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by Matt de Neef
January 15, 2015
In this review CyclingTips editor Matt de Neef takes a look at the LifeBeam Smart Helmet, a helmet with an integrated heartrate monitor.
At first glance the LifeBeam Smart Helmet looks just like the Lazer Genesis it is built on. That is until you notice the solid panel at the back and the sensor unit inside the front of the helmet.
The optical sensor unit sits snugly on your forehead when you put the helmet on, reading heartrate data and passing it through to the LifeBeam’s “brain” at the back. This data is then transmitted via ANT+ to a compatible device, such as a Garmin head unit.
The sensor itself feels soft and is able to move around a little, meaning it doesn’t feel like you’ve got something jabbing into your head while you’re riding. In fact, I stopped noticing the sensor within a minute of putting the helmet on.
The helmet is adjustable as per a standard Lazer Genesis, thanks to the RollSys Retention System. For those unfamiliar, this is simply a rolling wheel on top of and at the back of the helmet which can be used to tighten or loosen the helmet’s fit.
In the several months of testing I never got used to the idea of charging my helmet before riding. Of course you don’t need to charge the helmet for it to fulfil it’s primary role — protecting your head — but it’s still weird plugging a USB cable into the back of your helmet.
It’s similarly weird turning the helmet’s heartrate monitor on and off before and after a ride. The beeping sounds made by the helmet are a little different to a Garmin Edge unit, say, and on several occasions I had riding buddies turn my way and ask “what was that?”
There’s a blue LED-lit bar on the back of the helmet which indicates battery charge. LifeBeam claims one charge will last between 13 and 15 hours. My testing shows that to be fairly accurate, although when compared with a CR2032 button battery used in a standard heartrate strap, the battery life here feels a little short. Then again, the battery is rechargeable.
I didn’t spend a lot of time testing the accuracy of the heartrate data captured by the LifeBeam helmet but, based on the readings it returned while doing familiar efforts it seems accurate, or at least concordant with the Garmin heartrate strap I was using previously. DC Rainmaker, in one of his typically detail-rich reviews found the LifeBeam produced very similar results to other heartrate devices on the market.
The main appeal of the LifeBeam Smart Helmet is that you can track your heartrate without having to wear a heartrate strap, which some riders find restrictive and uncomfortable. I’ve never found chest straps to be hugely problematic, but I still feel this helmet is more comfortable than a heartrate strap. It means one less thing to pack in your kit bag. It does mean, however, that you have to remember to charge your helmet.
I’m interested in the LifeBeam Smart Helmet as much for the direction these products seem to be headed in as I am in the product itself. It’s not hard to imagine a range of other devices being integrated into helmets in future, including crash sensors, lights, and who knows what else. Exciting times.
The LifeBeam Smart Helmet retails for a little less than $300. There’s also a 2015 edition which seems to have a slightly longer battery life, a new Lazer Genesis design and a few other tweaks as well.
On balance, I can’t see any compelling reason not to go for a helmet like this. If you like the Lazer Genesis design and you don’t particularly want to wear a heartrate strap, you can’t really go wrong.