In this beehive-mentality era of more efficient time usage, multi-tasking and instant convenience, it seems that no stone is left unturned when it comes to companies using technology to expand communication between people during their daily activities-although at times, it seems as if the technology is used just for gadgetry's sake. For instance, back in the early days of mobile phones, it used to be a big deal to get stock market quotes text messaged onto your phone. Now, you can watch television programs on it. With cars, first there were "car phones," then remote-activated door locks and alarm systems and even remote-start used to be the sign of luxury. Now, you can have your car "recognize" you as you approach it so that you don't have to use the key at all to enter and start the car.
There hasn't been the same onslaught of electronic convenience with motorcycles because of obvious space, durability and weight reasons. And of course, the fact that motorcycle riders usually have a bit more physical and mental tasks to deal with while piloting their machines than automobile drivers do. But that doesn't mean that convenience invasion will never occur.
The other day I was solicited to test and evaluate a hands-free Bluetooth-capable headset for motorcycle helmets. This unit supposedly enables motorcycle riders to actually operate a cell phone while riding, "without having to remove their hands from the handlebar to manage cell phone functions." Well, I certainly hope there weren't many riders rolling down the road one-handed staring at their cell phone while dialing up pizza delivery. I imagine much of the hands-free operation is possible due to sound recognition software that enables control via verbal commands.
There are already two-way bike communication units that can be hooked up to a cell phone, so this is basically nothing new, although, unlike this setup, most of them only permit you to receive calls. But is staying in constant communication with the outside world while navigating urban traffic or carving my favorite road that important? It isn't for me.
There are probably very few motorcyclists out there who don't have at least one tale of a near miss with an automobile due to the driver talking on a cell phone while driving. Despite common perception, there's a significant amount of concentration required to drive a car in traffic with any semblance of surrounding awareness and safety. Simply talking on a phone (never mind trying to dial a number) sucks up a large amount of that attention, far more than people think. Some states' counties have even made it illegal to use a hand-held phone (headsets are required) while driving.
Does the simple act of conversation add much to a rider's sensory and mental workload while riding? In most cases (like cruising down a highway), probably not a whole lot. I've found a two-way rider/passenger communication system to be quite useful and enjoyable while riding a sport-tourer up the California coast with my significant other. And I'm sure there are plenty of riders out there who can boast of being skilled enough to play backgammon, whistle "The Star-Spangled Banner," do backflips, carry on a conversation and ride at the same time. But in situations where more concentration is required, like negotiating city traffic or carving down my favorite canyon road, I'd rather not have the distraction of a phone ringing in my ear and then having to discuss what I'd like for dinner.
Of course, I'm not implying that a motorcycle-capable mobile phone is inherently dangerous. I'm sure there are thousands of riders out there using such devices without problems. And for those who are required to be reachable at any time, then this unit may be just the ticket. It's just that when I'm riding solo, I usually want to be just that-alone. The ability to shut out the rest of the world while riding may be a small part of the reason I love to ride, but it's significant nonetheless.
It's also one of the reasons why I'm also not really into listening to music while riding, at least while sport-riding in the canyons. For those who do, hey, more power to them. But for me, the mechanical symphony of the engine is the best soundtrack for the riding that I do.
Oh, the hands-free motorcycle mobile phone offer? I declined.