I’ve never felt the need for a Bluetooth headset, what the hell will a solo rider do with one anyway? Riding my bike is one of the few occasions when I get to do my favorite thing – stay quiet. I love not speaking for hours, days if possible, but given the extreme love of others to do the opposite, I have to say some shit from time to time, if only for the sake of being polite.
Group riding is a whole other scenario. You CAN obviously ride without communicating with others on a long ride, but it’s neither as safe nor as fun as chatting like pre-pubescent girls throughout the trip. You can warn others of impending dangers, save each other from taking a wrong turn, and collectively enjoy some random roadside chick’s curves.
The only problem is that good quality Bluetooth headsets don’t come cheap, at least not in India. A broke-ass biker like me can never afford such a gizmo to attach to his helmet that costs 3 times the price of the aforementioned helmet. That’s when a good friend Bnay came into the picture and lent me his Scala Rider G9 headset to use on the Bhutan trip!
Now I’ve used this device for about 10,000 kms, on all kinds of terrain, with a bunch of different riders. It’s excellent in some areas, but downright crappy in others. However, I haven’t used any of the other alternatives like Sena or Midland BT, so I don’t really know if something better is possible or this is as good as it gets. Here’s my Scala Rider G9x review (G9x is EXACTLY the same as a G9, just more buggy and more costly).
1. Ease of use (6/10)
Meh, it’s not too easy but not too hard either. If the helmet is just sitting around in your lap, changing songs and connecting to different riders feels rather easy. The picture changes a bit when you are wearing leather gloves and cruising at triple digit speeds. The button placement is NOT the most intuitive out there, with 3 buttons on top and 3 on the side. Misjudging what you are pressing is a pretty easy task.
I’ve many a times increased the volume to ear-bleeding levels while trying to just skip to the next song. I’ve many a times connected to “Rider A” while trying to start the music. Radio randomly starts sometimes while I’m attempting to connect to “Rider B”. The Scala Rider G9 comes with a VOX system, which is supposed to do shit that you speak, without any touchy-touchy. It’s an unmitigated disaster of epic proportions.
I had the VOX system switched on for just a few hours, and every time I honked it thought I was saying something, at which time it’ll pause my songs and stop my conversations for a few seconds and then say “Not Available”. I tried to reduce the sensitivity, but that made it completely ignore my commands. It’s just a catastrophic failure, college students could’ve made a better voice recognition system.
Keep in mind that Scala DOES NOT pair with any other Bluetooth system, whereas Sena and Midland do. I take that to be another sign of arrogance, since Cardo is the leading product in this market. Overall, the Scala Rider G9 is a weird system to use, especially for something designed to work with just 1 hand in a high-risk situation.
2. Battery life (8/10)
This is one area where the Scala Rider shines, battery life is easy 10+ hours, with continuous usage in some form. Charging doesn’t take too long either, 3-4 hours and you’re fully done, anything above an hour and you have enough to last half a day. Over realllly long rides that span 20+ hours, I did have to charge it somewhere on the ride, but that’s no biggie.
What really pisses me off is that you can’t use this device while it’s charging. Why the fuck? The funny part is that older versions were capable of doing that, but the new improved ones can’t! It’s just nuts, imagine if you couldn’t use your phone if it was charging, how stupid would that be right? Really hope Cardo looks into this, it’s just crappy engineering in my opinion.
3. Range (9/10)
Another area where this device works awesome, it repeatedly surprised me with the distance at which it can maintain a clear connection. Many a times I couldn’t even see the guy, but I could still talk to him! If the road is relatively straight, no matter how much traffic there is, you’ll be able to talk to your partner till he’s around 1.5 kilometers away, and that kicks ass.
Hills really confuse the Scala though, which is rather expected. The range reduces drastically on twisties, and you really have to plan your formation well if you want to keep in contact with more than 4 riders. There’s a small antenna that you can flip up for maximum range, although I couldn’t really find much difference if it was up or down! All in all, thumbs up for the range!
5. Reliability (4/10)
Amazingly unreliable! Stuff that works at one moment may not work at other, for no explainable reason. I’ve been told that things have totally gone down the toilet after the recent firmware “update”, before which everything used to be rosy and glitch-free, which makes sense, since that’s what all updates ever do. Remember iOS 8?
We tried our best to maintain constant 6 way communication between the riders on the Bhutan ride, but in those 20 days, we were able to achieve that for less than 20 minutes. As soon as one guy joined the party, someone would be kicked out. It just went on and on until we said fuck it and formed 2 different groups. Bump pairing of 2 devices sounds very easy, but presents giant problems when practically doing it. Songs that I play from my phone get repeatedly cut off for a few seconds on some days, while continuously playing for hours on end at other times. Long pressing the power button sometimes doesn’t do shit, while switching on/off perfectly at others!
If there ever was a life and death situation where I either had to use a Scala Rider G9 or a Tin Can telephone to talk to another rider, I would choose the 2 cups and a string rather than the Scala without second thought. It has a mind of its own, which most of the time doesn’t agree with yours.
6. Build quality (6/10)
Meh, nothing too spectacular here either. It feels well made, but had really weird buttons, especially the top ones. They have a very squishy, indecisive feel to them as against the firm and concise action that you’d expect. Installation and removal from the slot is easy, although takes some getting used to.
Scala claims the device is waterproof, and many of my friends have tested it by using it in rain. However if you go online and see the reviews, many of the users have complained their G9 went bonkers in just light rain and Scala had to provide a replacement, which also went kaput in some cases. Even though it looks tough, feels light and is priced like a bomb, I am not too happy with the build quality of this piece of rider tech.
7. Scala Rider G9x review: Verdict (6/10)
If you are thinking of buying a Bluetooth intercom system for motorcycling, buy ANYTHING else. Cardo Scala is owned by Touratech, a giant conglomerate that makes insanely successful stuff for riders. With the Scala Rider G9 though, they have faltered, and faltered bad. One reason for that may be their total domination of the market has created a sense of laziness, but whatever it may be, they need to move their asses and get their shit together.
If you’ve used Scala Rider G9 or any other Bluetooth system, or ever opened a can of Coke, let me know how it worked out for ya.