Motorcycle Communications

After being blown all over the road while riding just before a recent storm blew in, my wife said "we need comms", because she had to stop at the side of the road and it took me (in the increasing darkness) a km or 2 before I noticed that it wasn't her CBR headlights tailing me anymore.

After thinking the worst and hightailing my vstrom at a very illegal speed back along our route, I found her at the side of the road whereupon she decreed the comms requirement.

I'd been thinking about comms for a while. I had rejected most bluetooth based systems because they have crappy range, limited group membership (often 2 or 3 devices only, including bike to bike), and a few other issues. I may consider a bluetooth unit that I can put in my jacket procket and connect a helmet headset to that, thus freeing me from the wires connecting either to my bike or to my tank bag, but not overly comfortable with having the transceiver next to my noggin !! Autocomm and starcom1 looked like fantastic solutions, except their price....oh and I couldn't get anyone to sell me what I wanted in Canada....this was crazy, so I'll digress:

I called Automcom in the UK to get a price on their new products (Easi and avi-pro are no longer available, it's now the Logic/Logic Independence etc.). They advised me that they can't give me a price because they have a distributor in Canada, Motovan. No problem, I'll place a call to Motovan. Firstly I checked their website......communications equipment is in the "FASHION" catalog !! Secondly, they only have the old equipment, no longer available. Anyway, No call details for Motovan, so I emailed them. After sufficient delay, I got an email from Motovan:

"Thank you for your interest in Motovan Corporation and the parts we carry, As we are a Distributor and cannot sell directly to consumers, your Local Motorised Dealer should be able to assist you with all your purchases and any inquiries regarding such needs." - Initial email response from Motovan Support.

1. What is a motorized dealer
2. Gimme a hint, go on - who will sell it to me !
3. I've never had to try so hard to be sold a product. So far everyone I have called has said, oh, we don't actually sell it !!!

On, so eventually I get the names of those autorized to sell the autocom from Motovan. I called 3 sizable companies from the list. The first, a reputable HAM and Marine radio retail store, hadn't heard of it. The second just wanted to sell the "Cardo Scala Q2" and the third offered to get the latest motovan catalog and try and get me a price (at least someone TRYING to be helpful), but ofcourse, motovan aren't carrying the Logic/Logic Independence.

I really hope that Autocom see this because it's a bloody shambles all I had to go through, and I never got a Canadian price for the equipment.

Any way, back to the main part of the story.

In then end, I decided to get a headset from IMC as it was cheap and could interface with my Cobra FRS/GMRS radio (except that no one had the adapter for 3 weeks...more on that as I created my own). It didn't have some of the bells and whistles of a Starcom1 but I didn't really need them at this point.

IMC HS-410
A Bike to Bike (via radio) and Phone headset unit.


The headset speakers are a pair or 6mm slim speakers that fit (just) inside my shoe RF-1000 lid. A condensing mic is on the same loom, with enough cable to EASILY reach the chinbar on a full face, with plenty to spare; fastened with velcro. The complete headset unit uses a firewire connector (yes, IEEE 1394 interface connector) to the coiled cable. At the jack end of all of this cable:

  1. A 3 connector 3.5 mm 1pin jack for FRS/GMRS Radio - my radio (cobra Microtalk) needs to be 2.5 mm and non-standard connector config.
  2. A 3 connector 2.5 mm 1 pin jack for mobile phone - mine needs to be 3.5 mm, 4 connector (Blackberry) and non-standard connector config.
  3. A waterproof PPT switch connecting via a 3.5mm 3 connector jack.

I asked for an adapter for the radio, but everyone was out of stock and it appeared that NO-ONE knew the pin-out or how to wire one, so I created my own. I made some calls to Cobra; their techline knew the pinout, but not any details about capacitance or required resistance. Fortunately they put me through to their boss, who did.


After I had that information I was able to fabricate my own cable adapters for the radios, and get them tested on the road.

Often, the tip is mic, ring 1 is speaker and shield is ground.
For the cobra adapter, ring 1 and tip are reversed, so ring 1 becomes the mic, while tip becomes the speaker.


1 = Speaker
2 = Mic
3 = Ground

Here are a few pictures of the adapter.



It is also possible to charge the unit from the same socket, though I haven't figured this out yet (it may not be possible to simultaneously use the socket for audio and power).

Road Report.

Out on the road with the units, I was on my V-Strom in front, with my wife following behind on her CBR. Both wearing shoei RF-1000 helmets and both using identical equipment:
IMC HS-410 Motorcycle Headset
Cobra Microtalk Radio
(I brieflyplugged in my blackberry but there were issues with transmitting voice while the phone was connected).

We set off on a route and at regular intervals checked in to identify the clarity of both transmission and reception. I would transmit to my wife at various speeds and she would respond regarding the perceived clarity. This allows me to also judge the clarity in her response.

I only tested to 100KMH, based on the area we were in, this was all that was safe to do so. Suffice it to say that I could still hear, and be heard, with ease at this speed. For the best clarity, transmissions were done with the visor closed.

Wind noise wasn't much of a factor, even though it was a particularly windy day, so long as the visor was closed. Even with it open, it wasn't too bad; with engine noise obviously accompanying the conversation. I was much less affected by the noise of the environment than my wife was because I have the chin curtain on my shoei, which she does not, which appears to provide an additional level of acoustic isolation beyond that minimally provided by the microphone supplied.

In all we were very happy with the audio quality and clarity throughout the speeds tested. From a comfort perspective, I was fine for the whole ride, whereas my wife had 2 issues. Firstly the microphone would just about touch her lip, which was annoying and could cause a mild distraction for some people. Fairly easily fixed though (a little shaving of foam or repositioning of the mic as it's Velcro backed). Her second issues was that toward the end of the ride, one of her ears was less comfortable as the speaker had been pressing against it. This was purely an error of the fitter (me) due to a late night fitting session (2am the prev. morning) without the intended wearer (she was sound asleep). This can be easily remedied by re-positioning the speakers. That said, there isn't too much room in which to re-position the speakers. I'd like IMC to provide an ear-bud option, which they do not. Perhaps that'll become a future project, interfacing a pair of earbuds instead of speakers. On the whole though, the speakers themselfs were fine for the job (though don't expect High Fidelity stereophonic sound; they aren't an audiophiles dream solution).

The PPT switch I found too large and haven't really found a good place to put it yet. I first tried on the handlebar to the right of the signal/indicator lever block. This meant moving my hand position completely to reach it, not a great idea. I then moved it to the hand grip on the left hand. This was much easier to operate (either with a finger, or rotated around the grip to use my thumb) but it did impede the grip position of the left hand and made some clutch operations difficult. Due to this, during the ride, I wrapped some elastic banks around the PPT switch to engage it, and switched the radios into VOX mode. The VOX mode on the radios is far from perfect, but it was safer than using this particular PPT switch.

I've seen some other alternate placings of the PPT which I may also try.


  • Create a new PPT switch and mount it (gorilla glue?) just above the signal lever. My thumb can readily reach that and my grip is not impeded.
  • As an alternative to the above, use the trigger that normally provides the headlight "flash" feature to operate the PPT switch. May work nicely on my Wee-Strom but certainly wouldn't help on my wife's CBR (doesn't have the trigger).
  • THird option here is to use some kind of small rocker switch that can be operated by a thumb, but narrow enough to not impede grip, and
  • place that onto the left hand grip.

  • Interfacing to my blackberry comes next. While I am not likely to be taking calls while on the bike, I need to find a 4 pin 3.5mm connector. I haven't found one at Sayal electronics, but I can order one via the web at Mauser - something I am reluctant to do for such a small order. I can't use a 3pin because when put into a 4 pin socket ring 2 and sleeve are shorted. For the Blackberry:
  • Tip - Control/Mic
  • R1 - Audio
  • R2 - Audio
  • Sleve - Ground
  • So ground and one of the speakers become connected, meaning that we no longer have an effective ground.

Radio, GPS, other electrics:
  • Power from the bike.

    • Garmin 260W to go in the top of my tankbag - USB with 18 K ohm resistor between pin 4 and ground (5), pulling 1 A of current at 5Volts.
    • Cobra Microtalk Radio - using the chargeport at the top, the desktop charger connectors at the bottom, or some kind of adapter for the battery compartment.
    • Blackberry Bold - USB mini B, standard.

  • Consider bluetooth device to seperate wires from the bike/tankbag. THe Bluetooth device would be worn in my jacket (connecting to the wires in my helmet), with a corresponding bluetooth device in the tankbag. This would just allow me to not be physically tethered to the bike.
  • I suspect that this is going to require a switched fused connection to the battery, but that can be the fodder of a future post.


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gutan said...

Usually people prefer to try for new motorcycle communication headsets during their ride.