Connected and Apart

Sena R1 Bicycling Helmets Perfect for Cycling Couples

Recently Mrs. Bicycling Blogger and myself celebrated our 30th anniversary by joining a wine, food and cycling trip through Tuscany, Italy. What a fantastic way to celebrate our milestone anniversary!

Now, not every couple will be riding rolling terrain anywhere in the world - let alone the beautiful Tuscan hills - at the same side-by-side speed. 

But wouldn't it be sweet to still chat freely, pointing out sights? Or even from a safety aspect, tell your riding partner up ahead that you've got a problem?

Hands-Free Two-Way Communication Is the Answer

Sena, a company with a long history in creating motorcycle helmet communications, has picked up the call to give us cyclists hands-free communication too!

A pair of the Sena R1 Smart Cycling Helmets came with us on our tour of Tuscany, and we were thrilled with the results. 

Each helmet pairs through Bluetooth to a cell phone. From there you can configure Bluetooth pairing with up to 4 helmets altogether. The phone app of course has the full user guide. So if you forget the button press sequences and functions of each of the 3 buttons on the helmet, no problem - you can easily look it all up. 

Through the Bluetooth pairing you can listen to your own music playlists or podcasts from your phone. You can make and receive phone calls. You can even listen to local FM radio stations through the helmet's built-in radio tuner. 

As it is an open-ear design, nothing sits inside your ears. The speakers sit inside the rim of the helmet just above your ears. The microphone is embedded in the rim above your forehead. Not only do you safely continue to hear surrounding traffic, but you also stay on-side of the law in many jurisdictions that now outlaw in-ear headphones while riding your bike.

Also from a safety angle, the standard "Car Back" and "Car Up" warnings are easily shared in natural talking voices.

Excellent Noise Cancelling Audio Tech

Sena has gotten the noise cancelling dialed in too with their design. While we rode, my wife and I each spoke freely and could be heard clearly. Only big wind gusts occasionally broke through. 

All-in-all it was a pleasant way to chat and enjoy our rides together, like we were standing right next each other, even though we could have been hundreds of metres apart! The specs say a half-mile (900m). We had at least that much coverage, as long as we were still within line-of-sight. Over bigger hills and around rocky bends, connections would drop. But the R1 helmets would automatically re-connect all on their own.


Having a built-in intercom in your helmet means it becomes a throw-away item eventually. Helmets do not last forever. And should you crash your Sena R1, you might be tempted to keep using it, because you've invested in the hands-free intercom system first and foremost with this purchase. But don't submit to your temptation to keep using a crashed helmet. It no longer qualifies as a true helmet if it's damaged. Throw it away. 

What would be a second design option in this case is to have the intercom radio available as an attachment to any helmet. Then all the radio functions can be easily moved from helmet to helmet. Sena does make some systems like this, but they all appear to involve some kind of over-the-ear audio component, which isn't ideal compared to the open ear design of the R1 helmet.

Unfortunately I don't see a crash replacement policy on Sena's website, which many standard bike helmet manufacturers do offer. It usually comes in the form of a $50 credit on the purchase of a new helmet when the crashed one gets sent back. This would help remove the customer temptation to keep using a crashed helmet. 

Pricing and Availability

Sena R1: Shop now on
Priced under $200, you can buy the Sena R1 directly from the website, but only if you live in the United States. Canadians can buy them through, but full warranty support might not be available. Caveat emptor in that case I suppose.

Summary: A Great Way to Share Your Ride

Besides the basic headphone features for listening to music and talking on your phone, the hands-free intercom system sets the Sena R1 apart from other systems out there. And really, at the $200 price point, it's in the same cost range of most high-quality helmets on the market.

As I'm also a cycling coach (see: I can see the value too of using the R1 during coached training sessions. I could easily give in-ear coaching directions during a training ride, which would be particularly useful for technique feedback. 

Update 2021

Sena has released a new version of their two-way radio design: the pi. This is the version I've been looking for because it creates so much flexibility.

The pi makes any helmet into a smart helmet.

It has all the stay-connected Bluetooth intercom features of the R1 helmet I discuss above, but places it all inside a convenient headset design that attaches to the straps (up to 18mm wide) of any helmet. All it lacks is the 900m comm range. The pi specs out at 400m. For most riding scenarios, that'll still be fine.

So you can keep using your favourite helmet AND upgrade it to instantly talk two-way without cell phone data use of any kind. At the $99 price point, it's an ideal cycling enthusiast gift idea too for any special occasion.
Today, US riders can order it direct from Unfortunately Sena still doesn't ship to Canada. I hope they can change that. This could become a game changer product for many riding and coaching scenarios that cyclists around the world would enjoy. Perhaps at least we'll see it available soon on

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