Regular readers know that I am a fan of gadgets. If it is a cycling gadget, I am truly hooked.
I read some reviews of the LifeBEAM helmet. The technology intrigued me. Optical sensors read pulse signals directly from the forehead, and state of the art algorithms then remove ‘motion-generated noise’, process all the data in real time and send accurate heart rate numbers to a mobile device.
The prospect of no longer having a heart rate monitor strapped to my chest appealed to me. The fact that this technology was initially developed by LifeBEAM to monitor the vital signs of pilots and astronauts only added to it’s appeal. I logged on to the LifeBeam site, invoked that financial facilitator known as Paypal, and ordered a helmet.
The helmet arrived with a few extras. A cloth carrying bag, and this carry on carbon case. Most unusual for a cycling helmet was of course the micro USB charging cable.
The optical sensor and electronics module are built into a Lazer Genesis helmet. From the side the helmet looks like any other unmodified Lazer Genesis, apart from the discreet LifeBEAM logo.
The view from the rear reveals the dark grey electronics module, including a triangular light-grey flap that covers the micro USB charging port, and the blue status light. Barely visible below the status light is the power button.
The optical sensor is inside the front edge of the helmet, surrounded by a gel pad.
The optical sensor must be resting against the skin of your forehead, not too tight or too loose. If you wear a helmet liner or a skull cap, it must not obstruct with the sensor. You will have to find the sweet spot where the helmet fits comfortably and the heart rate is being displayed.
The helmet comes with both ANT+ and Bluetooth 4.0 connectivity. So it will pair with all Garmin devices, as well as Suunto, Timex, and other ANT+ enabled watches. On the Bluetooth side the helmet will pair with mobile phones, and is therefore usable with the slew of iOS and Android cycling, running and general fitness apps.
Initial setup was simple. Charge the battery, turn on the electronics, and pair the helmet with your device of choice.
On my Garmin Edge 705 I went into the Settings > ANT+Sport > Accessories menu and selected Restart Scan. The Edge 705 picked up the transmission from the helmet in seconds.
The Lazer Genesis is a comfortable and well-ventilated helmet. The fit is easily adjusted with Lazer’s Rollsys retention system. The optical sensor is unnoticeable. Wearing the LifeBEAM Smart helmet is like wearing any other helmet. The only difference being the added 40g / 1.4oz weight of the electronics. And that it transmits my heart rate to my Edge 705.
This helmet does exactly what I had hoped it would. I can track my heart rate data, (essential for generating Strava Suffer Scores), without wearing a chest strap. There is no discernible difference between the heart rates transmitted from the helmet and those from my chest strap mounted heart rate monitor. And “yes” the helmet is more comfortable than the chest strap.
The helmet comes with one other useful extra that chest straps do not offer. Lazer have developed an LED light that fits inside the Rollsys thumb wheel. You turn the light on and off, and switch between constant and flashing modes, by pushing on the clear lens cover.
I unreservedly recommend the LifeBEAM Smart helmet. Both for the excellent integration of optical sensor technology into a cycling helmet, and for the outstanding customer support I received when I had a problem with my helmet.
The first helmet I received worked impeccably on rides of less than two hours or so. But on longer rides the helmet would either stop transmitting to my Edge 705, flat line at some arbitrary heart rate, or it would transmit erratic heart rate data.
An email to LifeBEAM support produced a quick response. Over the next few weeks a regular exchange ensued as the support team troubleshot the problem. They looked at Strava data files from my longer rides, and conducted some diagnostic tests during a Skype chat session.
Despite the best efforts of the support team, the helmet continued to behave erratically on longer rides. The suspect was a faulty optical sensor. So LifeBEAM quickly did what all customers would expect when equipment malfunctions right out of the box. They provided a replacement helmet, free of charge.
My replacement helmet arrived two weeks ago. It has performed faultlessly, no matter how long the ride. The optical sensor has been unaffected by rain, and the copious amounts of sweat off my forehead.
The LifeBeam Smart helmet is a winner.