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).
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...
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
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
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
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
||Over 90 MPH
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.
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
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
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
- a yellow speaker support board (holds the speaker
within the blue surround - reuse);
- the speaker itself (obviously, we'll need this
- 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
- 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
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 &
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
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
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.
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
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
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
Instructions - Nolan N100/N100E/Other Nolan
Step 1: Open the flip-up face plate, if
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
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 &
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
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
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
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
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
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
Step 10: reinsert the padding, glueing if
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
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.