For some people, the idea of motorcycling is to get away from it all, so the thought of riding with a pillion and having them able to talk to you might sound like a nightmare.
However, with modern bikes packing so much technology, the lure of connectivity has never been greater. A Bluetooth headset can enable anything from the ability to listen to music from your phone to making and taking calls, to turn-by-turn navigation from Google Maps or Waze. With a Bluetooth headset, you can also communicate with your pillion or indeed with a group of your riding mates.
What is a Motorcycle Bluetooth Headset? (and why you might want one)
If you’ve ever seen another biker with a small black widget attached to the side of their helmet, often with a flashing blue light, then the chances are they’re riding with a Bluetooth helmet. They’re probably listening to Radio 4 or their favourite podcast, getting directions from their sat nav or perhaps asking their other half what’s for dinner.
Table of Contents
Bluetooth Headsets - The Basics
What can you use a motorbike headset for?
Phone connectivity - All of the headsets in this guide use Bluetooth which enables you to pair your headset with your phone. This in turn means you can access loads of your phone's capability, all wirelessly, while you ride. You can get turn-by-turn instructions on your motorcycle sat nav. You can take (and make) calls while on the go. You can listen to music through apps like Spotify or radio through apps like TuneIn. In short, if your phone has an app that uses the speakers you can transfer that to your Bluetooth headset's speakers.
Rider to Pillion - Some riders like to talk to their pillions while they ride. I'm not one of them! Years ago the only way to communicate with your pillion was via a series of hand signals that no-one understood or by opening your visor and turning around to shout at your pillion and then not be able to hear their answer. In fact the only universal signal we all understood was the pillion smashing the back of your helmet, which is international code whereby the pillion intends to let you know 'you're braking too hard' whereas, as the rider, you know this to mean 'I wasn't looking at the road ahead'. Anyway, a Bluetooth headset solves this and enables two-way conversation.
Rider to Rider - If you're riding with another biking buddy or a group, you can easily communicate when you both have a Bluetooth headset. No longer do you need to risk clashing handlebars as you shout at each other that you need a pee or that you've run out of fuel, or that the last road was epic. You can chat away without having to pull over.
The Big Questions Answered
Do I need a specific model for my helmet?
Some manufacturers like AGV, LS2, Nolan, Schuberth and X-Lite all make their own helmet-specific intercoms.
Most generic systems attach to the outside of your lid and you attach the mic to the inside of the chin bar and stick a soft speaker into the lining of your helmet by your ear.
If you’re the sort of rider who rocks an open face lid (respect!) or a flip-up helmet then you need to buy a Bluetooth headset that comes with a boom mic attachment. Most do come with one in the box but if they don’t, you’ll be able to buy one for that model.
What’s the difference between a Bluetooth headset and an Intercom
A decade ago, if you wanted to listen to the radio on your motorbike or talk to a passenger, chances are you’d have had a kit like an Autocom; a favourite of dedicated tourers and motorcycle instructors. These systems used radio waves rather than Bluetooth to communicate.
These days a Bluetooth headset can perform many roles. For a majority of users, they just want the ability to connect to their own devices, to stream Spotify or make calls.
Most Bluetooth headsets enable you to talk to a pillion simply by buying two headsets by the same manufacturer and pairing them, et voila!
The same applies if you want to talk with a riding buddy – if you both buy the same brand and keep within a reasonable distance of each other, you’ll be able to communicate on the go.
Can I talk to a pillion or another rider?
When it comes to communicating with other riders, it’s mainly about connectivity but also about range.
If you want to talk with a riding buddy, the best way is to ensure you both have the same make and model of Bluetooth headset. You can get some different makes and models to talk to each other but as a general rule, don’t expect different makes to always play well together.
The next thing to look at is the range of your headset. Some cheaper options are sold as ‘City’ headsets as they have a shorter range, usually around 250m. These are good for Rider to Pillion but not so great if you’re riding on open roads where you will often be out of range of each other. Think in terms of line of sight; if you can’t see the other rider’s headset, the Bluetooth won’t have the range to transmit to it.
For touring, you’ll need a longer range and these use radio transmitting technology, not Bluetooth. Most quality manufacturers make versions which have a range of around 1-mile, some up to 5-miles. Check before you buy as you don’t want to fork out on a short-range Bluetooth headset when you need one that also has long-range technology. Our pick below is a great choice for touring.
If you’re looking for the best quality, then make sure the headset uses a minimum of Bluetooth 4.1 and not 2.0. The latest technology is currently 5.3. Any headset with 4.1 tech or above will have a better range, better quality and it’ll be less demanding on the battery too.
Any headset that connects to another (thus enabling rider to rider, rider to pillion, etc) will also do all the standard things you want a Bluetooth headset to do: play music, take calls and give you feedback on your riding ability. OK, thankfully the last one was a lie…
Our Criteria For The Best Motorcycle Bluetooth Headset
The areas you need to consider
- Bluetooth: All intercoms or headsets will use Bluetooth but the cheaper ones will use the much older Bluetooth 2.0 technology. The newer and - annoyingly - more expensive systems use Bluetooth 5.3 which has a better battery life, increased range and better connectivity over a 2.0 headset.
- Range: Not all headsets have the same range. If you only want it for solo riding, then range isn't an issue but if you want to talk to other riders, look for touring versions which use technologies other than Bluetooth and will have a range of around 1-mile rather than 300-metres.
- Battery life: Check your headset's battery life. Cheap Bluetooth headsets will often have a smaller battery and if they also use Bluetooth 2.0 the battery drain will be higher. If you want to listen to music on the go, you'll need a claimed battery life of 10 hours for a day in the saddle.
- Quality speakers: For sat nav directions, a cheaper Bluetooth headset with a single speaker will do the job but, generally speaking, the more you spend, the better the sound quality. If you want to listen to music, you'd be daft not to get a headset with stereo speakers.
- Multi-rider connectivity: Some headsets can connect to up to 8 other devices. I couldn't handle that amount of idle chat on a ride but if you want to connect to other devices make sure your headset is up to it.
- Controls: You'll need to be able to remember what the buttons do and be able to operate them. Some systems have a spin-and-click jog dial which cycles through all the others. Others have set buttons. Which will you go for?
- Day to day use: For me, the best headsets are removable and this makes it easy to charge the unit and easy to swap between helmets. If you can't remove it, you'll need to cart the helmet around to plug it in, which can be tricky if your charging cable isn't long enough.
Our Best Motorcycle Headset Picks
There are some great motorcycle Bluetooth headsets out there but these two tick every box in terms of connectivity and functionality. One has the jog dial, the other uses buttons. They are almost identical in terms of sound quality; both offering exceptional calibre and volume levels that are good even at motorway speeds.
Voice-controls, Mesh and high quality sound
This Bluetooth headset packs all the features you could wish for. The battery is located on the rear of your helmet, meaning the unit itself is super-slim. The Mesh functionality means you can form your own group with other riders and communicate over long distances. It’s IP67 waterproof, has a claimed 15h battery life, you can control it with voice commands – virtually eliminating the need to press buttons. There’s auto-volume adjustment and it’ll pair with any Sena system, almost all sat-navs and factory-fitted on-bike Bluetooth systems. Fully charged in an hour, a 20-minute charge will give you around 5 hours battery life. For music, sat-nav and communication, what more could you need?
Great for rider-to-rider communication
Keep in touch with up to four riding companions with this excellent Bluetooth headset. It has a long range of 1-mile and the Bluetooth 4.1 technology means you’ll get HD quality audio and a decent battery life. Pair up to two phones with handsfree calling, voice prompts, turn-by-turn sat nav directions, listen to MP3s and audio and the built-in FM Radio. The 12-hour talk time and 10-day standby time make the 10S a great option for touring.
The Cheapest Motorcycle Bluetooth headset
You don’t need to spend upwards of £150 on a Bluetooth intercom. Generally speaking the more you spend, the better the range, battery life, audio quality and connectivity. However we’ve picked a great option for those on a budget. At under £100, it’s a good bit of kit for you if you just want to try out the world of Bluetooth headsets or you’re going to be an occasional user. Our choice below costs under half of most of its rivals but still offers the features you need.
Great for solo riding and pillions
Interphone makes quality Bluetooth headsets and the Link model packs a load of features at a great price. It’s compatible with all types of helmet. You can receive calls, turn-by-turn directions, listen to music or the radio and connect it to another headset to talk to your pillion – you can even share music with your pillion. With a battery-life of 15 hours, connectivity to other riders and a range of 300-metres it’s ideal for solo riding or group tours.
The Best Motorbike Headset For Music
If you value sound quality over the ability to connect with loads of other riders or other features such as range or talk time, then check out the top of the range Cardo motorcycle Bluetooth headsets as they use JBL speakers.
JBL are a top-of-the-line speaker company who make headphones for the music industry with some costing over £300!
That said, pretty much all of the high-end motorcycle Bluetooth intercoms have good quality speakers. The budget headsets are cheaper as they use lower-quality speakers, have a lesser range and a smaller battery.
So if you want the best music quality, Cardo’s Packtalk range and Freecom 4 (and above) all use JBL speakers and brilliant audio.
If you’re the sort of biker who wants their own karaoke gig every time they ride, check out the Cardo range.
Fitting a Bluetooth Headset
You’re going to need a good half hour to fit your headset and speakers properly. I know you’ll be itching to get out on the bike but take your time here, do a good job and you’ll get much better sound clarity and comfort. Trying to fit it and set it up half an hour before you head out on a ride isn’t going to yield the best results.
Each manufacturer has its own way of rigging up your headset and what comes in the box varies too.
Pretty much all motorcycle bluetooth kits come with:
- the main unit
- a charger cable
- a pair of speakers
- a microphone
Some of the better-qualitykits include extras such as a boom mic, wall charger, spark parts and different attachments.
When it comes to fitting the main unit to the outside of your helmet, you’ll either get a stick-on fitting or a clamp on fitting. Some units come with both.
The stick-on fittings use seriously tough foam adhesive, which might affect your lid if you come to remove it. A little bit of petrol would help break down the glue so you could ease off the pad but remember to clean up the petrol as that too could damage the helmet’s shell.
So what I’m really saying here is that when you go to stick the base plate onto your helmet, make sure you figure out where the unit itself ends up and ensure it won’t end up postitioned incorrectly.
Some systems use clamps which fit snugly on the edge of the lid, just under the lining. These can be adjusted and more easily removed than a stick-on clamp.
To get the best fit, you’re going to have to remove a bit of your helmet’s lining in order to stash the wires and locate the speakers properly.
When it comes to the speakers, must have a sticky pad that sticks to the inside of your helmet’s shell with Velcro to then remove the speakers. My tip is to locate this without peeking off the sticky bit. Try the lid on, play some music and see if the speakers are in the right place. Have a good fiddle, don’t rush it and when you’re happy with the location, peek off the packing and secure the speakers.
Bluetooth Headsets: Ben's Top Tips
If you and a mate ride frequently together, buy a Bluetooth intercom set that comes as a pair and split the cost. They'll easily connect together and can be used separately.
Check to see if your helmet manufacturer makes or recommends a specific Bluetooth headset. If they do, chances are it'll fit well to your lid and be more comfortable too. As an example, Schuberth make a Bluetooth headset that fits around the neck skirt of some of their helmet models.
Check to see what weather-proofing your headset has before you buy it. If you're likely to ride in all weathers you'll need a waterproof headset, not just a water-resistant one.
If you wear an open-face or flip-up lid make sure your headset comes with a boom-mic rather than a stick on mic as it'll work with an open face helmet and the mic's foam cover will stop wind noise being as big a problem.
Other Headsets Worth Considering
There are loads of really good Bluetooth motorcycle headsets on the market. If the picks above don’t take your fancy, here are three others that we rate.
Cardo Packtalk – One of the best motorcycle bluetooth headsets on the market. However it isn’t our top pick,but that’s because it’s around £300. However if you want the best sound quality, build quality, talk time and functionality this is a great choice. It used Bluetooth 4.1, has top quality JBL speakers. You can connect with up to 15 other devices (I don’t know about you but I don’t have 15 riding buddies!), with audio sharing and group chat. It has an impressive 5-mile range and the unit weighs a lightweight 60g.
SENA SMH5 – Sena makes top-quality Bluetooth headsets for bikers but the SMH5 is an entry-level kit, that packs Sena’s knowledge but with no frills so the cost is low. It does all the usual p[hone connectivity stuff, so you can get GPS navigation, music and rider-to-rider intercom. Bluetooth 3.0 and 8 hours taktime are plenty good enough.
QSPORTPEAK V6 – At the budget end of the spectrum comes the V6. It uses Bluetooth 3.0 and connects to your phone to offer music streaming, turn-by-turn GPS and calls. There’s no built in radio but that’s no biggy. It supports up to six other devices meaning you can ride in a group. The main downside is the buttons which are quite small and fiddly.
Motorcycle Bluetooth Headset FAQs
Can I get a Bluetooth headset with built-in radio?
Yes, pretty much all of them offer an FM radio function however this is a bit dated these days as you can stream radio through your phone to your headset via Bluetooth.
Does anyone make a Bluetooth headset with a camera?
Amazingly, yes! Sena make the 10C-01 Bluetooth headset with built-in camera meaning you can record your journey (and presumably any bad driving you witness) with this all-in-one device.
Thanks to the following websites which helped us research and write this Bluetooth headset guide:
Bluetooth 4.1 Frequently Asked Questions
Bluetooth technology for short-range wireless apps
brilliant info and helpful comments thanks