Opinion: Staying connected

I’ve just come back from a four-day two-up road trip on a BMW R1200RT around southern Ontario with my long-suffering wife, and for the first time ever, we were fully connected: intercoms, music, phone – the works. It was … an experience.

Wendy just bought herself a new helmet, a Scorpion Exo CT220 three-quarter helmet that was the best choice in the store and cost a couple of hundred dollars. It’s just as well she bought it in person, since she normally wears a Medium size but for the Scorpion she needed a Large. My recent lesson with the Sena Momentum showed that helmet sizing varies, so it’s best to try them on before buying. Once we brought the Scorpion home, I attached one of the Sena 20S communication units I first tried last year and she was connected. Myself, I have a Shoei NeoTec II with the optional Sena SRL communication system, so as long as the two units were charged each night, we could chat happily all day long.

We’ve been married a long time, the wife and I, so you’d think we’d have run out of things to talk about, but she didn’t seem to have a problem coming up with new conversation.

“Why do people do that?” said the voice in my head, out on the highway.

“Do what?” I’d ask no one I could see.

“Drive like that – what an idiot!”

You get the idea.

The Senas have a special battery-saving feature that turns them off unless one person is actually talking, and it’s activated by sound into the microphone. Unfortunately, Wendy wears a three-quarter helmet, without a chin guard, so the microphone is always hanging out into the wind, not shielded by the chin guard like mine; this means there’s always wind on the microphone so it never turns off. I could always hear some hiss from the connection while we weren’t speaking.

It’s okay – the hiss was not annoying, but it also meant that she also heard hiss, so I could not switch off my own system without her knowing. It was easily switched back on with the press of a button, however.

“Hey – did you just turn me off?”

“Me? No! Why would I want to do that?”

And so on.

Mark and Wendy on the R1200RT. It’s not the greatest picture, but the photographer hanging around outside the restaurant was only 8 years old.

We talked about all kinds of things while riding. You know how sometimes it’s easier to talk to somebody beside you in a car because you don’t have to look at them? It’s even easier on a bike.

“I was thinking – what did you do for me on my 40th birthday? I don’t remember.”

“I know I did something wonderful, but I can’t remember specifically what. It was a long time ago now.”

“Are you calling me old?”

“Hey –  squirrel in the road!”

“Don’t brake like that! You know I’m still nervous after that time you crashed with me on the back.”

“That was 25 years ago! And it was more of a gentle slide off the road because I was looking at the scenery. Not like this road at all.”

“I don’t care. I have PTSD. Slow down.”

I had my Sena connected to my iPhone, but it could not differentiate between the important, house-burning-down calls from our kids – the only ones I wanted to answer – and all the others. There was no distinct ring tone through the Sena, so I had to answer all the calls.


“Hello! This is [indistinguishable] from Aviva Insurance, calling to ask about your home-owners’ insurance policy.”

“Now’s not a good time. I’m on a motorcycle and riding through a fast set of twisties.”

“Pardon? I can’t hear you. Can you speak up?”

After the first day, I stopped answering phone calls. If the house burned down, it burned down. There was nothing I could do, especially in the middle of a fast set of twisties.

Wendy seems a fair bit less impressed with the prospect of conversation than Mark does…

Sometimes, I needed Siri to talk me through directions to get somewhere, but the intercom would cut off the first half-second of Siri’s voice. Or if Wendy started talking, she’d take priority over Siri. Then I’d miss the turn completely. The solution was to turn off the intercom during those periods, sometimes extended over a long distance. By the final day, I was using the Siri directions more and more. Funny that.

Once we were home and parked, I asked Wendy what she thought of the system. “I don’t know,” she said. “I guess it was useful, and we were able to stay in touch and talk normally. But I liked it when you needed to hear directions. I can only take so much belching in my ear, and bad whistling of ABBA tunes.

“A motorcycle ride is supposed to be relaxing and invigorating. Mamma Mia over and over and over again doesn’t help with either.”

“I was not whistling ABBA! That was Boney M!”

And so on. You get the picture.

And off into the sunset, over Lake Erie from Pelee Island. Come back for the full story!


  1. After many years of using a Cardo we upgraded to a new Freedom 2. It does all kinds of stuff that I have no interest in, I just need it to communicate with the person on the pillion seat and this one does that. The voices are clearer than the old model, a tad louder, would be nice if it could go louder yet but it seems to work well. Some day maybe I’ll connect it to my phone…. and maybe I won’t, no one really needs to get a hold of me that bad, that’s why we have voice mail.

  2. One of the primary reasons we switched to Cardo/Scala years ago. Sena just always seems to have issues. The new Cardo Packtalk Bold is awesome and works great for me and my wife plus more than 10 other riders (Mesh comes). Read the reviews on Fortnine and ADV, Packtalk comes out on top over the Sena units (for the moment at least).

    Btw, nice R1200RT… I have one as well!

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