Scala Rider Q2 Bluetooth Headset / Suggested retail price: $219.99
Cardo Scala Rider Q2 Features:
*1,640ft bike-to-bike range
*Up to three riders can communicate at one time
*Full duplex communication allows simultaneous talking
*Audio GPS enabled
*Built-in FM radio
*Built-in Bluetooth for hands-free cell phone use
*8-hour use time
*Excellent quick-release for unit removal from helmet
*Choice of voice activated or “always on” intercom
*Installation time: Five minutes
Full product info at: www.cardowireless.com
Using the Q2 in the Real World
In the interest of full disclosure, I should preface this review by noting a general dislike for intercoms on motorcycles. Why? I enjoy the solitude of riding, and I’ve always thought any kind of bike-to-bike communication outside of hand signals and nods was at odds with the joy of being out on the road, unencumbered from cell phones, radio or any other intrusions. Frankly, I was a little uncertain if I even wanted to try Cardo’s new Bluetooth intercom system. If I ended up disappointed, well, that’d just be more oil on the fire. But hell, what if I actually liked the damn thing?
And therein lies the rub, because after a 1,400-mile trip with my 12-year-old son, Charlie, I discovered the new Cardo Scala Rider Q2 system not only works great but is a fantastic asset on the road. Why the sudden change of heart? Ironically enough, without the Scale Rider, my trip with Charlie would have lost the dimension that made it singular; we got to talk.
Our trip was the result of my buying a 1991 BMW K100RS. The bike was in Phoenix, and I live west of Kansas City. Riding it home was the obvious plan, and taking Charlie along seemed a natural. He’d been itching to get in a road trip with me, and when we were offered the chance to sample the new Scala Rider Q2 I figured what the hell, maybe it would ease some of the road boredom I expected he’d experience. And, much as I love solitude, I’ll admit there are times it’d be fun to share the sights verbally as well as visually, and I figured that would be a real plus for Charlie.
Setting up is easy. Fix the unit’s mount to your helmet (it will fit either a full face or ¾ open face and holds in place with a simple clamping mechanism that slips under the helmet lining), find a comfortable spot in your helmet for the unit’s speakers (on the Arai Corsair RX-7 I used, the depression in the lining for the rider’s ears provided more than enough room for the speakers, which attach to the helmet’s interior with a Velcro-like hook-and-loop backing), give the battery its required three-hour charge, slip it onto the mount, turn both units on, pair them, and that’s it, you’re talking.
I was skeptical about performance with the boom mic and whether I’d really be able to hear Charlie through the unit’s tiny speakers, but those concerns were quickly put to rest. A nice feature on the Q2 is automatic volume adjustment depending on ambient noise. Even in the worst high ambient noise conditions (semi-trucks, trains, wind) we could still carry on a conversation easily. And since the Q2 has full duplex communication, a fancy way of saying you can both speak at the same time, you can carry on what feels like a normal conversation with your riding partner, a feature that makes the unit feel natural in use. Intercom communication can be set to “always on” or for voice activation.
I’m not a big fan of talking and driving, much less talking and riding a motorcycle, so I didn’t use the Bluetooth much. However, I did test it out a few times to call home when we were stopped (and answered a call while we were riding across the desert, a slightly surreal experience), and it worked like any other Bluetooth device I’ve ever used, and quite a bit better than the Motorola ear piece unit I own.
The FM radio seems a bit pointless to me – I think anyone looking for tunes while they’re riding is probably hooked up with an iPod – but it seemed to work well enough, although I did have some trouble with spotty reception even in areas where I knew from experience I should expect a strong signal.
Cardo claims an eight-hour talk time for the Q2, a feature we put to the test during one nine-hour day in the saddle. We never lost contact, and our units were still working when we stopped for the day and plugged them in for a recharge.
One feature we didn’t try is the Q2’s GPS voice connection via Bluetooth, but given how well the units functioned otherwise I can only assume that feature works as claimed, meaning it works well.
We’ve heard some complaints of pairing problems with the Q2, with units failing to pair or not responding to voice activation and working only in the “always on” mode. We did experience a couple of instances where the units failed to pair immediately, and a few instances where communication dropped for no apparent reason. We also had some minor quibbles with the voice activation system while crossing wind-swept high plains of eastern Colorado, where we fought wind noise activating the system. Using the “always on” mode helped, but the wind noise was still distracting. Annoying to be sure, but at its worst we simply turned off the units and waited for better conditions. We’ve also heard of users having problems adjusting earpiece volume. We didn’t have any such problems, and in fact were impressed with how well the tiny, wafer-thin (only 5mm) speakers worked, delivering remarkably clear sound. Mounting the speakers effectively can take a bit of trial and error, but once they’re in place they seem to stay there.
A major selling point for me, and one I hadn’t considered before taking delivery of our test units, is the Q2’s usefulness in training riders. Before our cross-country venture, Charlie and I tested the Q2 while I was giving Charlie some pointers on riding his dirt bike. We discovered it was perfect for the job, allowing me to watch Charlie and talk him through his maneuvers, giving him tips and feedback as he worked around corners or executed small jumps. He loved the instant feedback, and I loved watching him respond to my input, feeding on my tips and making the next pass with even more control. Too cool.
At the end of the day, the Scala Rider Q2 should be at the top of the list for anyone looking for bike-to-bike communication with Bluetooth and GPS capability. With mostly hands-free operation (you only need your hands to turn it on or toggle options, and even then it’s single-finger-control). And a whopping eight-hour battery time it’s pretty much a plug-and-play proposition. It takes a few minutes to get oriented to all the unit’s features, but once you’ve gone through the drill a few times it becomes second nature – the hallmark of properly integrated equipment. We haven’t had our units long enough to know how well they’ll hold up in the long haul, but if our experience is any indication, we expect our Q2s to give excellent service for years to come. – Richard Backus