Updated May 2022
When you woke up this morning, it was undoubtedly the alarm on your smartphone that raised you from your slumber. You might even have felt the vibrations on your wrist, courtesy of your smartwatch.
The smart thermostat would have kicked in to heat your home. And once dressed, you likely opened your smart fridge to get the milk for your morning coffee before catching up with the news on your smart TV.
After that, you picked up your smart keys, got into your smart car, and went to work on a smart motorway.
And once at work, you would have completed the tasks from your smart teamwork app, having replied to the email from your boss using the S.M.A.R.T format.
By the end of the day, you no doubt told the resident office smart arse exactly where he can shove his smart schedule.
So in a world where everything is smart, do you really need a smart motorcycle helmet in your life?
The Innate Distain Of All Things Smart
I don’t know about you, but I get a bit queasy when dealing with something pre-labelled as ‘smart.’ For a start, who said it was smart?
You? Me? Somebody with a brain?
Or was it just the work of a marketing consultant whose sole purpose in life is to sell us yet more expensive junk that we don’t need? Because in my experience, “smart” is code for “expensive, irritating and generally unnecessary.”
And what do we do when the stress becomes too much? We simplify our lives by turning all the smart stuff OFF! We go back to basics.
So with that in mind, I find myself in a bit of a quandary.
Is There Really A Need For A Smart Motorcycle Helmet?
Now, I appreciate I got up on the wrong side of the bed this morning. I’m tired, and I’m grouchy. But despite everything I’ve said, I’m not averse to technology that makes life easier or safer. Especially when it comes to bikes.
And if new-fangled technology is being developed to make our lives safer and more efficient, then surely it’s worth a look, right?
As mentioned above, I’m an avid believer in change and the adaptation of new technologies. But do I really want them at the expense of my sanity?
Do I want them enough to put up with their constant irritations and connectivity issues?
I don’t know about you, but I value peace. I value the serenity that comes with riding my bike. And I look forward to not having to worry about my phone, emails, WhatsApp messages, Instagram comments or LinkedIn requests.
Is it worth sacrificing all that for a smart motorcycle helmet when a traditional lid has worked just fine for decades?
And what about if I drop it? What if it malfunctions or if the software won’t update?
Like most people, I have enough going on in my life without worrying about charging or updating my smart motorcycle helmet!
And I certainly don’t need the ballache of chasing customer services or waiting in a live chat queue when something goes wrong.
But maybe that’s just me.
Every Helmet Is A Smart Helmet
I’m sorry for the rant here. But doesn’t it seem like every helmet on the market these days is a so-called smart helmet?
I’ve just spent a few hours combing through Google and looking up all the available options. And from what I can see, if a helmet has a camera or allows you to talk to your riding buddies via a fancy-pants intercom, then it’s classed as a smart helmet.
Are you serious?
We’ve had intercoms and action cameras for years. Decades, in fact. If we’re going to call a helmet smart, let’s make sure it’s frigging smart, eh?
Don’t get me wrong, a nice intercom system with crystal clear sound is great. But it’s not revelatory or unique like the recent DAAL system and its noise-cancelling helmet, for example.
Now THAT is revelatory. And I back it to do big things for us in the near future. (More of than in the coming months.)
But an intercom in a bike-branded helmet? I’m sorry, but how is that changing the future of riding motorcycles?
The Elephant In The Room
Let’s be honest here – at the risk of hurting the fragile egos of people/companies/brands.
Whilst I’m sure a few of the past start-up companies promising the next big thing in smart motorcycle helmet technology were well-intentioned, we can’t ignore the fact that they (ultimately) ended up being little more than scams.
Remember Skully and Nuviz? Both of these companies crowdfunded their projects. Skully accumulated $2.5 million from crowdfunding before shutting its doors and disappearing. A lawsuit was filed against them in 2016.
Then we had Nuviz. And whilst this company did ship, they discreetly shut shop when the money ran out, leaving their customers with technology that could no longer be updated – rendering it useless.
I’m not saying that all smart helmet start-ups are scams. I’m not saying that at all.
But this sector of the industry certainly has a chequered history.
Stipulations For This Post
As is probably clear by now, I’m getting a bit tired of reading about smart helmets that aren’t smart.
So in this post, I sifted through the sales and marketing waffle and drilled down on helmets that are actually smart – helmets that are challenging the world of riding by using technology, algorithms, and ways of making the rider better and/or safer.
The helmets must either be available to buy right now or close to release from reputable brands.
Now that’s out of the way, grab a coffee or a beer. Breathe. And come join me as we explore some of the most truly smart helmets available in 2022.
Forcite MK1S Smart Motorcycle Helmet
If you’re new to the world of smart helmets, many companies have been and gone over the last six or seven years.
But Australian company Forcite looks like it’s here to stay by cleverly producing a ‘normal’ helmet that incorporates some of the most advanced gadgetry available.
And whilst all this technology is exciting, that doesn’t take precedence over the main purpose of the lid – which is to protect your bonse.
It’s ridiculously light at 1,550g (this still surprises me), is aerodynamic, constructed from carbon fibre, and is ECE 22.05 certified.
So now we have the basics boxed off, let’s look at some of the party pieces of the MK1S.
Peripheral LED Display
Unlike some of the (perhaps) over-bearing head-up display systems available on other smart helmets, Forcite has patented an F1-style, more minimalist approach.
The propriety display shows navigational commands and hazard alerts in real-time. This means you have the information you need in front of you without averting your eyes from the road.
And Forcite has done this by developing a display specifically for bikers rather than adapting an existing one.
Don’t like what you see? That’s okay. You can toggle through the menus and display only the information you want to see.
If audio is your thing, Forcite has developed a state-of-the-art audio system by integrating Harman Kardon speakers for crisp, clear sound.
There are also dual integrated microphones which maximise vocal clarity and are tuned to cancel out wind noise.
And to control it all, the MK1S comes with a Bluetooth controller that you can mount on your bike. This controls maps and navigation, phone commands, volume and music control, and camera operations.
Integrated Camera System
Speaking of camera operations, the MK1S comes with an in-built (and perfectly seamless) camera, which is embedded just below the visor.
It’s integrated in such a way that it eliminates risk in an impact but is strong enough to warrant race track approval.
The camera records in 1080p @ 60fps – which is hardly Hollywood standard. But then again, do you need it to be? Really?
1080p @ 60fps is the perfect balance between quality, battery, and memory. It’s even good enough to work in low-light conditions.
Finally, the chin positioning of the camera provides you with the optimum placement for uninhibited viewing angles that you can watch back later.
As mentioned above, the exterior shell of the MK1S is carbon fibre – which means Forcite have managed to keep the weight down to 1,550g.
The inner liner is made from 3D formed foam, which contours to the rider’s anatomy. There is also an excellent chin curtain and neck roll to further protect against wind noise.
Ventilation is via an 8-channel vent system with optimised channel airflow.
Finally, the pin-lock ready visor features a lockable mechanism for high-speed usage, and there is also a retractable, UV400-rated internal (dropdown) visor.
CrossHelmet X1 Smart Motorcycle Helmet
With its take-notice design, technology-rich features, and innovative concepts, the CrossHelmet X1 looks like the smart motorcycle helmet of the future.
Starting with the ergonomics, the rounded design allows more space than conventional helmets by shifting the chin plate forwards to create breathing and talking space.
And the helmet is fitted with a panoramic visor that is 30% wider than regular visors to increase the field of vision.
Finally, the X1 meets the DOT, ECE, and JIS safety standards, which means it should be legal across all countries. It also comes with integrated LED lights on each side to enhance visibility at night.
Borderless (the company responsible for the concept and production of the X1) claim that their smart motorcycle helmet boasts 360-degree visibility courtesy of the HUD.
The rear-facing camera at the back of the helmet projects rear visibility in front of your eyes – like that of a rear-view mirror in a car.
Not only does the HUD boost rear vision, but it also offers various travel information such as directional prompts, turn-by-turn navigation, current speed, weather information, battery level, and network connectivity.
As you’d expect with the X1, Bluetooth connectivity comes as standard and is integrated into the design. And not only does it connect to your smartphone, but it also connects with other riders so you can converse on the move.
With the integrated microphone, the X1 also understands voice commands. And that means you can keep your hands on the bars and your eyes on the road at all times.
CrossSound Control & Touch Panel
The clever noise control system allows riders to control environmental sounds as needed.
The system filters out engine or wind noise to reduce fatigue, but it can also do this when listening to music (or speaking to another rider) to ensure you get the very best sound quality.
One of the things I dislike about Bluetooth headsets is the buttons. With gloveless hands, operating the headsets is a doddle. But trying to operate them on the move whilst wearing thick motorcycle gloves makes for a clumsy and infuriating experience.
The X1 mitigates this problem with a touch panel module situated on the side of the helmet.
Simply slide your finger up or down the panel to increase or decrease the volume rather than pressing buttons.
Ancillaries & Weight
The X1 comes with a clear visor as standard. But riders can buy an optional light or dark visor if preferred.
For those who like a seamless experience, a photochromic visor is available, which darkens automatically in bright sunlight and lightens during darker conditions.
The X1 comes in at 1,780g.
Shoei Opticson Smart Motorcycle Helmet
If you like to keep afloat with the releases in the press, you’ll know that this helmet from Shoei is yet to be released. It isn’t on the shelves, it isn’t in shops, and you can’t buy it.
So why, I hear you ask, am I talking about it after the ‘scams’ I’ve just mentioned from the likes of Skully and Nuviz?
Shouldn’t I wait until it’s available to buy and has proved its worth?
Well yes. But let’s not forget we’re talking about Shoei here! If they ship, it will be worth shipping. And if they don’t ship, nobody will be ripped off or left without their hard-earned cash.
Whether it makes it into the mainstream or not is yet to be seen. But I’m confident in the company to know I can at least talk about the prospect of Shoei’s Opticson.
I can’t give you the specifics of the helmet because they haven’t been released yet. But let’s have a look at the all-important head-up display specs.
Shoei Opticson: Details
Shoei originally presented its version of the concept at CES in Las Vegas in 2019, but the project has progressed a lot since then.
Several of the helmets were on show in Osaka and Tokyo in March this year under the moniker ‘Opticson,’ which Shoei has trademarked, revealing its commercial plans for the project.
The notion of Shoei’s tech is relatively easy to grasp. Essentially, whatever you want to see is projected onto a semi-transparent, angled surface known as the ‘combiner.’
From here, the image is flipped so that it appears the right way up in front of your eyes.
To stop the image from distorting or appearing blurry, the image is set seemingly away in front of you to maintain clarity.
Learning from the mistakes of Skully and Nuviz, Shoei has constructed the HUD in such a way that it can be flipped out of the way when not in use – which is actually a great concept.
The Opticson features Bluetooth connectivity – which means you can receive audible navigation instructions through your intercom as well as view them on the HUD.
But it’s not overly complicated, either. Shoei has kept it simple by adding fundamental prompts such as current speed, distance to next turn, and lane guidance.
Another nice feature is the light sensor fitted behind the visor, which allows display brightness to change automatically depending on the amount of ambient light available – like a smartphone.
Finally, the combiner is adjustable. This allows it to be adjusted to the perfect setting for clear visibility and minimal distraction.
Smart Helmets: Conclusion
It’s a tough one, isn’t it? On the one hand, helmets have been essentially the same for decades. And there’s a part of me that thinks we should drag them into the 21st century.
Sure, we’ve forged ahead with stronger, lighter materials. And we’ve added ancillaries such as microphones, Bluetooth units or action cameras.
But to make the move over to a fully-fledged smart motorcycle helmet takes some thinking!
What about you? Are you ready to plunge into the exciting new world of smart motorcycle helmets? I’d be really interested to hear your opinions!
Top image: Alexander Jawfox