Bike-to-bike or rider-to-passenger communication via Bluetooth intercom systems is becoming increasingly popular in the sportbike market, but the main obstacle for many has been the price. At usually well over $450 for two units (there's little reason to buy just a single unit for most riders), it can be a very expensive accessory that may not be justifiable for some.
Enter the Sena SMH5 Bluetooth intercom system. The less-expensive companion to the company's flagship SMH10 model, the SMH5 costs just $129.00 for a single unit, and $249.00 for a dual kit. But does this cheaper price come at a cost to function and features?
At just 2.8 x 1.8 x 1.2 inches, the SMH5's main unit is one of the smallest we've seen on the market, and smaller is always better when it comes to universal intercom systems that attach to the helmet. There isn't a weight penalty either; the SMH5's main unit weighed a paltry 1.4 ounces on our scales, with the metal clip mount that clamps onto the helmet's outer shell weighing only 1.3 ounces (for those who need or choose to, there are also adhesive mounts included). The SMH5 dual kit for full-face helmets we received also included a wired microphone (a basic kit with a boom microphone for flip-up and open-face helmets is also available), plus various pads and covers for the speakers.
Installation of the Sena Bluetooth system on most helmets is exceedingly easy. The clip mount slides onto the interior portion of the helmet's outer shell, and even with the plastic lip lining the bottom rim of most helmets, we were able to mount the SMH5 main unit easily and firmly. Both the microphone and speakers are wired into a small, single 10-pin connector in the main unit, and there's plenty of wiring to allow concealed routing and optimum placement. Once mounted properly, on all the helmets (and sizes) we tried, the Sena system is very unobtrusive to comfort, aided by the wafer-thin size of the speakers and microphone.
One issue we've had with most Bluetooth systems is the number of often-tiny control buttons, which can be a pain to operate with gloves on. The Sena system's controls, on the other hand, are elegantly simple. Everything from volume to intercom to answering phone calls is handled by Sena's now-trademark "jog dial" control. No more concentrating on finding the right button; a simple turn or push of the easily located jog dial control is all that's needed. Another plus with the Sena system are voice prompts for various functions, instead of trying to decipher beeps and tones. We had no problems pairing the Sena with every Bluetooth device we tried, from cellphones to mp3 players to GPS units.
Overall function of the SMH5 was excellent. Bike-to-bike intercom range isn't as expansive as much more expensive units, but it was still good to about a quarter-mile in open area, and a little less than half that in most canyon riding situations-this despite hillsides and other objects obstructing the signal. Audio clarity was superb, much clearer with far less distortion and static than other Bluetooth communicators we've tried. Although we're not big on making/receiving phone calls while riding, answering a phone call just requires you to speak into the microphone instead of pushing a button. Volume was very good as well, allowing you to hear voices and prompts decently in even the noisiest helmets with earplugs in. Battery life was also very good; we ran the bike-to-bike intercom continuously during the tire test, and found it would last about eight hours before needing a charge.
About the only gripe we could muster with the Sena SMH5 is that the charging cable uses a USB plug, but no AC wall plug converter is included. However, you can buy these at any electronics store for less than a buck (which kind of makes us wonder why it wasn't included, but it's definitely not a deal-breaker).
In the past we weren't that keen on Bluetooth intercoms because of their issues with pairing, range, battery life, etc. But advances in lithium battery and other communication technology has allowed these systems to make some major strides, and the Sena SMH5 is the latest example of that advancement. And quite frankly, at $249.00 for a dual-unit system, the features and performance of the Sena SMH5 make it a steal for those looking to get the most bang for the buck in a Bluetooth intercom/communication unit.
What We're Testing
HJC RPHA 10
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Factory Effex EV-R Graphics
Factory Effex recently broke the barrier between dirt and street markets with the introduction of its graphics kits for sportbikes. Everything from full-fairing kits to fender kits is available, with the EV-R package offering sufficient panel coverage alongside a tasteful design.