Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Below you can read part of our on-going evaluation of UClear Helmet comms, or you can go straight to the UClear website by clicking on the UClear logo on the left.
First evaluation of our UClear Helmet comm. 
The second report on UClear can be found here and our intern report after two years on the road here.

UClear has supported us with 3 helmet communication systems, their latest HBC200 model. Unlike a lot of systems, UClear does not use booms or stick on microphones but has the microphones built-in to the speaker unit. What that means, apart from no ungainly microphones on an open face helmet, is that they work on virtually any helmet as well, including my complex Shark Evoline. UClear also has a rather unique range extension system whereby each system also functions as a relay station and thus extends the range of all helmet comms.

Setting the system up is easy. The units clip to the helmet without any glue or stickers, meaning the helmet manufacturers warranty is unaffected and they are fully legal. The speaker/microphone combinations come with a waterproof micro-USB plug and stick with Velcro to the helmet lining. Most helmets have space for communication systems these days and fitting them to our KBC full face, Nolan open face and Shark Evoline multi function models was easy. After installation they need to be linked once, which is clearly explained in the instructions and a simple process.

Once the initial setup has been done, it's simply a matter of turning the units on and communicate! All units can speak and listen simultaneously. In practice that means that while Mike and Jeanette are talking to each other, I can still alarm them on a dangerous situation that is about to arise. Believe me that has happened quite a few times already. The volume is adjustable to a level where we can hear everyone clearly despite riding naked bikes and wearing earplugs!

A helmet communication system for my Shark Evoline with it's unique flip-up chin piece, making it into both an open and a full faced helmet, proved all but impossible. Setting it up as an open face helmet with a boom-type microphone doesn't work as that won't allow closure of the helmet anymore. Setting it up with a stick-on microphone on the chin piece doesn't work either as the microphone would be at the back of the helmet when in open position. Check out the Shark Evoline helmet website to see what I mean. The unique UClear system is the only one that works with this type of helmet as well.

So how does it work in practice? Well… very well! We're not riding without them anymore. The possibility to warn each-other about dangerous situations alone makes them worth every penny. From simple things like warning riders behind you about potholes just around the corner, to being able to warn riders in front about dangerously overtaking vehicles. But also being able to talk about toilet stops, drink stops, things we see along the way and photo stops make the trip so much more social. The only thing we have to do each morning is turn the units on, they find themselves and resume the volume setting of the day before. When one gets out of range the units automatically link-up when in range again. We've only had it once that that didn't happen. The 3rd unit had been out of range for so long that it had shutdown to save batteries. 

The range
So what is the range, I hear you ask. Quite honestly we have no idea! According to the leaflet it should be 700 mtr, but we've had situations where I can hardly see the next person riding and yet still have communication, at other times one single truck almost blocks a clear signal. Open field obviously gives a longer range than in the city. Having said that we have found the city range above expectations. We've had quite a few situations where line of sight was blocked by several trucks and yet had problem free communication. It all depends on the environment you're in. We've also had situations where one of us got held up by a traffic light. Normally we stop and wait for each other but sometimes the first opportunity to stop is quite a bit further or around a corner. Being able to communicate where we are and when we can start riding again has proven invaluable.

Battery time
We use the helmet comms all day and every day. We never switch them off, and yet they take less than an hour to charge again for the next day. Charging can be done via a wall charger but also via any USB charger. As we are on the road all the time and camp wherever we can, we usually charge via USB by plugging them in the laptop. The charge current is a meagre 90mA, charging 3 units at the same time uses less than half the current the laptop uses while writing our daily journal. There are also USB storage chargers for sale for mobile phones that should be able to do this easily if you don't take a laptop. These can be charged while riding and used in the evening to recharge the helmet comms. We don't need them as the laptop doesn't even twitch when 3 units are being charged by it.

Apart from inter-bike communication, they can also be used to connect to your mobile phone or blue-tooth enabled MP3 player. We haven't tried either of those options as we do not have a mobile phone with us we don't listen to music while riding as Mexico's traffic requires undivided attention at all times :-)

All in all we are more than happy with the UClear system. Quite frankly the results have been far better than I had expected and the ease of use is exemplary. They are one of the few things on this planet that are just right and don't need any improvement… Our helmets aren't the most quiet ones and we've had situations when a strong headwind and high speed makes communication hard, simply because the wind noise was deafening. That's a helmet issue though and not a UClear problem! Yet under these conditions a simple yell would still alert the others there was something going on. 

Useful links:
The second report on UClear can be found here and our intern report after two years on the road here.