Lumos, the smart cycling helmet

Click here to buy/pre-order

This isn’t a discussion about using helmets. It isn’t a discussion about societal need for helmets. It’s not about victim blaming and it’s not about why some people think helmets like this are a bad idea. Apparently we should be focusing on the cause of why we need helmets like this. I don’t disagree. But we live in an imperfect world and until we achieve perfection from a cycling perspective let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.

The “smart” cycling helmet then. And one of the more successful kickstarter projects of all time. For a start, people are actually receiving their orders. The project kicked off a little over a year ago, so it’s taken some time to get here. But it raised just over $800,000 or, if you’re reading this in post Brexit Britain, almost a million pounds (insert winky smiley). That’s a considerable sum and I’ve been waiting a while to see if it’s been put to good use. There are some differences to the original product, but the changes that Lumos have made, particularly in relation to charging, are certainly for the better. I have to say, I was expecting a well thought out product but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite as well thought at as it is, a testimony to a year of refinements.

Pre order price, as I write this piece (Brexit jokes aside) is around £120. You shouldn’t be stung for customs given that helmets are personal protective equipment (PPE) so that’s what you should pay (plus delivery, of course). And that’s good value. The alternative, if you ignore signalling, is to take a mid range helmet (this is a good helmet) and add lights front and rear. You’re still going to pay a bit for that, you lose the integration. So I do think that this represents at least very good and arguably excellent value.

For my purposes it’s a terrific proposition. I commute just short of 20 miles each way. I have some flexibility in relation to start and finish times but generally end up cycling most of that 20 miles in complete darkness in the winter months. It’s busy, there are junctions, roundabouts, dual carriageways and, on the last section, a load of shuffling pedestrians. In terms of lighting, every little helps.

I’ve been asked to cast a legal eye over the ramifications of failing to use parts of the product. What if you don’t use the lights? What if they run out? What if you don’t bother with the indicators or forget to indicate? Assuming you have OTHER lights (this is not a substitute) then I don’t consider there’s much, if any, risk of a finding of contributory negligence if you end up getting knocked off. So I don’t think there’s anything to worry about in that respect.

So, back to the product and, let’s have a look at some box pics first. It’s all rather tidily presented.

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And turning to what’s in the box……

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It was at this point that my expectations were exceeded. I wasn’t expecting the bag cover but I guess most helmets come with one of those. I certainly wasn’t expecting two chargers, they’ve now changed to the magnetic type (better for waterproofing the helmet). So you can quite easily charge the helmet and the remote control at the same time or, for people like me, take one charging lead into work and leave the other at home. The value aspect is already looking good.

Neither was I expecting two types of remote control. As you can see below a separate ‘satellite’ pair of buttons which attaches to the main unit is also supplied. I’ll deal with how you might position those a little later in my review.

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There’s also a tidy instruction manual, other documents and a small selection of business cards with a referral code on. So, if you’re interested, my code is FDVNSW and, if you use that code, you get $25 off the purchase price sending the UK price down to around £105.

Let’s turn to the helmet itself. There are three colours available, black, white and blue.

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It’s a nice helmet. It’s certified to all the international standards. It’s adult only and intended to fit heads sized 54-62cm. So, if you have a small head it may be that it’s too big. If you have a really big one ditto. But for most people you should be able to get it to fit. I’m not a huge fan of big sizing ranges in helmets but from a kickstarter point of view I think it’s entirely understandable.

In terms of comfort it’s clear that Lumos have worked very hard on the fit and how it sits on your head. I compared it to my Giro Foray (a dead ringer for the Synthe) and found that it has a similar profile (i.e. it’s not mushroomy). There’s a nice smattering of foam inserts inside to keep you comfy and to wick away some sweat. Round the back there’s the usual dial to adjust the fit. There’s no fancy up and down movement and the strap is normal fabric rather than leather etc. But I find it very comfortable to wear. In fact it’s arguably more comfortable than my Foray and at least as comfortable as a Kask Mojito. There’s not as much venting as the others mentioned but I’d guess that most will wear these in the winter months and it’s likely to be colder. There’s also plenty of space in there for wearing skull caps etc.

What it is not is light. And you can’t really expect it to be. It has lights, batteries, accelerometers and much of the foam is plastic covered rather than being exposed. All of that adds weight and my supplied version comes in at circa 450g. That’s certainly not a light helmet but, let’s do context. My Giro Foray is 280g, a Kask Vertigo about the same, a Lazer Helium is getting on for 300g. Those are mid or high end helmets. Sure, you can get much lighter but the context here is that this is about 150g or so heavier than what most of us already wear. Or, your helmet plus your phone. And whilst it can feel a little heavier on your head it’s not intrusive and, crucially, it doesn’t make you not want to wear it. And consider this, if you want to add comparative lighting (ignoring any smart features) to your existing helmet then you add price and you add weight. Two fibre flares, for example, weigh 160g. It’s very slightly out of balance, for want of a better term, in that you can perceive it weighs more at the rear than the front but that’s difficult to avoid from an engineering perspective.

So, in terms of being a helmet, it does all those jobs well. It’s a pretty good looking, it fits and it doesn’t look silly or intrusive. I don’t suspect we’ll see one on a sportive that soon but on a winter night’s chain gang, why not?

You’ll note from the above pictures the main lighting sections. The rear is a large translucent surface that houses the brake light and indicators. The front has a single strip. But, underneath the helmet at the front you’ll also see the “bleed through” section which provides a little down lighting but most importantly lets you know that your indicators are on (or not).

Charging is easy, you just attach the magnetic charger into the main port on the helmet or remote unit. The helmet takes about 2 hours to fully charge after which time it’s good for about 6 hours on flash mode or 3 hours in solid. The remote lasts for ages. It’s good to see that they’ve changed from the coin battery in the original product as though those also last for an age there’s less to go wrong here. No opening required either which means that longevity in the damp is likely to be better.

The remote is essentially always “on” but doesn’t draw power unless you’re using it to indicate. The helmet is turned on with a single press. You don’t need to hold it down, just press. Each press then cycles through solid, flash and strobe. To turn it off you hold it down. Each press is accompanied by an audio cue. With the helmet off if you hold down the power for 5 seconds you activate “brake mode.” That’s the one where the rear brake triangle operates not only as a light but as a motion sensor brake light. And not only the brake triangle, the indicators turn solid as well. I’ll talk more about setting up that beta feature later.

Another matter impressed me at this point. Let’s assume you’ve selected flash or strobe as your mode for being seen. Obviously, when the indicator comes on that flashes like all indicators. I was concerned that there would be an obvious clash there. But, no. Once you indicate the previously flashing rear triangle/front half light turns into solid mode to avoid that clash. Simple, clever and necessary.

You have two options for your indicators, the stem mounted one (see later) and a satellite shifter system. They’re modular so the battery attached to the stem mounted version (by default) twists off to fit into the satellite system. When you press the indicators you’re greeted with an audible alert.

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I played around a bit with where I’d position the indicators. The first picture below is the stem mounted version. They snap on in the same manner as a stem mounted Garmin, that is to say using giant rubber O rings. Many are supplied! When you press each button it blinks (that’s not captured below) and pressing a further time cancels the indication. Alternatively, if you’re negotiating a roundabout then pressing the other indicator button swaps to that indication. So you don’t need to switch off one before switching on the other.

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Alternatively you can place them on the bars, the only issue being that, if you want to put other things on there you do lost a bit of real estate.

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In terms of demo’ing the satellite shifters I opted to place them on the inside of my hands when on the bars. The wires are tidy enough but I could tidy them a bit further with some thought, the below pic being just to show you the setup. The satellite buttons don’t illuminate but they force the main unit to. I can easily reach them with my thumbs when up on the bars. To me that feels like the best place, I can still brake and move swiftly to them. With a little bit of planning it’s easy to get them to be just backwards of the hoods, behind the brake levers or even down on the drops. There’s more than enough wire for all of these placements. I’ve not tried with flat bars but there’s not going to be any difference.

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As I’ve stated above, battery life on the indicator is about a month so you don’t need to charge it that often. There are alternative ways to mount. I could place it on the bars and use one hand to operate it. That would be fine but it does rob me of space in which to fit my lights. The unit is waterproof so you shouldn’t have any issues with longevity either.

The indicators are already paired with the helmet on arrival so it’s just a case of turning on and getting on with riding. The helmet and remote are also charged but I fully charged them just in case. You can monitor the battery level in an iOs (android coming soon) app and there’s some more on that later. By default the accelerometers in the helmet are not switched on so, to do that (and there’s a card in the box) you hold down the power on for 5 seconds till the lights come on, then 5 button presses and it’s ready to be activated. Then hold down the two remote buttons together until they pulse, press any one and you’re ready to go. The card warns that there are still some bugs but, in practice, they seem reasonably complete so far.

In relation to the app I am afraid that I can’t fully test it at the moment as I’m not an iOs user. But from the screenshot below it all looks rather sensible. You can monitor battery level, play with some of the flash settings and check out some instructions as well. There is an android version coming soon and I’d imagine it will look very much the same. But I’m quite happy with the modes and intensity of the helmet by default anyway.

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So, in use, the following video gives you an idea of what to expect. I’m wandering round with the remote changing the modes. You’ll note just how bright the whole setup is.

And when you take it out on the road you get something a bit like the below. I’ll try and get some better video in due course if I can find somewhere out of the way. You’ll note that the lights are actually fairly powerful and while they don’t light your way they’re far from being weedy. Indeed, given their surface area, height and type they really do get you noticed. My view is that they are far more noticeable, particularly in traffic, than even a powerful seatpost or bar mounted unit.

And as the nice lady on the video says, marvellous, brilliant, everyone should get one!

In my next video I’ll try to demonstrate how the brake like looks in practice but in the meantime here’s a picture showing what happens when you brake. As you can see the usually amber indicators have turned red and the entire section is now lit.

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I’ve been using it to commute in and out in the dusky times and it’s been all very agreeable. It’s certainly, as stated, that bit heavier than my usual helmet but given that I’m likely to be dolled up in full protection softshells, bibtights, overshoes and gloves at this time of year then that’s hardly an issue. So far the battery life is bang on as stated so it will need a charge a few times a week depending on how far you ride. For me that’s every few days or so but it’s hardly a hardship. Your helmet generally gets taken into the house so it’s not like having to detach lights from your bike to charge them.

In terms of whether it’s created a difference in approach from road users I honestly can’t say and I don’t think it’s scientifically possible for me to comment. And remember that the plural of anecdote is not data. But I’m content wearing it because it does mean that I should be seen and, if the worst happens, then the blame for not seeing me will fall in the correct direction. It also takes care of one of those places where I seem to have the most issues, that of cars pulling out of side roads and roundabout junctions. Normally I try to engage them with eye contact but that’s not really all that useful in the dark. I hope that this system combined with some turning of the head creates a useful visual stimulus to alert sleepy drivers from their catatonic driving state.

In terms of value this is very good proposition. Assuming no customs charges (and there really should not be) you’re getting a lot of tech for the equivalent of £105 (if you use the above code). That’s a lot of money for sure, but in the context of a helmet with lights it really isn’t. Throw in the additional benefits like indicating and braking and the ability to use an app and it’s very good indeed. Yes, there are a few issues, Lumos claim a few bugs, and the weight could be better, but in the context of a commuting helmet to do a job there’s really nothing else quite like this out there.

I appreciate that it’s quite difficult to take the leap, take the risk and order online when you’ve not seen or tried a product in the flesh, after all, if you don’t like how something fits then you may not wear it. So, if you’re ever passing in South Wales I’m more than happy to let you have a go. I can’t say any fairer than that.

And there we are, a successful Kickstarter product that actually gets delivered and one which works. In the crazy world that is 2016 it’s something to hold onto. I’ll try and get some more and better videos of real world operation up in due course.

By request I’ve added a day test video below which makes my photography better and gives a clearer indication of how clear the lights separate in practice.

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2 thoughts on “Lumos, the smart cycling helmet

  1. Okay on the face of this, this looks like an excellent buy – particularly, as a commuter, my heart rate raises when I contemplate turning right on a busy road.However, how waterproof is the lighting system – could the charging port succumb to water ingress for example?

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    1. No, I very much doubt it. The charging pins are much like my Fenix 3 etc. So likely to be at least IP68 standard. The rest is all highly integrated and flush. I wouldn’t immerse it to test it but it appears to be very water resistant indeed.

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