NEW SHOCK ABSORPTION SOLUTIONS
By Mark Barnes, Ph.D.
Motorcycle Consumer News
Technological innovation begins with diverse designs. Engineers apply wide-ranging strategies to determine what works best. Matured technology then focuses around the most successful results. Helmet construction also gravitates toward what has been proven most effective, historically, expanded polystyrene (EPS). However, evidence is rapidly being collected on several modern concepts in head protection.
This month’s Cycle Analysis adds essential background on what’s so different about current developments in head protection and why they’re so important.
We’ve assembled several pioneering helmets here, each with extensively researched approaches quite different from one another. It remains undetermined which is best suited to protecting our brains. Instead, we’ll outline the engineering involved and describe features salient to usage outside of crashing.
Many flagships have ultralightweight carbon fiber shells and fancy graphics accompanying the top-shelf safety tech. Some manufacturers also offer similar technology in less expensive, solid-colored polycarbonate models. Multidirectional Impact Protection System (MIPS) is showing up in economical helmets already. Many such technologies could drop in price as production increases are spurred by awareness and demand.
Most of our examples are dirt-oriented, because currently there are more off-road helmets with innovative designs. It makes sense that manufacturers are introducing broad-spectrum impact management into the off-road motorcycle and bicycle markets, as these riders are much more likely to crash. They are also apt to do so with less speed and force, and may even consider hitting the ground a regularly expected event. Innovations rolled out in dirt and ADV helmets will certainly migrate into street offerings, which has already begun in some manufacturers’ lineups. Street riders may get a preview of what’s coming by examining the current off-road lids.
When comparing manufacturer claims and independent research findings, the numbers become confusing, because of the many methods and measurements used. We’re leaving out such data to avoid apples-to-oranges comparisons, but it’s vitally important to understand that brain injury potential increases on a steep curve in relation to impact force. Hence, a huge difference in real-world protection may be afforded by a small percentage decrease in energy transfer or head deceleration rate.
Most helmet and branded material manufacturer websites link to research supporting their designs. We encourage exploration of this material, with care to compare only like measurements derived from like methodologies. Unfortunately, a few manufacturers only list glowing marketing adjectives in their descriptions, with no substantive explanations available.
We tested fit on an intermediate oval head and found most of these helmets ran true to size. The exceptions were the Bell Race Star Flex and Kali Catalyst, which both fit too tightly and required swapping for the next size up. The Race Star was too snug all over, but the Kali Catalyst pressed mainly on the forehead, suggesting it might have been fine on a rounder head of the same circumference. In both cases, the larger sizes fit nicely.
All manufacturers here make different size cheek pads to tailor fit, and the Kali Catalyst comes with a thinner set included. The Race Star includes both thicker and thinner comfort liners. Premium helmets often come with sturdy carrying cases, and most here do, except for the Catalyst and Shoei VFX-EVO, which have plush fabric drawstring socks. Colorways are too numerous to list, except for the Leatt, which only comes as shown. All street models have tool-free, optically correct shields with articulating pivots, but Bell’s mechanism is the slickest and most confi dence-inspiring. All the dirt models have break-away visors, and Alpinestars’s is easiest to replace. Finally, every helmet here has some version of wicking antibacterial liner; Bell’s is fanciest.
These helmets all carry DOT stickers and all but the Kalis and Shoei add ECE certification. The Bell and Shoei also add SNELL approval. The SNELL rating is questionably unnecessary for street use, but is required on certain racetracks. Meeting SNELL’s higher-force testing standards can further detract from the helmet’s capability to protect against lower-energy impacts, which Bell and Shoei have sought to address in these helmets.
At a reference impact velocity of 17 mph, ECE standards are already significantly more conservative than DOT. ECE allows energy absorption limits that correlate with a shocking 97 percent risk of severe traumatic brain injury (TBI) and 77 percent risk of fatality, based on the Prasad/Mertz head injury risk curves, as used in the automotive industry worldwide.
Granted, such numbers represent maximums, but it should be painfully clear that traditional methods of assessing helmet safety are horribly outdated and dangerously misleading as reassurances for consumers. Universal standards don’t yet exist for the wide-spectrum force absorption and rotational energy dissipation of the helmets in this comparison.
However, race helmets are currently being approved by the Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme (FIM) Racing Homologation Program for helmets (FRHPhe). The FRHPhe certification requires linear and rotational force testing for homologation in sanctioned racing (MotoGP).
We believe the new helmet technologies in the pages ahead are VAST UPGRADES over traditional designs and deserve serious consideration.
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Learn more about Kali's Industry Leading Technologies and how we apply this tech to make some of the safest helmets you use today. See our most current innovations in helmet tech and what we have coming soon in next generation