Autocom Active-7-Smart Motorcycle Communications System Test
The Active 7 unit does not have internal battery power creating the need to wire these units to the bikes. With 3 bikes and two Active 7 units, it would be nice to be able to use these units between bikes. On the way home I stopped by a local Radio Shack to pick up some "M" Coaxial power connectors to make some quick power disconnects. This is a standard size power connector of the type seen on most electronic equipment today. These $3 connectors would allow the quick movement of the units between bikes. As an additional benefit, I'd be able to use the Autocom units in automobiles at SCCA Solo II and drag racing events though a 12V power outlet adapter (a cigarette lighter plug in the cars).
It took little time to install the two included speakers and boom microphone in my Shoei helmet. Placement instructions from Autocom were easy to follow and allowed me to place the speakers/mike correctly the first time. I tested everything by putting a set of alligator clips to the power wires from the Autocom unit and connected them to a spare 12V battery I had. I left the Volume and VOX settings in the original settings. As soon as the helmet was connected to the Autocom with a very robust and easy to line up connector, I was able to hear myself speaking. At least I knew the unit was working. I connected in my cell phone and had my wife call me. With the phone set on auto answer, it picked up immediately and I had a crystal clear conversation with her. Our static testing was a success.
Let the testing begin
I wired the coax power connector into the tail light circuit of my ZZR-1200 to make sure voltage was only available when the ignition switch was on. I placed the Autocom unit and cell phone under under the seat, connected power and ran the cable to the helmet connector out the front of the seat, then took a ride. Again I had my wife call my cell phone at speeds up to 80MPH. In each case, the communications was crystal clear at both ends.
It was time for the acid test. Making sure that the units would work on a noisy Harley. After installing the speakers/microphone in a Simpson helmet and wiring the second unit up on my wife's FXD under the seat, we took a little ride. Because we were still testing with cell phones, a phone call was initiated from one cell phone to the other. The second phone picked up immediately and we were talking with no problem. No static, no wind noise and no loud potato-potato throb coming through in the sound. Absolutely amazing. Of course this was sitting still. I quickly realized that the VOX setting on the HD was a little low because the mike could be triggered by rapping the throttle. A quick change to the VOX setting and the problem was solved. A 45 minute ride at legal speeds yielded perfect communications between the two bikes. Not one single missed word. Static communication testing on our second Harley was just as successful as on the other two bikes.
At this point I must admit that I'm actually getting quite impressed with the capabilities of the Autocom unit. The results of testing with cell phone to cell phone communications between bikes was a complete success. I decided to test the music capabilities of the unit. I connected a music source to the Autocom and went for a ride. The quality of the sound was amazingly good considering I was listening over engine and road noise. While not quite the same as listening to my stereo in my living room, the music was crisp and clear, making for a enjoyable ride. I even received a call and was able to carry a normal conversation to the person at the other end. It was not evident to the calling party that you are on a motorcycle.
All testing to this point was done under conservative, legal riding conditions. While many riders are responsible cyclists most of the time, a recognizable percentage of us do like to twist the throttle a little harder from time to time. I've got a second Harley that has a more aggressive exhaust note. This would be the true test on how well Autocom systems work under hard riding. I went for a very spirited ride on this bike after moving one of the units to this bike. While mostly legal cruising speeds did not effect the system, it was almost immediately obvious that the Autocom VOX unit was having trouble with the sound level of this bike under heavy acceleration. The VOX would key the mike anytime the accelerator was twisted more than 50-60%. Adjusting the VOX setting to the 180MPH level did not eliminate this issue.
The poor performance of the Autocom unit on the Harley under full throttle shook my faith in the ability of the Active 7 to handle any bike, any speed. More full throttle testing was required on my sport bike. Since I had placed the coax power connectors on each bike, moving the unit from the HD to the ZZR1200 took less than 5 minutes. Out on the road with the ZZR I tried some full throttle acceleration runs in the lower gears. The engine and exhaust noise associated with accelerating to triple digit speed did not cause the VOX to key the mike. There was no attempt at making top speed runs to test the limits of the units.
To be fair to Autocom, I e-mailed the USA and Corporate technical support sites describing what I had found and noted that there was going to be a published review of the Active-7 unit. In both cases I got a response asking me to verify the VOX settings I had used on the motorcycle. I sent my answers back to them on the same day explaining that I had properly adjusted the VOX, asking for additional guidance on resolving this issue. I am working with Autocom to work through the issues on this one motorcycle.
|1||Sport Bike||Home Phone||Static||No Problems||OK|
|2||Sport Bike||Home Phone||Normal Riding||Adjusted VOX||OK|
|3||Sport Bike||Harley||Normal Riding||Adjusted Volume||OK|
|4||Harley||Home Phone||Very Spirited||VOX keys mike under heavy throttle||Only usable if PTT added|
|5||Sport Bike||Home Phone||Very Spirited||Sometimes wind noise would key mike||OK|
What is left to test?
As of this writing, I have not tested the Autocom unit with a set of two way radios. I am waiting for a wiring adapter to connect the unit to some GMRS radios. There is little reason to expect any new issues with the Active 7.
The Bottom Line
Autocom makes a very good motorcycle communication device that works well under a wide variety of circumstances. From the least expensive Easy Rider, to the middle priced Active 7, or the top of the line Pro Rider, you can purchase the communication capabilities you need. The flexibility of these units goes way beyond bike-to-bike communications, rider-to-passenger intercom and music input. Because you have your choice of radios, you could use CB, FRS, GMRS, VHF or UHF radios. You can also use your cell phone or walkie-talkie style cell phone. Then you can add music in the form of a radio, CD or MP3. You can also wire in your radar detector and GPS. While I didn't get a chance to test all of these capabilities, they should work within the established limits.
Any Bike, Any Speed?
I can state with authority that the "Any Bike" may be inaccurate. A v-twin engine with an aftermarket exhaust will easily outstrip the VOX capability of the Autocom unit while the bike is accelerating hard. There is a high probability that this statement applies to all v-twins; cruiser and sport bike. But there is little doubt in my mind that you could go well beyond any legal USA speed limit and be able to carry on a normal conversation with someone on another bike or talk with someone on their cell phone. An extensive review of Internet postings and bulletin board discussion about Autocom seems to put the practical maximum useful speed limit of the unit at 120MPH.
You should consider Autocom if you are looking for communications quality, reliability and flexibility for your motorcycle. You will be hard pressed to find a better capabilities at the cost of the Autocom units. However it is important that you understand there are limits to its capabilities and technical support from Autocom may be limited.
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|Copyright 1997-2006 Stephen Mullen, Oldsmar, FL -+-|