Motorcycle Bluetooth communication is an indispensable part of my riding gear. It wasn’t always like that. Sixteen years ago, I would write my route directions on a piece of an old magnetic car door advertising sign and stick to my tank. My flip phone was on vibrate in my front pocket. My iPod Mini earbud wires would run up the inside of my shirt, out the neckline of my jacket, and into my helmet. Of course, 7 out of 10 times, I would strap on my helmet, only to realize that I had forgotten to put in the earbuds. My setup worked well for 2004.
Two things happened at the same time to motivate me to spend the money to get my first Bluetooth helmet communication system in 2013. I bought my Yamaha Royal Star Venture, and my wife agreed to take longer rides.
Before the Bluetooth intercom, she would tap me on the shoulder, interrupting my concentration, and point at something off to the left or right that I would have to take my eyes off the road to see. To my right and to my left is 180 degrees of field of vision each. Unless it was a parachutist landing in an open field, I would inevitably quickly glance at the wrong object of her interest. She would be annoyed that I had not seen whatever it was she was pointing at, but also that I couldn’t (or wouldn’t) remember where it was that she pointed.
Several of those events in close succession prompted the purchase of my first Bluetooth, the Sena SMH10.
Fast forward to October 2020—I have a new helmet, GPS, and smartphone that I want to start adventure riding with. I will be connecting a few devices and only riding with a few other bikers. I chose the Sena 10S, figuring that the touted one-mile unobstructed range will translate to staying in touch with my riding partners when off-road, with trees and light terrain between us.
The Sena 10S can connect with up to three other riders, plus it has a 12-hour talk-time with a 10-day stand-by endurance. Unless you are streaming audio, or keeping your intercom open for continuous talk, you should be able to be off the grid for a weekend (or more) and still have plenty of available intercom talk time on a single charge.
Sena has a wide range of Bluetooth motorcycle communication systems, from single rider/passenger to a virtually unlimited group size, open-intercom unit. The Sena website does an excellent job of explaining the feature sets of each of its models.
In addition to the Sena Device Manager program for your computer to keep your Sena units updated to the latest firmware revision, there are mobile apps available to help with connections and configurations. You can find out which mobile apps are available in the respective product descriptions.
The Sena 10S, with Bluetooth 4.1, has a Headset app for iOS and Android that gives you control over all its phone, music, and talking features. For those of you who want to geek out, there is the RideConnected App that allows you to make a talkable ride group with other Sena users, anywhere in the world, as long as all the RideConnected participants are connected to a mobile network.
Opening the box, Sena provides everything you need for either full face, open face, or modular helmet installation. Along with the 10S unit and speakers, are both wired and boom microphones, plus a glue-on surface mounting plate and a clamp-on mounting plate (with a hex key). Sena includes a wide variety of hook-and-loop pieces to conveniently and securely mount the speakers, mic, and wires.
An included Micro-USB cable will charge your 10S battery to full capacity in just three hours, even while riding. For the old-school crowd, a cable is included should you want to listen to your Walkman or iPod. To speed up the familiarization process, the box contains five quickstart guides in your choice of languages. The full user’s guide is available in the Sena iOS and Android apps, so I set about reading the 52-page manual.
I installed the 10S using the clamp-on bracket because I might want to transfer it to a different helmet at some point. Using the included peel-and-stick hook-and-loop fasteners, I mounted the speakers and ran the wires inside the soft liner. I was mounting to a Klim F3 off-road helmet, so I used the wired mic and placed it directly in front of my mouth. Installation took just a few minutes.
The 10S is an upgrade from the SMH10, so my muscle memory already knew how to feel for the glove-friendly jog dial and phone button. Pressing the phone button and round jog dial at the same time turns the unit on.
I find it easiest to wear the helmet when learning Bluetooth features and controls. I went through the quickstart guide, learning how to check the battery, pair with my iPhone, enter speed dial mode, and turn on and tune the FM radio. I have found that listening to FM radio is a nice break from the 24 hours of continuous music available on my iPhone on all-day rides.
You can just listen to your own music, as well as answer and make mobile calls, if you like. However, there is a whole lot more capability inside the 10S if you want or need it. I paired my smartphone with my GPS and then paired it with a Sena SF1 mounted on another helmet. Sena units pair together quickly by setting them in pairing mode or by using the Headset app.
I then endeavored to pair a non-Sena headset with the 10S. After doing a lot of reading, YouTube viewing, and finally phoning Sena technical support, I confirmed that, although easy to accomplish, an intercom connection of Sena and non-Sena headsets happens by connecting them as though the ‘other’ is a mobile phone. This type of connection severely restricts the usable distance and functionality. I tested the connection to a measured 150-feet before the voice quality was too broken up to understand.
The various motorcycle Bluetooth intercom systems have interconnectivity shortcomings between brands—I know I would pay extra to have true compatibility between manufacturers. If you want to intercom regularly with a passenger or other riders or both, buy from the same manufacturer.
Getting out on the road with my iPhone and GPS connected to the Sena 10S, I heard music and talked clearly at freeway speeds on a BMW R 1200 GS Adventure with a stock windshield, and me wearing the Klim F3 with a totally open eyeport.
I made a few phone calls at 70 mph, and I was heard clearly and could clearly hear the other parties. The noise cancellation built into the 10S is 100 percent effective.
While listening to music or the FM radio, the GPS verbal instructions were well-defined. The 10S returned to intercom or music after the GPS instructions without any action by me. If you have a GoPro Hero 3+ or 4, Sena has an attachable interface that will allow you to narrate your ride videos, Long Way Up/Down/Around style.
I have personal experience riding in torrential downpours for multiple hours at a time with my previous “water-resistant” SMH 10, with no issues. The Sena website states the 10S is also weather-resistant, so I will not be stopping to take it off in the rain. If I have a problem with it in the wet, I’ll let you know.
Sena prices their two-unit 10S Dual Pack sets at $439, which is $39 less than buying two individual units at $239 MSRP. The Sena 10S Bluetooth communication system has budget-friendly pricing and is full-featured. The Sena 10S comes with a two-year warranty and is backed by an impressively knowledgeable and easy to reach the phone support team. I gave my seven-year-old SMH10 units to my daughter to use for bicycling and rock climbing. My experience is that Sena builds Bluetooth systems that last!
Sena 10S Fast Facts
- Main module: 3.4 x 2.2 x 1.1 inches
- Speaker: 1.6-inch diameter x 0.26 inches thick
- Boom microphone length: 7.2 inches
- Main module weight: 2.05 ounces
- FM radio: 10 presents w/ scan function
- Bluetooth: 4.1
- Maximum intercom distance: 1.0 miles
- Talk time: 12 hours
- Stand-by time: 10 days
- Battery charging time: 3 hours
- Operating temperature: 14F to 131F
Sena 10S Price: $239 MSRP
Sena 10S Dual Pack Price: $439 MSRP