Latest Dirt - Cardo BK1 Bluetooth
At first I dismissed this product but was told, “Give it a try and see what I think.” Fair enough! Three years ago I didn’t see the point of a ‘smart phone’, now I damn near sleep with one, so who’s to say I don’t ‘need’ one of these!
Cardo has a background in making communication devices for motorbike riders. Their hands-free Bluetooth headsets allow full-face clad riders to chat whilst blasting along the highway at 100kph—there’s a clear need in that market, as you’d have no hope of communicating without something like the Cardo.
Their new BK1 uses the same technology but in a cycling-friendly package. Each device consists of a main control unit that straps to your helmet, plus two speakers and a microphone. The speakers mount to your helmet with adhesive velcro patches and their ‘adjustable booms’ allow you position them appropriately—they are designed to hover over your ears but not touch them. We tried a number of different helmets and had no issues in getting the BK1 to fit. The control unit contains a built-in rechargeable battery and the entire system weighs a fairly minimal 118g.
So what does it do and how did it perform? It connects with any Bluetooth phone, allowing you to make and receive calls. Likewise, Bluetooth MP3 (and phones) can be linked so that you can listen to your tunes whilst on the trail. Finally, if you’ve got a riding buddy with a Cardo, you can pair the units and chat whilst on the trail. Up to three units can be paired for group conversations.
It’s worth spending a bit of time reading the instructions and playing with the BK1 before heading out on a ride—there’s a fair bit to this device and it may take a while before you learn to use all of the features.
For unit-to-unit conversation, Cardo claims a straight line range of 500m, but that’s only in optimal conditions. On the trail it was more like 100-200 meters on a fire trail and 50-100 meters in the singletrack—it really depended on how dense the surrounding forest was. Don’t expect long distance communication, and if your riding partner takes a wrong turn, you’ll still need to be fairly close to alert them.
On casual fire trail rides and when riding within earshot of my ride partner, I didn’t find the Cardo helpful. In this situation you’d still hear their voice, but also hear them through the Cardo with a slight delay. After a while this feedback became pretty irritating.
Most of the time you can hold a normal conversation when riding side-by-side or when following each other closely, at least at normal trail-riding speeds anyway. Beyond this, the Cardo comes into its element. When descending or riding a few bike-lengths apart, there’s no need to raise your voice—just talk normally and your buddy will hear you as if you were right there. You can chat away when railing the singletrack and warn of a trail obstacle whilst out of sight. You’ll hear your mate have a near miss or yelp for joy—it definitely heightens the level of interaction on more technical and demanding trails. Be warned though, the audio clarity is very good, so you’re likely to hear things that you don’t want to; ‘nature breaks’ and belching immediately come to mind!