A new crop of smart helmets are betting you want your lid to be more than just a brain protecting bucket. Along with the usual safety features, they add hands-free speakers and microphones, app connectivity, intercom function, and even turn signals.
They aren’t riding an entirely new trail. Smart helmets have been around for a few years, but the technology is finally catching up with our expectation for intuitive ease. App integration makes them simple to work and customize and the audio is more robust than in the past. Now, instead of frustrating, they add another level of fun.
“Instant communication changes the way we ride,” says Kasey Clough, senior marketing specialist with Sean Technologies, a smart helmet manufacturer. “If you see something cool, you’re in the back and get a flat, or have something you want to say, you can chat in real time.”
For me talking to a friend, answering a call without pulling out my phone or even getting coaching (virtual or live) sounds great, but the real reason I’d buy one of these helmets is safety.
Integrated lights obviously help keep you seen and turn signaling brings a whole new level of communication with cars and pedestrians. Even removing ear buds can make riding safer. The speakers are typically tucked in the helmet just above the ears, allowing riders to hear ambient noise.
“Our helmets provide an alternative [to in-ear buds] that does not fully block out vital sounds, like traffic or callouts from other riders,” notes Clough.
Still, smart helmets couldn’t have prevented all the 857 fatal cycling accidents that happened on U.S. roads in 2018. But as the number continues to climb every year – the number climbed six percent from 2017 – anything that can make cycling safer will help. Since they cost just a little more than a comparable “dumb” helmet, it seems like a no-brainer.
There’s a smart lid for most types of riding:
For Mountain Biking
Livall BH MT1 – $139
Lightweight, well-vented, and on par with most off-trail focused lids, the MT1 makes it easy to communicate, even if you can’t. Integrated with your phone, it plays music or podcasts on a speaker over the ears. A touch point on the helmet answers phone calls. And you can talk to other riders, if they have a Livall helmet. Most importantly, if you take a bad bail a fall detection function automatically sends an alert to a designated contact, or press the SOS button in the app to call in a rescue.
Lumos Matrix – $280
This slick commuter focused helmet is all about being seen. There’s a light at the front that illuminates the way or flashes to alert oncoming traffic. At the back, a huge LED panel automatically gets brighter when braking. A handlebar mounted remote adds signaling: push left or right for turn lights and a longer press for a warning sound to alert pedestrians.
For Road Riding
Sena R1 – $129
Sena is the veteran of this category, starting with motorcycle helmets before diversifying into bikes in 2016. No surprise, their sound clarity is the best in class. Noise control features erase wind blur, keeping phone calls crystal clear and an intercom for talking with other riders that carries up to half a mile. Their system pairs well with fitness apps and FM radio, so you can get coaching and keep informed from the road.