This spring, while planning a trip, I realized I had a rare opportunity. With four guys along on the ride for a week and a half, it was a perfect chance to test a modern mesh-type helmet comm system. Two of our group had previous experience with one or two old-tech comm sets; I’d had experience with several, but only one modern mesh system. One guy had no experience at all with these systems.

With this wide background to draw on, I figured we’d make most of the dumb mistakes that first-time users would be guilty of. If it was too complicated for idiots, we’d be living proof.

Four Cardo Packtalk Mesh Bold units arrived just in time for our departure. Here’s what we found out about the system, throughout our 10-day ride.

The Packtalk Bold is easy to install and easy to use. Photo: Cardo

Read the manual/Watch the tutorial

I mean, obviously, right? But if you’re like me, and you’ve installed a half-dozen helmet communication systems over the years, you might think you can get away with clamping on the comm set, and then button-mashing until you get all the combos figured out.

You could do it that way. Or, you could watch a YouTube video for a few minutes and see the installation and pairing processes explained in a simple fashion. That way, you don’t end up sitting around, waiting out a rainstorm in a coffee shop, trying to make the system work, wondering what you’re doing wrong and why your helmets won’t connect. Particularly with the pairing process: Watch the video embedded below, and you can see it’s simple. The included paperwork also explains the process well, but the video is probably more clear.

Make sure the components are placed properly

You can just jam this comm set unto a helmet and ride away with excess speaker wires dangling in the wind, or you can make sure everything’s in the right place, and get better performance.

The mic: Cardo provides two mics. One has a wire and a sticky pad. It’s made to stick inside a full-face helmet’s chinbar, with the mic in the right place all the time. This would provide optimal sound (as long as a helmet vent isn’t blowing air over it). The other mic is a boom mic, with an arrow on one side. This mic is for open-face, or modular helmets with moving chinbars. With this mic, you must ensure the arrow is situated directly in front of your mouth, or your speech gets garbled or is not loud enough.

The speakers: Cardo includes 40 mm JBL speakers, and they pump out fantastic sound, far better than any other comm set I’ve used to date. However, they’ve still got to be placed properly. You’ve got to make sure those speakers are as close to your ears as possible. One rider in our group had a helmet with recessed speaker pockets, and he was unable to get enough volume from his Cardo until he added spacers (Cardo includes two with the system) to get the speakers closer to his ears. While sound quality will suffer at extra-legal speeds, the JBL speakers far outperformed my expectations. Remember that Cardo’s design allows for easy speaker changes, and you can upgrade from the 40 mm units to improved 45 mm JBL speakers that Cardo sells.

Make sure you update your firmware

Cardo periodically issues firmware updates which will make your voice connection more stable, or otherwise improve the unit’s performance. It’s a pain to encounter a bug that could have been completely avoided with a simple update. See Cardo’s how-to below:

Download the Cardo app

Cardo has an app that controls the Packtalk Bold’s settings. Download it, and use Bluetooth to connect your comm to the phone to refine settings. The comms have a decent amount of customization possible, but you need to have the app to do so.

Bring a battery pack

The Cardo Packtalk Bold will work while it’s recharging. If you run the battery down while you’re riding around all day, you can get a long wire and plug your Packtalk into one of those USB batteries that people keep to recharge their cellphones. This is a highly underrated feature if you’re riding really long days, or if you’re on an overnight camping trip with no chance to plug in overnight. Other helmet communicators don’t allow you to recharge and talk/listen to music at the same time.

Don’t be afraid to contact Cardo for help

On our trip, one rider with an Arai Ram-X helmet had issues with crosswinds buffeting his mic. The 3/4 helmet’s face shield didn’t protect against side gusts. Changing mic input levels and sensitivity via Cardo’s app helped but didn’t eliminate the problem. He was frustrated, with his comm set constantly interpreting wind noise as voice control. The rest of us got bursts of noisy static from his comm, even if he wasn’t talking, and his comm set would cut out his music, assuming he was talking when he wasn’t.

When I got home, I called Cardo, and found out they sell a heavy-duty mic sock that solves this problem (passengers on touring bikes face the same problem, so Cardo worked up a solution). The lesson here is, if you’re experiencing hardware frustrations that the manual and YouTube tutorials won’t solve, it’s probable that Cardo’s customer support staff have already worked out a solution. Reach out to them for help.

Find more details on the PackTalk Bold at Cardo’s website.

This article was kindly sponsored by Cardo. A big thank you to Cardo for supporting ADVrider.

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