We’ve got smart watches, smart cars, smart bikes… does a smart helmet make sense? Actually yes.
We all know that our ‘smart’ tech will become obsolete fairly fast, so the smart bike is not something I’d put money into (not an ebike – that’s different). We need a helmet anyway in New Zealand, so we want it to be comfortable (this one is a perfectly reasonable 319g in AS/NZS form) and moderately stylish, to meet safety standards, and hey, play music and make phone calls! We don’t mind obsolescence so much, because we either crash and replace or replace after two years for safety sake regardless. At the price point, we can afford to.
My first impressions were wow! It looks good and is light and comfortable. The packaging is quality, and the instructions were clear with barely any odd English. So as a gift, I’d be chuffed to receive it.
The main claim-to-fame of this helmet is that it has numerous safety features including built in tail lights and turn signals. I like the idea (ish) but in my view the implementation on this helmet is not quite universally useful. The lights aren’t bright enough to be effective in the day time, and I don’t think the turn signals are obvious enough to make a driver aware that we are about to do something – and indicating and simultaneously doing hand signals is too difficult. The convention is for cyclists to use hand signals, and they work – at least in the daylight. The lights and signals would be more effective in dim light or darkness (think rainy winter evening or bunch ride). If I were the designer, I’d perhaps have fewer LEDs and make them brighter and more obvious (so same battery drain, better daylight and distance visibility). The LED tail lights do a Knight Industries 2000 (KITT) impersonation, and you can change that via the free Livall App. The app also has a ‘bike computer’ capability which would be useful if you mounted it to your handlebars (Livall make a mount).
I did like the built-in speakers. Once you’ve hooked the helmet up to Bluetooth (which was easy and well documented), you simply play through your favourite music app. The Livall app also has a music player but relies on files on your phone so isn’t really needed. From the outside you can hardly hear the music, but it is quite loud from the wearer’s perspective. Obviously they are not doof-doof bassy, but that is a trade-off for being able to hear traffic and chirping birds, and to converse with other cyclists (or hear abuse from motorists!). There is also a speaker phone feature which worked OK too – I took a couple of calls on the fly and I could hear clearly, and other end could hear me if I shielded the mic from wind. I still don’t think you’ll want to make calls in the middle of a peloton.
I did have some issues with Bluetooth while riding. [Edit: Supplier suggests that this might be limited to my review unit as no-one else has had similar troubles so it was probably a dodgy review unit. Edit 19/1/17 – I noticed the same drop outs on my Garmin when I had the phone in my back pocket so I reckon it’s poor bluetooth on the Samsung S6].
There are other ‘smart’features including the ability to dial an emergency contact if you crash. There is little documentation about it and I wasn’t able to force it to do anything despite tossing it hard onto a cushion. Apparently if it detects a fall and you don’t move for 90s, something happens. If it is reliable then that is probably useful for solo riders.
As a pure helmet, I liked it. The review sample was a nice pearly white and is well finished. It is comfortable, well ventilated, weighs only 319g, adjusts well (54-62cm only) and generally feels like a quality product. It’s no POC Octal in it’s ventilation, but then that costs more than double without the smarts.
The companion device mounts on the handlebar and protrudes quite a way vertically. From here you can operate your turn signals, answer a phone call, stop and start your music, skip tracks, chat to other nearby Livall users (You set them up in the App and give them a 6-digit code – Christian says that they’ve had great fun using this for their bike tours on Waiheke), and you can even press a button to take a photo with your phone. . My pocket liner looks great, thanks. Even if mounted to your bike…. my front tyre looks great, thanks… I reckon this is a feature for when (if) they build a camera into a helmet, in which case it will become an awesome feature.
Overall, would I buy this helmet? Perhaps, and if someone gave me one for Christmas I’d be quite happy. It only costs $200, not much more than an equivalent ‘dumb’helmet. It has a certain cachet, a bit like the first guy you knew with an Apple watch. Nobody laughed at me when I was wearing it which is a great start!
What would I change to make this perfect? I’d edit out the not so useful features like the turn signals, and/or put in MUCH brighter tail light LEDS. I’d allow you to change the brightness via the app (day/night/bunch modes). I’d allow you to test the crash feature – peace of mind can’t be left to chance. Livall should leave the app as a controller only, delete the ‘bike computer’ and music player. They are not-very-useful features done better elsewhere and simply add bloat and bugs. Finally, assuming I could get the price, weight and battery consumption good enough, I’d add POV cameras front and rear. They need to record a rolling 5 mins and ‘save’ when you push the button or crash.
Summary: this is a nice Christmas gift at $199. If Livall can edit and improve, they will have a great product. In the meantime, it’s still a really nice helmet with a point of difference, and helmets should only be kept for two years or so anyway. By then you’ll be able to buy the BH65 with my suggested improvements built in 🙂 but it may cost a lot more by then.