Chatterbox XBi Bluetooth Communicators Review
Riding two-up is a great way to share the experience of motorcycling. It is often done by couples, from first dates to spouses who have been married for decades.
Riding together on the same motorcycle, feeling it accelerate and lean at the same time, can be a wonderful bonding experience. But typically communication about exciting moments or breathtaking views is limited to hand signals or body squeezes until the ride is over and the helmets come off.
Rider-to-passenger communication systems solve that problem. The new Chatterbox XBi Communicator is a Bluetooth-enabled system that can be paired with up to three devices at one time. For rider-to-passenger communication, pair two XBi units to each other. For stereo audio, pair a Bluetooth stereo adapter to the XBi and plug it into your iPod, other music player or satellite radio. And to accept calls, pair the XBi to your Bluetooth-compatible cell phone. In other words, you get three channels: intercom (with another XBi), audio (music device, GPS, radar detector, etc.) and cell phone. You can be in either intercom or audio mode, but not both at the same time. And if a phone call comes in, it will override either intercom or audio.
An XBi unit can be installed on either an open-face or full-face helmet. On an open-face helmet, a small boom holds the microphone near the user’s mouth. On a full-face helmet, an adhesive-backed hook-and-loop strip affixes the mic to the inside of the chinbar. The base plate, which holds the XBi unit in place on the left side of the helmet and allows quick-release removal, can be secured with double-sided adhesive (provided) or a metal clamp. I used the adhesive since it is easiest and offers plenty of security; how well the clamp fits depends on the shape of the lower edge of the helmet.
With the base plate installed and the XBi unit attached, you insert a single headset plug that connects to the microphone and two stereo speakers via wires. Tucking the wires beneath the lining of the helmet takes some finesse and the ease of doing so depends on the type of helmet. The Scorpion EXO-1000 helmet I used fits me snugly. It has convenient speaker pockets in the ear holes, but with the rather bulky disk-shaped speakers inserted, the additional pressure on my ears became uncomfortable on long rides.
After some initial fiddling to get two XBi units paired up (much like my recent dating experiences), I found the intercom feature to work very well. A low-level echo and hiss was evident, which was drowned out by wind noise at speed. In intercom mode, the full duplex communication (which is like an open phone line) was always on when the unit was on. I found that turning up the volume and wearing earplugs (which I normally do anyway) blocked out the echo, hiss and wind noise and made the communication much clearer. Taking calls on a cell phone or listening to music was less distorted.
With a compact design, the XBi is lightweight and unobtrusive. The lithium polymer rechargeable battery delivers 6-8 hours of power and can be express charged in an hour. For $179, the XBi is an affordable, convenient way to add audio and cell phone capability to your existing helmet, and for an additional $179 is a great way to keep the lines of communication open with your sweetie. A real bargain for a healthy relationship.
For more information contact Chatterbox! USA, 16918 Edwards Road, Cerritos, California 90703; (888) 222-1994; www.chatterboxusa.com
[This Chatterbox XBi Bluetooth Communicators Review was first published in the February 2009 issue of Rider magazine]