Staff Writer
Columbus CEO

c.2013 New York Times News Service

While distracted driving is a problem in any vehicle, the consequences are potentially greater on a motorcycle. So the designers of communication headsets for riders face a decision in striving to make systems safe to use.

Is it better to have several buttons, each assigned to a separate function, or fewer buttons that require riders to learn a code for different features? (Perhaps one tap for intercom, two taps for music.)

With its new Scala Rider Q3, the engineers at Cardo chose the latter. Compared with Cardo’s Q2, the new helmet headset adds the ability to update its software, and you can use your own earphones with it. A phone app that lets you adjust the settings is on the way.

For many riders, getting away from phone calls is a leading reason to take off on a motorcycle. Headsets like this are still appealing, however, for talking with a passenger in back or nearby motorcyclists, listening to music or receiving GPS directions.

The Q3 two-transceiver set ($390 street price) comes with hardware to clip the transceiver to your helmet or mount it with a stick-on bracket. Installation is easy once you remove the pads lining the helmet. A boom microphone is supplied for open-faced helmets and a button mic for full-face helmets.

The transceiver can broadcast about half a mile and connect up to four people. In my test, the sound was clear and two riders never lost contact, although they were usually within view.

The system does have some quirks. During the setup process, be sure to speak loudly, or the voice-activated mic — calibrated for wind and motorcycle noise — won’t broadcast. When you speak, it can take a beat for the mic to kick in, so you may have to repeat your first sentence. The instructions aren’t entirely clear, so setup may take some trial and error.

While you can speak to each of your co-riders only one at a time, tapping one of the two large buttons on the face of the Q3 unit lets you choose which person you connect with. A volume control on the back of the Q3 completes its complement of buttons.

A phone, music source or GPS device can be linked by a Bluetooth connection, and music can be shared with a passenger.

Although it may be a distraction to be connected to a phone or GPS, or to carry on a conversation with other riders, devices like the Scala Rider Q3 can ease worries about when to turn, where your co-riders are or how you can be reached in an emergency.