More Wi-Fi Connectivity Emerges for Motorcycles

It isn’t just for automobiles anymore: Bluetooth connectivity was introduced in motorcycle models from Harley-Davidson and Indian Motorcycle in 2014. The technology gives you the ability to pair up to two smartphones with a motorcycle. With Bluetooth, riders can speak to each other, make phone calls or stream music from a smartphone to a headset in their helmet or to the motorcycle’s speakers. It also allows for the streaming of music through mobile applications.

It remains limited to motorcycles from five manufacturers: Ducati, Harley-Davidson, Honda, Indian and Zero. Harley-Davidson has Bluetooth connectivity as standard on 12 touring motorcycles for the 2015 model year; the other manufacturers each make Bluetooth available on one or two models.

Harley-Davidson’s Bluetooth system is a $650 option on models that don’t include it as standard. Honda made Bluetooth-enabled intercom access through accessory helmets on its Gold Wing touring model. It added smartphone-enabled Bluetooth to the deluxe version of its new CTX1300 touring model. That motorcycle costs $1,500 more than the base model CTX1300 does, but the Bluetooth functionality is part of a package of features that includes ABS, self-canceling turn signals and an audio package.

Indian sells a Bluetooth headset that’s worn inside of a helmet, which allows riders to access a smartphone through voice commands as well as hear GPS directions. This feature costs $600. Similar aftermarket systems cost about $500.

Experts with whom we spoke are unsure about Bluetooth’s wider adoption among motorcycles. They all acknowledge that younger riders are likely to demand it, because smartphones are such an important part of their life, but all agree that distracted driving is a possibility if riders can’t engage the Bluetooth connection easily. “There’s a lot of concern in how to do the functionality,” says Gary Higgins of Honda. “There’s a lot of movement, even in cars, to use your cellphone to control everything, but with motorcycles, it’s a little bit more complex because of the safety aspect of it.”

“People like to be able to communicate while they’re riding, but it’s something you should approach with caution,” says Ty van Hooydonk of Motorcycles.org. (Motorcycles.org stresses safe, smart motorcycle riding.)

Touring models that have built-in fairings and bags that house stereo speakers are the most logical application for Bluetooth, according to Harley-Davidson spokesperson Jennifer Hoyer.

Despite the safety concerns, seven manufacturer and industry analysts with whom we spoke predict that Bluetooth will proliferate beyond touring motorcycles, because motorcycles of all types will become more electronic, and younger riders who are accustomed to using their smartphone will demand it. (Harley-Davidson isn’t as concerned about safety, because its Bluetooth system is operated with hand controls, like the rest of the controls on its motorcycles.)

Electric motorcycle manufacturer Zero introduced a Bluetooth-linked app in 2013 that allows you to customize a Zero model’s torque, regenerative braking and top speed through a smartphone, which is held in place by a handlebar mount. The app is available across the entire Zero lineup, which starts at $13,345. We evaluated this technology and found it impressive that at the touch of a button, you can change the character of your motorcycle depending on how you want to ride it, the road conditions or weather.

We call that a real hands-on experience.