Gear review: Sena Momentum helmet

Sena is well known for its bike-to-bike communicators, but now it’s in the helmet business, producing a small range of fully-integrated smart helmets. They come with speakers and a microphone already fitted, making for a non-obtrusive design with discreet buttons on the helmet, instead of a bulky comm unit hanging on the side.

We tested the middle-of-the-range Momentum helmet, which sells in Canada for $640. It’s basically a full-face helmet that’s equipped with the full-featured Sena 20S communications system that we tested last year (if that’s outside your budget, there’s also the Momentum Lite helmet, which is $70 cheaper, which is equipped with the 10S system).

On the horizon are the Momentum Pro, which comes with the 20S and a fully-integrated QHD camera that will sell for $900, and the Momentum Inc and Pro Inc, which include noise cancellation technology to quieten the roar of wind. There’s no official Canadian price for the Inc models yet.

Ooooo – the excitement of opening the box…

What makes these helmet designs so special? The big advantage of having everything integrated, other than convenience, is that the electronic equipment is fully waterproof. Previous bolt-on systems are fine to wear in wet weather, but there’s always a concern that water can leak into the electrics, as not all systems are guaranteed waterproof.

What makes Sena’s helmet particularly appealing is that it was designed from the ground up as a smart helmet, with everything fully integrated right on the drawing board. Other smart helmets put new technology onto existing helmets to create the final product.

Out of the box

Our test helmet is matte black and it’s generally well finished. The only other colour choice is white, and another online review elsewhere criticized it as poorly finished with an orange peel texture to the paint. There’s no such problem with the black paint of our test helmet, and it’s generally an attractive unit. I’ll be putting a subtle reflective sticker on the back, though, to improve visibility at night to following drivers.

The helmet is shipped with basic instructions, a connector cable for charging and updating, a storage bag and even an inflatable ring to use as a stand. There was no explanation of the ring and it took a while to realize its intended use. A neck pillow for one of those people from the tribe that wears rings around their necks? A seat for hemorrhoid sufferers? Eventually it all made sense. To use it, flip the helmet upside down and rest it on the ring to store it, but keep it in the bag to stop dirt falling inside. I hope the ring was not expensive, because I’ll never, ever use it.

The left side of the helmet contains the three buttons that adjust pretty much everything, as well as a pair of tiny lights that show the unit is operating and the strength of the battery. The buttons are uniquely shaped, which is helpful if you ride without gloves (like an idiot) or with fingerless gloves, but with a bit of practice, they’re simple to distinguish as top, middle, bottom, and use with heavier gloves.

The right side holds the micro-USB connector for attaching the cable to your computer, or charging to an outlet, with another tiny light to show it’s connected. Sena recommends checking for updated firmware before first use, and this is straightforward when you connect to the official website with your computer. After that, you’ll get updates sent to your smartphone’s app.

The supplied instruction manual is basic because you’re supposed to get most of your information from the smartphone app. Like the 20S, this helmet is fully connected to your iPhone or Android, and you can adjust its many settings easily from the app. The three buttons can also adjust volume up and down, as well as flick between your Bluetooth player’s music library, FM radio stations, the intercom system (with up to eight people connected) and your phone.

For more about the capabilities of the 20S communicator system, take a look at our review here.

Mark – aka The Man In Black – took the Sena Momentum to Shannonville for its debut ride.
Wearing the helmet

The Sena Momentum fits small, or at least, our test unit does. I have a pretty big head, usually wearing an XL helmet (as I do with HJC). A Large helmet is too much of a squeeze for me to be comfortable, while an XXL helmet is sometimes more comfortable (as it is for me with Shoei) and sometimes just a bit too loose.

Our test helmet is an XXL, which I requested to be on the safe side. I always recommend trying a helmet on at a store (and then buying it at the store that went to all the trouble of helping you) to be sure of the fit. Some helmets are a rounder shape than others, and some will dig into the forehead, or onto the top of the ears. It’s always best to find your personal fit first, then you can stick with it for that brand.

A helmet should be tight to be safe, without being able to move on the head once it’s fastened, but the Momentum is really tight. More than that, the opening is really, really tight. When I first tried it on, I didn’t think I was going to be able to get it onto my head; once it was in place, I wasn’t sure I could close my jaw. If I’d tried it on in a store, I’d have asked for an XXXL and then, on finding there was no such size, walked away from it. But the test helmet arrived in the mail and I persevered and have been wearing it for the last several weeks. It does wear in and become more comfortable over time, but I’ve not yet tried it for more than two hours at a stretch.

You can’t beat a standard double-D ring strap, with the important pieces in red to stand out for emergency personnel, just in case.

Once it’s in place, it fastens easily with a conventional D-ring fastening strap. The Momentum meets DOT and ECE standards, with a composite fibreglass shell and a multi-density EPS foam liner. This sounds good but it’s nothing special, and the whole unit weighs 1,690 grams (at least, in Medium size), which is a bit on the heavy side in these days of more expensive carbon fibre. It’s not uncomfortably heavy, though.

Removing the helmet – pulling your head back through that tight opening – is also a challenge. There’s no way I could wear earrings, even just a stud, and any fancy haircut will be ruined. Fortunately, I’m not known for having fancy haircuts. In short, if you want to buy a Sena helmet and you really must buy it online, then go for a larger size than usual.

Mark tries to figure out the differences between the three buttons.
Using the helmet

I was disappointed that there’s no interior sun-visor available with the Momentum. I’ve become used to the extra layer of shielding when riding into the sun that’s become commonplace with helmets over the last few years. But for all its tightness, it’s not uncomfortable to wear sunglasses inside the Sena helmet – their arms do not push into your temples as they might with some other brands.

The visor, however, is a big disappointment. It’s supposed to click shut against the top of the chin-piece, but it does not. I’m not so worried about that because I usually prefer to ride with the visor open just a notch, for fresh air, but this visor only clicks up in the fully-open position. It will lower to a point of resistance about a couple of centimetres from being closed, but it doesn’t lock at this point and will bounce around a bit.

The visor removes easily but it does not notch open easily. This would be a simple fix to this mechanism if somebody had thought of it.

The Pinlock-ready visor (for an optional anti-fog insert) has a thick, heavy lip at the bottom that makes it easy to grab and raise and lower, but you can’t see through the lip. When it’s at that point of being open a couple of centimetres, the lip cuts right across my lower field of vision, directly over the mirrors. If I ride like this, I have to tip my head up or down to see in the mirrors, or read the gauges. So I mostly left the visor closed. This still left a slight gap between the chin-piece and the bottom of the visor, and which allowed some droplets of water to enter in heavy rain.

Of course, if Mark had thought to remove the sticker before riding, his visibility through the visor might have been improved.

Like most full-face helmets, there are ventilation channels through the chin-piece and at the top of the shell that can be kept closed or opened for cooling, with an outlet at the back for expelling the air; like most helmets, I couldn’t really tell if they were open or closed while riding.

It’s really nice, though, to have the integrated communications system. The microphone is inside the chin-piece, so there’s no boom to twist out of place, and (for me, at least), no mouthpiece to push against my lips, squeezed between the chin-piece and my mouth. The speakers, too, are secure behind the fully-removeable foam liner, where you wouldn’t even know they exist until somebody starts speaking to you. When I use a normal, detachable system, the speakers always slip around a little, and the tops of my ears tend to be pressed by them and become uncomfortable, or even painful, over time. That’s just not the case with the Momentum.

There’s no way Mark is removing this helmet until he absolutely has to – it’s just too tight a squeeze. Must be because he has too many brains in that handsome skull.

The helmet itself, however, is not as quiet as I’d like. Normally, it’s noisy enough that I’d wear a pair of ear plugs to keep the wind howl at bay, but you can’t do that with these built-in speakers because then the sound from them is too muffled. The maximum volume is loud enough to enjoy music at 80 km/h, and appreciate music at 100 km/h. When the speed gets up to 120 km/h, however, the wind noise makes music difficult to hear, even when my iPhone is cranked to maximum volume. I wanted to turn the volume up louder, but even if I could have done so, the total volume of sound directly against my ear drums would have been deafening. There are volume limits for a reason. The only solution to this is to slow down, but if you’re hauling on the interstate, you probably don’t want to have to do that.

Voices were still clear, however, and it’s easy to make phone calls or chat with other riders on the go. The system is voice-activated, so music can be selected, or calls made, by just telling the system what to do. At the other end of the phone line, people I spoke with had no idea I was on a motorcycle, at speed.

The system claims at least 20 hours of talk time and music streaming from one 2.5-hour charge. In other words, all day with a charge overnight.

Conclusion

Sena does not say which company is contracted to make the Momentum helmet, though does say it’s made in China. My guess is it’s the equivalent of a $300 helmet with a $375 communication system installed, which means it’s good value for money. Of course, if something breaks, you have to replace the entire helmet and system, but the helmet is warranted for five years and the electronics for two years.

Overall, it works well as an all-in-one integrated unit. But the sound quality for music is still not that good at highway speed. We’d be interested to try out the Momentum Inc to see if the noise cancellation technology does the trick here, and perhaps that model is the true future of smart helmets. The Momentum Pro, with its subtle and fully-integrated camera, could also be ground-breaking – other drivers won’t realize they’re being filmed, as they always are with a stuck-on GoPro. The camera can also be set to just loop two hours of recording footage, like a dash cam, for a permanent record of everything you see on the road.

If you already own a Sena 20S communication system, it’s probably not worth your while to trade over to the Momentum. But if you need a new helmet and you want a communicator, the Momentum is a slick, effective product that makes it all easy. Not perfect, but easy, and that’s no small feat these days.

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