A few months ago, when the people were screaming a little louder than usual about distracted driving and even distracted cycling, I received an offer from UCLEAR to review their HBC 130 Bike Helmet Communicator.
Unfortunate timing. But I took it on because I know that some Commute by Bike readers have longer commutes than I do, and are more popular than I am. I can honestly say that this system did not distract me at all. Nobody ever called me when I was wearing it unless the call was prearranged for the purpose of testing.
The HBC 130 is a hands-free Bluetooth headset that mounts to your helmet and allows you to take calls while keeping both hands on the handlebars. When your phone rings, you hear it in your ears. When the microphones mounted to your helmet hear you say “hello” it answers the call. You can also push a button on the controller to answer or hang up a call.
The controller can be mounted to your helmet or in your pocket attached by a 30-inch extension cable. I, of course, was determined to mount as many accessories to my helmet as possible in order to prove the point that I am a dweeb — which may explain why nobody ever calls me.
I was a Bluetooth headset virgin before I tested this. I usually buy cheap corded headsets for my phones because I can afford to lose them from time to time.
I recorded the video below with both the microphone of the GoPro Hero camera and the microphones of HBC 130. What you hear is the way it sounds recorded directly to my phone — not how the call sounds on the receiving end of a call. I had no idea how it would sound, as it would depends on the quality of the receiving phone and the network connection.
I was pretty impressed at how well the noise reduction worked at 1:10, even though my voice sounded more tinny through the HBC 130.
At about 1:45 I think you can hear the squeaky brakes on my wife’s bike, but I swear it sounds like the theme to The Andy Griffith Show.
There are other moments in the video where you hear the sound through the GoPro camera, but it’s unrealistically loud because the camera is mounted right to the bike picking up a bunch of vibration — so don’t give the HBC 130 too much credit for noise reduction.
Finally, if you can stand looking up my nose all the way to the end of the video (4:49), I recorded some sound through my phone’s regular microphone to provide a comparison to the sound recorded through the HBC 130.
Notice that the times when the most wind noise picks up are when I look down at the camera — which is not where a cyclist would be looking under most talking-while-riding situations. When the phone is seen in my hand, it’s only to activate the voice recording feature of the phone. Ordinarily it would have been in my pocket.
Side note: The part of the video where I take a call. That was acting! So now you’ve seen an actor who commutes by bike.
Some of the people I called had trouble understanding me. When I called the guys at UCLEAR, they could hear me fine. They even drove around in a Lexus with someone’s head poking out the sunroof to try and replicate the problems I reported. Using a Lexus as a surrogate for a bike is both funny and ironic — and also impressive. This is their first cycling product, and they wanted to make sure it worked as well for me as they believed it could.
According to their Website, the HBC 130 employs…
…military proven boomless microphone & patented beam forming technology isolates your voice and eliminates background noise so you can be heard in even the most extreme environment.
In the end, the problems I experienced were minor, and may have had more to do with the quality of the phones on both ends of the call than they did with the HBC 130. As the video demonstrates, the sound through the HBC 130 is nearly as good as the sound recorded directly into my cheap phone. If you’d like to hear it for yourself, you can call me. Please. Somebody.
I liked that the unit is USB rechargeable, like my favorite bike headlights. And it holds a charge for an incredibly long time — up to two weeks on standby, and up to ten hours talking. It comes with an AC/USB charger as well.
I did not get to test the intercom feature, where two cyclists, each with this unit, can talk to each other without using phones at all. I imagine that would be a really nice feature for those things that other cyclist do — where they ride long distances, not to work. I believe those things are called tours. Perhaps I’ll get to test this out in the future.
The only real problem I had with the unit was that the adhesive on the back of the Velcro™ pads did not want to stick to my ratty old Bell helmet. I eventually had to use some contact cement and glue the pads to my helmet. That did the trick.
Now comes the obligatory part: Cyclists need to keep a safe situational awareness. I would not recommend using this unit or any unit like it while actively negotiating any kind of busy traffic — whether it be cars, pedestrians, other cyclists, or Texas Longhorns. Okay?
In a safe situation, however, being able to take a call while cycling could bring to bike commuting one of the activities of car commuters take for granted. Or so I hear.
The UClear HBC 130 Helmet Communicator sells for $229.95.