Published by Andrew on 2 October 2018
Richard Peace reviews the Sena R1 'smart helmet', which uses Bluetooth technology so you can talk with other riders or listen to music on your bike.
Sena R1 Smart Helmets
Priced at €259
Sena is a company that specialises in Bluetooth communications – previously applying hands-free communication to the world of motorbike helmets and industrial applications such as Bluetooth earphones.
We tried a pair of Sena R1 road styled cycling helmets billed as allowing smartphone connectivity via Bluetooth so that cyclists can listen to music, GPS navigation, make and answer phone calls, receive data from fitness apps via HD quality speakers and also to be able speak to each other via Bluetooth Intercom.
This could be particularly useful in France, where the use of headphones and mobile phones while cycling is outlawed.
The electronic aspects of the helmets are nicely integrated, so much so that it’s not obvious at first glance that these are anything other than regular cycle helmets. They fit comfortably with plenty of adjustment via the chinstrap and the familiar ‘dial’ mechanism that means the inner cradle can be expanded or contracted at will. Look closer and you see three buttons on the rear of the helmet that control all its functions. The microphone is hidden in the helmet rim above your head and the speakers similarly, above each ear.
I tried out the intercom with my sister, who is getting back into riding after a serious knee operation and needs to build up ability and confidence in a variety of situations. The helmets worked superbly and were extremely useful, meaning we could communicate easily and clearly at the push of a button. For example, she was able to ask questions and I was able to guide her through road traffic to a safer cycle path. Without the helmets we would have needed to shout above wind noise and traffic and simply couldn’t have communicated to the same degree.
The intercom can be used for up to four riders to communicate with each other, range permitting; we found in open countryside that to be around 500m, though it can degrade quite quickly to around a quarter of that in very built up environments.
We also tested the phone call function. Once paired with your phone, receiving a call simply means pressing the middle button whilst riding, though making outgoing calls is restricted to the last number dialled. There is also the option of listening to radio or linking to your own music from a digital music player. Again the sound was crisp and clear for both callers, with little or no noise interference from wind (even at around 20mph) or heavy passing traffic.
All the functions are accessible by pressing various combinations of the three helmet buttons (though will probably want to refer to the online guide just for a little while to familiarise yourself with them). I didn’t test the GPS function so I can’t comment on its effectiveness or usefulness.
Disadvantages? Well, you have to wear a helmet in the first place and of course not everyone likes doing that.
Also, range is the big limiter of the intercom when compared to using your smartphone.
But overall the R1 helmets look like a really useful devices for those who regularly wear helmets and want to stay in touch with other group riders while on their bike.
Of course they should be used sensibly – in very busy traffic it may be advisable not to take phone calls or listen to music at all and you should also note if you have the speaker volume turned up loud to overcome traffic noise, close passers by may be able to hear your phone conversation.
Overall, though, this is modern technology applied in a clever and effective way.
Sena R1 Smart Helmets
Priced at €259
About our reviewer
Richard Peace is the author of the official English-language guidebook to the Veloscenie Paris-Mont-Saint Michel bike route and the Sustrans guide to the London-Paris Avenue Verte. He also contributes to A to B magazine, Bike Europe and Eurobike Show Daily.