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Bell Helmets: New technology on the way

When shopping for a motorcycle helmet, the old adage used to go - 'Do you have an Arai head (oval) or a Shoei head (round)?' It won't matter as much after Bell Helmets custom fit technology hits the market this winter.

Bell is shaking up the powersports world with an advanced technology not available before. Now you can have your head scanned to provide a correct 3D shape, allowing a helmet to be made that exactly fits your cranium. The scan takes as little as 30 seconds. That scan is sent to the factory and in four to six weeks a new helmet will arrive with a near perfect fit to your head.

There are a number of benefits to custom fitment. The most important is impact absorption. Bell claims there can be up to a 40% energy reduction due to disbursement of impact across the shell of the helmet during a crash. Coupled together with a helmet that already has a Snell M2010 rating, or the upcoming M2015 rating and you've theoretically got the highest Impact Energy Management available on a helmet in the market today. It's too early to prove or disprove the usefulness of custom fitting in reducing impacts or brain injury, and it will be interesting to see what happens to fatality rates if custom fitted helmets become more common.

Photo: A simple scanning session for a custom fit Bell helmet. Scanning only takes about 30 seconds. Image courtesy of Gizmodo.com.

The ultimate purpose of a helmet is to reduce injury to your brain when it slams up against the inside of the cranium during an impact. Brain injury is the biggest concern, because the brain is very fragile, and brain injuries heal very slowly, if at all. A helmet absorbs energy by means of an Expanded Poly Styrene (EPS) foam liner inside the helmet shell. When the helmet smacks into something, the head wants to keep moving, crushing the EPS liner, and spreading the force over a few microseconds. Another purpose of a helmet is to protect the head against abrasion when you go sliding down the street. A custom fit helmet should spread the forces more evenly, but the abrasion resistance and rigidity of the shell is very important. A third consideration is to reduce distractions.

With an off-the-shelf helmet, your skull's shape can be different from the shape of the internal EPS liner, and if the skull contact with the liner is not consistent, the helmet won't absorb the impact evenly. If you've had a custom motorcycle seat built to the shape of your butt, you already know how the weight transfer of your body is spread across the custom seat, rather than resting on pressure points that occur with a standard-shaped seat.

One very important tactic for avoiding crashes is to avoid distractions. A comfortable helmet means you won't have nagging pressure points gnawing at your scalp, or the helmet slipping around and bouncing into your brow as you ride. A custom-fitted helmet becomes a more transparent part of your gear arsenal allowing your mind to stay more focused on the situation ahead.

Started in 1923 as Bell Auto Parts out of Bell, California, the company created their first race car helmets in 1954. Motorcycle helmets followed and by the time "On Any Sunday" rolled around, the name became the in-fashion helmet to have.

As time progressed the helmet division was bought and sold a half dozen times, and slowly the marque faded from the motorcycle industry. In 2002 Bell Powersports surfaced as the motorcycle and bicycle helmet company we know today. Since then distribution on the line has solidified and grown, with the name making its way back into motorcycle stores in a big way.

The roll-out of custom helmet fit begins in the Pacific Northwest with the upcoming International Motorcycle Show in Seattle, November 21-23. Bell will participate with Skagit Powersports on the showroom floor offering free scans to riders who may be interested in getting a custom fitted helmet. Purchase is not necessary and the scan will remain on file with Bell should a rider want to act on it in the future. If the pilot program is successful, Bell plans to roll out the service at 20 national dealers in 2015, with 1-2 locations in the Pacific Northwest.

Custom fitting comes at a cost, but the concern of "how much is my head worth?" is a big part of the equation. Currently Bell is estimating that a custom-fit Star helmet will cost around $999, or $849 for a Moto-9. These helmets currently retail for $699 and $549 in off-the-shelf sizes, meaning the new custom service is going to cost about $300 a helmet.

Photo: Bell's popular Star helmet in off-the-shelf sizing lists for $549. With a custom fit model the price is estimated to be around $849 .

For more information visit the Bell Helmet website at http://www.bellhelmets.com/.
For more information about Snell M2010 visit http://www.snellm2010.org/testingM2010.html 

Patrick Thomas/Fall 14

Assistance with this article was provided by Jose Mateu, Sonny Riggs, David L. Hough and Bud Myers. 


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