In last week’s Interbike Report, Part 1: The Trends, I hit on a number of trends we saw at Interbike. Today, I’d like to expand on the technology behind one of those trends. It’s also being employed as a stand-alone product.
The surge of so-called smart helmets hitting the market has led some manufacturers to leverage technology so that riders can hear audio without inserting earbuds, wearing traditional headphones or acquiring the audio in the traditional way. The tech is called bone-conduction audio.
Bone conduction has been around for years, with the first description, in 1923, of a bone-conduction hearing aid. Google Glass uses this technology for the relay of information to the user though a transducer that sits beside the ear.
So, how does it work?
Bone conduction bypasses the eardrums so that your ears remain open and unimpeded. These types of devices are known as “open-ear” headphones. Sound waves are converted into vibrations and delivered (conducted) through your upper cheekbones. The cochlea in your ears receives the vibrations, bypassing the ear canal and ear drum.
1) While I do not condone using headphones or earbuds while cycling outdoors, if you feel that you must listen to music or answer your phone, open-ear headphones are probably a “safer” alternative since you can still hear what’s going on around you.
2) Not all smart helmets use bone-conduction audio. Some use built-in speakers that sit directly above, or near, your ears.
Headphones leveraging bone conduction
At Interbike, AfterShokz gave me a pair of their Trekz Titanium headphones to test. I was curious about the sound quality and liked the fact that they were light weight (made of titanium) and sweat-resistant.
I envisioned using them for Computrainer classes, gym workouts and hiking. For those who attend sporting events, you can listen to the baseball game, a NASCAR race, or football game wirelessly through these headphones, eliminating traditional bulky headphones.
AfterShokz headphones pair with any Bluetooth-enabled device such as a smartphone or iPad. I just happened to wake up at 3 a.m. one morning in Vegas and couldn’t go back to sleep. So I tried pairing my phone to the Trekz to listen to some music. It took all of 2 minutes to set up, and I was jamming. I have yet to make or take a call using them, but I plan to do a full review of the product at a later date. Trekz Titanium $129.99 www.aftershokz.com
Coros’ Smart Helmet Uses Bone-Conduction Audio
I featured Coros’ LINX helmet in last week’s article. The company uses the same bone-conduction technology in its helmet, through speakers on the front straps that rest on the wearer’s cheekbones.
The helmet is designed so a rider can hear traffic and the environment around them but still be able to wirelessly listen to music, audio navigation and ride data, etc. The company’s literature states that the helmet provides all-weather durability and is water-, splash- and sweat-resistant.
The Coros LINX mobile app connects to the LINX helmet, Smart Remote (which attaches to the handlebar) and smartphone. You can also pair the helmet with your smart phone. You receive navigation and essential ride stats through voice – speed, distance, duration, pace, calories, etc. You can track your rides and ride history to include distance, time, average speed, max speed, calories burned, elevations and more.
Set, save and share routes, set preferred waypoints, and share ride data with leading cycling apps in the future. As an added security feature, you can designate an emergency contact who’ll be notified in the event of a significant helmet impact. The mobile app is available for iOS and Android users. $200; $135 on Kickstarter ifstill available. www.coros.com
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women's cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri's full bio.