Wired for Sound

Wired for Sound

This past summer, as I was heading home from a mountain bike ride, I rolled into the bike lane from the park. As I pedaled I was digging some 1980s rock when a contractor’s white pickup passed me with inches to spare. The right wheels were in the bike lane.

Because I’d forgotten to take my earbuds out, I never heard him coming. Which is why I don’t ride on the road with earbuds. Mountain biking is another story, but man, on more than a few occasions I’ve forgotten to pull my earbuds out for the 100 meter stretch of pavement on my ride home, so wrapped am I in my own world, and on that occasion I regretted it a bit. I’m lucky I didn’t regret it more.

The Coros Linx is a new helmet that proposes to solve that problem. It uses transducers (they call it bone conduction) to deliver tunes to your head. The sound system is integrated into the helmet. There’s a Bluetooth receiver and wires that run to the transducers which are affixed to the straps.

I’ll admit, I’m not accustomed to charging up my helmet before a ride.

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All the software that runs the system is contained in an app on your smartphone. And the app is surprisingly full-featured. You can use it to record your rides and also design routes. The route design feature is insanely easy to use. You construct the map in the app and so long as you know what roads you want to use, the process is quick and easy to save. The amazing part is that the app will talk to you and tell you where the turns are. This is a newfound level of idiot-proof. They say a future update of the app will allow you to upload rides you’ve recorded with the app to Strava, but it’s not there yet.

But route recording and mileage tracking is not what the Coros helmet does best. Not how it will be famous.

And no, it won’t be known for allowing you to answer your phone and have a conversation while on a ride, either. Seriously, a phone call is the last thing I want in the middle of a ride.

But how about some tunes? How about great tunes? How about a playlist from my iTunes library? Now we’re talking.

The playlist must be uploaded to your phone and you must access it in your iTunes app in your phone. Simply open the playlist and then exit iTunes and open the Coros app. You turn the helmet on, give it a second to pair with your phone and then when you hit the play button on the handy-dandy remote attached to your bar, voila! The opening strains of “Black Dog.”

The remote starts and stops the music, allows you to skip forward to the next song (but not back) and includes a button for the mic in the helmet. An interesting side feature is that two helmets can be used together and the mics will function as walkie-talkies. A second one of these helmets would be a welcome improvement in communication with my son on our tandem.

The helmet looks like an early iteration of the Specialized Evade, which is possibly a selling point, depending on your view. I think it looks pretty sharp, but I have to admit I think it might resonate with more people if it looked more like a typical helmet. I hope for their sake I’m wrong.

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The Linx comes in two sizes, Medium and Large, which correspond to 54-58cm and 57-61cm. The medium was a hair big on me, which is what I’d expect from a medium. It’s not a light helmet. My medium weighed in at 402 grams. The electronics, transducers and battery add a noticeable amount of weight. That said, you get 10 hours of play time, long enough for anything short of a double century or 24-hour MTB race.

The transducers slide up and down the straps so you have the ability to position them according to your head’s bone structure. Finding just the right position requires some experimenting and any change in how the helmet fits (like if you open your mouth wide to breathe deeply) can change the sound quality. The more the transducers sit on bone as opposed to soft tissue, the more bass you get. That said, it can be a little weird to have your entire head vibrate with Jason Newsted’s bass line in Metallica’s “Unforgiven.”

I wore the Linx helmet in a ‘cross race this fall. And I’ve worn it on group rides. I struggle with the idea of playing music as I’m riding with someone else; it strikes me as rude, but I was curious to see if I could play music on descents and still check in easily enough. The verdict is yes, I can.

The single biggest question was, sound quality aside, would I hear what I needed to while riding the road? Would I miss something and end up a speedbump under something that weighed 40 times what I do?

I hate to say that I’m amazed at not only do I hear things but the degree to which the sound doesn’t interfere with my ability to hear approaching cars, trucks, riders, barking dogs, the zing of my freehub.

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Long solo rides can be great opportunities for me to contemplate writing, but they can also devolve into brood sessions that would make most psychiatrists wag their fingers at me. Just how I’m wired. This helmet has provided a way to short circuit that. And speaking of short circuits, I’ve worn this thing in pouring rain and didn’t have a lick of trouble with it.

One of my biggest concern about this helmet wasn’t whether it was safe—it is; it’s CPSC certified—it was what happens if you go down. I didn’t yet know the price of the helmet, and I was concerned about the possibility of dropping $400 to replace my helmet/sound system. As it turns out the helmet is only $200. Also helpful is the fact that Coros offers a one-year warranty should there be any problem with the helmet, they will fix or replace it.

Final thought: Perfect for cueing The Beatles’ “The Long and Winding Road.”

 

Action shot: Christine Culver


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3 comments

  1. Jeff Dieffenbach

    To your point at the end of the piece, I hate the concept of inseparable electronics integration. That holds for bikes like the SpeedX and helmets like the Lumos and this one. When different parts of the system wear (and wear out) at different rates, they need to be replaceable.

    To be remotely interesting, the SpeedX needs to have the option of coming without the computer and instead working with Garmin, Wahoo, and other devices. To be remotely interesting, helmet technology needs to be able to be moved from one helmet to another. Maybe the helmet breaks first, maybe the electronics break first, it doesn’t matter–replacing everything at once is expensive and wasteful. Helmets (and bikes) need standards in the same way that Shimano and SRAM cassettes are interchangeable.

  2. Kyle Van Renterghem

    I have a set of Trekz Titanium headphones that operate by bone conduction, specifically so that I can hear things around me when I ride. They work surprisingly well both in allowing me to hear music or podcasts as well as noise from my environment.

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