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Tunes & Communications for Motorcycle Riders!

How to Install stereo headphone speakers or a 2-way walkie-talkie speaker/mike boom into your motorcycle helmet (full helmet or opening type).

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   There are companies out there who make a decent killing selling communications systems for motorcycle helmets... And if any of them care to send me three of their top-of-the-line units for free, I will yank down this webpage as fast your motorcycle wheels can spin (and sign an affidavit to never post it or similiar again). But until then, I will place this jewel of knowledge out for others to use...

   In the early 1980's, I decided that what I really needed was a way to communicate with a passenger at speed, and communicate with other vehicles when I rode my cycle. Since my requirements included communicating with other vehicles, it had to be a radio-based solution, rather than just a wire connection between passenger and rider. At the time -- to the best of my knowledge -- there wasn't a commercial entity out there building helmets with two-way radios, and even if there was, I was too much of a DIY'er (and probably too poor as well) to buy a solution -- even if a prefabricated one existed. The years have come and gone (along with many helmets and cycles), but the impetus still remains: I want tunes in my helmet without ear-buds in my ears, and I want to be able to communicate with others who ride with me or friends drive next to me in their cars. So, I again sat down and started tinkering a bit to accomplish what I wanted.
   These days, I use two helmets regularly (a Nolan N100 full-face flip-up helmet, which I think is the greatest helmet I've ever owned, and a HJC full-face helmet with a clear visor I use for night riding to avoid changing the irridium visor on the Nolan). You can get the Nolan for a reasonable price at the Helmet Shop in person in Daytona, or via mail order (or shop the web).
One word of caution: Nolan also manufactures a N100E, which uses a single button to release the chin-bar rather than two buttons -- it is my learned opinion that two buttons are virtually impossible to both have accidentally activated in a crash, and therefore the N100 is safer in my mind than the N100E because it is less likely to let the chinbar flip up in a crisis situation.
   I also prefer this method to the helmet-mounted systems because I don't like the added drag on the helmet of the helmet-mounted external systems since they are one-sided (inducing drag only on one side of the helmet, which can cause neck pains after a few hundred miles).

   Back to the task at hand, installing a pair of speakers and/or speakers + mike for a walkie talkie set. I'll start with the stereo speaker concept...
   Any walkman, radio, MP3 player can broadcast it's sound into a full-face helmet, or open-face helmet if the speakers are well chosen and properly installed.

Selecting Speakers (for Music)
   The first thing you need is a good pair of either earbud speakers, or preferably, a very-high sensitivity set of over-the ear portable-cd style headphones. Unlike traditional headphones, when headphone speakers are installed in a motorcycle helmet, the speakers aren't pressed directly up against your ears -- for serveral reasons, including: so that you hear traffic noises about you; so that the helmet can be put on and removed without contact with the speakers themselves; and finally, so that the speakers aren't a method of passing crash-energy straight to your head. As a result, the speakers should be at least an 1/8" back from your ear and surrounded by the helmet's padding, so that if you take a spill, the speaker isn't a method of transfering impact forces directly against your head at the ear. This gapping between your ear and the speaker means that the headphone speaker has to have the capability of broadcasting more sound for the same amount of power as the default headphones for whatever device you are planning on hooking up to it.
   Specifically, what you want to look for is the highest sensitivity rating you can find while retaining good sound. Most headsets range from 90 Db for really cheap headsets to 98 Db for stock ones, to 100 to 104 for a good pair of Sonys. You can normally find the sensitivity rating on the back of the packaging, expressed in decibels (Db). The headset I chose to use for my Nolan is a Philips SBC HS500, which has a 106 Db rating, the highest I was able to find anywhere convenient (I got them at Target). If the headset doesn't specify a sensitivity rating, skip buying it.
Note: The philips and many other headsets with desirable sensitivity values have head or neck bands, including the pair I bought. We will remove the excess plastic as part of the installation proceedure. But be careful that the wire connecting one ear to the other is accessible -- if it's totally surrounded by plastic rather than being recessed in a groove, it may be virtually impossible to get out without damaging the wire.
   I'm not going to concern myself with what you hook up to the jack of the headset -- that's your choice.

For Full-face flip-up helmets, use Closed-face helmet values
Closed-faced helmet
60 MPH
100+ Db
Closed-faced helmet
70 MPH
102+ Db
Closed-faced helmet
80 MPH
104+ Db
Closed-faced helmet
Over 90 MPH
106+ Db
Open-faced helmet
60 MPH
104+ Db
Open-faced helmet
70 MPH
106+ Db
Open-faced helmet
80 MPH
Forget it

KNOW THIS: The raw sound of wind passing over some fullface helmets at 80 mph (and all helmets at 90 mph) can induce permanent hearing damage within 15 minutes -- with or without stereo speakers trying to compete. We sell Permanent, washable, reusable earplugs that cut over 24dB -- set of 2 different pairs of permanent plugs, plus a carrying case, and four pairs of disposables for $6!


Modifying the Speakers
   Having obtained the headset, we now set about removing all the excess plastic -- in the case of the Philips set, removing the headband that holds the speakers together and the plastic affiliated with it.
Step 1: we located the groove with the connecting wire between the left and right speakers in the headband.
Picture of the Groove in the plastic of the headband
Step 2: I removed the wire by slicing away excess plastic in the center of the headband with an utility knife (cutting away from the wire) until I could reach the wire with a small flathead screwdriver readily. Then I pulled the wire out of the groove (gently, to not damage the wire!), bearing in mind that there is a sticky glue in the groove to help retain the wire. We want to remove the wire as far as possible without straining the ends of it.
Step 3: covering the speaker housing-headband connection area is a panel door marked "left" and "right". Use the small screwdriver to pry this door away on each side (it's ok to destroy the panel door, since we'll trash it), exposing the wire underneath.
Step 4: Push some of the excess wire liberated from removing it from the headband groove down into the hole in the speaker housing, so that when we disassemble the speaker assembly, the wire has enough space to move without breaking.
Step 5: Remove the foam surround from around the ear pieces. You should find blue plastic (the speaker surround), yellow plastic (the speaker support board), and a black speaker centered in the speaker support board (possibly with a silver center cone).
Step 6: Now it's time (on these particular speakers) to disassemble the speaker housing, because the ends of the headband are held in by a screw inside of there. The assembly consists of 7 parts:

  • the blue speaker surround (we'll reuse this);
  • a black access panel on the blue surround (we'll reuse this too);
  • a yellow speaker support board (holds the speaker within the blue surround - reuse);
  • the speaker itself (obviously, we'll need this part);
  • a metal screw that goes from within the blue surround to the end of the headband (we'll remove this);
  • The wires themselves with a elastic strain strap (needed);
  • And the headband strap (or remains thereof) (we'll remove this too);

Note: Plastics such as these are traditionally assembled by 'snapping' together, so it was unusual to find a screw securing the headset to the speakers.
7(a): locate the black access panel on the blue surround; remove it by pressing down on it lightly (pushing towards the front of the speaker) and set it aside. We will reuse this piece when reassembling.
7(b): Peer into the cavity. Notice how the yellow support board has three tabs holding it into the blue surround. You'll need two small flathead screwdrivers (or a small flathead and a dental pick, or similiar). Turn the case over, and insert the dental pick or first screwdriver between the blue and yellow plastics directly next to where the yellow tab was on the back. Leave that in place, turn the unit back over and push on the yellow tab with the other screwdriver, to pop it out of the blue surround. This may take some effort -- have patience and don't expect to not cause minor damage to the yellow or blue plastics (not an issue as long as the yellow tab doesn't break off totally). Once you have one tab out, repeat for a second tab (easier), and then after the second, do the third tab.
7(c): Feed more of the connection wire that runs from one speaker to other through the hole in the surround, then pull the yellow plastic (with the speaker mounted) away about a half inch, so you can see the phillips head screw inside the blue surround.
7(d): Using a phillips head screwdriver (#1 bit), unscrew the screw by turning counter-clockwise & remove.
7(e): Pull the headband strap away from the speaker surround gently. You will still need to make a few cuts in it to remove the wire from where it routes through the headband's ends. Taking a utility knife, cut parallel strips in the ends of the headband (without cutting the wire!) to permit you to remove the wire from it's routing.
Note: In theory, you could desolder the wires and unstring them from the headband, and then resolder them, but the wires are tiny, and easily damaged by heat; it's far easier to cut the plastic of the headband to free the wires, especially since we're trashing the headband itself.
Repeat steps 7(a) through 7(e) on the other speaker. Discard the headband. You should now have two speaker housings (partially disassembled) with a wire connecting them.
Step 8: push the yellow speaker carrier board back into the blue speaker surround housing so it 'snaps' into place.
Step 9: push the black access panel back into place so it 'snaps' into place.
Step 10: Recover the speaker with the black foam if using the Nolan helmet or any other helmet where there is space for the speaker without cutting away padding under the ear. You may want to skip this step until later.
Step 11: Making sure the connecting wire has some slack within the speaker surround casing, turn the speaker face-down and fold the wire against the back of the blue speaker surround across the highest edge. Place a square of self-adhesive loop fastner (i.e. - female velcro with a sticky back, about 1/2" x 1/2") over the wire and onto the surround. This will serve two purposes: it will keep the wire from being strained later, and it will be used to hold the speaker in the helmet against the hook fastner (i.e. - against male velcro). Nolan helmets will already have the male velcro in place, for other brands, we will install it as part of the installation proceedure for the speaker.

Helmet Work:
   Each helmet manufacturer has a different method for padding and cheek pads, but in general, take note that of where your ears sit in your helmet before proceeding. For most people with a properly fitted helmet, the ears sit approximately where the chin-strap for the helmet emerges.
   The Nolan made this process very simple, because the cheek pads snap out (a snap closure sits in the front of the cheek pads), and has a removable ear-foam insert held in place by velcro just the right size for over-the-ear portable headset speakers. And, although I praise my Nolan highly, I am not affiliated with their company at all.
   In general, all helmets have a rubber seam the runs around the lower edge of the helmet across the sides and back. You will probably have to remove this (Nolan users, you will need to remove it, and require a Torq driver to remove the bolts at the front edge). We will route the cable between the speakers under the padding behind the head, which you can access normally only by removing that rubber seam.
   Instructions - Nolan N100/N100E/Other Nolan helmets:
Step 1: Open the flip-up face plate, if present;
Step 2: Locate where the straps exit the padding -- located next this, there is a slanted rectangle of foam about 1.5" long and about 3/4" tall. Pull this foam away from the side (gently -- if it's the right foam, you'll hear velcro disconnecting and you can use more force, but if it's the wrong foam, it'll sound like foam tearing). Set this foam aside.
Step 3: Locate the front of the cheek pad and hook your thumb under it, then pull up and peek down to see a metal snap. If the metal snap isn't there, stop and check elsewhere. It should be about 1/4" from the bottom edge of the helmet, at the front of the cheek pad. If you find it, unsnap it and life the plastic board with the cheek pad out slowly, so as to move it about 1" down & forward.
Step 4: Locate the torq bolts (one on each side) for the rubber gasket that runs around the lower edge of the helmet. Remove it, being careful that if the nut from the backside drops out, you can catch it (it shouldn't drop out, but may). Set the bolts aside in a safe place. Remove the rubber gasket. Step 5: If you didn't put the foam cover back over the speaker, do so now. Place the speaker in the hole where the foam ear section was, pressing the velcro on the speaker against the velcro on the plastic backing of the cheekpad to set it in place. Don't reattach the cheekpad snap yet!
Step 5: Repeat steps 1 through 4 on the other side.
Step 6: Route the connection wire that runs between the speakers around the rearward edge of the cheekpads, and in the groove between the helmet padding and the helmet shell around the back. You'll probably need to push it up into the gap by a 1/2" or more to get it to stay there.
Step 7: Route the wire that connects the headphones to the music source around the inside of side of the helmet (same path as the wire that connects the speakers), and then across the shell, so it passes out of the helmet about 3/4 of the way around towards the back.
Step 8: Reattach the rubber gasket, so that the wire between the speakers is hidden and the wire to the music source fits between the gasket and the shell securely. Make sure that any connectors on the gasket are back in place, then reattach the torq bolts into place.
Step 9: Move the cheekpads back into place, tugging lightly on the chinstaps to keep them tight (they pass through a hole in the backing for the cheekpads). Snap the cheekpad into it's snap.
Step 10: put on the helmet and listen to the sound to test the system!
Note: If you use earbud speakers instead of over-the-ear speakers, or have speakers that don't consume the space the ear foam used, place the ear foam removed in step two back into place, nestling the ear buds inbetween the foam and the other padding.
Note: Nolan manufactures their shells from Acrylic. I do not recommend drilling acrylic shells to pass wires through the shell, as the heat and stress induced by drilling can ruin the integrity of the shell.
Instructions - Other Brands of Helmets:
Step 1: Open the flip-up face plate, if present;
Step 2: Determine how the padding is held in place and what it is made of. If there is a seperate cheekpadding piece, and/or separate earfoam piece in the helmet, use the nolan instructions and modify them as necessary. If you do this for another brand, please feel free to send me the information on exactly how you did it afterwards, and I'll add it to this page.
Step 3: Remove the rubber gasket the runs along the bottom edge of the helmet. If glued in place, be aware that you will need glue to replace it.
Step 4: Place the helmet on your head (without strapping it down) and place your thumbs where your ears are. Remove the helmet while keeping your thumbs in place. Mark the location of your thumbs with masking tape or permanent marker, so you will know where to center the speakers when you install them.
Step 5: Remove the padding as necessary (if you have a single-assembly, remove all the padding). Note, if the padding is glued in place, you may have to reglue it.
Step 6: for styrafoam padding, cut the styrafoam out to match the exact size and shape of the speaker, and place several holes between the cut-out and the interior fabric through the styrafoam to permit the sound to travel. . For foam padded helmets, decide if you need to cut/modify the foam, or if it will compress enough to permit the speaker to sit in place without modification. Usually, for such helmets, I have to cut the foam about half the size of the speaker.
Step 7: On the inside of the shell, place sticky-backed male velcro to match where the speaker will attach, so as to hold it when you reassemble everything (and keep it from vibrating against the shell).
Step 8: insert the speaker into the hole you made, and route the wire between the speakers across the top of the head if feasible, or across the back if not, so that it sits atop of the padding. Tape the wire down in a couple places with little strips of duct tape to prevent it from moving once reassembled.
Step 9: examine the shell of your helmet. If it is made of acrylic, fiberglass, kevlar, amorid, or any material which contains any of the previous, do NOT drill any holes in the shell. If your shell is made of thermal plastic (black plastic, of the same type as the headband), you have the option of drilling or cutting a small notch for the wire to exit the helmet if you would prefer (as well as using a grommet to fill the hole). I specifically DO NOT recommended drilling a hole in a motorcycle helmet to anyone, but I have done this on previous helmets, especially for CB's/Walkie Talkies, to not strain the wire. If you're not planning on drilling, route the wire to the music source about 3/4 of the way around to the back of the padding and place a strip of tape there to hold it.
Step 10: reinsert the padding, glueing if necessary.
Step 11: run the wire to the music source out of the helmet and then insert the rubber gasket/seam that runs across the bottom edge of the helmet, using the rubber gasket to hold the wire in place. Gluing may be necessary, depending on the construction of your helmet.
Step 12: allow all glues to dry and set before putting on the helmet, to prevent breathing bad fumes.
Step 13: put on your helmet and plug in your speakers to the music source. Listen to test.

Use the instructions above, but include a cut out for the mike in the chin-piece. I'll post more on this as soon as get my hands on the Motorola walkie-talkies and headset's I'm planning on using for this set of helmets.

Hearing Loss Prevention:
By using a set of good ear plugs (NRR 25 or higher recommended for 70 mph) in conjunction with your speakers, you can help prevent serious hearing loss. The earplugs will quiet down the noise from both the speakers and the wind noise around you, so it actually makes the music AND the road noises you need to pay attention to easier to hear (for the same reason that it's easier to hear a very quiet conversation in a library than it is to hear a louder one in a crowded resteraunt or rock concert -- your brain has an easier time picking out the signals with fewer distractions). We sell some of the best hearing protection available at a dirt-cheap price -- click here to see our hearing protection offer.
KNOW THIS: The raw sound of wind passing over a helmet at 90 mph can induce permanent hearing damage within 15 minutes -- with or without stereo speakers trying to compete.

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