The Sena R1 and Coros SafeSound Keep you Connected
While many people use cycling as an escape from all the technology trappings of modern life, the evolution of smart helmets has helped those who prefer remaining plugged in on the road. Thanks to category leaders Sena and Coros, staying connected has never been easier.
What makes the helmets “smart” is their ability to connect with a smartphone using integrated Bluetooth technology. Additionally, they also use speakers and often safety LED lights as well. When connected to a phone, a smart helmet can stream audio and give live route updates and info from fitness apps. However, the Sena R1 and
the Coros SafeSound have a few more features than the standard Bluetooth tech.
SENA: After first breaking into the motorcycle helmet market, Sena soon set its sights into the cycling market with the R1. Controlled via only three built-in buttons located on the left side of the shell, learning all the functions of the R1 takes some time, but that’s only because of all the features packed into the helmet. The R1 uses a speaker on the underside of the lip of the helmet near each ear and has a wind-resistant microphone on the front lip. With a claimed 12-hour battery life, we found ourselves charging the 381-gram R1 about once a week.
What separates the R1 from other smart helmets is its FM radio and intercom system. The FM radio is a feature we haven’t seen before, and it picks up nearly every station we are used to finding in our car. Of note, the ability to play music without burning our phone’s battery was appreciated. Saving the best for last, the R1’s integrated intercom system kept us playing with the helmet a bit longer than we should have. The intercom system can connect with up to three other Sena helmets and has a 900-meter range.
COROS: Building on the success of their crowdfunded Linx and Omni helmets we reviewed last year, Coros developed the SafeSound Road helmet with improved audio quality and a condensed LED taillight. The SafeSound keeps things simple with a single power button and a 10-hour battery. Coros brought the weight of the SafeSound down to 321 grams, about 30 grams less than the Omni.
For its audio, the SafeSound no longer uses the bone-conduction audio system that created such a buzz around the Omni and Linx. Instead, the SafeSound uses a channeled speaker located on each of the helmet straps around the front of the ears.
The SafeSound has a wind-resistant microphone located under the front lip of the helmet as well. Another feature carried over is Coros’ impact-detection technology. An emergency text will be sent out to a contact chosen in the Coros app when the helmet detects an impact while in use.
Included with the helmet is our favorite aspect of previous Coros helmets—the handlebar-mounted remote. While it is just another item filling the limited cockpit real estate, the remote enables you to take calls, adjust the volume and skip songs without removing your hands from the handlebars.
SENA: Setting up the Sena requires reading its manual more than once in order to understand the functions of the three buttons, and it did take us a few rides to learn how all the proper combos worked. All of this can be adjusted in the Sena Ride Connected app, but adjusting the settings on the road proved quicker without it. Once we mastered the buttons, the ability to flip from streaming music to calling out road hazards to our guys in the back of the group ride through the intercoms was invaluable.
The longer we used the intercom system, the more we forgot it was even a feature in the helmet, meaning when a call-out was necessary, we found ourselves only speaking loud enough for the sensitive microphone to pick it up instead of loud enough for the entire paceline to hear it.
We also enjoyed the radio function. While it does take a while to scroll through every station, once you find one of the 10 presets you prefer, pulling up tunes is quick. However, at speeds past 28 mph, the wind rush around the helmet overcomes the maximum volume, making listening to music on descents impossible.
With most of its weight towards the back, the R1 had us straining our necks on longer riders, and the helmet’s minimal venting could also be improved to increase airflow and save weight. A full USB charge takes about two and a half hours.
COROS: Once we paired the helmet with our phone and the remote, the SafeSound system was ready to roll. The SafeSound’s new audio system was noticeably clearer than the R1’s and seemed to have a higher maximum volume, but the wind rush overcame the audio at about 33 mph.
The minimalist LED taillight was only used as a spare due to its relatively low lumens; however, it is ideally placed and doesn’t throw off the balance of the helmet like the Omni previously did. Coros achieved a weight on the SafeSound close to other non-smart helmets like the Bell Z20, which is about the same price as well.
Aside from all of the tech, the SafeSound is well-ventilated, and while it is on the heavier side for a helmet, it is well-balanced and the lightest smart helmet we have tested to date. A full USB charge takes about two hours.
Both of the helmets make listening to audio and taking calls during a ride safer, and that’s what matters most. Both of the helmets also freed our ear canals so that we were able to hear traffic conditions clearer than with traditional headphones.
As far as overall ride comfort is concerned, the SafeSound feels more like a traditional road helmet than the R1. It’s well-balanced and breathes well. But, for a helmet that packs itself full of tech that enhances a ride, the R1 and its intercom system sets it apart—although a friend would be required to drop $129 to get the most out of the tech.
We also like the ability to control the SafeSound without removing our hands from the bar. The remote is always accessible and allows the least amount of interruption while pedaling. Sena offers a remote as well and costs less.
Both of these smart helmets served us best while commuting or riding solo. While Sena’s intercom system makes it viable for a group ride, anyone listening to music while riding in a group cannot fully be aware of the rolling situations, and we don’t encourage it.
SENA PUNCH LINES
• Integrated intercom
• Radio reception
• Buttons take a while to learn
COROS PUNCH LINES
• Well-balanced and breathable
• Handlebar remote controls
• Best audio quality in this test
Weight: 437 grams
Weight: 353 grams