Of all the protective gear that you wear, a helmet is by far and away the most important item in order to reduce or even prevent injury. And yet for all the technological advances society has seen over the past few decades, motorcycle helmet technology remains pretty much as it was fifty years ago. But that’s all rapidly changing with a number of new technologies either now for sale or soon available that look set to provide drastic improvement to protecting your brain.
The biggest change coming and one you’ve possibly already heard of is MIPS which stands for Motorcycle Impact Protection System. MIPS is less of a new material and more of an innovation in how a motorcycle helmet should work. In a MIPS equipped helmet, the helmet shell and liner are separated by a low friction layer. When such a helmet is subjected to an angled impact (far more common than a direct impact to the top of the helmet by which most helmets are tested and rated), the low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head.
The idea behind this system is actually a case of technology imitating what nature already provides. Our brains are surrounded by a low friction cushion of fluid beneath the skull that protects the brain by allowing it to slide around on impact. Thus, MIPS does the same thing by giving the protective layers within a helmet the ability to slide and therefore absorb energy. The video below from One Industries gives a good demonstration of this:
MIPS technology is currently available in these helmets:
- Fox V3 MIPS
- Fox V4 MIPS
- O’Neal 10 Series MIPS
- One Industries Gamma Raven
- One Industries Gamma Regime
Bell, one of the most renowned helmet manufacturers has just released a helmet with very similar technology to MIPS which they call Rotational Energy Management (in fact, it appears so similar to MIPS that we’re wondering if it’s the same product licensed by Bell to use under a different name). But in addition to allowing the inner layers to move independently like MIPS, the Bell Moto-9 Flex has a few other tricks up its sleeve.
The Moto-9 Flex is equipped with three separate layers that are each designed to manage energy from low, mid and high speed impacts. The EPO (expanded polyolefin) layer is designed for low speed impacts, the middle EPP (expanded polypropylene) takes care of impacts at speeds up to 5 metres per second and the outermost layer is made of traditional expanded polystyrene (EPS). EPO is a soft and flexible low-density polymer that when placed between the EPP and EPS layers, dampens low-threshold impacts.
And now for something completely different. The 6D ATR-1 helmet incorporates omni-directional suspension – small dampers that sit in-between layers of traditional expanded polystyrene. It is this array of isolation dampers surrounding the entire liner, combined with the air-gap, that affords the free-motion suspension capability of their omni-directional suspension.
Like MIPS, this split liner system allows the inner and outer shells to shear omni-directionally within itself to provide improved performance against oblique impacts and angular acceleration demands. But in addition to this, the dampers function with specially designed frusto-conical (their words, not ours) ramping chambers within the ODS system to produce a rapidly escalating spring rate under compressive load. In other words, the system can absorb and dissipate energy far better than traditional EPS alone while at the same time, reducing the rotational forces that MIPS does.
The overall effect is probably similar to that of the Bell Moto-9 Flex, but with a different approach. The 6D Helmets are definitely more elaborate whereas Bell approaches the problem by using different materials of differing densities. Both go a long way to reducing injury from low and mid speed impacts which traditional EPO isn’t so great at.
The 6D ATR-1 range of helmets generally retail at $745 but are currently on special at $645 at Revzilla.
Probably no other company has moved motocross safety forward so much in recent times (perhaps ever) than Leatt and its founder, Dr Chris Leatt. The physician developed what is now known as the Leatt Neck Brace after witnessing a rider die from a neck injury in 2001. Since then, his company has developed advanced body armor, sophisticated knee braces and is now close to releasing what appears to be one of the most advanced helmets ever produced – the GPX 5.5 and 6.5 (the latter is made of carbon while the former uses a composite shell).
Features so far known about the helmet are that the shell is smaller by between 11 and 25 percent than other helmets which reduces impact forces. Leatt states that a 10% smaller shell transfers 22% less torque and rotational energy to the head and brain. The GPX also includes what they call ‘turbines’ which act not only as a damper but allow the inner and outer layers to slide – an approach that looks very similar to 6D Helmets.
Where it really stands out is in the creation of the shell and the energy absorption layers. Where traditional helmets have distinct layers, Leatt has combined them. Looking at a cross section of the helmet, the outer and inner layers are actually combined in a zig-zag pattern. Effectively the shell and the foam is one integrated part.
The Leatt GPX 5.5 and GPX 6.5 are currently available for pre-order from here and at around $360 have a massive price advantage over the competition.
Koroyd isn’t a helmet – it’s a new type of material that has found its way into bicycle and snowboard helmets and hopefully will find its way into motorcycle gear in the near future. Koroyd is made up of tens of thousands of co-polymer extruded tubes, thermally welded together and can be molded into various shapes and sizes.
It’s claimed that Koroyd is far better at energy absorption in comparison to EPS and foams. Upon impact the cores crush in a completely controlled manner, decelerating the energy from the impact and reducing the final trauma levels. Another advantage is that large gaps aren’t needed to create airflow. Because Koroyd is made of thousands of small tubes, airflow comes naturally meaning there’s more total surface area for impact absorption.
How much better is Koroyd? Some are claiming that the technology provides up to 30% more energy absorption than the same helmet with foam – which is a massive difference. The image below is taken from a trade catalog and shows that a Koroyd equipped motorcycle helmet reduces peak G’s in testing by 32% and HIC (the Head Injury Criterion as used by SNELL which is an involved calculation based on the entire time history of the acceleration pulse transmitted to the head) by a massive 58%.
Koroyd is currently in talks with helmet manufacturers and we will hopefully begin to see motorcycle helmets featuring this material in the next few years.
All of the above technologies are great if you’re in the market for a new motocross helmet. But what if you’ve just bought a new lid or want a road helmet? There is one product that may be of interest.
That product is by Unequal Technologies which has found huge support in the American NFL as a way to reduce and prevent head injuries. The padding which is about a quarter of an inch thick can be placed (and trimmed to size) inside a helmet and features three layers:
- Acceleron – An elastomer with amazingly durable cushioning qualities. Multiplies shock absorption capabilities dramatically in patented combinations with Kevlar
- Kevlar – A patented fiber used in law enforcement and the military that, when woven into a sheet, is 5-times stronger than steel. Delivers virtually unmatched strength and flexibility.
- Impactshield – A patented polymer layer added to some Unequal® protective pads to maximize shock suppression and dispersion in a much-desired low profile.
In addition to adoption by American Football players, its found support from a number of other high profile athletes including Winter Olympics and X Games gold medalist Torah Bright. Unequal claims that their product can reduce G-forces generated at impact by up to 25 per cent. While not marketed towards motorcycle riders, there’s no real reason why it can’t be adopted for road helmets – although the legality of ‘modifying’ your helmet by placing an additional layer of padding inside it may vary from country to country and state to state.
It sounds great in theory but at this stage, there’s no real scientific peer-reviewed evidence of the benefit of Unequal’s product. Curiously, Unequal has changed it’s naming of the product over time. Initially the technology was labelled as ‘concussion reduction technology’, then changed to CRT and now is called ART which stands for ‘acceleration reduction technology’. Take out of that what you will…
After decades of stagnation it’s great that we’re finally beginning to see real advances in helmet technology. Until recently, the motorcycle helmet you bought contained simple styrofoam – whether it was a cheap $100 helmet from some unknown brand or a top of the line Shoei that costs ten times as much. Higher end helmets offered no real increase in safety – just better quality, lighter weight and better ventilation. But now new materials and new ways of integrating existing materials into helmets are becoming readily available and will hopefully become mainstream (and therefore affordable) sooner rather than later.