| Owner Comments (Below)
The SSQQRRKK-ZZZZZZZZZIIIP Factor
by Vin Heron for webBikeWorld
My wife Sue had bought a set of Personal Mobile Radios (PMR) with some
headphones and microphones for our motorcycles.
We had great hopes that we could talk to
each other during runs as we quite like each other really and on a long
haul, it’s great to keep in contact using both sound and vision.
The PMR kit was a pain to fit into the helmets, it was a
pain to get everything connected after mounting the bike, and having
the PTT (Press
to Talk) buttons and leads all over the place was also not my idea of fun.
Out on our second run after installing the kit, I threw a
hissy fit when the mike kept on coming unstuck from the chin bar on my
helmet, but, however, still managed to well and truly glue itself to the
liner padding. I threw a further tantrum a few weeks later when at the start
of a 536-mile haul, the PTT button stuck on. I ripped the kit out of my
helmet and categorically refused to use it ever again.
A couple of weeks later, the kit went back into the helmet. The wires I
had pulled out during my tantrum were re-soldered and the thing was just about
working OK but range was pretty abysmal and, in fact, yelling would have been a
preferable means of communication.
Final act: We’re on the way back home from the Ace café
‘Brighton burn-up’. After stopping for a smoke, I’m following the group and
am about ¼ mile astern. The radio crackles into ‘life’ (and I use that term
advisedly): “ssqqrrkk, at the zzzzzzzzziiip” eh? What? “ssqqrrkk
Right, glad that's cleared that up then.
Sailing round a
bend, which is pretty tight (when you consider that we’re on the A1), I
catch sight of the group pulling in to a petrol station, but, as it’s on the
brow of a hill and the slip road is right on the apex of the bend, I have no
hope of slowing down in the drizzly, greasy conditions -- at least not if I
want to stay on the bike that is.
Bloody intercom. Bloody crap. Bloody
petrol. Bloody A1. Bloody wet.
Right, that’s it. Kit binned for good this time. Really.
All in all, the performance of the gear was generally poor with
an absolute max. range of about 400 - 600 yards line-of-sight. It wasn’t too
expensive, so I suppose the maxim that you get what you pay for applied.
I know that people fit this type of kit and appear happy with it. It may be that
I / we were doing something wrong, like not riding up each others exhaust
pipes; however, I wanted something better.
After these little ‘hiccups’, I resolved to research the
subject and buy a set that actually worked on a motorbike. I know a little
bit about comms and as part of my research, I talked to various suppliers
and listened to many different claims; some were plainly outrageous, some
plainly stupid, some plausible to begin with but generally, little
provenance to the ‘facts’ they spouted at me.
After looking at the results
of the research, I / we eventually decided on ‘Autocom’ gear and lashed out
and bought 2 sets at the NEC show whilst high as kites on caffeine from the
really ace Italian coffee kindly dished out at the Moto Guzzi GB Club stand.
Know this: Timothy Leary obviously never tried this stuff.
I got the kit home and read how to do it. I assembled it a
few times on the bench and re-read the instructions which are very good.
Fitting it to my Guzzi was a doddle. Fitting it to Sue’s
Honda was not quite so easy bit still straightforward. I had to take my time
fitting it to both of the crash helmets and there was a bit of bad language
involved, but that was down to my impatience and overall, it was no problem.
Test time: Sue stayed in the kitchen (she knows her place
but don’t tell her I said that) and used only the transceiver, and I
went down to the barn about 200 yards away, got on my bike with the engine
running, crash hat on and everything plugged-in. We tried talking to each
other – after a bit of fiddling with the volume and gain controls, the
result was absolute
clarity of speech.
I set my mobile phone to hands-free, plugged it in to the
Autocom unit and still wearing my helmet, Sue rang me. Perfect. Out on the
road, she followed me in the car and we tested it again. Every bit as good
as when static. We then did a range test.
We used several ‘methods’ when range testing, however to
summarise, here’s what we found on the day:
Weather conditions: clear with sun. Some cloud. Low
humidity. Wind of about 10 Knots.
Topography: Our test road has 1.5 mile straight and level
section, then over the brow of a small hill, there are a series of 30/40º
bends. A mix of mature Beech trees / Hawthorn hedges line either side of the
Radio ‘A’ was the hand-held transceiver only and was static. Radio
‘B’ was fully installed on the bike.
Other salient features: Radio / TV mast, about 400 ft. high,
approx. 3 miles away.
Range 0 – 1.5 miles: Line-of sight, level ground.
transceiver set on
full volume. Radio ‘B’ antenna vertical. Radio ‘A’ antenna 45º to the
horizontal direction of Radio ‘B’ and at about 45º to the vertical. Very
good quality reception. Had to turn both transceivers down to around ½ volume to
prevent a little distortion.
Range 1.5 – 1.6 miles: Out of sight, over a hill and around
a bend. Transceivers kept at same volume settings. Good quality reception. Very
small amount of interference.
Range 1.6 – 1.7 miles: Out of sight. Over hill, round 2
bends. Transceivers set to full volume. Reception 75% totally legible speech.
Interference beginning to increase.
Range 1.7 – 1.8 miles: Out of sight. Over hill, round 3
bends. Transceivers set to full volume. Interference increasing. About 50% of speech
legible. Remainder interference.
Range 1.8 – 1.9 miles: A lot of interference but
surprisingly, some sentences came through crystal clear and perfectly
understandable by Radio ‘B’, more so than Radio ‘A’.
It is very probable that the Radio/TV mast did not help make
things easy for the interference rejecting properties of the transceiver.
It was only discovered at the end of the test that Radio ‘A’
(and therefore its antenna) had not been held in the vertical position. This antenna type tends to give a better signal when held at right-angles to
whatever it is you are trying to communicate with (there is a fair bit of
documentation on the subject to support this) and in the authors opinion,
this could reduce the range and quality of reception although it would be
making a false assumption to say that it affected one or both sets. Given
these constraints, it is possible that a greater range would be possible
under other, or different conditions.
Photo 1: Multiplex connectors
Photo 2: Electrical connections
Photos 3 and 4 (below): Autocom system
installed in Caberg Justissimo helmet.
Photo 5: When the seat is replaced,
the two leads stick out and are easy to access.
Photo 6: Transceiver and cell phone on tank
bag. Bag is located on the seat, not the fuel tank.
Installing the Autocom System
In the following description, the word 'transceiver' means the radio set. I have used
‘black box’ for the other bit of gear which is the Autocom unit that
provides you with VOX (Voice Activated Transmission) capability and the
means to plug in a mobile phone, CD or music player or GPS sattelite
Take a look at the Autocom website. Figure out which set you
want. We bought a couple of the 'Active 7’ kits (£147.00 in the UK,
$299.99 list price in the US) and Kenwood TK-series radios. Good
solid stuff with a good quoted range.
So many factors, such as buildings,
the lie of the land, atmospheric conditions etc, etc, can affect radio range
that one can never be quite sure what the range really is, although
experience will tell you after a while. Some of the range claims made by
manufacturers are for ‘ideal’ conditions which in real life situations are
After the kit has been purchased, take some time to lay it out on the
table. Read the manual a few times. Connect all the bits together
and take it apart again. Picture it fitted to the bike. Take it apart. Play
with it all over again.
In addition to the instructions that come with the kit,
download any .pdf files you want from the Autocom website. Both they, and
the instructions, are really good. Read the .pdf files, read the
instructions, and lay the kit out. Again. The instructions were my bedtime
reading for a few days.
Tools & Equipment: Invest in a packet of heat-shrink tubing. Have a soldering
iron and some multi-core solder to hand. A pair of snipe-nosed pliers, a wire
stripper, couple of screwdrivers and some odds & ends will see the job done.
Power Connectors: Depends on what connectors you have available – see the
Autocom recommendations for advice / info. The ones I used were ‘Multiplex’
connectors (the Green ones in Photo 1) which are good for about 25 amps.
Small, neat and I had them available in my workshop.
There are another couple of connector types shown in Photo 1,
which I have included as examples. You really need a connector so you can
remove the Autocom unit from the bike during winter or if you lay it up for
a while. Electronics don’t really appreciate moisture!
Autocom give some really sound advice on connector types and
methods. I would recommend that you follow them.
Electrical Connections: I made a splice in the rear light +ve cable
(see Photo 5). I would have preferred to take a tapping from the fuse box but
didn’t / couldn’t be bothered to rip bits off the bike.
the power supply is taken from - and this is important - make sure it is a circuit that
is switched on via the ignition. Make sure an in-line fuses is installed in
the +ve supply wire.
The earth (ground) cable is where you see it in the photo. I’m not
satisfied with the wiring but it will do for the moment.
I fitted the kit into my helmet first. I have a Caberg Justissimo
the wBW review) and Sue
has an Arai. Instructions for installing the Autocom system for a specific make of
helmet are available from the Autocom website (Autocom
UK and Autocom
Helmets with removable liners tend to
be the easiest. If we had only thought at the time we bought it (I blame
that GB Guzzi Club coffee), we would have taken our helmets to the nice
people at the Autocom stand who would have fitted it to the helmets for us. Hindsight comes with 20/20 vision!
It took me a little while to understand the photos in
Autocom's helmet fitting instructions
but eventually I got there OK. Sue’s Arai was a bit of a fiddle but all in
all, not too bad and the downloaded .pdf file was a big help. The
helmet lead doesn’t stick out too far from the rear of the helmet.
Fitting the Autocom Unit, Transceiver and Mobile Phone
The next step is to figure out where the "black box" will be
located on the
I looked at fitting it in one of the hard panniers on my Guzzi, with a
BMW style plug, or a MIL spec screwed connector to take power into the
This is a good place for the black box and a mobile phone, but, the
main drawback I could see was that the transceiver would be a bit low down – I worked
on the assumption that the higher the transceiver then the better reception. I
suppose that I should have tested that assumption.
What I absolutely refused
to do was carry the transceiver in my bike jacket – have an off and you have
something hard and lumpy to fall on, a recipe for a broken something or
As recommended by Autocom, I ended up fitting the black box under the
seat. In Photo 5, I have omitted the foam padding I wrapped around it for
My bike has a reasonable amount of space
in the tool tray under there and my only reservation was the proximity of
the ECU and the possibility of radio interference, however, no problems have
been found so far in this respect.
I eventually fitted the transceiver in a pocket of my Oxford bag
along with my mobile phone, my reasoning being that my bag comes off the
bike and goes with me when I get to wherever I’m going (see Photo 6).
There are two leads from the Autocom unit to plug the
the helmet into and another socket in the black box for the mobile phone
(see the photo at the top of this page).
Not everyone wants to be connected to a mobile phone
on a bike but, if by any chance you get totally separated from your partner(s) and are well out of radio range, and you have a voice-activated
mobile phone, you can always call them up and arrange a rendezvous or leave
a message. Distance is no object here.
Fitting it all together is very simple in practice. Once the kit is installed on the
bike, we use the following sequence:
Charge up the transceivers (the previous night)
Attach the Oxford
bag to the bike
Install the transceivers and mobile phone in the Oxford bag pockets
and plug them in
Plug the extension lead into the crash helmet
crash helmet on
Get on the bike
Plug the helmet extension lead into the
plug sticking out from under the seat
Ride off into the sunset talking to
I realize that this lot may sound a bit daunting if you have
never done it before but by taking your time and reading the excellent
instructions (and following them) you should have no real problems. If you
do get stuck, Autocom are very good at answering queries.
I love this kit. Although of a fairly short range, it really
does an ace job and the VOX feature means you are not distracted from what
you are doing when compared to fiddling about with a PTT button. It took a
little while to adjust to the slight VOX lag but by the second trip, it was
automatic. When combined with a mobile phone, distance is no object and I
took an overseas call on my mobile without the other party realising I was
riding a motorbike at 70 mph.
Just think: when 50 miles from home, you can
use the mobile to call ahead and ask for the beers to be chilled and ready.
Review: Autocom Active 7 Intercom System
UK and Autocom
Retail Price: Varies, depending upon features ordered.
Kenwood TK 3201 £198 (replaces the older TK3101 radios)
Tires Page | Maintenance
and Repair Articles
The build quality is excellent and the unit small enough to fit on a
bike without problem. Crystal-clear communications for bike-to-bike
(rider-to-passenger not tested). Autocom unit provides the
capability to connect to a mobile phone, CD player, GPS unit etc.
Review Date: April 2005
The webBikeWorld intercom evaluators always wear properly
fitted ear plugs while riding during the intercom evaluations and this is reflected
in thee opinions on sound quality and speaker volume. Your experience may
and probably will differ. Always wear high-quality, correctly fitted ear plugs
when riding a motorcycle (more
Note: For informational use only. All material and
photographs are Copyright © webWorld International, LLC - 2000-2011. All
rights reserved. See the webBikeWorld®
page. NOTE: Product specifications, features and details may
change or differ from our descriptions. Always check before purchasing. Read
Terms and Conditions!
►Your Comments and
Please send comments to
Comments are ordered from most recent to oldest.
Not all comments will be published (details
). Comments may be edited for
clarity prior to publication.