Most of the good, and bad, music you hear while riding comes from the over powered stereos of passing cars, but why should they have all the fun? The Coros Frontier helmet takes a big step towards transport equality by allowing you to listen to your favourite tunes while cycling and it can even allow you to take phone calls! It’s all integrated into the helmet. While wearing headphones can give you similar functionality, they can also block out traffic noise, which is a real danger on the road. Coros gives you the best of both worlds by using bone-conductive technology, so your ears can hear the traffic around you, and it is wireless, with the bar mounted controller allowing you to start your music or take a call.
Let’s start this review by acknowledging the elephant in the room: the law. This is a unique product and I needed to make sure it complied with the Australian standard (AS/NZS 2063:2008), so in addition to checking for the appropriate sticker, I even spoke to the certifier (BSI) who noted, “The helmet in question was tested well above the requirements of the standard.” So even though this helmet has built in extras, it’s still legal to use.
With respect to the sound system it offers, each state in Australia defines its own road rules and I was originally mistaken in thinking that using headphones while driving a vehicle or riding a bike was illegal. My subsequent research confirmed that some states have provisions to fine ‘drivers’ (which includes riders) who are inattentive, and that may include through headphone use (it’s not directly ruled out). Common sense is the best approach and being able to hear a vehicle approach from behind is important.
Let’s get down to the review. The Coros Frontier helmet has an aero style and I selected a size L (Large) based on the size chart; it was a comfortable fit though some riders may be concerned about the ‘mushroom’ effect. An adjustable dial at the back tightens and loosens the ‘harness’ which is handy for winter cycling when you wear a cycling cap or head-gear and need to adjust the fit. Integrated into the sleek design are plenty of holes on the front, side and top to make sure you get “more air in your hair”.
The bone-conductive speakers, which are positioned on the straps, deliver the audio magic and when you put the helmet on and tighten the chinstrap, these speakers should sit on your cheekbones. The best position for the speakers is directly on or above the cheekbones, as close to the ears as possible. Adjusting the straps to fit is important and I found it fiddly until I discovered that I could slide the speakers up and down to get the best position.
So where is the microphone? I wondered if it was in the chinstrap and only on closer inspection found it located inside the helmet positioned against the forehead. The Australian importer of the Coros helmet, Michael Yang of iico, confirmed this.
Stem mounted controller for review with 3 buttons
New controller design
A simple controller easily mounts to the stem or handlebars. The version I had only had three buttons though a newer version will be supplied when the Coros helmets go on sale.
The helmet electronics are charged via a micro USB cable that connects to a port in the rear of the helmet. The port has a plastic cover that you lift back while charging and while the helmet is in use it protects it from water entry. There are also a few indicator lights to show that it is charging, charged, turning on or in operation. These lights are slightly obscured and I would like them to be more visible. Just above the port there is a button to turn the helmet on.
Optional walkie-talkie accessory (left) and controller (right)
An optional extra is a walkie-talkie function that lets two Coros helmet wearers communicate. For this functionality an extra unit is supplied so that the riders can set a frequency.
The Coros App – pairing is quick and simple
The crucial part of the setup is completed with the Coros app – both an iPhone and Android app (named Coros) is available and I used the iPhone version. Beginning this review I used an early beta and then upgraded to an improved public release version.
After downloading the app you need to setup an account, which is simple and quick, before pairing the helmet and the ‘controller’. The optional walkie-talkie also needs to be paired. The pairing process is very quick and each time you turn the helmet on, you hear a female voice through the speakers announce “PAIRING” followed by the reassuring confirmation, “CONNECTED”.
I liked that you don’t need to start the app for each ride, simply turn on the helmet and when it is “CONNECTED”, you are ready to go.
The Coros app gives you access to settings such as updating the app, restart, and reset. It also attempts a basic Strava function that only records your total distance. It doesn’t have a pause function so if you have a long stop mid-way (for coffee) it goes to sleep and stops recording. Aside from the settings, the app doesn’t add much value, but that may change in future versions.
On the road with tunes
It is time to rock and roll, or boogie, or possibly twerk to whatever music you love hearing. On your controller, press the quaver (musical note), and it will start up the next track from your podcast or your music collection. On the iPhone I found that it helps to have your music selection ready as you only have START / STOP and NEXT TRACK functionality. If you have shuffle selected and the theme music for the kids movie Frozen fires up, it might be hard to get into The Zone when the Disney princess chants “Let It Go”.
Sometimes the controller wouldn’t start the music after turning the helmet on so I had to start the music via the smart phone. Afterwards the controller would work as expected and I’m guessing that this is because the controller is not yet speaking with the right program on the phone, which explains why it started up my podcast once.
Like music to my ears
So what is the music quality like? When you first try out the helmet at home, it is impressive. With the peace and quite you press in the speaker units and it is WOW.
Out on the road it changes. There is noise from wind, the road and your surroundings. It is safer than headphones though as you can hear the aural landscape of your environment; the other noises are still competing. The second observation is that there isn’t much bass. It is worth trying to position the speakers close to your ears and directly onto the cheekbones.
Audiophiles won’t be impressed, but then again, true music bliss is attained while sitting in your designer lounge and listening to Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells, on vinyl of course, through premium Sennheiser headphones, and not out on your bike.
In practice solo riders and triathletes in training will get the most out of this helmet – it still gives you your preferred music and you will quickly tune into the treble to get you moving and grooving. I found the music function impractical for bunch riding; it is hard to be attentive and to chat with music in you ears. While it isn’t dangerous, you can still hear other riders or cars approaching from behind, it is anti-social in group rides.
The Coros Helmet with its bone conductive speakers has some competition from ‘environment aware’ style headphones, but it’s one up on them with the ability to take phone calls. You hear an incoming call through the speakers, press the telephone button on the controller, and you can start to do business.
The audio quality is quite good – when I tested it I found I could hear the caller quite well, but the caller has a tougher time of it as the audio from the Coros wearer sounds muted, as if they were speaking through a sock. While the calls are not crystal clear, it is convenient and practical for short calls.
But wait, there’s more…
… And it’s not the steak-knives, rather it’s the optional feature for the Coros helmet: the walkie-talkie function. Coros helmet wearers can communicate with one another hands-free but an additional accessory is required; it is quite a large device with a big dial and two orange buttons. Each rider pairs this with the app / smart phone and with the dial they select the same channel – from 1 to 16. The walkie-talkie device then slips into your jersey pocket and the rest is done via the controller.
To communicate, you press the telephone button on the controller and will first hear a dial tone after which you can talk. Unfortunately it is half-duplex meaning that only the rider calling can speak. The channel is open for 10 seconds and then closes automatically. To respond, the other rider waits until the channel is free and the presses the button on the controller, waits for the dial tone, and then can speak for 10 seconds.
During testing one helmet was receiving poor audio, which is likely because the helmet is a ‘sample’ pre-production helmet. I tested the walkie-talkie function at up to around 50 metres distance. For every day riding or bunch riding, it is not particularly convenient, but in some circumstances where simple alerts and messages are appropriate, it makes more sense. An example would be on organised tours, where ride captains are positioned at the front and rear of a group, with these helmets they would be able to communicate with each other.
Australians are first in line
In Australia the Coros Frontier helmet is available for sale now. Overseas cyclists will have to wait as the Coros is taking to Kickstarter for world-wide distribution and will be launched in August under the name Linx. Usually Aussies are last in line for new gear, but not this time.
While there are some after-market speaker accessories which can be stuck onto your helmet, the integrated wireless convenience of the Coros means it is already ahead. Added to this, there are no awkward speakers to deal with, and it is affordable, coming in at $249, which is extremely competitive considering performance road cycling helmets range from $180 – $400 without the extra technology.
Bass is not the strong point for the Coros helmet with its bone conductive speakers and you will struggle to hear the deep soothing tones of Barry White. I would love to see the technology evolve in the future to lift up the bass.
This is promising technology and one of the biggest plus points is the price tag. At this price, the Coros is a good looking, comfortable and safe helmet that adds wireless music and phone calls. Even with the shortcomings of the musical bass tones, a lot of cyclists will enjoy adding music to their training while remaining road aware.
The Coros Frontier Helmet is now available for sale in bike shops across Australia and further information is available online: iico.com.au