Motorcycle helmet brand Sena brings a Bluetooth speaker and mic intercom system to the cycling market. We give the Sena R1 helmet a road test.
I like to ride with my wife, but we ride at different speeds. We play this game of cat and mouse where I’ll pace to the top of the hill and wait for her to catch up. Over a ride, our different paces can wedge about a half-mile of asphalt between us.
Can Sena’s R1 save our road relationship?
This summer, motorcycle helmet brand Sena released its first cycling-oriented helmet. At $129, Sena’s R1 is reasonable.
It brought over a few of technologies from the motorcycle world — including Bluetooth-enabled connectivity, adding a speaker and mic that sync to your phone — that increase the bottom line.
The technology allows riders to stream workouts, take calls, or Spotify their favorite tunes. Plus, bonus and groundbreaking, the helmet can connect with up to three other helmets, allowing a four-way intercom to stay in touch with your crew on the road.
Sena R1 Helmet: The Fit
My head measures an average 22 inches. This puts me smack dab in the middle of a size medium on Sena’s chart. But I found the helmet runs small; I had to ratchet the rear retention knob almost all the way out to fit over my head, with only a click or two to spare.
The occipital stabilizer — the bit that wraps around the back of your noggin — can pivot down for a better fit or allow you to pull a knot of hair through. The webbing straps are thicker than many modern helmet straps and buckle under the chin with a synthetic eco-leather.
Out of the box, I had to adjust the straps on the Sena R1 to equalize around both sides of the ears, but I eventually found space over and behind the ears. Sunglasses ride fine over the straps without causing extra pressure on the temples (the cycling fashion police encourage you to wear glasses over the straps, not under them).
Five channels funnel air through the 16 ports to keep the head cool. The helmet is lined with four padded strips and a fifth that rides around the lower rim. Two pads sit on the retention mechanism in the back.
Overall, the fit was snug. It could be small sizing or the padding might be a little thick (it seemed thicker than most helmets). But during my rides, I felt pressure on the forehead and on the back of the head.
Unfortunately, the R1 is one of the least comfortable helmets I’ve recently donned, which is a pretty big ding against a $129 helmet.
Tech in the Sena R1 Helmet
The R1 has two speakers embedded cleanly in the temple protection above the ears. The mic sits dead-center below the brim, and three buttons control the helmet: a plus, a minus, and a center button.
When paired with a smartphone, you can use these buttons to activate phone commands such as tuning in to your local FM radio (which is integrated into the helmet) as well as making and answering calls. The buttons also work to increase and decrease volume.
The USB port sits in back and fully charges in 3-4 hours, and the battery life lasts a whopping 16 hours. So if you’re like me and regularly forget to charge all your devices, you have a safety net for a few rides.
To turn on the R1, press the center and plus buttons simultaneously. The helmet will greet you with a “hello” and alert you when the phone is connected.
Pressing the minus button for one second launches the radio; double-tapping up or down scans for stations. You can save and cycle through saved preset stations with the middle button.
But if you live in the modern world, you’ll likely want to activate your device for more options. And you can do this with the R1 by holding the center button for 10 seconds.
After about 3 seconds, you’ll hear a response announcing “intercom pairing” (which I’ll touch on next). Continue holding the center button until it announces “configuration menu.” Then, press the plus button to hear “phone pairing.”
It will be a long 10 seconds, but from here you can launch your favorite podcast, make a call, follow turn-by-turn directions from Google Maps, or stream music from your cloud channel of choice. As long as you have data coverage or downloaded mp3s, the R1 is up and running via Bluetooth.
For example, I was able to place a call from the saddle to my wife some 300 miles away.
Unlike earbuds, having music and voice options stream through the helmet allows you to hear what you want while staying audibly connected to the world around you (like traffic).
All this tech seems good, but I’m a particularly low-fi guy. What piqued my interest was the opportunity to chat with my wife while on our weekend rides together. Two helmets arrived: one “ice-blue,” the other bright-orange. And it was time for some road marriage therapy.
To activate the intercom, hold the center button for 3 seconds on the first helmet, which launches pairing. The LED will blink red and audibly beep while searching for the second helmet. Follow the same steps on the second helmet, then tap the center button on the second helmet to pair.
An audible prompt and a flashing blue LED light will confirming you are paired. Riders can interconnect up to four helmets by repeating these steps.
Sena R1 Helmet Performance
Paired and ready to ride, my wife and I rolled out on our weekend 20-mile loop. We hung together on the flats, but as the hills approached, I fell into the familiar pattern of pulling away. Still, our conversation held steady.
The Sena has a documented range of half a mile. On the straights, we stayed connected within line of sight. The connection was temporarily dropped in the turns, but it automatically reconnected as we lined back up.
I still waited at the top of the hills, but we could chat, encourage one another, and warn the other of oncoming traffic. Couples, take note: There’s no mute button, so your better half will hear both the good … and the bad.
Although the tech is interesting, I found the fit uncomfortably small. Until Sena dials in a better-fitting lid, I’ll probably reach for my traditional helmets on longer rides and race days.
And while the Sena won’t make me less annoying, on shorter rides with the wife, the R1 just might keep us a little closer.