If you ride a bike, you wear a helmet. It’s kind of a no-brainer these days. In fact, it’s a no-brainer that’s crucial for protecting your brain. According to the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute, wearing a proper fitting, Consumer Product Safety Commission certified helmet could prevent 85 percent of cyclists’ head injuries.
But did you ever wonder how that bike helmet is actually made? As a cyclist, it’s easy to just put on your lid and not think twice about it. We leave all of the hard work to brands like Bell Helmets to think about every facet of helmet creation.
Bell is a brand that’s been in the head protection game for over 60 years. Born in the garage of an Auto Parts shop, the company invented the helmet for the auto racing, motorcycle, and bicycle industries and completely transformed the way people view the mountain biking helmet. When it comes to their classic and trusted bicycle helmets, everything is designed and engineered in-house.
“Having it all under same house allows for quicker turnaround for engineering and designing and making changes,” explains Azul Couzens, director of brand marketing at BRG Sports, the parent company of Bell Helmets.
The brand focuses on fit first. “If a helmet is uncomfortable, you’re not going to wear it,” says Couzens. “We want it to feel like a cozy blanket when you put it on, and we have 60 years of consumer feedback to create the best head form and fit systems to fit the most amount of heads.”
Then, the helmet designs literally start as a twinkle in the eye of the talented team of designers. In fact, the creative minds behind each design draw inspiration from everywhere—from tattoo art to the hottest sneaker launches to sci-fi movies.
“As a team, we try to find inspiration in anything but endemic sources,” says Kyle Ellison, lead designer. “I love cars, so I look at cars a lot.”
The designers work on all of the helmets from high-end to middle to low. “The same effort and energy goes into every helmet so the Tour de France helmet is going to get the same level of attention and detail as the youth mountain bike helmet,” says Ellison.
They’ll sketch the helmet in 2D and then create a 3D model as soon as possible. It varies for each model whether they sculpt by hand or use computer sculpting software and 3D printers, but the idea is to get a physical thing as fast as possible. Many times, sculpting a foam “egg” model is the fastest method, and despite how small these mini dome-lids look, they are actually exactly half the size of a helmet. These half-scale hand-carved models help define the styling gesture of a helmet project and align all of the teams involved in the design process. Once completed, the engineers and test groups can start developing strategies towards making the final design functional and safe.
After the half-sized egg, the next step in the process is sculpting a full-size model of the helmet with clay. This is often done by hand by a team of talented in-house sculptors. Their work space looks like an art studio and some of their projects need to remain top secret until the finished helmet is launched.
Then the designer and engineer work hand-in-hand together. “It used to be that the engineers would make things then chuck them at design, but now we’ve brought the teams closer together and we’re thinking about materials and finishes in the beginning,” says Couzens.
A full-size model of the helmet design is sculpted using clay while the engineers works on safety and materials and the design teams work on colorways and graphics to be used on the final product. In the end, they come up with a prototype of the finished helmet.
Finally, these final models go through a rigorous testing process in-house to ensure they will pass certification. If something doesn’t pass the internal test, they can quickly make changes and adjustments before sending them out for external certification.
So the next time you go to put on your helmet with not a care in the world besides the ride ahead, you can breathe easy knowing trustworthy brands like Bell are working day in and day out to keep you safe out there on the roads, trails, and beyond.