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May 8, 2017

Tandem Headset Review

This article originally appeared in the printed Doubletalk Magazine in 2012 and then migrated to the Tandem Club’s website.

We’ve been riding tandem since 1999. My Captain has a hereditary hearing loss so having some assisted listening device has been essential to our happiness riding together. In case you’ve never run into a tandem headset, it’s simply a way to make it easier for the Captain and Stoker to hear each other in wind and traffic without yelling at each other all the time. Typically there’s a pack that resides in the Captain’s back pocket that you both plug into. There used to only be two such devices available, Tandem Talk and Tandem-Com. And while one of those is gone now, there are finally new options to choose from.

We first learned about Tandem Talk shortly after beginning to ride tandem. They were a small family owned company who custom built a simple and affordable device ($80) that worked quite well. It was a wired device with an on-off switch and no volume control. The headset was in-the-ear and could be used in either ear though we preferred the right so our traffic-facing ears were unencumbered. The first time our Tandem Talk died was less than a week before we were heading to Europe to ride. They were SO accommodating, rushing us a new one overnight in time for the trip. Sadly, the company no longer exists. Therefore, as our old device is on its last legs after crossing the country with us this summer, we’ve been on a quest for a suitable replacement.

The only other long-standing device is the Tandem-Com. We tried that early on and found we preferred the Tandem Talk. Tandem-Com offers both a wired and wireless option and runs $369. We didn’t like the fact that the volume needed to be adjusted every time it was turned on, and that the headset covered the left rather than the right ear. The worst part was the way the sound was setup made voice sound unnatural to our own ear.

Thankfully technology is catching up. For a long time now there’ve been Bluetooth devices for motorcyclists and if you search the web there are riders who’ve jerry-rigged the motorcycle headsets to work on bicycle helmets. That is no longer necessary. As of this season, the company who makes motorcycle headsets has developed a system for cyclists. We tried one out recently. The Cardo BK-1 Duo runs $480. It has a transmitter that straps on the top of your helmet. Because it’s Bluetooth it has the advantage of being able to hookup with a smart phone, MP3 player and/or GPS so you can take calls and get directions in your ear. Sadly a brief test ride with this system left us unimpressed. There was a tinny echo and slight delay as we spoke to each other which was annoying. We found it completely unusable.

On to the next option: from Eartec in Rhode Island (my home state). They’ve been around a long time and build headsets for a wide assortment of specialized purposes. The Simultalk Cycle-Com Wireless System runs $300.  So far this system is a keeper.

Pros

  • Great natural sound
  • Comfortable lightweight headsets
  • Wireless and works up to 150 ft
  • Optional headset upgrade
  • Can carry a pre-charged backup battery for longer rides
  • It has a series of dip switches so the two packs can be set to communicate with each other on a unique channel that won’t compete with your Garmin or other technology. It took us a couple of rides to realize that’s why my heart rate monitor and cadence were no longer working. But with a little trial and error we ironed it out in no time.

Cons

  • The volume is controlled with the on switch so has to be reset with every use.
  • The battery pack can only be charged in the unit (takes 6 hours and should not be left charging more than 12 hours).
  • The battery pack will only last for about 4-5 hours of talk time, longer in standby mode.
  • The headset that comes with it is a left ear headset.
  • We tried the upgraded headset which costs more and is a right ear headset but it hurt the top of our ear where it sat.

On the horizon is a system out of Sweden called the Hiod. They don’t have it licensed for US sales yet so we haven’t tried it yet. Judging only from the website it looks to be an innovative and unique approach. Only time will tell how it performs and what it costs. Meanwhile, we are thrilled to have found the Eartec solution and hope you’ll find this information useful.

UPDATE (Summer 2015)

We are still using the Eartec device and find they need the batteries swapped every 4 hours. On longer rides this is somewhat tedious. It’s also a bit annoying to only be able to charge the batteries inside the device and the 6-12 hour window means one must plan your charging times. We now carry the wired TandemCom pack as a backup which has been helpful. Though it’s also not ideal to switch between wireless and wired. I still prefer having a wireless device. I hope someday someone will design the PERFECT solution, which none of these offer. If you find something please let me know!

UPDATE (Spring 2017)

I was contacted recently to see if I had any updates. I didn’t. But decided to see what was happening out there. Sadly, not much. The Hiod mentioned at the end of the original post is nowhere to be found now. Our Eartec batteries no longer charge. I contacted them and they said they’re discontinuing this model because the technology has “advanced” and they can include it all in the headset. I looked at the headset and laughed. It’s huge and would not work with a helmet. They assured me they’re working on a belt-pack that is due out this summer and we’d be able to continue to use our existing headsets that work with a helmet. There’s a new Bluetooth option Terrano-X that some might find acceptable. Our experience when testing BT in the past was unacceptable. With the close proximity of the captain and stoker the BT delay is disturbing as you hear both. But “your mileage may vary” so  check ’em out. If anyone finds another great solution, we’re all ears.

Aug 6, 2016

Community mosaic completed

Last March, 2015 we posted about Sheila winning an AARP Essay Contest and that we were splitting the proceeds between our Banff-Jasper bike tour and creating a mosaic for our community’s entry. The completed mosaic went up a few weeks ago and is all we hoped it to be. It makes a stunning impression as […]

Aug 7, 2016

Community is more than the building

It’s been a long six years and a particularly long last six months but we’ve finally arrived. Persistence pays off! We moved into CHUC (Capitol Hill Urban Cohousing) on June 14, 2016. Backstory Spencer and I have long been interested in community and in cohousing. We explored it with our friends Larry & Karin in […]

Mar 1, 2015

AARP Essay Contest

Last summer Sheila happened upon an AARP photo contest about your best vacation ever. She entered the photo of us holding up the tandem at the end of our cross country journey (shown right) and forgot about it. In the fall she was sent a $100 gift card. Not bad. Encouraged by success, when she […]

Feb 14, 2013

1 Billion Rising

Qdoba

Today was Valentine’s Day. We really rolled back the clock on this one. After a day of fussing with computers, we headed to the NE YMCA (now called the University YMCA) where Sheila and I met just over 30 years ago.  A little trip down memory lane. We went to attend a world-wide event – […]

Oct 11, 2001

S2 Joint Stuff

You could call this our hodge-podge area. Here you’ll find the details of our lives that aren’t covered in the Sheila, Spencer or S2Cycle sections. Right now it covers: our bio-diesel car, our Food Choices, including some new developments,  Spirituality, our relationship review and our cats including Morrie’s toilet training and diabetes. We’ve added a […]

Sep 30, 2012

Thanks

…for making the S2 Milestones Celebration wonderful We’ve setup a Flickr slideshow of the photos we’ve collected. If you have any to add please email them and we’ll add them. Video of Ceremony (13 minutes) If you click this link the video will come up in another window. Or you can simply read the ceremony […]

Jul 4, 2001

Relationship Review

Every year we set aside time between Christmas and New Year’s to do what we call our relationship review. It’s a structured set of questions which we discuss and journal. Then we set both personal and relationship goals for the coming year and beyond. We’ve been doing this process since before we were married. If […]

Dec 30, 1989

Food Choices

Our food choices have shaped our lives dramatically for more than a decade. In 1990 we heard John Robbins speak at the University of Washington. We immediately read his book Diet for a New America and gave up meat, dairy, and eggs on the basis of the environmental destruction those industries cause. We founded the […]

Jul 30, 2007

Eat to Live

We’ve made yet another major change in our eating habits. We’ve been vegan since 1990, but we’ve held the world’s record for vegans eating the fewest vegetables. (In case you don’t know, a vegan diet is one with NO animal products.) That has finally changed. We discovered Eat to Live. It began with Sheila working […]