Sena, a leader in motorcycle helmet (and other) communication devices, recently introduced the Spider ST1, which may be one of the most significant leaps yet seen in motorcycle helmet-to-helmet communication technology. Sena has achieved this by eliminating the traditional Bluetooth-powered radio intercom from the equation and replacing it with exclusively wireless mesh network technology.
Sure, Bluetooth (BT) 5.1 still powers the connection from the device to your smartphone, GPS, and motorcycle, but now the inter-helmet communication is powered by a mesh-type radio. Enter Mesh 2.0 from Sena.
Mesh radio is an outgrowth of military radio technology and, simply put, allows all nodes on the radio to act together as one without regard to sequence. It also has a repeater-like function so, as the group builds in size and separates leader from sweep rider, the mesh radios repeat the traffic. This feature extends the range beyond what one can achieve if only two units are on the intercom.
I am a big fan of helmet-mounted communications devices when riding. Most of the time, I listen to music streamed from my smartphone. I’ll also make or take a phone call, if I think it’s important. Occasionally, I pair my communication device’s intercom with pals to chat during the ride, especially on longer trips. Other riders use the FM radio functions, if included. The Spider ST1 pairs with GPS devices and the latest motorcycle infotainment systems with which riders can operate all functions from the motorcycle’s controls.
Older rider-to-rider intercoms are nice, but they have drawbacks. One is the distance between riders before the intercoms get lots of static then disconnect. Until recently, all or most helmet devices relied on the BT radio signal to run the intercoms. Another drawback was pairing up with other riders.
In recent years, this has gotten a bit easier, what with smartphone apps to help make the pairing and other ways to touch units, shake them, and other assorted voodoo. Yet, it was often frustrating, required spending some time on the side of the road trying to establish a connection, and frequently ending without said connection.
Then there were limits to the number of riders on the intercom and, depending on manufacturer, odd requirements to group riders—Rider A connects to B, B to C, C to A, and so on, for example. Sometimes, riders were required to stay in the same physical order their pairing dictated so riders could not pass one another nor leave the group without causing the whole structure to fail. It was such a pain I often skipped trying, even though the intercom would have been a nice adjunct to the ride.
That’s all over now.
I tested the new Sena Spider ST1 unit, and I am impressed—so much so that I’m not going back to BT radio if I can help it. I am recommending all friends use mesh-equipped communications devices.
I’ve been testing BT helmet units for over eight years and have rarely ever recommended any brand to anyone. I’ve always tried to influence manufacturers to adopt one protocol so all brands can intercom with one another. That’s never happened, and I doubt it ever will.
Some brands allow connecting with others. However, that requires one participant’s smartphone connection to be sacrificed to enable connection with another unit. That is not a good way to make it happen.
Sena claims that an unlimited number of riders may join the party with a range of up to five miles. With two riders, the range will be about a mile. Your mileage may vary.
There are two different intercom modes. The first is Multi-Channel Open Mesh (Group 1 – default), which supports an unlimited number of riders and connects to any Sena Mesh headset. The second is Group Mesh Intercom, which allows up to eight more channels. The channels can be created with or without the Sena Motorcycles App (iOS and Android available). Riders can segment their group to target just the riders they want, and it requires new group members to be invited by an existing member.
Once done, you may bounce around between groups whenever you like. With our small group, we didn’t have time to try this. Regardless, the Sena Motorcycles App enables users to configure all device settings, and is much easier to use than doing it with the helmet on.
Most importantly, the Sena Mesh intercom works by pressing one button on the Spider ST1 to turn mesh on or off. No more voodoo—that’s it. I took a 1000-mile trip with one pal recently. We each clicked the Mesh button and, bam, we were talking.
During our travels, we found that the range, in a straight line with just two riders, approached three-quarters of a mile. I thought that was quite acceptable. We also experienced less signal loss in twisty canyon roads when the lead rider disappeared around a slope. Yes, there are a few dropouts at extreme distances, yet the Mesh radios had more fault tolerance than BT radios, and fewer contact losses.
Additionally, when these dropouts occurred, the intercoms connected right back up when in line of sight. With old BT radios, this is not always the case. They require riders to switch off-and-on and monkey around to re-establish connections. Never once, under any circumstances, did the units fail to connect.
A test with four riders had, pretty much, the same results. Easy one-button press connections among all, and if a rider left the group or a new rider joined the group, there was no drama or frustration—just one button and Bob’s your uncle. Distances from stem-to-stern increased to about a mile. Suffice it to say, we were pleased with the results, as we rarely spread out that far.
I enjoy the Audio Multitasking feature. It allows me to listen to my smartphone playlist or GPS, and hear my pal talking simultaneously.
In addition to the Spider ST1 I tested, Sena also offers the Spider RT1. They use Mesh 2.0 and differ only in that the ST1 utilizes the jog dial, which will be familiar to many existing Sena users. The RT1 replaces the jog dial with three buttons. I chose the ST1 due to a long relationship with the jog dial.
If you know the jog dial, you probably can skip the quickstart guide, although I do recommend reading it. The only thing you’ll need to learn is that the Mesh switch is at the top-rear of the unit. When turned on for the first time, the unit goes right into smartphone pairing mode, so one click of the phone and you’ve made the pairing.
Sena warns that the ST1 and RT1 will not connect with legacy BT Senas unless the older model is equipped with an optional +Mesh Intercom Adapter (about $110) which generally mounts on the handlebars. My buddy and I tried every which way to connect our mesh units with a third legacy Sena unit with no success, so don’t waste any time trying. It will, however, connect with existing Senas that have mesh-capability, including the 50S, 50R, 30K, Momentum EVO full-face helmets with Mesh, and any Sena BT device with the +Mesh Adapter.
Sena claims Premium HD Speakers. My non-audiophile ears thought they sounded about average, given our traveling speeds and wind noise. For my ears, the volume on the Sena RT-1 does not go as high as I would like on fast and noisy highway rides.
Sena Device Manager is a handy utility that is easy to use to update the internal firmware as improvements are made. I can also enable an audio equalizer, allow VOX phone (answer with voice), VOX sensitivity, audio overlay management, and intercom-audio overlay sensitivity. Good stuff.
The Sena RT1 uses the newish USB-C cable for charging duties. A cable is included with each unit, but no charger.
Charging time is claimed to be 1.5 hours, giving it enough juice for 11.5 hours of talk time. I didn’t check that but, I turned it on for an early start, left it on during lunch, and it was still happy by dinner time.
Install on our helmets was easy, and the overall experience satisfies in all aspects. The speakers are low-profile with a tapered bezel which might help installation in helmets with shallow ear pockets.
I highly recommend the Spider ST1. If you are looking for the latest in helmet-to-helmet communication devices, and you don’t need an FM radio, the ST1 is a tasty choice. It is priced at the low end of premium unit price points, and available exclusively at Cycle Gear, J&P Cycles, and Revzilla.
Sena Spider ST1 Specs
- Height: 1.8 inches
- Width: 3.8 inches
- Depth: 1.0 inches
- Weight: 2.12 ounces
- Speaker diameter: 1.6 inches
- Speaker depth: 0.3 inches
- Talk time: 11 hours
- Battery charge time: 1.5 hours
- Mesh Intercom working distance: Up to 1.2 miles (5 miles with six riders or more)
- Bluetooth: 5.1
- Warranty: 2 years
Sena Spider ST1 Price: $199 MSRP