As a cyclist, I’m always torn between riding solo or with a group. With the former, I have ultimate flexibility of route and timing, though it can get lonely and I’m paranoid about being stranded on the side of the road with a mechanical issue (or dead). But riding with a group also means having to shout over the wind or use hand signals to communicate turns, ask questions, or offer words of encouragement. As a triathlete, I get nervous when riding close to others, but this also means lots of shouting and half hearted pointing toward road hazards, hoping the other person notices.
But there’s also another option. Elliott and I recently purchased Terrano-X bluetooth headsets that clip on to our bike helmets and allow hands-free communication between us. We can talk quietly into each other’s ears and discuss the route, warn about approaching cars, and offer words of encouragement. This has proven especially useful on hilly routes, as he can warn me when he’s about to pass me at 45 mph on a descent and I can notify him that the hill does indeed end just around the corner.
Since you are probably thinking the same skeptical thoughts that I did, I’ll attempt to answer:
- No, you do not need to turn them on/off each time you want to talk. You just switch it on at the beginning of the ride and off at the end. I’m not sure of their exact battery life, but they have survived four-hour rides just fine. (We do charge them fully beforehand.)
- Yes, there is a little bit of background noise, but we only noticed it when on a fast descent. (In fact, this meant the second person always got warned when the first person started descending!) For general riding, this is filtered out. We were both really impressed.
- No, it’s not heavy or bulky. It’s not legal for races anyway so don’t worry about being 1% less aero. Once the setup is secured to your helmet, it’s actually pretty flexible, so you can fiddle with the microphone and earpiece while riding without worrying the whole thing will go flying.
- Yes, it totally changed the dynamics of the ride. It wasn’t just a substitute for content that would normally be communicated via shouting or pointing, but made it easy for us to make the ride more social. We started pointing out things that weren’t urgent but were pretty cool, like an old barn or fluffy sheep dog. We could also offer words of encouragement or real time feedback on cornering.
- No, it does not solve all problems. The headset does not magically make your riding partner the same speed as you, or your schedules flexible, or the weather perfect. You may still need to ride solo (or indoors) some times. And there are plenty of advantages to technology-free group rides, such as improving bike handling skills and the mindfulness that comes from solo slogs.
Bottom line: If you want to make your ride social without shouting, this is a great investment. (And lest you worry about bias, we purchased these devices ourselves and have had no contact with the company.)