Sena Momentum review: A solid, smart helmet built around an awesome Bluetooth system
We've been hanging out for this one; Sena has been making excellent motorcycle Bluetooth comms systems for many years, and now it has started manufacturing its own, fully integrated smart helmets. We've been riding with the Momentum for a few weeks, here are our impressions.
We have long been fans of Sena's Bluetooth motorcycle headsets, but at the end of the day, a clip-on or clamp-on device hanging off the side of your lid can only be so good. Sena decided to attack this problem in two ways. Firstly, the company began working with helmet manufacturers to design headsets that fit perfectly inside specific lids without poking out and ruining the aerodynamics. The Sena 10U system is available for five different Shoei and Arai models currently, with more arriving in the near future.
Secondly, Sena decided to take matters into its own hands and control the entire user experience by manufacturing its own range of fully integrated smart helmets, the Momentum series.
There are four full-face lids in this series. Our review unit is the middle-of-the-road Momentum, a helmet built around a communications system with a feature set almost identical to the terrific Sena 20S headset we've been using for many years now: up to 8-way audio conferencing through a bike-to-bike intercom with about a mile's (1.6 km) worth of range, dual Bluetooth connections so you can have background music going while the intercoms are on, and voice commands for hands-free control of critical features.
You can drop down to the Momentum Lite, which has a more basic single-Bluetooth intercom system, or move upwards to the Momentum INC, which includes active noise canceling technology, or the Momentum Pro, which is basically the regular Momentum with a QHD video camera plonked on top.
The Momentum as a helmet
The Momentum offers a fairly neutral head shape that fits the author's dropped pie of a head quite snugly. The sizing seems true, the size chart suggesting a large which works well for me. In order to keep noise to a minimum for the benefit of the microphone, it uses quite a lot of padding, including a neck roll, chin curtain and beefy cheek pads. Getting it on and off takes a bit of effort but won't require a midwife.
Peripheral vision is good, extending at least 180 degrees, and the intercom controls are a set of three buttons arranged vertically toward the rear left of the helmet. In terms of weight, its 1,690 g (3.7 lb) put it on the heavier end of the scale for a full-face helmet, but it's by no means a brick.
In order to keep prices down, Sena has specified the Momentum as a mid-range lid without the use of any fancy fabrics in the interior. No matter; it might not have the high-end feel of a premium lid but it's as comfy as anything else in the mid-range and doesn't make a pain of itself at any point over the course of a day on the bike. The washable liner pops in and out easily if you're into that sort of thing, but personally I quite enjoy my own musky head-scent. It smells of road trips and beery nights with friends, so I rarely bother to wash them.
Particularly notable are the luxuriously large ear cutouts. I run a 20S kit on my Nolan N104 flip face, and the speakers poke out just far enough to irritate my ears, particularly when I'm on the bike for a few days. It's quite the opposite with the Momentum; my ears feel like they're hanging in space with only soft fabric touching them.
There are no cut-outs for glasses, though. The frames of my sunnies fit in beside the soft foam at the temples easily enough to be totally comfy on a commute, but I wouldn't be surprised if it gets annoying over the course of a long day.
Not to mention, there's no drop-down sun visor, so plenty of people will be wearing sunnies in this lid. Others might choose to get a dark visor, in which case they'll probably be happy with the simple lever-pull visor release system used here.
The Momentum comes with a visor that's ready to accept a Pinlock 120 anti-fog strip – but it's not included, and will run you an extra US$30 to buy. Without it, this lid fogs up. A lot, when it's dealing with my moist, gaseous expulsions. There's a nice-looking breath deflector over the nose, but it's just not enough when the temperature drops.
On one cold, wet ride, things got foggy enough that I had to ride with the visor wide open, squinting to keep the rain from hammering my eyeballs. Not good. You can set the visor to sit slightly ajar, but that did nothing for me. If you ever ride in the cold or the rain, you'll need to treat the visor or go get yourself a Pinlock insert. I think Sena should seriously consider including one, even if it bumps the price up a bit.
On the road, the Momentum is reasonably quiet as well as comfortable. I'm testing it in the middle of winter, so I can't comment on whether it gets hot, but I can't say I notice a huge amount of airflow from the vents.
In terms of initial build quality, I'd give the Momentum a solid B+. It's not hard to find a few small niggles in the construction, like some slight buckling in the rubber around the visor seal, or an odd, slightly uneven ring around the bottom of the lid, or a slightly loose vent mechanism on the top, or the fact that after the first time you remove the chin curtain, it never feels quite as snug again. I wouldn't consider any of these worth complaining about, and to be honest I expected to find more problems in a company's first run of helmets.
The Momentum as a Bluetooth system
You'll note I haven't said much about the comms system yet. I barely feel like I need to. Sena might be brand new to helmet manufacturing but this company has been making top-quality Bluetooth gear for many years. With the chance to develop the whole lid around its comms system, Sena has made this thing exactly as good as you'd imagine.
The Momentum packs in enough battery to offer a monstrous 20 hours of talk time on the intercoms. That's about 50 percent more than the 20S can do, and the 20S lasts me about a week's worth of commuting or two decent length days on tour. Battery-wise this thing is a juggernaut, this feels like a late 90s-era Nokia that you charge once a week, and only if you can be bothered. The only drawback is that because you so rarely need to charge it, you tend to forget to. It might not be a bad idea for Sena to build a battery level warning into the shutdown sound, so the minute you get off your bike, you'll know if it needs a charge.
I'm normally a fan of the jog dial-style control system on the 20S rather than the three-button setup on this helmet, but it took me all of two rides to adjust to the control scheme. And I think it's 100 percent the right choice for a fully integrated lid, especially after experiencing what something the size of the 20S can do to a helmet's aerodynamics above 280 km/h (174 mph). The buttons are easy to find and operate, and if you're familiar with the SMH-10R sports intercom system, you're pretty much ready to go. Even if you forget, there's a decent list of voice commands you can access by saying "Hello Sena" into the mic.
I was a little worried to see the Momentum doesn't use a boom-style microphone, instead going for a pad-style thing tucked away behind the chin bar. I have strong memories of kicking a buddy out of a five-strong group intercom chat on a tour once, because he used the flat pad sticker mic on his 20S instead of the boom, and the constant wind noise drove the rest of us to the brink of homicide.
This doesn't seem to be a problem with the Momentum lids. I've spoken to several people over the phone who had no idea I was riding a motorcycle, and this held true up to freeway speeds, whether the visor is open or shut. Perhaps the padded neck roll, chin curtain and cheek padding keep enough wind out of the lid to prevent it from being a problem, or perhaps this mic simply doesn't have the same wind noise issues my buddy's mic did. I haven't tried removing the padding to see if the wind noise comes back, and I likely won't until things warm up a bit here.
In terms of audio, the Momentum sounds to me simply like a terrific implementation of what we've already heard with the 20S. The speakers, tucked nicely away in the shell as they are, appear a little larger in diameter than those on the 20S, and as such there's a small increase in volume and low end, which is welcome when listening to music. It's the best motorcycle audio system I've heard, but not by a huge margin. Somebody's going to put some proper bass speakers in a helmet one day and blow this away – but to be honest I can't see anybody better placed to achieve this than Sena.
I ride with earplugs in, so an audio system needs a bit of grunt to get through. The Momentum pounds out enough volume to do the job, particularly once you enable "Audio Boost" in the Sena smartphone app. Give me too much, and the ability to turn it down, over too little any day of the week, at least until Dan Carlin learns to use a compressor on his podcast audio.
Pairing with other intercoms, whether Sena or otherwise, is as easy to initiate, and as vague to complete, as ever. Phone and device pairing, by comparison, is extremely quick and painless. Holding down the center button for three seconds gives you access to Google Assistant, Siri or Bixby depending on what phone you're running, and gives you access to a whole heap of voice-activated features on your smartphone, including your full address book of contacts. The intercom works flawlessly as long as you're within line of sight of whoever you're talking to – and the fact that the range is slightly down from what the 20S is capable of rarely matters to me, because I rarely find myself riding more than a few hundred metres in front of my riding companions in clear and open terrain.
All in all, the Bluetooth gear is as good as you'd expect, with great audio, a good clear microphone and a system built into the helmet so perfectly that you can barely find a tucked-away wire anywhere, even if you go hunting.
The Momentum is shipping now for US$449. Considering that the 20S Evo Bluetooth headset on its own costs US$300, that means you're getting the rest of the helmet for US$150 – and I'd argue that without the Bluetooth gear it feels like a very good helmet for the price.
In plain matt black or white, it won't stand out on the shelf, but its fully integrated electronics most certainly stand out on the road, and a more daring color scheme is about the easiest upgrade Sena could make to its product line. There are certainly some nice lines to work with in the shell's exterior shape.
The Momentum is a significant product. It's Sena's first outing as a helmet manufacturer, and one of the first truly functional and complete "smart helmets" to hit the market, at a time when everyone and his dog is claiming to have some kind of multifunction HUD helmet working on the test bench.
It's the best Bluetooth system Sena's ever made, with (slightly) superior audio, a gargantuan battery, zero aerodynamic penalty to pay, and a beautifully tidy installation you don't have to do yourself.
On the other hand, helmets do have a shelf life, and you can't pull the guts out of the Momentum and stick them into your next helmet the way you can with a clamp-on unit like the 20S. Bang your head on the ground once, and you've likely got to turf out the whole thing.
Still, color us impressed. The Momentum is an excellent start for Sena, albeit a long time in the making, and we look forward to seeing how it shakes things up.
Product page: Sena