Quite early on when we started cycletouring we have been using radio communication between us whilst cycling. We find it very useful to keep in contact as we both cycle at a different pace. Sometimes I'll be a bit faster and ahead or I'll stop for a quick photo and be behind Frank. It is then great to be able to tell each other what we have seen, warn of dangers such as potholes, give directions and generally be sociable with each other without having to ride next to each other or shout from behind.
We have used various radio systems mostly the PMR radios with headsets. Initially we had been using headsets with the VOX capabilities of the radios. There was one big disadvantage to this system and that was any noise say a passing car would be transmitted over the radio. This would mean that the person in front would hear the car passing the rider behind and then the rider behind would hear the car passing you. This became quite irritating especially in heavy traffic. We then switched to a headset that used a push to talk button on the handle bars. This worked much better but the wires were a real nuisance. When you came to stop and you needed to get off your bike you had a wire to disconnect from your headset and you then had to remember to connect it back together when you got back on. It also meant that when you wanted to take the bar-bag with you you had to disconnect the push button on your handlebars from your bar-bag where the radio was stored.
We were therefore quite excited when Vertex contacted us asking us to review the road version of the Velo Bluetooth helmet headset cycling communication system as it was a radio and headset combination that fitted on to the cycling helmet with no wires to disconnect when getting on and off your bike.
Construction and fitting
The Velo unit is a small unit 65 x 55 x 15mm in size with a small antenna sticking out about 40mm from the top. The construction is good quality using good quality injection moulded plastic with small rubber press switches on the sides. The radio clips on to a mount which you then attach to your helmet using the attached straps that loop through the vent holes in your helmet. We had no problems in fitting the radio to my helmet as its design had plenty of vent holes in the correct place to get a good fit however with Frank's helmet design the vent holes were in a different configuration and it was difficult to mount it securely. In the end we had to use a couple of cable ties to keep it in position so that it didn't swing off the helmet when she took the helmet off.
The radio connects to two small off the ear speakers which have flexible arms which you attach to the helmet using 3M Dual Lock tape. The instructions show these to be mounted on the inside of the helmet, however the design and size of our helmets didn't give enough room to fit them on the inside as the connectors are fairly thick so they were mounted on the outside. It doesn't look quite so neat but it works OK. I think the manufactures need to look at making the connectors a little thinner. The microphone attaches to a clip that fits onto your helmet strap and with a little bit of tweaking it is easy to get it into a good position. There is a little Velcro wrap which you can use to keep the wire snug against the helmet strap to stop it rubbing on your face.
The radios are charged from any standard USB port with a USB lead which has a standard USB A plug on one end and a non standard connection at the radio end which means that the radio can only be charged with the supplied lead. It is a shame that this isn't a standard micro USB connector as it if you lose the lead it wouldn't be that easy to get a replacement.
When you switch on the Velo (which is a single button press) you will hear 'Power on' followed by a battery capacity voice sound which is quite useful. Before you can use the Velo as an intercom it has to be paired to the other set. If you follow the instructions carefully it isn't too difficult to do although I would advise that you take a copy of the instructions with you just in case you forget. There is a user manual PDF available from the Vertix site which we downloaded to our phone to have with us when we were on tour. There are some flashing red and blue LEDs to help indicate which mode you are in, however these are situated within the black casing and in bright sunlight they are not easy to see. Once you have paired the sets you will hear ' Intercom Pairing Successful’. You then need to press button A on one set or button B on the other set to start the intercom, then ‘Intercom Connected’ is heard and you are good to go. Provided that you keep the batteries charged you will not need to keep pairing the sets each time, all you have to do is turn them on and press button A on one set or button B on the other set to connect the intercom.
Mobile phone integration
The Velo can also be paired to a mobile phone and used to listen to music from the phone or to take calls. Pairing was quite simple to do following the instructions in the manual. Once connected the Velo remembers the connection. My commute to work is along 4 miles of cycle-path so it is nice to listen to music along the route. As the ear pieces are over the ear you can still hear other sounds which makes them reasonably safe although I do tend to turn the music off when I am cycling on roads and that is easily done using the small remote on the handle bars. Taking phone calls is easy and is much better than missing the call. I tend to carry my phone in my bar-bag and if I hear the call by the time I have stopped and dug out the phone from my bar-bag I generally have missed the call but with the Velo you can hear the call coming through and you can then easily pull over and take the call.
The Vertix Velo comes with a small remote and a mount which you can fit to your handle bars with a couple of cable ties supplied. There is a little clip on the end of the mount that you can press to slide and remove the remote from its mount when you are not using it or for security. The remote uses a small CR2032 lithium battery (due to the restrictions on sending lithium batteries via airlines our sets didn't come with them but they are readily available at most shops). The remote control like the headsets needs to be paired following the instructions supplied. Once paired it can be used to increase or decrease the volume of the headset (which is much easier to do than trying to use the two buttons on the radio whilst it is on your head!) or it is used to accept calls coming in from your mobile phone or to change the track of the music you are listening to.
Performance and use
We have now used the Velo now for several local rides and on our last tour in Ireland and we are most impressed with its performance.
One of the best features of the Velo is the VOX capabilities it is by far superior to the VOX of PMR radios. The manufactures say that the noise filtering voice-activated mic deactivates when there’s no communication. This means that when you are not talking, the noise of passing cars, your heavy breathing or any panting isn’t transmitted to the other paired set or sets. This was generally the case although we did find that on one or two occasions if the microphone was too close to the mouth it would transmit some heavy breathing or panting. This isn't too much of a problem as the other person can still talk to the other person. This doesn't happen with the radios as only one person can speak at a time and if the other person is breathing hard or panting you just have to wait until they stop before you can say anything.
According to the manufacturers, the intercom range is up to 500m with 2 cyclists and is increased to 1.5km with 4 cyclists as long as the cyclist behind is able to see the cyclist in front, even if the last cyclist is not able to see the 1st cyclist, all 4 cyclists are able to communicate with each other. Unfortunately we have only 2 sets so we couldn't check out the 4 cyclist range. In our experience 500m is about the range we got with the two sets but it is very much down to line of sight. If we were in hilly terrain or a built up area in a city we were more likely to lose connection if we lost sight of each other. Before you loose connection you tend to hear a jangling noise which gives you a indication that you are losing connection. When you do go out of range the set tells you and when you get back in range it reconnects you with a message 'Intercom connected'.
The battery life is rated at 10hrs and we found it to be about right, at a pinch we could get 2 days riding out of the sets although we tended to charge the sets each night when we could to make sure that there was enough charge for the next day.
Once the set was paired and the intercom connected the Velo is easy to use as you can just chat away to each other like you were having a conversation. The off the ear speakers work very well and with the adjustable arms it is easy to adjust them to your ears. The sound is quite crisp and good quality, there is only quibble and it is minor and that is when it is quiet and there is no conversation there is a slight buzzing sound which is also noticeable when playing music as you hear it between tracks or on quiet parts of a track.
The ear pieces are easy to adjust when you have the helmet on so they sit just out from your ear. Due to us not being able to fit the connectors inside the helmet we mounted them on the outside. I found it easier to reverse the ear pieces left and right so that we weren't twisting the connector to make them fit, it does mean that they are really upside down but it really makes no difference.
The whole radio unit and ear speakers adds 162g to the helmet which isn't a lot and you get used to it. When attaching it to the rear of a helmet it can put the helmet slightly out of balance. Turning off the set could be a little easier as you have to hold down two buttons which is a little awkward when the helmet is on your head. It would be easier if it was a long continuous press of the on button just the same as when turning on.
The whole unit is water-resistant and dust proof and we have been told by the manufacturers that you can happily wear the unit in the rain, although the radio unit wont cope with total immersion as it is not waterproof. We haven't actually used the units in the rain as the aerials stick up just that little amount that it prevented us from getting our waterproof jacket hoods over our helmets so we unclipped the radio units when it rained.
Pros & Cons
- The best VOX system we have used, the noise cancelling system works just great.
- Lighter weigh that our PMR radios.
- No wires to disconnect when you dismount the bike, a big plus for us.
- You can chat to each other like a real conversation and there is no need to wait for the other person to finish.
- Good battery life.
- Radio and ear pieces can easily be removed from the helmet should you need to.
- Ability to listen to music while you ride if riding solo
- Ability to receive mobile phone calls while you are riding.
- The range isn't as good a the PMR radios which is up to 2km with line of sight but this greatly reduced in hilly and built up areas but then again do you wish to be that far away from each other!
- Adds a bit of weight to your helmet and can unbalance it slightly depending on the style of helmet and where it is positioned.
- More expensive than a good set of PMR radios and headsets
From our perspective this is the best radio communication set that we have used so far. There are some improvements that could be made to the unit but they are small niggles that don't really affect its current performance too much. The main thing for some people might be the price. The Velo isn't currently available from a UK reseller but you can purchase it directly from the Vertix Velo site. Each set will cost 209$, so a pair will be 418$ at current currency prices (Oct 2016) that is about £330.
This might seem a lot of money for a communication set as you can get a reasonable pair of PMR radios and wired headsets for a total of £160 which is half the price. What you are getting for the extra money is a communication intercom which has a lot of advantages over the PMR radio setup. For us the best advantages are the excellent noise cancelling VOX, the radio on the helmet system so there are no wires to disconnect or reconnect each time you get on or off your bike and the smartphone integration. For us the pros certainly out way the cons and we will definitely be using the Velo over our PMR radio sets from now on.
You can find out more information on the Vertix Velo using these links:
- Main Product page
- Promotional video
- Video on how to mount the Velo units
- Video of how to pair two Velo sets
Photos of the Vertix Velo
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