SENA X1 HELMETS
Sena Technologies Inc., known for their great communications devices for motorcycle helmets, has just announced the new X1 bicycle helmet. It features a built-in microphone and speakers, allowing you to communicate with other riders wearing Sena helmets, or listen to your music, use for wireless and hands-free phone calls, or it even has a built-in FM radio.
DOES IT WORK
We first checked out these helmets at the company’s booth at the Sea Otter Classic this past spring. We were impressed by the sound quality and thought they’d be useful. At the time, they were prototypes and we couldn’t take any with us. They sent us three to test out, to see what it’s like to live with them and see what they’re like in the real world.
Setup is simple, you can go to their YouTube channel and watch their instructional videos, or download the Sena app which has an easy-to-understand guide. There are only three buttons on the side of the helmet to control it, and there are combination button presses to do various things. We found it far easier to watch videos or use the app than to try to understand their included manual.
Once set up, pairing with a phone to stream music, etc. is straightforward and easy. It has a built-in FM radio, and can play not only music from your phone, it can also play GPS directions and cues from fitness apps simultaneously. The intercom isn’t fully hands-free, to communicate you will have to touch the center button to engage it, then once again to go back to whatever it was set to before (music, not hearing you panting as you climb steep hills, etc.). There are options for handlebar mounted controls so you don’t have to take your hands off the grips to press the helmet buttons.
It’s lighter than you might expect with all this technology, weighing in at 400 g and offering 12 vent holes for airflow. It’s quite comfortable on longer rides.
When we first set it up, music started playing for a few seconds, and then a phone call came in. Upon answering, it was as clear as having a decent pair of headphones in, yet there was nothing covering the ears and outside sounds were clear. The speakers are directly above your ears, and they’ve done their homework to create a way to play sound perfectly clear to your ears. The microphone for the system is straight up from your nose at the front of the helmet. It also does a fantastic job, even in wind while riding.
If you do like listening to music while you ride, it works well. We were able to listen to music and talk to other riders and hikers along the trail, and hear them clearly without having to pause the music. There’s no issue with wind noise when bombing down a hill or on a windy ride, either.
Communication is easy to set up once you know how, and you can pair up to 4 helmets. The connectivity with the phone or with other helmets is done using Bluetooth 4.1. The crazy thing is that the Bluetooth 4.1 spec is to be able to cover a distance of up to 10 meters (33 feet). That’s perfect for a keyboard or a mouse or a wireless speaker at home. But on a bike? 4 people within 33 feet? You might as well just talk amongst yourselves.
Yet somehow, Sena has figured out how to make that range up to 900 meters. Nine hundred meters! We think that might involve witchcraft. However they’ve done it, it gets better. It can be 900 meters between each radio, and they all act as relays between. That means there can be up to 900 meters between each rider. In practice, we found that the 900 meter mark was optimistic in town. It is good for a block or two before it starts getting crackly, but before that, the sound quality is outstanding!
Another cool feature is that you can share your music on the stream. If you and your riding buddies like the same music, this is really cool.
The helmet’s battery is rechargeable via a MicroUSB port near one of the speakers. That same port can be used to connect the helmet to your computer in case of future firmware upgrades.
There is a version coming out with a video camera built into the front for vloggers and those that like to record their rides for safety, and a mountain bike-specific version, as well. Prices haven’t been announced as this is written.
The helmet itself is fairly basic, but comfortable, and looks like it would provide the protection you buy a helmet for. The technology built into the helmet, however, is truly remarkable and innovative. This is our new favorite helmet set for rides. Being able to ride at different paces, yet still communicate with crystal clarity, is fantastic. Being able to clearly hear GPS, fitness apps, your friends and music, all with the safety of being able to hear your surroundings is amazing.
The Sena X1 is available in white, grey, black or blue in medium or large for $199. For more information, visit sena.com.