Fans of RIDE magazine (which includes all of us here at Magellan) will have seen the test of 15 Bluetooth helmet intercom systems in the May edition. Very comprehensive and their ‘best buy is’ the Interphone F5MC at about £230. The cheapest on test, the Oxford chatterbox at £100 got a thumbs down as too cheaply built.
Our lead guide has had a Sena 20s helmet intercom (also about £200) for a year or so and really appreciates the flexibility of speaking to other bikers or the occasional pillion passenger and having the GPS system speak into your helmet too, never mind listening to the playlist on iPhone and making/taking calls. I was tempted but £200 is too rich for my blood, so I went down the cheap and cheerful road last summer. Having lived in China for a while I am well versed in their cheap copy philosophy, quality can be good if you shop around. I took a punt and bought a generic NXET ‘BT Intercom headset’ model T-COM VB on Ebay from digi4u for £29. The box claims 800m range, phone calls, long battery life, compatibility with other makes, etc, etc and ideal for motorcyclists and skiers.
Verdict… amazing value! The set is easy to install with a boom mike so it fits full face or open helmets. The usual translated from Chinese to ‘Chinglish’ instructions are actually pretty easy to follow for once. The set works great with the iPhone to listen to music or take calls. Best bit however is that it connected seamlessly to our other guide’s Sena 20s when we were on a tour together. Two way running commentary of route, traffic, road surface, etc is a revelation. The range bike-to-bike is line of sight or about 800m max whichever intervenes first, despite being ‘only’ Bluetooth 2.1 not the latest Bluetooth 4. Sound quality is good for the price and the battery life is simply amazing. After day two I just left it in constant two way connect, no switching on and off all the time. Charged each night via the USB adapter the battery only gave out once, and that was when I did not turn off over lunch and exceeded 8 hours of connect time!!
So in most sensible biking situations the battery life will more than cover your needs, assuming you remember to turn off at lunch stops etc. If you want mainly biker to pillion passenger you can get a pair for less than £50. Water proof too as evidenced by a couple of whole days in the rain back in the UK during the winter with no problem.
There are lots of cheap BT sets on Ebay and they all look the same except for the logo.