In my column back in the August 2010 issue of Sport Rider, I bemoaned the fact that despite rapid advances in design and manufacturing technology, the basic structural design of helmets has remained the same for more than 50 years. Sure, there’s been plenty of innovations such as internal venting, anti-fogging faceshields, and better aerodynamics. But the helmet’s basic architecture — an expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam liner encased in a polycarbonate or fiberglass-based hard outer shell — hasn’t really changed much since the crash helmet’s inception back in the ‘50s. Add to that safety standards that have either remained the same one-size-fits-all or until recently followed an arbitrary raise-the-pass-level strategy every handful of years, and you have a product design that has become quite stagnant.
But it looks like someone finally decided to confront the elephant in the helmet showroom. Bob Weber — who incidentally used to be the publisher (and my boss) at Sport Rider back in the late ‘90s/early ‘00s — and his new company 6D Helmets recently debuted their ATR-1 helmet that looks outwardly similar to most off-road lids on the market today. But it’s what’s inside the ATR-1 that makes a crucial difference.
So basically Weber and company co-founder/director of engineering Robert Reisinger have designed a better mousetrap all the way around. "
Instead of the standard 30-40mm-thick EPS foam inner liner that is used to diffuse/absorb impact energy, the 6D helmet features a new patent-pending liner design called Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS). EPS is still used with the ODS liner, but instead of a single one-piece liner, the ODS divides it into an inner and outer section that is separated by a 7mm air gap. Inside this gap are strategically placed and specially designed elastomeric isolation dampers that provide the inner liner with a sort of free-motion suspension capability; this allows the 6D helmet to not only provide a broader range of energy management (especially “low threshold” impacts — more common in off-road riding — that don’t show up as physical damage to the helmet, but are still well above the level that results in a concussion), but also provide much greater protection against rotational brain injuries resulting from oblique (hitting at an angle, not straight down) impacts.
Helmets are always tested to the major standards using a vertical plane in order to ensure positive control over any variables in the test. The problem is that in the real world, not many impacts are at a straight 90-degree angle to the rider’s brain; more often than not, any impact will be at an oblique angle, and those impacts result in angular acceleration to the brain, a chief cause of debilitating brain injuries.
But don’t think that the 6D helmet is just built around defending against angular and low-velocity impacts. Although the test results for angular acceleration and low threshold impacts showed a tremendous improvement over top-performing Snell and ECE standard helmets, the ATR-1 also displayed a marked advantage in higher-velocity linear impacts as well. And the air gap between the EPS liners enforced by the ODS also allows new avenues for airflow management inside the helmet for venting. Even better, there is no size or weight penalty with the ODS, and the suspension doesn’t cause a feeling as if the outer portion of the helmet is loose or flexing.
So basically Weber and company co-founder/director of engineering Robert Reisinger have designed a better mousetrap all the way around.
After seeing a number of riders suffer concussions and injuries resulting from impacts that aren’t accounted for in the helmet test standards, Weber simply decided to quit his previous high-level management job at a renowned off-road accessory manufacturer and put his own money and time into tackling an issue that has sat stagnant for decades. “I just said, ‘You know what? I’m going to build a better helmet.’ And that’s what I put my mind to for the past two years.” Weber actually came up with the idea while riding his mountain bike (elastomeric dampers are commonly used in mountain bike suspension), and once he discussed his idea with Reisinger, the engineer was on board and helped refine the concept.
Why am I getting so excited about a new off-road helmet? Because Weber says that a 6D street helmet using the ODS concept is well into the design stages, and will be debuting later in 2013. Weber also hopes that his design will spark the other helmet companies to develop better protection technologies as well. “Now it’s going to force those guys to get busy,” predicts Weber. For more info, go to www.6dhelmets.com.