Why Smart Bike Helmets Are (Probably) Safer

SERVES YOU BRIGHT The Lumox Matrix Helmet, $249, lumoshelmet.co Photo: F. Martin Ramin/The Wall Street Journal

CYCLISTS ARE RIDING into the future on smart bikes outfitted with pedal-assist motors, superpowered batteries, LED lights and Bluetooth controls. Why should what they wear to protect their heads be any different?

The Lumos Matrix helmet, launching this week, was specifically designed for the tech revolution in urban cycling. A next-level upgrade on last year’s Lumos model—the first helmet to be sold in Apple stores—it looks, for better or worse, like something a Storm Trooper would wear. For visibility, it’s twice as bright as the previous generation, with a strip of white lights spanning the brow, and 72 LEDs embedded in the back to flash animated turn signals or indicate that you’re braking.

Apple Watch wearers can sync their devices to the helmet, so when they raise their arm for a right or left turn, the corresponding indicator flashes on the helmet’s back. You can get the same functionality by attaching a simple touchpad (included) to your handlebars. The Matrix can also record ride data to your Apple Health and Strava apps and sense when you’re slowing down, thanks to an accelerometer in the touchpad, and engage the brakes.

It isn’t the first smart helmet to hit the market; the Livall Bling BH60 ($50, livall.com) also features turning indicators and both it and the Coros Omni ($150, coros.com) have LED taillight strips that can be controlled via a remote, as well as automatic SOS alerts that call 911 when they sense a crash. But in a lineup, those souped-up versions of a standard helmet pale next to the Matrix.

At this point, companies shouldn’t really need to sell consumers on the safety benefits of helmets. An August 2018 meta-analysis in the journal Accident Analysis & Prevention found they reduced serious head injuries by 60% and cyclist fatalities and other serious injuries by 34%. There aren’t any stats yet on whether smart helmets can further improve those numbers, but it’s reasonable to assume that increased visibility and illuminated turn indicators would decrease your chances of being hit, said Steve Rowson, director of the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab.

With all its bells and whistles, the Matrix is pricey, but not unreasonable. “Good helmets can cost anywhere from $50 to $200,” said John MacArthur, a research associate at Portland State University’s Transportation Research and Education Center. The current top three helmets (sans fancy tech), as rated by Mr. Rowson’s researchers, cost $75, $150 and $200. And if lights aren’t built into a helmet, “you could pay anywhere from $40 to $300 for them,” Mr. MacArthur added.

“Approximately 25% of bike crashes occur in the dark and 20% occur in wet conditions,” he said. “Yes, this helmet would reduce the risk to cyclists; by how much needs to be studied.” Better safe than sorry, even if you might look like a Cyborg-mutant dweeb.

The Wall Street Journal is not compensated by retailers listed in its articles as outlets for products. Listed retailers frequently are not the sole retail outlets.

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