Scala Rider Q2

Lately when riding, I’ve been hearing voices in my head. Before you get the wrong impression, no, I am not possessed. But I have been testing Cardo System’s Scala Rider Q2, a motorcycle-to-motorcycle communication system. We recently got a pair of Q2’s and put them to the test in several press introductions. In doing so, I enlisted the help of MotorcycleUSA’s videographer and avid techie, Robin Haldane, who tested the original system two years back.

When MotorcycleUSA first sampled the original Scala Rider, the main grievance Haldane had was the system’s inability to communicate between motorcycles. It appears that Scala listened to his input. The updated system not only features bike-to-bike communication, but it also has a Bluetooth headset so you can receive and place calls while riding, is capable of running a GPS turn-by-turn navigation system through it and comes with a convenient built-in FM radio.

When I cracked open the box, I saw the thickness of the instruction manual and groaned. Thinking I was going to have to pour through pages of technical jargon, I was relieved to find out that there were only 10 pages of easy-to-read instructions. The other 53 pages are the same info printed out in various languages. The directions are succinct and easy to understand, and getting everything set up didn’t take long. Everything you need for mounting is provided, including the world’s smallest allen wrench.

The most important first step is to charge the system. Cardo Systems recommends allowing it to charge for five hours initially. Just plug it into the provided Charging Jack and forget about it until later. In the meantime, you’ll have time to attach the mounting bracket to your helmet. This is where your handy-dandy allen wrench comes into play. I slid the clamp between the shell of my Shoei RF-1000 and the cheek pad and tightened down two small bolts. The system includes two small speakers. I placed mine right above the ear cut-outs, attaching them directly to the helmet lining by virtue of the Velcro on the backs of the speakers. They are flat enough so that they are unobtrusive yet still deliver quality sound. The microphone is also connected to the helmet clamp and was easy to position in the space between my mouth and helmet. The Q2 is set up to mount on the left side of a helmet, so the last step I did was to run the right speaker wire out of the way under the helmet liner.

The next step was to buddy up the headsets. It takes two to tango, and obviously it takes two Q2 headsets to communicate between motorcycles. To keep things simple, there’s only four buttons on the Q2s – a control button (CTRL) that is the largest and farthest forward, a multi-connection button (MC) that is next to it, and small volume up and down buttons mounted on the back of the headset. To synch the two headsets, simply press down and hold the CTRL button until the blue light flashes three times. After you get both sets flashing blue, take one headset and press and hold the CTRL and MC buttons for about six seconds until the light starts blinking red. Do the same for the second headset, and after flashing rapidly for a few seconds, both headsets will show a solid red light, and then will beginning flashing in blue. And that’s it. You’re ready to communicate bike-to-bike.

Setting it up to run my phone through it was a simple process as well. I turned on my phone’s Bluetooth function and then turned on the Q2. I held the CTRL button down for approximately six seconds until it started alternately flashing between red and blue. I then searched for Bluetooth devices on my phone, and after a few seconds Scala-Rider Q2 popped up on my list. I selected it on my phone and at the prompt I set my passkey at 0000. The phone synched with the Q2 and the light on my headset began flashing blue and I was done.

The Q2 also allows riders to set it up for a Bluetooth GPS device, which we didn’t do, but the process is pretty much the same as the one listed above for hooking up the phone. The unit can also be configured to use with a third party and is compatible with older Scala Rider systems, if needed, but we only used it in two-way communication mode.

Being a motojournalist, the Q2s were extremely helpful during the recent Victory Motorcycles’ press launch. We shoot a lot of onboard footage, and being able to communicate with my videographer while riding made our job so much easier. When you’re riding high-powered motorcycles at a high rate of speed in close proximity, knowing what the other person is thinking is paramount. To initiate a conversation, simply speak into the microphone. You might have to check the placement of your speakers to make sure they are lined up correctly, but mine were spot-on the first try. I clicked the volume up a few settings and after that we were able to communicate the rest of the day. Haldane let me know what he wanted me to do so that we could get the shots he needed, whether it was passing on the left or right, closing the gap, or shooting him the thumbs up. It made our jobs so much easier. If there was an obstacle in the road, the lead rider could let the other person know. One thing that would have been helpful is to have an attachment so that one person could use the Q2 without a helmet, as often Haldane would park on the side of the road and film while we did ride-bys. Then he could have informed me if there was a car coming that could spoil the shot, but in Cardo Systems defense, not everybody has a job where being able to use them in this manner would have been helpful.

The signal came through strong, and we lost contact only once when we got separated by a considerable distance in a curvy canyon. It has a claimed range of 500 meters, and though we didn’t measure it, I’ll take Cardo Systems word for it. The sound quality was always strong and clear unless I had my visor up and ambient noise was too much for me to make out what he was saying.

Receiving calls is just as easy. You can answer in one of two ways – either press down on the CTRL button quickly or simply say ‘Hello’ loudly and you’ve got a mobile phone. Whether you are engaged in conversation with another rider or listening to the FM radio, phone calls get precedence, and the cell will cut in automatically if a call comes in. Again, the sound quality was clear, and to end a call simply quick press the CTRL button again or remain silent for a little while (they say 15 seconds) and the call will terminate. The Q2 can also be set up for voice dial, and it’s always a good idea to keep both hands on the handlebar, so this is another convenient function.

I also enjoyed using the Q2’s FM radio. To turn it on, press down and hold the CTRL button for three seconds until you hear the radio kick on. There are six preset stations, but you can also toggle to your favorite station by holding the Volume Up or Volume Down button for three seconds. It will run through stations one-by-one according to their location on the dial, but once you’re on your favorite station you can add it as one of your six pre-set radio stations. Overall reception was fairly strong, only fading when we got outside of town and into the canyons, but this is pretty much true even if you’re traveling by car. To turn the radio off, just press and hold the CTRL button down again for three seconds.

The only challenge I could find with the Q2 is that in order to switch radio stations while riding, you have to press and hold the button down for three seconds, which requires a lot of pressure through gloved fingers, and since you can only rifle through the stations one at a time, it took a lot of button pushing to move up the dial. Once your presets are established, though, this point of conflict becomes non-existent.

The Scala Rider Q2 is easy to install, easy to use, and made my job easier. The signal was strong and clear and the unit did everything Cardo Systems said it would. The battery is rechargeable and is claimed to last up to eight hours. You can speak bike-to-bike, rider to passenger, and run your mobile phone through it. You can also hook up your MP3 player to it if FM’s too old school. One unit is priced at $189.95, but like I said, it takes two to tango, so you’re looking at $379.90 for a set. The unit is vastly improved over the original Scala Rider system that we originally tested and gets a big two-thumbs up from MotorcycleUSA.