One of the joys of motorcycling is getting out for a ride with a bunch of mates. But when you’re out on the road there’s always been a challenge communicating with each other, whether that’s between a rider and a pillion or from rider to rider.
We’ve seen plenty of systems that allow rider to pillion communication, most of them relying on cables connected to a central intercom unit. But bike to bike communication has always been restrictive.
I’ve recently been testing the latest offering from Cardo Systems, the Scala Rider G4. The company has a reputation for producing quality products, so the chance to test the latest in wireless communications was one not to pass up.
The G4 is first and foremost an intercom that allows wireless communication between a rider and pillion, or bike to bike, up to a range of 1.6km. That’s the longest range of any unit on the market by far.
The unit will communicate with up to 4 other devices, and is backward compatible with earlier Scala Rider headsets.
But the system offers so much more, with a built in FM radio, and the capability of being connected to an MP3 player, mobile phone, and GPS.
Let’s have a detailed look at the Scala Rider G4 …
Fitting the headset to your helmet
Fitting the headset is a simple and quick process for most helmets. The back plate of the helmet clamp slides between the internal padding and the external shell of the helmet - tighten the 2 allen screws and it’s done. Alternately, there’s an option to mount the headset by gluing a mounting plate to the helmet if the normal method proves too difficult.
Positioning the speakers is the next task. The speakers are about 35mm diameter and around 4mm thick, that’s not much bigger or thicker than a 50 cent piece. They have a Velcro type backing and stick to the helmet liner quite easily. Once again, if that proves to be difficult Cardo provide another mounting option in the box.
I fitted the unit to my AGV Ti-Tech helmet, which is a very firm fit. Everything went in easily and quickly, but because of the tightness of the helmet I moved the speakers a few times before I found the spot that was just right and very comfortable.
Our other unit was fitted to a Shoei flip-face helmet and the whole process was done in less than 5 minutes.
As with all Scala Rider products, the G4 is fully rain and snow resistant so there’s no need to remove the unit from your helmet in bad weather.
The intercom function is what these types of units were first known for. In the case of the G4 it takes communications to a new level.
The G4 can be paired with all models among the Scala Rider family, and with up to 4 units in various configurations across 2 separate channels. The 2 channels allow conversations between riders to be isolated, or combined in a “conference call” type setup.
A folding antenna allows G4 units to communicate over a range of up to 1.6 km and also improves reception in urban areas.
The intercom is very easy to use.
Initiating an intercom call can be done in one of two ways, the first is totally voice operated so you can begin a conversation without the need to fiddle with any buttons. Once you start talking loudly, an intercom call will be established with headsets paired on both channels, and the call will stay active until all participants remain silent for 30 seconds.
The G4 is an excellent unit, and used responsibly and with respect it can bring many benefits to your riding experience.
The other way is to tap the channel “A” or channel “B” button to add or remove a headset from the conversation, and in this case the channel will stay active until the button is pressed again.
We tested the unit in a variety of situations, from open road riding to peak hour city traffic, and with both highly experienced and fairly novice riders. Reception was very good, and sound quality crisp and clear. Even with ear plugs the volume level was more than adequate.
Apart from being able to keep in touch during a ride, which was particularly useful in a city environment where it’s so easy to get separated, we used the units in a coaching and training environment. This is where the units really showed their value.
As instructors we’re constantly stopping to give guidance and feedback to students. Being able to talk to a student in real time cut down the number of stops we needed to make, but also produced improvements in the students much faster than ever before. We were able to give the student feedback at the precise moment it was needed rather than rely on the student trying to associate the feedback to their actions at a later time.
We were also able to give a commentary to the student during a demonstration ride, so the student could hear the instructor’s description of a technique while it was actually being demonstrated.
There’s a lot of value in this approach to training, but it can’t be used in all situations. Learners especially could find the voice in their helmet a bit distracting, so a little caution in the choice of situation would be advised.
The intercom functionality is brilliant, and even if this was the only aspect of the G4 it would be worth every cent you pay for it. But wait, there’s more …
Car drivers enjoy music while they’re driving, why can’t riders as well? The Scala Rider G4 allows you to connect an MP3 player to the headset either by cable or Bluetooth. Personally I was never a fan of listening to music while I’m riding, but on a long ride I can definitely see the benefits. And for those that do like to listen, a Bluetooth connection gets rid of the annoying and dangerous cable systems of the past.
The G4 also has a built in FM radio that can be programmed with 6 preset radio stations. I found the FM radio reception a bit limited, but as long as you stayed within a strong signal area it was acceptable.
Travelling between the Gold Coast and Brisbane, for example, I found the reception dropped out earlier than a radio in a car. But there’s another valuable use for the FM radio, and we’ll come back to that.
Using a mobile phone with the Scala Rider G4 is where the risk of distraction must be very carefully considered.
We all know that getting distracted while driving a car can be highly dangerous, and that’s why we now have laws in place to limit the use of mobile phones while driving.
But a distraction while riding a motorcycle can be potentially fatal.
Answering a call is easy enough with voice control. Just like making an intercom call, speaking loudly will answer the call and no other action is required by the rider.
I wouldn’t want to receive a call while riding, so I turn the phone off. Just the surprise of a sudden alert that a call is coming in may be enough to throw the concentration of a rider.
Making a call can be done with any phone that has voice dialling capability, but requires you to tap the mobile button on the G4 and then speak the name of the person you wish to call. That’s a little too much for me and too risky while riding.
My advice would be to leave the phone alone while riding - stop on the side of the road if you really need to make or receive a call.
The huge advantage that the G4 gives in this situation though is that you don’t need to remove your helmet, and that was something I really appreciated when I did stop.
Mobile phone functionality is great, but treat it with respect and limit your calls. After all, isn’t one of the reasons we go out on the bike to get away from the world??
I loved this feature! If you’re like me going into unknown areas on a motorcycle normally means getting lost.
Cardo Systems has a long standing reputation for building quality products, and the G4 is certainly that.
The traditional way of navigating is to write the directions on a piece of paper, or fold up a map, and stick it to the tank or in map pocket on a tank bag. It means that you have to keep looking down to see where you’re meant to be going and taking your focus off what’s happening around you.
Not anymore! I only tested the G4 with my Navman and had to put the GPS unit safely away in a pack, so I couldn’t see the screen.
There are several GPS units on the market suitable for motorcycles that can be mounted either on the handlebars or the steering stem, but without audio you still need to look down at the screen constantly.
Some units get around this by having an audio output you can use with wired earphones. But a cable is not only annoying, it’s dangerous.
Using the G4 with a Bluetooth connection is a much better and safer option. And if your GPS unit has an FM transmitter you can even use that to transmit instructions to the G4. Even though it’s not the preferred method, this is another great use for the FM radio feature of the G4.
Having the GPS instructions come through into my helmet was brilliant, and so much safer than trying to read a piece of paper on the tank. It meant that I could ride smoothly, and prepare for turns early enough so I wasn’t making abrupt last minute manoeuvres. And I didn’t get lost or stressed!
Strike Group, the Australian distributors for the Scala Rider products, have recently released their Genius Motorcycle GPS that is perfectly suited for use with the G4 and other Scala Rider headsets. We’ll have a look at that unit in an upcoming article.
Wrapping it all up
Cardo Systems has a long standing reputation for building quality products, and the G4 is certainly that. It’s a well respected brand and support here in Australia through the dealer network and the distributor is first class.
The intercom and GPS functionality of the G4 and the benefits I gained from them are, in my opinion, the standout features of this unit.
The G4 is an excellent unit, and used responsibly and with respect it can bring many benefits to your riding experience. It offers many features that can make your day to day riding more enjoyable and in some ways safer.
The G4 is available from most motorcycle accessory outlets and directly from Strike Group’s website at www.strike.com.au.