You might not think of a bike helmet as a technology product, but in the case of the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet you would be wrong. Not only does the technology built into the helmet make your bike ride more of a pleasure, it also brings in a whole new level of safety. If you read one of my previous GeekDad articles on cycling, you will know that with the amount of road cycling that I do that safety is a huge factor for me when looking at cycling products.
So what is the Coros™ LINX? At its core, the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet is a highly ventilated bike helmet (which is important for me here in Florida). But then there are all the features that earn this product its “smart” moniker:
- Bluetooth-enabled helmet that connects to your smartphone
- Control via a wireless smart remote on your handlebars
- Listen to your music with bone conduction headphones built into the helmet straps
- Notify an emergency contact automatically if your helmet detects a fall
- Receive phone calls
- Listen to navigation directions
- Talk to fellow group riders using a Walkie Talkie mode (requires an additional accessory purchase)
- Map your ride, favorite routes, and automatically share with services like Strava and Map My Ride
You might think that a product like the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet with all of its connectivity and features would be difficult to set up, but that isn’t the case at all. Setup is a simple as charging up the helmet, installing the Coros smartphone app (available for both iOS and Android), powering on the helmet, and pairing your phone via Bluetooth to the helmet. The app on your smartphone then connects your helmet and the wireless smart controller to your phone and everything just works. Power on the helmet, select the music you want to listen to on your phone, and you are ready to ride!
The entire setup process took me less than 30 seconds (2 minutes if you count the next critical step). The most important setup function within the smartphone app is identifying your emergency contact in case your helmet detects an impact. This involves adding the name and phone number of a family member or friend you want to immediately be notified by the app if a crash is detected. Depending on your needs, you can even customize the app further. The Coros app can also control other functions like saving your ride data, sharing and saving routes, and connecting with other services like Strava and Map My Ride. These are really great features if you are into these types of cycling social networks or ride through some pretty complicated routes.
What is Bone Conduction?
Bone conduction turns audio into vibrations that go straight into your inner ear from the tabs in your helmet straps. Normal audio that enters your ear gets converted from sound waves into vibrations by your eardrum. Vibrations from the eardrum are then sent to the cochlea (also known as the inner ear) and that is connected to the auditory nerve which sends the sound signals to your brain. Bone conduction bypasses your eardrum and transmits the vibrations straight to your inner ear by sending vibrations into your jaw bone. Bone conduction is actually a pretty old concept. Beethoven (an 18th century composer who was almost completely deaf) used a rod clenched in his teeth that was attached to his piano to “hear” the piano while he played. It’s only within the last few years that the personal audio market has been developing products specifically for outdoor activities to take advantage of this audio transmission capability. The benefit to bone conduction is that normal audio can still be heard right along side the vibrations that are being sent to your inner ear, which means you can hear all the sounds around you AND enjoy your music all at the same time (it’s no longer an either/or proposition).
If you are a road cyclist, being able to hear every little sound around you can mean the difference between a nice relaxing ride and a trip to the hospital (or worse). When you are one of the smallest and most vulnerable objects on the road, you need to be paying attention, and the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet helps in a couple of ways. The obvious way is that it allows you to listen to music on long rides while not blocking out any of the ambient sounds of the road. But the other less obvious thing this does (for me at least) is that it allows me to maintain concentration better while riding. If I don’t listen to music while I ride, I can sometimes zone out, and that can lead to me not concentrating on the road as much and not exerting myself on the bike as much. So being able to listen to music safely while on the bike is a huge plus for me.
What About Sound Quality?
Bone conduction, because of the way it converts sound into vibrations, is not going to give you the same rich sound quality a good pair of headphones will be able to provide. Traditionally a good rich bass is produced by moving air, and that air movement is created from low-frequency vibrations. I’m not going to pretend to be an audio expert and I didn’t even sleep in a Holiday Inn Express last night, but I suspect the lower frequency bass vibrations are just harder to produce and transmit in a bone conduction sound system. So the biggest difference between standard headphones and bone conduction sound (at least for me) is the amount of bass. Before I started using the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet, I used a pair of Jaybird Bluetooth headphones and would use just the right earpiece so that my left ear was open to hear ambient road noise. Even though the Jaybirds would nominally seal in my ear very well and produce relatively good bass, the ear bud would inevitably slip as the ride progressed and I started to sweat. So the bass I would get out of my single earpiece would diminish significantly. Now, with the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet, I am getting better overall sound quality than I was getting with the improperly-sealed Jaybird earpiece and I’m getting that sound in both my ears. The sound quality is good enough to keep me motivated throughout my ride and more than good enough for receiving a short phone call or listening to audio directions (and I tried out both). There is a limit to how loud the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet can go, but I found it was loud enough except for two extreme cases: when riding in the vicinity of a train or when riding directly into a very strong headwind and the wind noise overcomes the audio.
Protection and Safety
As I mentioned before, at the heart of the Coros LINX™ Smart Helmet is very protective helmet. Coros helmets are certified in the United States by the CPSC (Consumer Protection Safety Commission) and in Europe and Australia by their safety governing agencies, so they provide the same level of protection as every other certified bike helmet. But if you fall off of your bike, the helmet senses the fall and communicates with the app on your phone to automatically send a message to your emergency contact. If you are in a crash with your helmet, Coros will offer you a replacement helmet at a discount (all bicycle helmets must be replaced after a significant impact to them in order to ensure the helmet structure is intact enough to provide your head adequate protection). And one other nice safety add-on for the Coros is an optional reflective sticker you can apply to the back of the helmet to make you more easily seen by others while you are out on the road (and I opted to install this sticker immediately).
The Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet provides all the primary features I need in a helmet (protection, ventilation, comfort) and then it gives you extra features (bone conduction audio, phone calls, directions, emergency contact notification) and it does all of this while maintaining a sleek “non-geeky” look and for a reasonable price. The Coros LINX™ Smart Helmet isn’t any more expensive than a higher-end road cycling helmet and it provides so many additional features that in my opinion are more than worth the extra cost. I love to ride my bike and anytime I can make that activity just a little bit safer and more comfortable I will do it.
If you or someone you know is a cyclist, please consider the Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet as your next helmet. I’m not recommending this helmet just so Coros can sell more of their product. I truly believe you will be safer on the road with this helmet. As much as I love technology, the killer feature of this helmet is the extra safety it provides the rider and that is a feature that every cyclist needs.
Disclaimer: Coros provided me with a Coros™ LINX Smart Helmet for the purposes of this review.