Lifebeam’s tagline, “We make the world’s most advanced wearable instruments for measuring human performance,” is a bold one, to be certain. Over the past several months, I’ve used my own cranium as a testbed to verify the efficacy of Lifebeam’s Genesis helmet and determine, once and for all, whether or not I’m as heartless as some past significant others have led me to believe.
Jokes about painful breakups aside, the Lifebeam Genesis is definitely an interesting foray into the field of performance wearables, eschewing the standard trend of chest- and wrist-mounted heart rate monitors for something much more novel and comfortable.
Common wisdom has led the industry to agree that the best method to measure an athlete’s heart rate (and consequently a plethora of performance metrics) is to locate a monitor directly over the athlete’s heart. While this is a great place for an analyst to gather performance data from an athlete, not every rider or runner is enthused about the idea of strapping a hockey puck-like monitor to their chest. The engineers at Lifebeam realized that there had to be a more comfortable solution for those who wanted to track their vitals over the course of their workout, so they set out to design a new method for measuring beats per minute.
Modern heart rate monitors work by detecting the electrical impulse that’s created whenever your heart beats and then tracking them to determine your heart rate over time. To some, knowing your heart rate is little more than just a novelty or a way to verify that they are, in fact, getting a work out. However, there is a wealth of information that can be garnered from the simple, repeated “bu-dump” that your heart makes. Perhaps most important to cyclists is the ability to know when you are pedaling in your peak aerobic range and getting the most performance out of the finely-tuned machine that is your body.
Lest we get too sidetracked, though, this article is focused primarily on Lifebeam’s Genesis helmet and how it performed when attached to this reviewer’s noggin. To satiate your curiosity on how to train with a heart rate monitor, be sure to check out this fine video from our friends over at Global Mountain Bike Network.
The Genesis is a fairly classic-looking XC-style helmet, offering clean lines and an unoffensive, subtle presence when perched atop the lucky cyclist’s head. The construction of the helmet is impressive, with high-quality materials used throughout and seamless bonding between the expanded foam and outer shell. While many manufacturers are opting for a flashier palette of colors for their brain buckets these days, Lifebeam has decided to stick to the cycling world’s classic choice of pure white.
I was somewhat leery when I read about the amount of electronics that’s packed into the helmet, thinking that a heart rate monitor, battery, computer, light, wireless transmitter, and the associated wiring therein would lead to a bulky helmet that would be anything but a joy to wear. I was pleasantly surprised when greeted with the light weight of the helmet when I first lifted it from its deluxe (seriously, it’s very nice) storage case; the weight of the helmet is comparable to my (now former) go-to Giro Xen, which is a feathery helmet itself.
Low mass alone does not a good helmet make, and the Genesis does have a good amount of adjustability built in, so heads of all shapes and sizes can enjoy the experience. There are two levels of adjustment here, with coarse adjustments being handled by a somewhat unnervingly fragile-feeling inner basket that requires a good deal of force to resize, and fine adjustments being handled by a very smooth wheel mechanism built into the top of the helmet.
Initially, I had a bit of a difficult time getting the Genesis to a comfortable fit, as the inner basket seems to paradoxically tighten its sides while its length expands, which led to an oddly tight fit when I thought I was loosening the helmet. This fit is exacerbated by the heart rate sensor, which is positioned right at the middle of the forehead and requires a good bit of pressure for an accurate reading. As I attempted to adjust the helmet to fit properly, I could feel the sensor pressing into my forehead, leading to some mild discomfort. Thankfully, with enough fidgeting, I was able to find a sweet spot that allowed for an accurate reading without having a heart rate sensor forcibly lodging itself into my forehead.
The integration of all of the Lifebeam electronics is surprisingly elegant and if you weren’t aware ahead of time that there was so much technology packed into the helmet, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the Genesis is nothing more than a helmet for a cyclist who is serious about treating themselves to the nicest gear around. All of the electronics are housed in the back of the helmet and are operated by a solitary button, making it so even a simpleton like myself can figure out how to get the Genesis sharing heart rate data with other wearables.
When I first heard that Bluetooth was the chosen wireless protocol, I had flashbacks of trying to pair electronics adorned with the Bluetooth “B” to any other device, and the painful experience that followed. Anyone who has tried to pair a cell phone to a car radio can surely relate to the frustration, confusion, and inevitably cursing the name of Bluetooth’s creators. Thankfully, Bluetooth ANT is a much more robust and user-friendly affair; dare I say it was downright pleasant. All that was required was to set my Suunto Ambit 3 to discovery mode, press the button on the back of the Genesis, and within seconds, the two were paired and playing nice with each other. No drama, no fussing with passcodes, no repetition of the pairing process, just beautifully-simple linking of technology. The future is now, my friends.
Once the Lifebeam Genesis and your device of choice are connected, all that’s left is to begin your exercise and leave all the cardiograph cataloging to the computers. During the workout, the rider will have access to real-time information from the heart rate monitor and can adjust their effort accordingly. Post-ride, the heart rate data will be available for analysis and can be plotted against the rider’s performance and geographic information to give a full and detailed overview of the exercise–something that is invaluable when training for an upcoming event, or just for the sake of improving one’s riding ability.
Given the unobtrusive weight added by the Lifebeam system, I had assumed that battery life would err on the side of unremarkable. However, I was pleasantly surprised when I was able to repeatedly get over 30 hours of usage per charge, even in the middle of a harsh Alaskan winter, where temperatures regularly dipped below zero degrees Fahrenheit.
When a recharging is required, the Lifebeam Genesis accepts the industry-standard microUSB connection, and users can expect a full battery within a few hours of plugging in. In addition to the impressive battery life, I never experienced lost connections or interference of any sort, just seamless communication between the helmet and my Ambit 3 smartwatch.
Even as a reviewer prone to nit-picking and finding shortcomings in almost any product (comes with the territory, I suppose), I can honestly say that I am both impressed and completely satisfied with the Lifebeam Genesis’s performance. Now that I’ve left the heartless dark ages prior to monitoring my cardiac performance, I can hardly imagine riding without all the additional information. For riders looking to gain more insight into their performance, I think that the Genesis should absolutely be on their shortlist. Though the helmet may take some finagling before its a comfortable fit, once accustomed, it provides invaluable information to augment the rider’s performance data. For riders who already monitor their heart rate using a more-common chest strap device, the Lifebeam still warrants a look, as it provides a substantially less intrusive solution for tracking your beats per minute.
P.S. If you have a favorite helmet and can’t fathom riding without it, Lifebeam also offers standalone heart rate monitor kits that are worth checking out. While they won’t offer as seamless an integration as the Genesis helmet, the heart rate monitor’s performance will be comparable, plus you can still use that helmet that your skull has become so accustomed to.
Thanks to Lifebeam for providing the Genesis helmet for review!
For more photos of people wearing helmets and doing neat things in the mountains, check out AndrewHolmanPhoto.com