buttons, and other control advantages weighed heavily. Companies like Sena and Cardo continue to make durable entries into the category, while Freedcon also impresses with a pair of decent options at very reasonable prices for their quality.
A Safer Way To Signal
To further complicate matters, motorcyclists have to share the road with cars, and drivers who don’t also ride are not likely to know what most of these signals mean.
Riding a motorcycle is a noisy experience. The roar of the engines competes constantly with the whipping winds all around you, and sounds from cars and trucks along the road only add to the cacophony. For riders traveling in groups of two or more, that makes communicating rather difficult. Not too many of us can muster voices at those kinds of decibel levels. So, instead, motorcyclists have developed a series of hand signals that could be used to communicate among riders without the need for words.
You might recognize some of these signals, as the most basic of them are also employed by bicyclists and by drivers whose brake lights or turn signals are malfunctioning. An extended left arm for a left turn, an upright left arm bent at the elbow for a right turn, and a downturned left arm bent at the elbow for stopping are usually all part of a written driver’s test.
Things get a little hairier when more complicated communications are necessary, and that’s pretty much guaranteed on a motorcycle. Signaling for roadway hazards can involve a hand or a foot depending on the side of the bike it’s coming up on, and certain signals designed to occur close to the body — like a low fuel signal — can easily be blocked by a backpack or other luggage. And with over a dozen signals at their behest, there’s no guarantee that every rider in your pack will remember what it means when you rapidly tap the top of your helmet. That makes miscommunication a significant risk, as well.
To further complicate matters, motorcyclists have to share the road with cars, and drivers who don’t also ride are not likely to know what most of these signals mean. While motorcyclists know better than to use their specialized signals with car drivers, some motorists might become confused or distracted by the biker waving his arms in a strange fashion, and distracted driving is a top cause of accidents.
Fortunately, the proliferation of Bluetooth technology and other relatively close range forms of radio communication have endowed riders with the ability to communicate with their voices. Some helmets come with these communication devices already built in, but if yours didn’t and you either love your helmet too much to get a new one, or you just don’t have the money for a top-tier Bluetooth helmet at the moment, you can install a motorcycle communications system in your preferred bucket.
Choosing The Right Comms For Your Lid
There are two primary aspects of any motorcycle communications system to consider when looking to make your purchase, after which you can begin to focus on other features. A given unit’s interface and compatibility are paramount.
On the interface side, a communications system will almost always include some kid of module that installs on the outside of your helmet. This will be equipped with some kind of controls, be they wheels and dials, or buttons. Pay attention to things like the size of buttons, the simplicity and functionality of control wheels, and the overall spacing of the device’s input features. Ideally, these are things you want to be able to comfortably control with a thick riding glove on, and be able to memorize the location and function of without having to look at them.
On the interface side, a communications system will almost always include some kid of module that installs on the outside of your helmet.
Compatibility covers a few aspects of a comms device. For starters, it’s a consideration of whether your comms system might play well with other brands or models in a given brand’s lineup. This is especially important if other riders in your group already have systems installed, and you either can’t find that same make or model, or you can’t afford it. Ideally, you’d all be using the same exact device, but that isn't always the case. Fortunately, many of the models out there are offered up in sets of two or more, so you can at least stay in touch with one other rider.
Compatibility also refers in this case to the maximum number of devices that can connect at once. Knowing the size of your gang is important here, as having to cut one rider out of the conversation is sure to sow discord among the ranks. Also, keep an eye on working distance, and assume that any brand is advertising their best case scenario numbers. If your crew rides in tight formation, this shouldn’t pose much of a problem, but if you tend to spread out over long stretches of Route 66, it might be wise to spend the extra cash on a system that can work over greater distances.
Another feature to consider are ease of installation, which includes whether a given model will likely fit into your helmet to begin with. Most wiring layouts can wriggle into any lid on the market, but if yours has particularly intractable cheek pads or is already on the verge of being too small, you’ll have to be careful with your selection.
Finally, you'll want to consider weatherproofing, and this is something that warrants real attention if you regularly ride in inclement weather or in very dusty areas. Most of the systems you'll find on the market make some claims to weatherproofing, but the most trustworthy are likely those with an IP rating. That usually looks like IP67 or IPX8, where the first number indicates dust resistance, and the second indicates resistance to water. Generally speaking, the higher these numbers, the better your device will work in adverse conditions.
Other Great Motorcycle Gear
While a good comms system can go a long way toward keeping you safe, there are some other things you’ll want to get your hands on to ensure the safest, most comfortable ride. Obviously, if you don’t wear a helmet, you’re just asking for it, not to mention the fact that you won’t have anywhere to install your new comms device. Get one of those first.
Obviously, if you don’t wear a helmet, you’re just asking for it, not to mention the fact that you won’t have anywhere to install your new comms device.
Some bikers love motorcycle jackets, and others can’t be bothered, particularly in the summer months. Jackets look decidedly cool, however, and they can literally save your skin in the event of a spill. It’s also important to note that they come in incredibly lightweight and breathable textiles, so you can stay cool on a trek through the mojave.
A good pair of gloves will not only protect your hands from flying debris, they’ll also shield one of your most vulnerable body parts to road rash. And if you take your time to select a pair that fits properly, it’ll be that much easier to manipulate the controls of your new communication node. Really, there’s no end to the money you can spend on your biking experience, but the ability to talk with your fellow riders is something in which every serious motorcyclist should invest.