Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Riding by Voice - Bauhn FDC-01

It’s been more than 30 years, this love affair between me and my motorcycles, and I don’t foresee it ever ending. In that time I’ve tried many types of motorcycling and many variations of gadget to go with them - but the one thing I have always resisted is riding with music in my helmet.

Wearing earphones, earbuds or mounting proper speakers into my lid has always been given a wide birth. Until now. 
 I’m a bit of a cheap skate at times, I like a bargain yet I hate being ripped off and paying top dollar for top brands, although that tends to happen to me a bit in the pursuit of excellence through an over-enthusiastic head first kind of tendency toward most things, that drives people who know me crazy, I’m sure.

Point is, I usually go for quality over great value. But not this time. I had tried mounting speakers in my helmet back in the days of the iPod with varied success but not much joy really, basically because I didn’t like the distraction and it was too limiting. I didn’t like the cord dangling down into your jacket pocket and it only did music. Nowadays, for $59 you can get a device that transmits bluetooth via your smartphone and have GPS directions, phone calls, music and intercom connections with other helmets.

How good is that? So I plunged into my local ALDI during the post apocalypse known as sale day, where grannies and lifers become single minded madmen and you practically have to slay zombies to get to the sale items before fleeing to the safety of the counter, clutching your precious $59 bargain, snarling at those that got in too late. Mission accomplished I hit home to tear the packaging apart and rejoice in my new interconnectedness.

It turns out it’s a really simple install on my older Shoei XR 1100, but not so easy on my newer GT Air, as the padding is too tight to slip the clamp between the outer shell and the inner polystyrene (?) layer. Since the GT-Air is almost pristine I didn’t really want to mark it externally, or stuff it up internally so I opted for my back up old lid, which is an awesome lid, but way noisier, heavier, has no pin lock or built in visor and has had it’s fair share of tumbles to boot. Not really worried if the Bluetooth has to be drilled into it is my point.

Luckily no drills were needed and after 10-15 mins top I had the ear pads stuck in, the wires neatly tucked away and the boom mic tucked in behind the chin spoiler. The actual clip for the unit slides in and then the outer piece screws into place. It’s not a perfect system but it’s steady enough and not super-ugly I guess, as far as bolt-on helmet things go.

 I can hear music quite well and operation is super straight forward. Press and hold the power button until it kicks into gear, then locate it on your smartphone, enter a code and shazzam, she’s connected up. I’m using a Nexus 5 and have found pairing to be seamless with no drop outs.

Once it’s paired it is just like one of those annoying bluetooth handsfree earpieces that every suit wears, but better because you have left and right stereo speakers. Whatever you play through your smartphone is automatically routed through to your helmet.

So over the last couple of weeks I’ve been using it.  I’ve used it with music to commute to and from work with, and I like it. Getting the volume right is key, although there is a volume up and down by twisting the jog dial forward and backward, it is better to get your phone volume right first as that is where the real power is, in your device vs in the bluetooth itself. Probably something to do with a preamplifier signal as opposed to a passive signal being powered maybe?

Dunno, but get the volume right on your phone first, then use the bluetooth headset to adjust incrementally on the fly. That was okay and I can deal with it, good for longer trips for sure. I could imagine taking in an audio book while traversing the land. The real kicker for me so far though, has been spoken directions via Maps on my Nexus 5. GPS. Le sigh.

I’ve always struggled with Geography. I’m terrible at it, and I think that extends to trying to memorise a specific location and then find it without map while riding a motorbike. I've always wanted a touch screen GPS on a bike, I reckon that’s the ducks nuts, but when looking at the BMW solution for my new S1000R I was a bit taken aback by the price at $1400AUD, knowing that a Garmin zumo 390L was around $799 last time I looked, I couldn't justify the full blown BMW solution.

So I went cheap skate and got the ALDI $59 helmet solution and just pair it to my phone.

This does have the drawback of not being hard wired and also a massive resource drain on my phones battery, but I can fight that with a portable power pack on longer rides so I’m not too worried. I’m trying this new technology as I’m quite sure that it’s soon going to get better and better, and HUD and the Skully AR-1 are only around the corner and I want to be in on that game at some stage.

I’m not convinced music full time is a great idea, it's a sometimes thing, but on the GPS front - getting spoken directions piped into your ears is a bloody revelation.

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