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Cardo Packtalk Black Review

Dirt Rider logo Dirt Rider 11/13/2020 Evan Allen
a close up of a motorcycle: Out of the box and ready for installation, the Cardo Packtalk Black takes less than eight minutes to be mounted and wired to nearly any helmet. © Provided by Dirt Rider Out of the box and ready for installation, the Cardo Packtalk Black takes less than eight minutes to be mounted and wired to nearly any helmet.

As the 2019 Monster Energy AMA Supercross rule book states in the general offenses and penalties section on page 57, “Receiving any form of prohibited outside assistance, including, but not limited to, receiving radio transmissions while in competition” is listed as an offense subject to disciplinary action. However, in the 2019 Monster Energy Cup, which is privately sanctioned with no AMA involvement, the riders were allowed to use team-to-rider communication devices for that race only. Can we expect to see this implemented into traditional races during the Monster Energy AMA Supercross series and Lucas Oil AMA Pro Motocross Championship in the near future? Only time will tell, and it would require a rule change. If so, pit boards may become a thing of the past.

Related: Cardo Systems Announces Packtalk Black

a group of people riding on the back of a motorcycle: Now mounted and connected, let the conversations begin. “I’ll race you to the finish!” At first, it’s easy to forget you have a communication system in your helmet, so you start talking to one another at a volume level you normally would without one. However, it becomes natural after a while, and very convenient. © Provided by Dirt Rider Now mounted and connected, let the conversations begin. “I’ll race you to the finish!” At first, it’s easy to forget you have a communication system in your helmet, so you start talking to one another at a volume level you normally would without one. However, it becomes natural after a while, and very convenient.

Earlier this year, Cardo Systems released the latest addition to its lineup of motorcycle helmet communication systems with its top-of-the-line Packtalk Black, which retails for $389.95. Similar to the Packtalk Bold ($339.95) other than the aesthetics, larger JBL 45mm speakers, and a year extension on the existing two-year warranty, the Cardo Packtalk Black may be the most advanced and user-friendly motorcycle communication device on the market today.

a man flying through the air while riding a bike down a dirt road: Test rider Allan Brown (left) staying low and letting me know. Some engine noise is noticeable when using the Packtalk Black—mostly during acceleration or on a straightaway when you’re wide open—but it’s not overly loud to where you can’t hear the other rider. © Provided by Dirt Rider Test rider Allan Brown (left) staying low and letting me know. Some engine noise is noticeable when using the Packtalk Black—mostly during acceleration or on a straightaway when you’re wide open—but it’s not overly loud to where you can’t hear the other rider.

Features such as DMC (Dynamic Mesh Communication) for continuous pairing purposes and Natural Voice Operation for on-the-fly demands, thereby alleviating the need to take a hand off the handlebar to make adjustments, make the Packtalk Black an enticing communication device to try in a racing atmosphere—in our case, a motocross track. The Packtalk Black and Packtalk Bold can connect to up to 15 Cardo units at any one time, but for our purposes, we only needed to utilize 20 percent of that. With three devices in our possession—one Packtalk Black and two Packtalk Bold units—fellow Dirt Rider test rider Allan Brown and I took the systems out to State Fair MX in Perris, California, to put them through the paces to see how they work in a dirt bike racing environment.

a man riding a motorcycle down a dirt road: “The inside is faster here.” Line choice is one of the most beneficial aspects you can chat about with fellow riders and trainers or coaches during a moto. © Provided by Dirt Rider “The inside is faster here.” Line choice is one of the most beneficial aspects you can chat about with fellow riders and trainers or coaches during a moto.

With the units mounted to our helmets, we connected them using the Cardo Connect app on my phone. After gearing up, we threw a leg over our machines and coordinated to meet at the starting gate. Initially, out of habit, I noticed myself talking loudly to Allan as if we didn’t have the devices on our helmets. One unique feature the Cardo Packtalk Black offers is Automatic Volume, which adjusts the volume on the fly based on the current ambient noise, meaning the volume will turn down as you pull off the track and into the pits and, contrarily, turn up as you pull onto the track and the noise level increases. There is also a manual volume adjustment on the unit itself, which we set to our preferred level and then challenged each other to some fast laps.

a man riding skis down a dirt road: A few laps later, Allan leads through an outside line and tows me off the back triple. “Match my speed.” © Provided by Dirt Rider A few laps later, Allan leads through an outside line and tows me off the back triple. “Match my speed.”

Talking to each other as we battled for position, we found communication was stellar for the most part, but a bit hit and miss at times—not due to the connection, but the volume level. We realized the Cardo units could not compete with the loud sound of motocross bikes in certain areas of the track. In braking zones, jumps, and other areas on the course where the throttle was not fully twisted, it was a lot easier to understand what the other rider was saying.

For example, while riding my personal Husqvarna FC 250 equipped with an aftermarket exhaust, I recall one instance after a jump into a corner, Allan saying, “I hear you approaching,” and me responding, “My bike is loud.” This is one of the coolest aspects of the devices—allowing riders to express their thoughts to one another, and of course poke fun from time to time.

Giving me a chance to lead, experienced rider Allan coaches me through a couple of laps. © Provided by Dirt Rider Giving me a chance to lead, experienced rider Allan coaches me through a couple of laps.

It is on the corner exits and straightaways where the rider is on the throttle and the bike is progressively getting louder due to the increasing rpm that making out what the other rider is saying becomes difficult. Furthermore, both of us noticed some sound from each other’s bike being picked up on the mic and transferred through the headset. Those two aspects are the only minor downsides with the Packtalk Black at race pace. Although with further development and testing, these matters could be addressed.

I believe if the speakers could be offered in an earbud setup to further cancel out ambient noise and concentrate solely on what comes through the frequency, this could really be a home run for the riders and race teams that employ Cardo communication systems at future races. As for a vet rider following his buddy around the course at a reserved pace, excessive engine noise isn’t as much of a concern assuming they aren’t revving their bike to the moon. Also, the Cardo systems are quite helpful when shooting photography and video. Coordinating with photographers, videographers, and other test riders to get the right shot is a much more seamless process and alleviates the need for hand signals and constant check-ins to get feedback on what to do as well as what’s next.

a man flying through the air: With more laps to be spun, Allan puts in a moto as I offer feedback from the bleachers using the Cardo headset, which is what Ricky Carmichael uses while coaching riders at his Goat Farm MX training facility. If team-to-rider helmet communication is ever allowed in AMA racing, it could be a game changer and make pit boards a thing of the past. © Provided by Dirt Rider With more laps to be spun, Allan puts in a moto as I offer feedback from the bleachers using the Cardo headset, which is what Ricky Carmichael uses while coaching riders at his Goat Farm MX training facility. If team-to-rider helmet communication is ever allowed in AMA racing, it could be a game changer and make pit boards a thing of the past.

Later in the day, I threw my bike on the stand, put on the Cardo headset with the Packtalk Black mounted to it, and ventured up into the bleachers to observe and chat with Allan while he did a moto. This is a similar setup to what Ricky Carmichael uses to train riders at his Goat Farm MX facility, so I was curious to see how the Cardo would perform in a coach-to-rider type of setting. I instantly noticed more clarity in the sound because the headset offered more of an enclosure around my ears. Although this helped, engine noise was still picked up by the microphone on Allan’s helmet.

a close up of a motorcycle: Out of the box and ready for installation, the Cardo Packtalk Black takes less than eight minutes to be mounted and wired to nearly any helmet. © Mark Kariya Out of the box and ready for installation, the Cardo Packtalk Black takes less than eight minutes to be mounted and wired to nearly any helmet.

All in all, off the track and on the trails or pavement is where Cardo communication systems mostly live, for now anyway. That’s not to say they don’t work on a motocross track because they certainly do, but as far as implementing them for dirt bike competition, I feel slight refinements need to be made before the product is fully ready for race use. By no means is this a knock for Cardo. The Packtalk Black does nearly everything very well and I believe if we see a Packtalk lineup geared specifically for each discipline whether that is racing or casual riding, it will truly tailor to the needs of each individual rider. At the end of the day, I fully enjoyed using the Cardo Packtalk Black and can confidently say it is the best rider communication system I have used to date.

a man flying through the air: With more laps to be spun, Allan puts in a moto as I offer feedback from the bleachers using the Cardo headset, which is what Ricky Carmichael uses while coaching riders at his Goat Farm MX training facility. If team-to-rider helmet communication is ever allowed in AMA racing, it could be a game changer and make pit boards a thing of the past.

With more laps to be spun, Allan puts in a moto as I offer feedback from the bleachers using the Cardo headset, which is what Ricky Carmichael uses while coaching riders at his Goat Farm MX training facility. If team-to-rider helmet communication is ever allowed in AMA racing, it could be a game changer and make pit boards a thing of the past.
© Mark Kariya
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