Review: Sena R1 Bluetooth helmet will get cyclists talking
Back in 2016, Sena unveiled its Bluetooth intercom-equipped Smart Helmet, which allowed multiple cyclists to communicate while riding. It became the mountain biking-oriented Sena X1, with the road-oriented R1 coming out just recently. The company sent us a pair of the latter to try for ourselves.
The helmet's big selling feature is that up to four R1-wearing cyclists can be linked together by Bluetooth 4.1, chatting with one another via the helmet's above-ear-mounted stereo speakers and front-mounted mic. This is set up through a relatively simple pairing process – or at least it's simple with two helmets, which is what we had.
Users proceed to just speak and listen as they ride, without having to press any "call" buttons when they talk. The claimed communications range is up to half a mile (900 m) with a clear line of sight, although we suspect that figure refers to a scenario in which four R1's are spaced apart along the road, relaying Bluetooth signals from one to the other – in our experience with the two helmets, the signal became garbled even when they were only one city block apart. That said, the mic's electronic noise control system is very good at filtering out the wind noise that's generated when riding.
Upon being paired with a smartphone, the R1 also allows wearers to listen to music (along with skipping between songs), make/receive phone calls, hear GPS navigational directions, or receive real-time stats from fitness apps. We found that it performed such functions just fine, although the audio quality of the two little speakers resulted in the music sounding a tad tinny – you're probably not going to end up wearing the helmet around the house, using it like a pair of headphones.
Speaking of which, safety-conscious riders should like the fact that the R1's open-ear design lets users hear their music, but also hear the sound of nearby traffic. And even if they don't have a phone with them, the helmet's 10-preset FM radio still allows for plentiful tunes. Admittedly, though, the music could still be a bit of a distraction.
All of the functions are controlled by just three rubberized buttons, located on the left-hand side of the helmet. This means the initial learning curve is a bit steep, as users have to memorize which combination of button-pushes do which things. Additionally, since users can't see those buttons when they're riding, they have to do everything by touch.
Weight-wise, the Medium-sized helmet we received matched the company's claim of 380 grams – for comparison, regular road helmets are more in the mid to high 200s. Approximately 12 hours of talk time is provided by one 3.5-hour USB charge of the lithium-polymer battery.
If you like the sounds of the Sena R1, and aren't banking on the half-mile range thing, you can currently get one in a choice of three colors for US$129. Versions with a 1080p/60fps video camera and MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection) technology are also on the way.
Product page: Sena R1