A comfortable, and stylish, urban helmet with clever safety features that is very close to the competition but does undercut the price a little and adds a few important features.
- ABS plastic outer can survive small bumps better than polycarbonate
- Emergency call feature
- Quality app experience
- Magnetic buckle and easy to adjust forward/rearward strap bias
- Full coverage and available MIPS
- Fabric rear is difficult to clean and holds moisture longer
For those who make their way to and from work, school, or just generally navigate through cities all over the world by bike, safety is a big concern. Part of that is both lighting and helmets, and the Unit 1 Faro helmet attempts to solve both of those concerns in a single product.
We have a buyers' guide covering the best commuter helmets and we also have a buyers guide that covers the best bike lights, but lately, there's been a rising trend of brands like Unit 1 attempting to cover both options in one product. The Bontrager Circuit helmet is an intriguing option because of its ability to seamlessly transition from weekend fun to weekday commute duties. It's great if that's your need but not everyone does. If you are looking for a purely urban helmet that mixes in smart features, the Unit 1 Faro is an option that's shown up lately challenging the more established options.
We already covered a similar concept in the Giro Escape MIPS but this option from Unit 1 takes things further and leans into the tech. Given how much we like the idea of using smart technology to increase safety, it caught our eye. Now that we've had a chance to spend some time with it, we are ready to discuss the details. If you are looking for a smart urban helmet keep reading to see if the Unit 1 Faro is the right choice for you.
Design and aesthetics
When it comes to finding the right urban helmet, the look of it is a big deal. It's one of those things that on the face of it might seem a little silly but most really want a helmet that matches their style on the bike. There are tons of options to match a fast ride but finding the right look for a city bike is a lot tricker. Nailing that need is one of the reasons we loved the Giro Escape helmet and it's also one of the things that the Unit 1 Faro gets right.
We took a look at the Maverick (blue) colourway, which is one of four options alongside Blackbird (black), Stingray (light grey) and Juniper (green). The outer cover is an ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) that adds a bit of daily bump protection compared to the ultralight polycarbonate that you'd expect to find on a fitness helmet. It's a feature that pops up on many kids’ helmets for the same reason and it's only one of the features this helmet shares with better kids’ helmets; another is the magnetic buckle from Fidlock. Instead of clicking together, it slides forward and backwards and slips into place with a magnetic click. The system still takes two hands to lock but it's easy to undo with only one hand.
At the front of the ABS outer is the first sign of the built-in technology. Just like the Giro Escape, there's a strip of LED lighting just above the small built-in brim. Flip the helmet to the rear view and there's another LED strip but this time it's red instead of white. Below the rear light and exhaust port is where things get a lot more interesting. The extended rear coverage adds crash protection but it also makes room for what looks, and feels, like a speaker grill.
There's no speaker under that grill but rather a series of LED lights. Hold down the power button in the lower portion and nearly the whole section will light up with what Unit 1 refers to as the 'hidden light'. There are a variety of options for how this light reacts but if you spring for the optional turn signal switch the hidden light is part of that as well.
It's not just the hidden light that's configurable, rather, there is a whole host of options behind the power of a companion app. Open it up on your phone and log into the account you'll need to create and you'll be ready to jump into the options there. The hidden lights have options for three different flash patterns plus solid or bounce. The bounce option creates a line of light that runs across the space and gently moves up and down before bouncing off the top or bottom and reversing direction. You can also select one of five different colours.
As mentioned, it's not just the rear light that's configurable. You can select a preset that either saves battery life or balances visibility with battery, or you can create your own preset. The third option unlocks everything and for the front and back lights, there are options for either solid or three different flash patterns as well as the intensity. You can also turn on optimization based on weather (for which data is pulled from your phone), and lighting conditions which are read via an ambient sensor. If you are using turn signals, all three lights are part of the signal to other road users. Hit the button for the handlebar-mounted control and the reaction from the three lights has options including a full sweep, a partial sweep, and a blink. There is also a choice of how long it takes for the turn signal to cancel.
Along with all the options in the app, you'll also see how much battery life you've got in the helmet and in the rechargeable remote. Both pieces charge via USB-C and the helmet has an 1850 mAh battery with up to 10 hours of battery life which is highly dependent on use. The remote is good for 30 hours and should be a lot more consistent but when you do have to charge it there's no need to remove the mount from your bike. Give the buttons a twist and they come free of the mount for easy charging.
I opened the previous section by talking about how important the aesthetics of an urban helmet is. It's something I feel strongly about but it also has to be in the context of comfort. Unit 1 nails the aesthetics with a look that's sophisticated and a great match for a classy urban bike, but it really makes it work though with a super comfortable helmet. It's a heavy helmet at 580 grams but it's well balanced and comfortable.
I believe strongly in the importance of angular impact technology and as such, I spent time with the MIPS version of the helmet. Inside of the MIPS liner is a series of thick padding with a design that's just right. Instead of using a horizontal strip at the front, there are vertical strips on each side and in the centre. Behind the front brim, there are air intakes that work together to channel air through the helmet and out the exhaust. Unit 1 is hardly the first helmet manufacturer to use a system like this but it's always worth calling out as comfortable and well thought out.
The straps are also a high-point and another point I like to consider. Too many people wear the front of their helmet high on the forehead and often the fix is a challenge. Unit 1 has done an excellent job making the plastic pieces that gather the straps under the ears easy to use. It's simple to slide the straps into place to correctly position the peak of the front. Of course, that also means it moves around a bit but I prefer this arrangement.
These are the details of what it's like to use as a regular helmet but if you aren't looking for more, then the previously mentioned Giro Escape MIPS is an excellent option. It's lighter and it also has lights and MIPS plus it costs a bit less. The Faro Unit 1 is only getting started though. The lights aren't just on and off, they are app-controlled and smart. Actually, more important than any of that they are bright and seriously noticeable.
I jumped into the app and played with building my own preset. The app is well designed and a joy to use for configuration. I set my turn signals to blinkers and my brake light to a faster strobe blink. More interesting to me though was playing with the hidden light; I switched the colour to purple and I changed the flash pattern to beacon so that there are two different patterns happening from the rear. Even with the front and rear at 80%, the whole helmet is bright enough at night. For day use, I’ve set everything to 100% which will impact battery life but should help with being seen. I wear this helmet when riding my Priority Continuum Onyx, which is a bike with integrated lights and a set of Redshift Sports Arclight pedals. If a driver still doesn’t see me, it’s because they aren’t looking.
The other part of the app is, for me, less successful. Aside from interacting with the helmet, there's a whole section of gamified ride tracking. You can take on challenges and earn badges by tracking rides. It's not bad but given that Strava exists and I'm already tracking via my Garmin watch, it's not something I'm ever going to use. If it would sync from Strava, or even to Strava, that would be way more useful. Those who don't use Strava might find more use in this section but it's not something that adds to my experience given the much more established competition out there.
To me what was more important were the safety features. I ride a lot and I don’t feel unsafe in most situations. One situation I do find rather nerve-racking is waiting to make a left on a small road without a dedicated turn lane near my home in Portland. With the Faro the brake lights come on as I slow down then while I wait, I can turn on the turn signal. In reality, getting hit in a situation like that will probably happen because of inattention but obvious flashing lights certainly can’t hurt and the Faro does a good job with all the functionality being seamless. If something does happen, I’ve got the helmet configured to send an emergency message after a crash.
Throughout this review, I deliberately dodged the elephant in the room. That elephant goes by the name of Lumos and the competing Lumos Matrix. The Giro Escape MIPS is also competition but there's clearly a use case for both. If you want something lighter and cheaper with fewer smart features then get the Giro. The Matrix is trickier though because it's almost the exact same helmet.
The pricing on both the Lumos helmet and the Unit 1 helmet have moved around a bit as they've established themselves. As it stands today though, the Unit 1 is a little less expensive. Actually, the Unit 1 Faro is a lot less expensive if you go without the remote and MIPS but if you want to compare apples to apples, you'll need to add everything in. In that comparison, the Faro offers more sizing options, a subtler design, and fall detection. Although keep in mind that some of the subtler designs come from the speaker grill-style cloth cover and while it carries an IPX6 water rating, it can still get dirty and hold on to water.
Aside from those details, the Matrix also adds a fairly significant amount of functionality. While there are some colour and flashing options for the rear of the Faro, it's nothing like the options that the Matrix provides. That rear panel can be a billboard for text or a number of patterns and shapes. You can also sync your rides in the app to Strava and for Apple watch users, hand signals can replace the functionality of the remote.
Given the minimal price difference, what will likely make or break your choice of the Lumos Matrix vs the Unit 1 Faro is going to be the small details and crash detection. If you like the look of the Faro better than that's an easy choice. You might also want the breadth of fit options that the Faro offers, the magnetic buckle is nice, and fall detection is going to be a strong pull for a lot of people.
|Comfort||It’s a heavy helmet but it’s well balanced and the pads are well designed. The rear cradle is also very comfortable but is a hassle to adjust vertically.||8/10|
|App design||The app is under continued development but it’s already really good. Even just in terms of the way it looks, it’s a joy to use. If only it integrated with Strava it would be perfect.||9/10|
|Ventilation||It doesn’t like it’s well vented but it’s actually very good. Urban helmets are always hotter than other styles because of the increased coverage but Unit 1 has done a good job as long as you are moving.||8/10|
|Safety||Thankfully I didn’t have the opportunity to test how it handles a crash, but it boasts angular impact protection and lots of safety features as well as the necessary certifications.||10/10|
|Value||This is an expensive helmet and there’s no getting around that. It has features that make the price understandable but you can get a lot for much less.||7/10|
Tech Specs: Unit 1 Faro
- Price: $229.80
- Battery Capacity: 1850 MAh with duration Up to 10hs
- Full Charge: 3 hrs
- Charging Port: USB Type-C
- Waterproofing: IPX6
- Weight: 630g as measured in size M with MIPS
- More info: unit1gear.com
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