July 17, 2017
Cycling is more than just wearing awkwardly skin tight shorts, deep v-neck shirts, and super sweet 80s style sunglasses, it’s also about riding ridiculous long distances and exploring the world around you. Bad fashion aside, cycling is more than just a global sport and way to enjoy your city and nature, it’s one of the most popular ways to commute as well.
The only downside with cycling is that you always, always, always need to be attentive of your surroundings, and while you can wear earbuds, it’s not very safe (and bluetooth speakers are just as annoying in use as any other public place). That’s why in late 2016 a Redmond, WA based startup, Coros, designed a safer alternative to earbuds, and it’s built right into your helmet. Through the use of bone-conduction technology, the same tech that swimmers use for music, cyclists and cruisers will still have almost full sound without blocking out much of your surroundings out.
The LINX Smart Helmet uses this bone-conduction technology to let you listen to music or audio, get turn-by-turn GPS audio cues, and of course protect your noggin from serious injuries at the same time. The helmet also has a built in speaker that will allow you to either use your phone or the two-way communicator accessory to talk to others more safely.
I used Coros’ LINX smart helmet over the course of a month through short and long rides, up until the point where I incidentally became a crash dummy.
Bone-Conduction Audio and Smart Features
More than a helmet, the LINX features built in bone-conduction audio devices that rest against your face and pump audio back into your ears. Unlike good ole fashion ear buds, these won’t prevent you from hearing things around you, not including the buds with smart sense technology.
If you’ve never used bone-conduction audio devices before, you can’t go into this expecting that you’ll get high-quality normal sound filled with crisp highs and mids with a taste of lows. Instead, what you’re going to get is mostly no bass, and decent highs and mids that allow you to clearly hear your music, GPS directions, and calls. It’s the same tech that allows swimmers to hear music under water. Is it great? No. Does it get the job done? Absolutely. This technology is also quite a bit more safe than jamming things in your ears while riding, especially for those of us who ride amongst traffic.
It’s also incredibly easy to use and only takes a few minutes to get setup (including the remote). If you want to get a bit more fancy and use their G-sensor SOS alert, you can also sync the helmet up to a free app. That way if you did what I did, the helmet can send an automatic alert to a specific contact when the sensor indicates you may have been in an incident. I did not enable this particular feature when I crashed, so unfortunately I can’t speak to its use.
In addition to the audio features, which are decent for what they are, LINX also comes with a smart remote that gets strapped to either your frame or handlebars. On it you can answer or end a call, switch the song, adjust the audio, or otherwise control the helmet’s functions. It syncs up to the helmet with no fuss, and you’re good to go in minutes.
As a side note, when setting up and connecting the helmet to your device, it also uses voice prompts which is a nice little value-added. Most bluetooth devices like to use random pings and sounds instead, which is not even remotely helpful, so props to Coros on that one.
For a cycling helmet that is open to the elements, you’d also assume that any voice call you took would basically just sound like wind on a mic; however, Coros placed the mic within the top front-center area in the helmet and that greatly reduces the wind feedback. I had a few short calls using the helmet while riding about 12 MPH on the bike, and while they could certainly tell I was on the bike, they could still understand me.
Overall the Coros provided me with a comfortable ride while being able to listen to either music or podcasts, while also being occasionally interrupted by CVS auto-calls because I kept forgetting to pick up a script. While the quality of the audio that comes out is not great, it sounds good enough to use for musical motivation on long rides, and definitely is helpful for GPS directions. Combine this with the 10 hour battery life, and you’ve got yourself a solid device.
What’s in the box
- Helmet bag
- Smart remote and mount
- Replacement foam inserts
- USB cable
- Helmet material: Polycarbonate outer with EPS impact foam inside
- Speaker: bone conduction transducers
- Speaker sensitivity: 100 ± 3dB
- Frequency response: 100Hz—20KHz
- Microphone: Wind resistant, top mounted
- Battery: Lithium
- Battery life: 10+ hours
- Indicator: LED for operation, charge, low battery
- Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0
- Helmet weight: .9 pounds
- Certification: Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC)
- Comes in two sizes and four colors
Design and Durability
Though generally lightweight, for a helmet at this price point it's about double that of a standard helmet. Obviously with the inclusion of the bone-conduction tech and built in battery there will be added weight, but on several long distance rides it wasn't noticeable or uncomfortable.
As far as comfort goes, the LINX will work great on both short and long rides, with one caveat. Due to the padding, which is a bit thicker and softer than standard helmets, it's also a lovely sponge for sweat, so if it's hot you're going to be getting some of that happening. The rear adjustor to keep the helmet comfortably on your head also works really well compared to some other standard helmets I've used. Otherwise the LINX is design for comfort, and the speakers resting by your ears are easy to get used to. Keep in mind that due to the technology at hand, the position of those speakers play an important role in both clarity and volume.
While I can't speak to the aerodynamics of the helmet, visually the LINXs is somewhere between a standard well-vented cyclist helmet and something like chopped off aero helmet. I say this only in the sense of visuals and not improved performance as obviously aero helmets have far fewer vents and usually a tail in the back. It also comes in two sizes and four colors.
Plain and simple, the helmet did its job. While practicing for a triathlon I deviated from my usual route and ended up going on a sidewalk. Sidewalks and triathlon bikes don’t mix, especially when there is a piece of sidewalk missing. I’m not exactly sure what happened, but in that situation I went face over handle bars, while clipped into my pedals, and essentially started a somersault. I landed square on the top of my head, skidded, and then my face took some damage too, probably getting a minor concussion, and at the same time scaring the hell out of some poor woman who saw it all happen. For the record, I was also not actually using the helmet with it turned on during this ride.
After getting my wits together and walking five miles back home, I cleaned up the road rash (selfie for you), and found that the helmet has a nice little crack at the inner-center. It looks like the crack is due to the mic placement (and my head slamming into the ground, duh) it creates a bit of a weak point, so unfortunately the helmet is dead. However, it saved me from a very serious injury and absolutely did its intended job. They do also have a one year warranty for high impact damage, so the company would replace it.
Overall the design, comfort, and durability are great when it comes to Coros’ LINX helmet. While you may not be getting aero attributes, it’s certainly great for long and short rides. It’s also worth noting that regardless of all the tech, it’s water and sweat resistant, so you can still ride regardless of the weather.
Pros and Cons
- Saved me from a concussion
- No fuss addition of music, GPS audio
- Bluetooth controller is a nice touch
- Don’t expect high-quality audio (obvious for the tech)
- Bit heavy, but comfortable
Should you buy the Coros LINX Smart cycling helmet? If you want to more safely listen to music or use directional GPS through audio while on your bike, yes, absolutely. The LINX helmet does the two exact things it’s designed to do, and generally does both of them well. During my test ride I bit it, and hard, and the helmet took the worst of the damage with a crack down the front center portion.
For audio, the bone-conduction technology allows you to more safely (keyword is more) listen to audio from a paired bluetooth device without fully blocking out your surroundings. While you won’t get high-quality sound from something like Libratone, Beats, or the other hundred fitness earbuds on the market, you do get decent highs and mids, and can talk to people on your phone.
For the price point, the LINX is a bit of a no-brainer as you’re getting a solid helmet, bluetooth controller, the bone-conduction speakers, and solid accessories. Could it probably be about $50 cheaper? Yeah, probably, but right now they sort of own the market, and it is a startup after all. We give the Coros LINX smart helmet a solid 4 out of 5 due to the price point, comfortability, technology, and uhh keeping my head from cracking open.
Read more Gear and Gadget reviews for outdoor activities at TechCo
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