Snowmobiles have been using person-to-person communicators for many years, but the last few years have seen a significant increase in both selection and technology. Much of this has been developed for the motorcycle industry but the majority of the technology is a direct crossover to most powersports categories. We have wanted a communication system that worked well in the mountains and in the backcountry for quite some time. We have usually been disappointed as most systems that were researched required each rider to be within line-of-site to have decent signal and clear communication, or they required a push button activation which meant the user had to stop before a conversation with another rider could take place.
While attending the AIM show last year in Orlando, we were introduced to the people at Sena. After a very informative conversation in which they showed us a wide variety of communicators and camera’s developed specifically for powersports. We felt like they might have a communication system that would have good enough signal to work in the thicker trees or mountainous terrain where many of us ride.
So, we hit the Sena website to make the final decision on what communicator we would pick and we were instantly impressed with how interactive and helpful their website was to use. The website provided every piece of information that the consumer might possibly need to know but the most impressive aspect was how easy the information was to find. For example, every product was categorized with basic comparisons describing features and benefits. Once I selected the category, then the product was displayed with multiple pictures and even had a picture of the packaging and every item that was supplied in the package. It also had easy to find downloads with user instructions, firmware updates and a quick start guide. I soon realized there was more than one product that had the potential to work for our riding conditions but for this test we focused on the Sena 10C communicator/camera combination.
Sena 10C Communicator and Camera Combination
The number one question we wanted to answer: Can a com system provide effective reliable communication in the back country, and especially in mountainous terrain? We feel like Sena has provided just that and it didn’t take us long to realize that once you can talk to your buddies on the mountain or trail, it changes the way you ride. Now, there are some short comings to the system, but we will get to that in a minute.
We often ride with new or less experienced riders which means we all ride at a different pace or sometimes one rider will just simply run into trouble. The tail end rider could now talk to the leader and let him know the situation. No more doubling back trying to find the missing man.
On one occasion we took a new rider out in some advanced mountain terrain. He is an avid motorcross rider and had ridden mountain sleds on the trails but nothing compared to the aggressive off trail backcountry we were about to take him to. We installed the Sena 10C via a universal mount onto his helmet and soon we were talking him through every obstacle. It was real-time communication so if he started to get off course we could tell him when and how to correct. This really shortened his learning curve and increased his confidence because he knew we would always be there to tell him what to do. The ability to instantly coach less experienced mountain riders was incredibly valuable!
We also found them useful while testing suspension or clutching calibrations as each rider could again compare notes in real time. But, for most of us it was the fun factor of being able to just talk while riding. Maybe one rider would want to take a different path so all he had to do was tell us while we rode at 60 MPH. No more stopping to discuss the plan, off we went.
Talking distance is the one of the areas we wish could be better. In most cases we could get around 200-300 yards of working distance before losing signal but sometimes it was shorter in thick trees or around corners. In most situations we had enough range to talk and we quickly adapted our riding to keep in range. To be fair this is pretty amazing distance considering Sena is using a Bluetooth style connection between each unit to communicate. You just can’t get a Bluetooth radio to transmit through rocky mountains all that effectively – or most any other radio, for that matter.
In addition to the 10C unit having communication capabilities it also acts as a helmet camera. The camera has its own power button and when the camera is turned on and in record mode it will record video as well as all of the sound and conversation from the person wearing it as well as the incoming conversation from other riders. When you play it back you see AND hear what was happening out on the snow, as it happened. Very cool. It will also record sounds from the Sena Prizm standalone Camera via a Bluetooth connection.
Battery life is excellent allowing us to talk for 10-12 hours, even in cold weather. Recording with the camera will consume more battery than if you are just using the 10C with the camera off. The camera has a battery protection feature which automatically turns off the camera when the battery has dropped to a pre-determined point, saving the remaining battery to allow plenty of talk time. Once the battery does drop into the protection mode, we found the 10C still had hours of talk time left, so it was proactive in this manner.
Other interesting features on the 10C include a Bluetooth connection to your phone that allows the user to access features on his/her phone while riding. We used the 10C to take and even make several calls and were impressed by how well the system removes the background noise of the machine. Taking or better yet, making a call is easy and only requires the push of one button after which the user can use voice commands to dial out. We even used voice commands to access Google maps and navigate to a specific location. It can be used to play Bluetooth music from your phone and even used to stream music from a source such as Pandora (when there is a cell signal). The 10C even includes a FM radio allowing the user to search for local radio stations. Don’t laugh, some areas actually do still have decent FM radio!
The Sena 10C includes other features that we won’t touch on right now but as we stated before the Sena website is excellent at displaying the capabilities of each product they offer. The system retails for $349, but can usually be purchased for slightly less ($329 seems to be the current street price). For more information go to www.sena.com.
By Dustin Pancheri, SnowTech Western Editor