29 August 2007

Bluetooth Revisted

Rather than write up what has happened so far in my Quest to get wireless between GPS and helmet I have copied the article I wrote for the BMW Club "Journal" here and added a few photos.

The original idea behind the search for a Bluetooth solution for my Quest GPS was entirely down to the fact that I kept getting off the bike and the wire between my helmet and the unit kept pinging off. As well as looking a prat (steady at the back!) there was always the paintwork jack plug interface to be avoided!

The options seemed quite limited. There are loads of Bluetooth earpieces available that stick in one ear for phones, but try to get a helmet on with one of them in place! Not going to happen.

So, the solution needed to be more motorcycle oriented. The beginning of a solution came on two fronts; one in a shop and the other on the Suzuki OC Kent Centre run to Ypres at Easter 2007.

The first was when I called into Infinity in Holborn to pick up my Schuberth C2 after a minor repair. I saw that they had an advert for a Bluetooth head set from Cardo called the "Scala". It all looked pretty good in the picture that featured either a full face or an open face helmet. More of that later! At about £70 it was quite pricey just to get to listen to Daisy tell me what to do and where to go, but looked a decent bit of kit.

The second solution came on the side of a fellow rider's helmet. It was another make but was highly similar looking piece of kit. His was made by Interphone and was bought in from the US. It's similar in appearance to the "Scala" though. It also retails for quite a bit more than the Cardo "Scala".

I went back but Infinity didn't have a test kit available and I felt that I wanted to try something before shelling out, so I emailed Cardo. Okay, they are in the US, but email knows no boundaries. As a surprise they offered to send me a kit free to test. I may have said I was a published journo, which is true! Not just here either.

A few weeks later and before the trip to the Island for TT100, the kit arrived, a "Scala" and mains charger. Great stuff.

Over the years I've assembled an impressive collection of helmets. I have a Caberg J1S that although 3 years old I don't like to chuck away. Similarly, a Nitro N700V that I bought a few years back but found it far too tight round the head above the ears and then I dropped it on the ground on a trip to Belgium. Even "easing" the padding had little effect. Plus of course the Schuberth!

I rushed to fit the clamp for the Bluetooth unit to the C2. Aarggh! The most expensive helmet I have owned since my Eddie Lawson replica Shoei, and the "Scala" mount won't fit as it fouls the mechanism for the flip! Okay. Try it on the Nitro.

A bit of padding pulled off the inside of the shell lets it fit, but the microphone boom wasn't long enough! By then I had run out of time before going to the TT. Everything went back in the box!

Once back home a fortnight later, I searched around in the cupboard for a helmet I bought only 18 months ago to get home from work after some scumbag forced my Givi top box open and stole my go-to-work OGK and my gloves. With a "best" helmet at home I wasn't inclined to spend a fortune on a get-me-home piece of kit. Enter the Caberg Classico, "£40 to you mate". It fits like a washing up bowl, and is probably only slightly sturdier.

The "Scala" fits straight on to it! Fitting the bracket with the clamp and locking screws is a little fiddly as the supplied Allen key is quite small and the hex hole to get it in isn't very deep, so you have to be careful not to round them off. The unit fits on the left side of the helmet about level with the strap on the Classico.
The unit itself clips on and has a locking feature so that once fitted correctly is doesn't fly off! Attached to the bracket is the boom for the mike and a thinner lead that leads on the basic "Scala" to a single earpiece. The earpiece is very slim and after a bit of fiddling you can find a comfortable place as close to your lughole as possible. It is also Velcro backed to let it stick to the lining of the helmet. Excuse my technical terms!

The boom for the microphone is the right length on the Classico. Success. But at what price?

I emailed Cardo to give them my feedback. They said they had a new kit out with a longer boom and they would send me one to try with the Schuberth or J1S. It hasn't arrived yet, but is supposed to have a longer boom and a different fitting for the bracket.

At least I know have the helmet end of the Bluetooth equation sorted, even if it is with a £40 bowl on my head.

But what about getting the Quest to talk to me without wires? The main reason for all this messing about in the first place. This is the really clever bit. After some days of surfing I found several Bluetooth transmitters that have been developed for older mobile phones that don't have Bluetooth as standard. A couple were a little bulky but one immediately jumped off the screen at me. Called the BTA II and made by… you guessed Cardo. Another email and a few days later one arrived FOC to test.

Although it feels rubbery to the touch there are too many openings for the charger jack plus and buttons to make it waterproof for my application. Piggybacked on the back of a non-Bluetooth phone in your pocket would be okay.

Pairing it with the headset was a doddle. I have heard that there have been problems pairing the "Scala" with Garmin Zumos as the four digit numbers it needs vary. As these are both Cardo products they share the coding, and as neither has any way of inputting a different one, then that's a plus!

As the jack plug is smaller than the jack socket on the Garmin OEM cradle's audio output I had to get an adapter. Maplin came up trumps for a few pence.

The BTA II comes with about 6 inches of coiled cable to the jack, and so needs to be sited close to the Quest. For the test I have simply put a square of Velcro on the back of it and another square of the opposite Velcro on the top of the clutch master cylinder on the GS. The coil of wire is long enough to keep it from the left side handlebar switches. Once turned on it has a very bright blue LED to show it is switched on and working. No problem in daylight but at night it can be a little distracting, so the Velcro allows it to be turned away from the rider. In inclement weather I need to find a better solution to protect it from the rain. One joker suggested a condom or better still, a finger cut from a latex glove and secured with a laccy band!

So how does it work? Very easily. Both the "Scala" and BTA II are supposed to have 7 hours continuous use battery life. In reality both units go into standby mode after a few minutes. I've used them in conjunction a few times for short runs and then on a trip to France over August Bank Holiday, where they were used on and off for about 8 hours.

The "Scala" has some trickery in it that increases the volume as you go along but I have the Quest set at 7 out of 7 in any case for motorcycle output. On the French trip and with earplugs, I could still hear the instructions on the autoroute at around 80mph quite clearly, and this is despite the wind rush under the ears on the Classico. A quieter helmet should prove even better.

The only niggle is that when Daisy chimes in with a change of direction or whatever; the first millisecond is missed as the BTA II wakes up from standby. E.g. when "she" is saying, "In 1.7 miles keep right", it misses the "In", but any subsequent instructions are perfect, and nothing is missed. I assume this is because both units are no longer in standby mode and this is repeated each time the unit goes to standby. Luckily the unit always gives more than one countdown to a route change. A small price to pay for having the unit save battery life in standby mode and then waking it up.

The goal of getting a non-Bluetooth GPS to talk to me via Bluetooth has been accomplished! Hurrah.

What next? I already have the phone paired with the headset but have only had a few calls and both of them I missed as I was in traffic. To accept a call you need to press the button on the unit and although it is easy to find and big enough to press with a gloved finger, you have to time it right.

The other use of the Cardo "Scala" is that of a bike-to-bike intercom, pairing it with another "Scala" (and I assume any other Bluetooth headset?) and chatting to your hearts content!

Cardo make a two-unit kit called "Teamset" that has everything twice (!) for rider to pillion intercom. This looks a good idea but the problem is that the pillion unit isn't as fully functioned as the rider unit, so no GPS (no problem) but also no phone pairing, which might be! The "Teamset" also has two speakers per helmet.

Oh yes. The BTA II will fit to most MP3 players so I suppose you could listen to your favourite sounds as you ride along, should you want to!

So that's the end of the project, or at least part one of the project. I'm just waiting to get the extra kit for the Schuberth that Cardo were sending me to see if I can get it working with my "best" helmet!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Cool post as for me. It would be great to read a bit more concerning that topic. The only thing I would like to see on that blog is some pics of any gadgets.
Alex Kripke
Cell jammer