On-Bike / In-Ride Communications
As far as we’re aware, there are three methods of on-bike / in-ride communications and Jess and I have tried them all.
The first and least effective is one-handed sign language. During our North and South America motorcycle trip we contrived several simple gestures to cover the basic communication needs: “I’m hungry”, “I’m thirsty”, “I need to pee”, “I need to poop”, and “I need gas”. With this pentagonal point of departure, Jess quickly attempted to elaborate an increasingly intricate and complex series of expressions to which my default response was to give an enthusiastic thumbs up. Then, at a food, drink, pee, poop, or gas stop she would usually exclaim – with genuine incredulity – something like, ‘How did you not understand when I signaled to you that a bird swooped down, picked up a caterpillar from the road, almost hit me, and then pooped on the windshield of the car behind me?!’
Bronze: Sign Language
So, by the time we reached Santiago, Chile, we were well acquainted with the limitation of one-handed signing, including that it only works when you can remove a hand from the clutch or brake lever and then only when the other person is already paying attention.
Silver: Noise-Isolating Earphones
The second and somewhat more effective form of communication is noise-isolating earphones with an integrated microphone that is connected to your smartphone. We used the Klipsch Image S4i Rugged, which has big buttons that are relatively easy to find and press with gloved fingers. With this setup, you can hold the center button on the microphone to command Siri to place a call (that is, if you’re using an iPhone). Of course, if the microphone is dangling at your chest then you’re straining to hear and shouting to be heard over the wind noise. Otherwise, you can tuck the microphone up into your helmet pad, which is annoying and a bit tricky – even dangerous – to do while riding. Finally, but perhaps most importantly of all, the whole setup is useless during those long stretches of country highway and forest roads where there’s no mobile signal.
Gold: Bluetooth Intercom
The last and in our experience best communication option is to just shell out for a Bluetooth enabled intercom system. Eventually and a bit reluctantly, Jess and I each got an SMH10R unit from Sena and we have been totally thrilled. It is discrete, light, and very low profile. The sound quality and volume is perfectly adequate and it automatically pairs with your iPhone and any other previously paired Bluetooth unit, including another SMH10R, at startup. The battery life is fine and the intercom spans almost a kilometer under favorable conditions. So, even when one loses track of the other on a forested fire road, you only have to walk or ride back far enough to reestablish the signal to learn that the other needs help getting their bike out of the mud or that he/she had to make an emergency bathroom stop but forgot the toilet paper when he/she bolted into the bush.
On-Bike Communication - A Mixed Blessing
Now that we have fully adapted to using the intercom, I really only have two complains about our on-bike / in-ride communications experience:
1) My ride no longer includes a game of charades where I try to guess if Jess’s series of hand gestures means “What if a bear jumped out on the road? Would you emergency stop or would you try to swerve around it? And, also, what if it was raining or if the bear was just a cub?” and
2) Now there’s too much in-ride communication and I really miss listening to podcasts and audiobooks or just contemplating the ride!