Bluetooth Motorcycle Intercoms – Exploring Their Limitations

Many people threw the baby out with the bath water after buying and trying to use the first generation of Bluetooth motorcycle intercoms and headsets a few years ago. They were bulky, had lots of static, a short range and battery life wasn’t great. But those that stuck around and bought the next generation (and the next) helped headset manufacturers of today like Sena, Chatterbox, and Cardo Systems bring us to where we are. The latest Bluetooth motorcycle intercoms like the Sena SMH10 and Scala Rider G4 offer crystal clear intercom communication even between bikes with a distance between them, great quality stereo sound and a battery that lasts all day long.

But when it comes to connecting multiple devices to these headsets, progress has been slower. You can pair your phone to the motorcycle headset OR you can pair a Bluetooth CB, but not both simultaneously. You can pair your iPod to the motorcycle headset or a GPS but not both at the same time. A closer look supports the conclusion that it is not the motorcycle headset companies fault, but rather deficiencies in the Bluetooth standards that are holding back some of the features motorcycle riders would like. For example: most of the Bluetooth helmets and motorcycle intercoms sold today support A2DP, Headset Profile, and Intercom Profile (for talking to other Bluetooth intercoms). But there is no standard for having multiple devices (i.e. 2 devices acting like a phone with 2-way communication) of the same type. How would the headset know which device you were wanting to speak into (CB or phone) if both were paired?

One of the most annoying limitations is that both the Headset Profile and Hands Free Profile (the 2-way communication profiles) are both mono and do not support stereo music. This, no doubt, dates back to how the profiles were developed and still used today with headsets that are used on one ear. But this limitation means that any 2-way device that also plays stereo music must take up both the A2DP profile of the Bluetooth motorcycle headset and the Headset Profile and know when to switch between them. In the case of a smartphone that differentiates between its call function and MP3 function this is not a big problem. But for other devices that seek to mix multiple signals and feed them to the Bluetooth helmet it gets more complicated.

The Sena SR10 is the first attempt at a Bluetooth mixing device with 2-way capabilities. It is a great way to connect a GMRS radio or CB, your cell phone, and a radar detector to your Bluetooth motorcycle intercom. It pairs with any Bluetooth headset that is compatible with the standard headset profile and includes its own push to talk button. The Sena SR10 does NOT have prioritization but simply mixes all signals at once. This is great for radar detector alerts as there is no delay but not as good for phone conversations as you could be interrupted by GPS, CB or other sounds. It is NOT recommended to use the Sena SR10 for routing music as it is mono due to reasons listed in the paragraph above. In the case of the Sena SMH10 or Scala G4 you could, however, pair an A2DP music device and the Sena SR10 at the same time as they are on different Bluetooth profiles.