Take a much closer look at 6D helmets today! Click here.
Helmet technology is a hot topic and one that some struggle to understand, but 6D helmets have done a phenomenal job of outlining the benefits of their various models and the steps forward that they have made within the industry in just a couple of years. When 6D first entered the market, they refused to be cautious and released industry-firsts that took the community by storm. What is actually the secret to the success of the 6D line? What is a benefit of each model? Why should you choose 6D? All of those questions, which you may have, are answered in this exclusive interview with a co-founder of 6D, Bob Weber.
24MX: In as much detail as you care to share, what was the thought process behind launching 6D? Did you spot a hole in the market that you wanted to take care of?
Bob Weber: I had some awareness of the shortcomings of all helmet’s ability to mitigate angular acceleration forces during an impact event or crash. I believed I had an idea worth developing to improve the capability of the helmet and better protect the human brain when subjected to oblique angle impacts. These are crash events where the force is directed tangential to the centre of mass of the brain causing concussions and worse, including rotational brain injuries.
At that point, I contacted a good friend and engineer Robert Reisinger to help develop the technology. This process took us nearly two years. After prototype testing in an independent laboratory in Los Angeles, we were certain that we had a winning technology and could benefit the market with an improved helmet. It wasn’t so much a hole in the market; it was a massive development in how the helmet could be improved from an energy management and safety aspect.
Everyone searches for bargains. Helmets are one thing that people shouldn't cut corners on though, eh? I would imagine getting that message across is important to you and what 6D stands for.
Correct. Riders should not cut corners on their helmet purchases. Today, helmets are much improved over the traditional designs of only a few years ago and, yes, education has been the number one objective and the most important part of the process for 6D. With limited budgets and all the costs associated with starting a helmet company, we had to sell helmets immediately! Thankfully, we were successful in doing so. Riders should do their homework and learn about the different technologies available in the various brands out there, and how they differentiate from each other before they purchase. Head protection is about safety first and should out-weigh any particular brand loyalty, cool graphic or specific helmet design.
Compared to when you first started the 6D motocross helmets, are you surprised just how far the technology has come? Are you now pushing limits that once seemed impossible?
In 2013, 6D’s ODS system was able to show significant reductions of energy transfer in lower velocity impacts (concussion level hits in the 60 to 150 g’s) in both linear and rotational events, as well as high velocity impacts of the same nature. Our decision to manufacture and sell our own helmets under the 6D brand name (instead of licensing the technology) was an important decision and became the catalyst to market change. This one decision basically forced the market to react and make a decision.
Keep in mind that at that point in time, MIPS was the only known option and they had spent nearly twelve years trying to license their technology to helmet companies with little success. This left the other helmet companies with three choices: Tow-the-line of traditional helmet design, license MIPS or come up with their own technology. A few brands, thinking this would be a simple task, tried to design their own solutions, but limited improvements and some outright failures followed. Ultimately, many chose MIPS in the end. Brands were challenged with the difficulties of trying to work around existing patents in the space owned by 6D, MIPS and others.
Today, there are a few brands focusing on the one area that seems to be free from IP protection. That is placing pads of some sort between the wearer's head and the inner liner to get some incremental improvement. We see limited improvement with most of these designs and, in one case in particular, nearly none. The problem with these designs (and including MIPS) is the shape of the human head. Its long oval shape constrains the ability to allow the helmet liner to slip easily in all directions.
Like most innovations, the 80-20 rule applies (Pareto's Law), where we made significant improvements with our early effort focusing on the problems. We also had to have a system that was manufacturable at a reasonable cost whilst utilising current manufacturing methods and, as is always the case, further improvements come with much higher costs in both time and money. 6D's introduction of the ATR-1 set the bar very high with performance improvements in all aspects of the helmet.
Today, in our ninth year of business, we continue to focus on improved helmet design, R&D and testing. We continually push for better safety performance, which we have achieved with our ATR-2 moto helmet. The ATR-2 uses what we call "Advanced ODS." It is freer to displace in rotation, has more displacement travel and is designed to be easily rebuildable if the EPS inner liner is damaged from crash impact.
On a similar note, how much R&D goes into these 6D helmets? What's the scale of that operation? Just how much work goes into getting that right each time?
When we started 6D in 2011, the medical community was publishing report after report indicating that helmets needed to do at least two things better, protect the brain at the onset of concussions level impacts (which is about 60 g's for an adult male) and mitigate (reduce) rotational energy transfer to better protect the brain. We set out to address the rotational energy issue as everyone knows but, during the development process, we actually engineered a solution that also significantly improved the low-threshold energy mitigation needs the helmet market was looking for.
In the process of study and testing, we had to figure out a way to consistently test a helmet for angular acceleration. This turned out to be more challenging than anticipated to do consistently from helmet to helmet and test lab to test lab. This is currently an industry issue and needs to be standardised similar to how linear testing is conducted today. Testing is expensive. We have to purchase and test not only our own helmets, but many of our competitor's helmets for each test session.
Our Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS) system has been proven in the lab to mitigate both lower velocity impact energy as well as rotational impact energy at all velocities and, as we progress through each new-product development project, we work to improve our ODS technology in all areas of performance, including cost and weight reductions. For example, our ATR-2 out-performs our ATR-1, is 100 grams lighter, and designed to be rebuilt easier and for less cost than our original ATR-1. Both helmets offer great protection, but we strive to improve all of our products at every opportunity.
How often would you recommend replacing a helmet? What sort of lifeline should one of these products have, barring a major crash or incident? What should people watch out for?
For moto and off-road use if a rider is competing many weeks out of the year and practicing regularly, a helmet (regardless of any crash damage) will be somewhat exhausted after one or two years. With that noted, if there are no moderate to severe impacts during the ownership period, the helmet will be suitable for many years, up to five with proper care. With a 6D, you can replace the comfort liners, visor, and mouth pieces (ATR-1) to keep a helmet fresh for as long as the helmet is in good condition.
Also of importance to mention here, the ATR-2 is the only rebuildable moto helmet in the market. This feature provides the owner potentially longer life from the helmet should the EPS inner liner be damaged from a crash. The outer EPP liner is of multi-impact materials and will outlast the helmet so, as long as the shell is not damaged, we can rebuild the helmet in about 20-minutes time. The customer only needs to send it in to 6D headquarters or one of our many trained distributors to get the work done. This can be a significant value for the customer!
How much does feedback from professional athletes impact what consumers buy? Some may not realise that they can use exactly the same helmet as a rider like Justin Hill.
This is a great question. Both Robert and I were racers at the professional level. Both of us have raced nearly our entire lives and in fact still race today. The 6D helmet was designed and engineered by racers with deep knowledge in the space. From the get-go, the goal was to design a safer helmet that would be worn by racers. We achieved this goal. With that noted we have had professional athletes in the helmet since day-one. Eli Tomac was the very first athlete to try the helmet at his home in Colorado.
He was immediately impressed with the comfort, weight, ventilation and balance of the helmet. When we shared our testing data from nine other top brands, he and his parents were convinced we had a better design. Eli actually texted me on the way back to the airport that he wanted to wear it at the Monster Energy Cup that year, which was a bit too early for us. We were ready for Supercross in 2013 however and in fact won our first race and championship with Eli that year.
We worked extensively with our athletes as we developed the ATR-2. Every 6D athlete over the years has worn a production helmet just like we sell day-in and day-out. Stefan Everts has had his son Liam in our 6D from the very beginning. With his knowledge of the sport, and the importance of safety for his son, he wanted Liam in the 6D as soon as he learned about our design! Also, worth mentioning here, 6D does not make different helmets for different markets because of standards. We make one helmet, which exceeds the required standards in the US and all global markets and sell that helmet everywhere.
Finally, what advice that you would give to someone who is about to buy a 6D helmet? Is there anything to watch out for or something to consider when trying to select the right size?
My advice is pretty simple. Choose the correct size (which should be snug, but comfortable) graphic and color, and then enjoy your helmet. You have made an excellent choice in both safety and performance. Take good care of it and ride smart. If you need to improve the fit, we have optional fit liners and different thickness cheek pads. We also offer "Supercool" liners for extremely hot racing conditions that will keep you cooler during the heat of battle. Motocross and enduro competition is dangerous and making wise decisions in the shop and on the track will help you have a long and enjoyable relationship with riding and racing!
Take a much closer look at 6D helmets today! Click here.