The pace of innovation in the world of cycling is astounding. Beyond mechanical innovation, it is the electronic technology which has had the biggest impact on the way we cycle. Smart phones, for example, can be cycle computers which can also be interconnected with other bike devices such as lights, cameras, electronic sunglasses, and heads-up displays. Everything you ever (or never) wanted to know about your ride, such as your GPS trace, your power, and your heart rate can be collected, shared, analysed and compared to the nth degree.
The company LifeBeam caught my eye a while ago with their in-helmet Heart Rate Monitor (HRM). For competitive cyclists (and athletes), the heart rate is an important bit of data and is used to define thresholds both in training and competition. Heart rate data is also becoming increasingly accessible for everyday riders who prioritise health and fitness over performance or simply want to record this data because they can.
The heart beat is typically recorded by a chest strap and the data is sent over BLE (Bluetooth – Low Energy) or ANT+ to a cycle computer or phone. The chest strap however can be quite annoying; the elastic strap easily becomes irritating and the readings can be affected by your jersey. By integrating a heart rate monitor into an accessory already worn by cyclists, a helmet, it makes measuring heart rate simple and convenient.
The Lazer and LifeBeam Connection
Lazer collaborate with LifeBeam to produce two alternatives for cyclists to record heart rate data. The first is the Lazer Genesis helmet with the integrated LifeBeam heart rate monitor. The other option is an ‘upgrade’ kit in which the heart rate monitor and its battery can be installed on your existing helmet. Lazer would prefer that you use their brand of helmet and for this review they provided their top level Z1 helmet to demonstrate this upgrade option. Technically, the LifeBeam upgrade can be used on many brands of helmets.
Lazer LifeBeam upgrade kit
Sensor and strap, battery and fastening piece
LifeBeam battery for the upgrade kit
Lazer Z1 Helmet in Camouflage look – my demo helmet for the upgrade kit
The following video demonstrates the integrated LifeBeam and the LifeBeam upgrade kit on the Lazer Z1 Helmet.
The advantage of the integrated version of this technology is that the cable from the heart rate monitor sensor to the battery, along with the battery, is very cleanly and stylishly embedded in the helmet. In fact, the integrated version has a cool pulsating blue light at the rear of the helmet when it is switched on.
Integrated battery unit in the Lazer Genesis – on / off switch nicely integrated
The charging port has a silicon cover which can be lifted up
Micro USB power
Since it’s a powered unit, you need to charge the helmet (or at least the monitor in the helmet). Just lift the rubber flap at the rear of the helmet to reveal a micro USB slot and plug it in to watch the blue light trace left and right.
To turn the monitor on, press the subtle integrated button which then pulses and beeps three times so that you know it is ready. Before you start to pedal off into the distance, you need to pair it to your cycle computer of choice. Typically you only need to pair once, though it is worth ensure that your cycle computer is actually connected to the HRM sensor on each ride. The LifeBeam technology accommodates both low energy bluetooth (BLE) and ANT+ and to see how easy it is to setup, watch the following video.
You are now ready to go – I relied upon the Strava app on my iPhone and had both the live display of my heart rate on screen and the heart rate synchronised with my ride data.
Strava data with Heart Rate from the Lazer Genesis LifeBeam
LifeBeam HRM verses chest strap HRM
To test the Lazer Genesis Lifebeam against the classic chest strap, I used a Bryton cycle computer that was recently reviewed by BNA and connects via ANT+
For a simultaneous test, the Lifebeam connected to Strava on my iPhone and the Bryton chest strap connected with the Bryton 310 cycle computer, the readings were on par with one another showing minor variations of about 2 – 5 bpm (Beats Per Minute). Beats Per Minute uses ‘one minute’ as its reference, however these devices are not showing a one minute average, rather they display the current heart rate and you can see it fluctuate. I expected that there would be some variation but it was good to confirm that the two different heart rate monitors were fairly well synchronised as they tracked the heart rate. This mean that the Lazer Genesis LifeBeam helmet is fairly accurate and reliable if you need usable data.
I continued the tests with three different devices connected to the helmet at the same time. I used Strava on the iPhone and the Magellan Cyclo 505 cycle computer (which both use Low Energy Bluetooth) along with the Bryton Rider 310 which connects via ANT+. The Magellan and iPhone tracked the bpm identically while the Bryton with ANT+ displayed a slight lag with 1 – 2 bpm variation.
On the bike with LifeBeam and the Lazer Genesis
When you put the Lazer helmet on, it is important to ensure that there is not any hair blocking the sensor. It also means that head wear such as bandanas and hats are no good as the sensor needs to rest against the forehead. I didn’t notice the sensor at all, it felt very normal.
The sensor to detect your heart rate
The Lazer Genesis is a relatively sleek helmet with lots of air vents. At the rear there is a harness with an adjustable tightening mechanism called RollSys. Once the straps are on, on the top of the helmet toward the rear, you can find the ‘thumb-wheel’ dial with your finger. It is really easy to loosen or tighten, though I felt it was back-to-front. When I would move the ‘thumb wheel’ in the direction that I felt would naturally tighten the helmet, it would loosen. I wonder if right handed riders would find it intuitive.
Out of the box – instructions for the thumbwheel
Lazer Genesis Rollsys harness
Inside view of the Rollsys and the Australian Helmet Sticker
Thoughtful and stylish design
When the helmet is on and paired with the cycle computer or iPhone, most devices and apps will let you display bpm on screen as you ride. Depending on the capabilities of your device, you can set up alerts and training programs based on your heart rate. The LifeBeam has a lifespan of 15 hours so you can get in a few rides before recharging. If battery power gets low, the helmet will start to beep every 10 minutes.
The Lazer Genesis helmet has actually been on the market for about 11 years and I have heard many reports from cyclists that it is their most comfortable helmet. I really like the Lifebeam integration because it feels well integrated rather an afterthought.
Despite the great experiences of many other riders, the Genesis helmet was not the perfect fit for my head. The harness and adjustment felt good however, to get a proper fit so that it wouldn’t wobble, I needed it quite tight which gave me headaches. I suggest that you go to your bike shop and try for yourself as helmets are like saddles and knicks, they are personal. If you still want this technology but want to keep your current helmet, you can always use the LifeBeam upgrade kit so you wont miss out.
The added technology means that the helmet carries a bit more weight; the size M helmet was 356g (10g less than in the specs for the Australian helmet). A regular Lazer Genesis in the same size is about 80 grams lighter. Many new generation helmets in the top end are around the 220 gram mark such as the Lazer Z1 (size M).
The LifeBeam technology is a refreshing alternative to the traditional HRM chest strap and on comfort alone, the integrated heart rate monitor will appeal to a lot of cyclists. The bpm data is consistent and the Lazer Genesis helmet with LifeBeam is both attractive and convenient.
The Lazer Genesis LifeBeam Helmet is available in two sizes, size M (55 – 59cm) and size L (58 – 61cm). The Australian Approved helmets are in bike shops with $329.95 RRP while the LifeBeam upgrade kit retails for $179.95. To find your nearest dealer, visit the Lazer distributer – BikeSportz Imports.