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Interview: Chris Smith from Lazer Sport: Afterword

Posted by bikezilla on October 3, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Afterword

I had been contemplating a helmet article for a few months, when, bam, I stumbled onto Chris Smith from Lazer Sport on Twitter.

I’m slightly embarrassed to admit that my entire initial conversation with him was not based on curiosity about helmets as much as it was about whether or not he’d be a good interviewee. Every one of those initial questions were just probes, feeling out his knowledge base and his frankness.

I mean, was he just going to spit out the company line? Or would he say something interesting?

While many of his answers look like the “standard company line,” and some of them certainly are, many are also truthful in a practical sense. He was a lot more open than what I’d expected, but I still had some frustration in the nature of a few responses.

For instance, is it a cop-out when a company builds helmets within the current – and admittedly inadequate – legal testing standards, and falls back on the argument of ‘lack of empirical data’ as a reason for continuing to make helmets without faired or recessed vents; or with more and larger vents even though it means that smaller sections of harder foam crush against a rider’s skull in the event of a crash; with a visor; or to justify the “aero tail” for purely recreational riders when it gives no clear benefit but may in fact increase the chance for a rotational brain injury?

Yes and no.

If there are concerns regarding unfaired vents, unrecesssed vents, aero-tails, the potential of being sliced in the face by a visor, thinner and harder vent ribs actually being less safe despite performing identically during testing of the legal standard, then who is it incumbent upon to study those concerns? Shouldn’t that be helmet manufacturers? Do they get to turn their heads and ignore possibly serious and even dangerous failings in their products merely because the current legal standard fails to make them responsible for that specific aspect?

It’s clear from the interview that the legal standard is widely acknowledged within the industry to be inadequate and unrealistic. Once that is acknowledged, doesn’t it become the responsibility of manufacturers to ensure that their helmets are safe according to real-world standards and not merely an ineffectual and unrealistic legal standard?

Are helmet manufacturers negligent if they fail to at least examine the possibilities that certain features may be inherently unsafe?

But if helmet manufacturers are negligent, then don’t consumers hold some responsibility as well?

Chris said:

“ … if safety is the only goal in helmet manufacturing, then you’re not going to survive as a company.”

And he established several times during our interview that customers are not purchasing helmets based on which one has the best safety features, nor based on which has the fewest unsafe features, and that consumers – when they bother to contact Lazer either directly or through their dealers – aren’t concerned with safety-based features, but instead with cosmetics and things like “will I be able to put my sunglasses in the vents of this helmet?”

It would seem that, at a minimum, consumers are complicit in any negligence on behalf of the helmet industry.

On one hand, manufacturers have a responsibility to make the safest helmet possible, and when they know that the legal testing standard is inadequate and unrealistic, then they have the additional responsibility of developing helmets that protect in real-world situations.

But, if the consumer proves through their buying habits and through an utter lack of expressed interest in those safer helmets, and the manufacturers might in fact run themselves into the ground by producing maximally-safe helmets that will then be purchased by virtually no one, then it seems right and reasonable that, as an act of self-preservation, such helmets are not offered.

If consumers say they want more vents, and they don’t care if the resulting helmet puts smaller sections of harder foam crushing against their skull should they crash, then what?

Is it the manufacturers’ responsibility to save us from ourselves and refuse to make that type of helmets? If one manufacturer refuses, then won’t there be others willing to oblige?

But Lazer’s (and I assume most if not all manufacturers’) practice of looking, as Chris said, “at what consumers are already buying in that segment” seems to blatantly ignore any possible direct input from consumers. There are no studies, no polls, no questionnaires, no focus groups, no email queries via a database of existing customers.

It’s just, “hey, which helmets are our competitors selling the most of and what features do those helmets already have?” That’s not only a very indirect method of gathering data, but it fails to take into account that consumers only have a specific selection of helmets and features available without even wondering if maybe we’d like something different if we were given an opportunity to provide direct feedback. It’s like the industry doesn’t really give a damn about whether or not we want safer helmets, it’s going to offer us what IT thinks we want and if that isn’t good enough, well just too damned bad.

When Chris says, “I would politely take issue with people saying that’s what they’re looking for, because that’s not what they’re looking for, because that’s not what people are buying,” isn’t at least a portion of that due to the fact that we can’t buy those helmets with specific safety features because they aren’t even offered?

You can say that consumers “vote” with their wallets, but they can only “vote” in that manner for products that are already on the market and readily available for purchase.

The claim of not knowing or being able to tell if certain features, like faired vents, recessed vents, rounded vent opening edges, or lack of an aero-tail are truly safer or not because of a lack of empirical data and lack of testing standards, on the one hand is true and practical, but on the other is disingenuous. They’d have that empirical data if they gathered it.

And I apologize if this seems like I’m picking on Chris and Lazer. They just happen to be the sacrificial offering, laid upon the altar on behalf of the industry entire. And as of this writing, POC has not replied with requested feedback.

Let’s take, for instance, the Lazer Rigidity Brace System (RBS). Is there a legal testing standard to determine if this is actually safer? Have there been official studies? Or did someone just say, “Hey, if we manage to keep the foam together in multiple low-speed impacts that might be a good thing and save some riders from suffering brain or skull injuries!?”

I mean, sure it SEEMS like a great idea, and quite logical, but shucks, without that legal testing standard and that empirical data, it’s just pointless to even try to know for certain. Right?

Of course not. So I don’t buy the argument that commonsense can’t be used in evaluating the benefits or dangers of certain features. Like, I don’t buy that you just can’t know without a legal testing standard and an official study supplying official empirical data that narrower vent ribs made of harder foam will cause more damage when smashing into your skull than will wider vent ribs made of softer foam.

X amount of energy reaching your skull over a smaller area, delivered through a harder, less giving surface is a bad thing. I don’t need an army of engineers and scientists to spend millions of dollars and hundreds of hours in a lab to figure that out for me.

As I mentioned above, the people who bother contacting Chris and his industry counterparts at all seem only to be concerned with cosmetics, weight, airflow and convenience features, instead of with any facet of helmet safety. I find that very disappointing.

Because I know from reading what cyclists and fans of cycling say on Twitter and elsewhere to me, that many people are very concerned with helmet safety issues. So, why aren’t any of those people complaining to the people who actually make decisions about what features go into the helmets we buy and use? Why aren’t they calling and writing Chris at Lazer and his counterparts at other helmet manufacturers? If you’re going to expend the breath or energy to complain, then, damn it, complain so as to actually make a difference.

Even more disappointing is this; when Chris addressed the issue of customer contact he said, “…if I did get those questions, it would have to go back to, well, you know, our helmets are designed to meet and exceed the current testing standard.”

In other words, even if you do get off your ass and direct your needs, desires and complaints to the guy or the place where it matters – or should matter – you’ll get brushed off. Why? Because companies like Lazer don’t really give a damn about what you want? They only care about focusing on selling you what they want to sell you? When it comes right down to it, that’s really how it seems to be.

How is it possible to combat that? Well, Lazer and other companies might blow YOU off if you call. But, what if it wasn’t just you? What if it was you and three of your friends all in a week, plus a guy from your club and three of his friends, plus a guy you pass on the trail a couple times per month and three of his friends, plus…? As the numbers mount it becomes more difficult and less practical to ignore them.

Or what if you initiated a petition directed to the heads of several major helmet manufacturers at someplace like Change.org? What if a few thousand people all signed up for something like that and all those names and requests or demands went out to all those helmet manufacturers? What if you did that again every six months until they finally granted you the notice and respect you deserve and began producing better helmets? Helmets with commonsense safety features, like faired and recessed vents, like fewer and smaller vents and thicker vent ribs, like no aero-tail and no visor, like rounded shells. Wouldn’t that be better than having them fall back on, “Well, these other helmets meet the legal testing standard that all of us in the industry readily acknowledge to be inadequate and unrealistic.” Why not upset the paradigm that the consumer will buy whatever these companies make and keep their mouths shut and like it?

Chris says, and I don’t doubt his sincerity, “We are a helmet manufacturing company and the rider’s safety, at the end of the day, is our number one priority.” But, is that true? I mean, in a practical, real world sense, is it true? Because that notion seems to contradict a lot of what we covered in our interview.

I do not mean to say – not in any way or to any extent – that helmet manufacturers intentionally make unsafe helmets. But, I do mean that they are ready and willing to settle for “safe enough” while using the known-to-be-inadequate legal testing standard as a shield and a convenience.

Companies like Lazer and POC are at least attempting to change on some level with the introduction of MIPS to (so far) a very small portion of their overall product lines. But unlike MIPS, those other features that we’ve mentioned – faired vents, etc. – don’t require any special period of compatibility development and they don’t cost an extra $20 per helmet to introduce. They can be done now and at very minimal cost.

Chris and the guys at Lazer, POC and other helmet companies are not evil people. They don’t want you to have unsafe helmets just so they can line their pockets with fat stacks of your cash. But, if they’re going to become motivated to alter the helmet lines to reflect YOUR desire for specific safety features, then YOU will have to express your thoughts directly to them, and you’ll have to encourage your friends to do the same. They’re going to need to know that “if they build it, you will come” (to thoroughly mangle a Field of Dreams quote). They’ll need to know that in giving you helmets with these features, that they won’t be sacrificing their very company to insincere whim and caprice. They need to know that we’re not only asking for helmets with certain features and without others, but that if those helmets are offered to us, we will buy them.

So contact the manufacturer of your favorite helmets and express your opinions. Then get your friends to do the same. And have them get their friends involved. And so on.

Here is some contact information for a few helmet manufacturers for you to begin with:

Lazer:

Chris@lazersport.com

POC:

info@pocsports.com

Giro:

@GiroSportDesign (on Twitter)

Bell:

Bell Contact Form Page   ————————————-

Chris has written a rebuttal article that I hope all of you will read.

In reference to that rebuttal I would like to make two points:

1. The supporting and explanatory links that Chris says are missing, are actually at the very top of Part 1, with more links sprinkled throughout parts 1 and 2.

Chris was, in fact, made aware of this material well in advance of our interview, and again at the start of our conversation.

2. I make an intentional point to say in the Afterword: I do not mean to say – not in any way or to any extent – that helmet manufacturers intentionally make unsafe helmets.” 


The rest of Chris’ rebuttal I love, because it reframes the presentation of helmets, the marketing of helmets, in the context of safety and safety features, which is a habit the industry does not seem to have developed. That’s very curious to me, considering that this is, in fact, an industry based on safety.


My sincerest thanks to Lazer Sport, but especially to Chris. 

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Interview: Chris Smith from Lazer Sport: Part 2

Posted by bikezilla on September 29, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Afterword

This is Part 2 of my interview with Chris Smith from Lazer Sport, and includes comments from MIPS’ Daniel Lanner.

Bz:

I read some of your material and learned that head injuries caused by crashes are more often due to rotational forces, because veins and nerves in the brain get torn by the twisting and rotation.

Then I watched your MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) video.

Some of Lazer’s helmets for 2012 (P’Nut and Nut’Z) will come with the MIPS option.

It looks to me like MIPS helmets have a liner and in case of impact this liner rotates a little.
CS:

“Yeah, basically, we use a retention system called Rollsys® in our high-end helmets.

And, basically, compared to other manufacturers where all the adjustment is done at the back of the helmet and pulls the front of the helmet against the rider’s head. The Rollss® system is a cable-actuated system that goes all the way around the rider’s head and allows the entire circumference of the retention system to adjust around the rider’s head. It serves as kind of a self-centering mechanism to ensure that the helmet is centered on the rider’s head. It also helps to distribute the load of retention all the way around the rider’s head so they don’t have any kind of hot spots or discomfort. It’s very easy to adjust, there’s a roller on the top of the helmet that controls the cable.

Well, through our collaboration with MIPS, they’ve modified the Rollsys® system so that it’s doing the same thing, where it’s kind of isolating the rider’s head from the shell. The hybrid MIPS/Rollsys® system is attached to one pivot point on the shell.

In the even of an impact that’s severe enough to activate the MIPS system, that one pivot point will break loose, and allow the shell to rotate around the MIPS.”

Bz:

Under normal conditions and prior to any impact, there’s zero rotation in the system, strictly due to MIPS? You can’t just grab your helmet and jiggle it?
CS:

“No, no. You’re not going to be able to pull the helmet/shell off the rider’s head, or pull the shell from the retention system.

There’s an attachment point and in the event of an impact of significance – and that’s engineered, you know it’s got to be a certain amount of energy going into the helmet – this attachment point will break loose and allow the shell to rotate or move, while the MIPS retention system isolates the head from that movement.

The shell of the helmet is rotating instead of the head.

That’s also a great way to identify when a helmet has actually received an impact that is sufficient enough to replace the helmet. Once that MIPS attachment point is broken loose from the shell there’s no way to reattach it. The helmet at that point needs to be replaced.”

Bz:

How much weight does the MIPS liner/system add to a helmet? How does it affect fit and comfort?
CS:

“It doesn’t affect fit and comfort at all, because it’s basically duplicating our current Rollsys® system. Again, we’re talking about children’s helmets, what we’re offering for 2012.

Because of the size of the helmet and the design of the retention system, it doesn’t add any weight and it doesn’t affect the comfort of the helmet at all.”

Bz:

Does it affect airflow?
CS:

“Nope. It’s basically replacing one retention system with another and the MIPS retention system as opposed to being attached the way our traditional Rollsys® system is attached, the MIPS system is attached differently with this one pivot point at the top of the helmet.

But otherwise the size of the belt that goes around the rider’s head, the size of the, we call it the basket, that goes around the back of the rider’s head, it’s basically the same as our current system. It’s just been kind of redesigned and modified by MIPS in order to achieve their goal and pass their test.”

Bz:

MIPS allows the inner portion of the helmet to move within the outer portion. But what about simply designing helmets with safer exteriors? Smoother, more rounded surfaces? Faired and rounded vents and ribs? Fewer vents? No aero-tail? No visor?
CS:

“Well, I would say two things. First off, it kind of goes back to what I was saying about designing the safest helmet in the world, but nobody is going to buy it.

If you go to an Ironman triathlete who is looking for a helmet that offers A, B and C features, and you don’t offer them that helmet, but you say, well I offer you this helmet, it’s a lot safer in case you crash. They say, ‘This helmet from your competitor meets the testing standard, but I also get all this other stuff, why should I buy your helmet?’ ‘Well, our helmet is safer.’ ‘But, I’m not gonna crash.’

At that point you’re trying to sell someone something that they’re not really interested in. That can be applied to whatever segment you’re talking about.

But the other, more specific [point] to this topic is, if you are looking at rotational brain injury and reducing rotational brain injury, then you’re going to design a system to address that specific need. And if you can address that need while still incorporating the features that consumers want, like air vents, or an aerodynamic tail, or whatever else the helmet might have, if you can maintain those features and still address the phenomenon of rotational brain injury, then it’s a win for everybody.

You’ve improved the rider’s ability to get through a catastrophic impact with less chance for rotational brain injury, you’ve improved their ability to survive an impact like that, while you’re still delivering the performance that they are looking for in that helmet.

Now, the downside to that is, it’s more expensive.

Like I said, we’re offering the P’Nut helmet and the Nut’Z helmet in a MIPS version and a non-MIPS version, and at retail the MIPS version is going to be $20 more.

So, the consumer has to make a decision, ‘What’s more important to me – a helmet that has the performance features that I want and is $20 less, or a helmet that has all the performance features that I want and this added safety benefit that’s $20 more?’”

Bz:

Is that going to be standard upgrade price when you take MIPS to other helmets and lines?
CS:

“That hasn’t been decided yet.

The issue with MIPS is that the helmet has to be designed specifically to accept it. The P’Nut helmet and the Nut’Z helmets, we introduced those in 2011 and we worked with MIPS on that helmet in order to come up with a helmet that was specifically designed to accept the MIPS system. Now, we’re introducing that for 2012, because the system is finally dialed, they’re comfortable with their testing and we’re comfortable with integrating into the shell.

So, going forward if we’re going to come out with new helmets that have MIPS, the helmet has to be designed, or redesigned to accept it. We had to make a decision to introduce MIPS at a particular segment of the market. We decided to address the children’s market first, because the two guys that own Lazer over in Belgium, myself, the brand manager here in the United States who has a lot of feedback on product design, we all have families, we all have kids. It’s a huge, huge priority for us.

We all ride, and wear helmets.

So, we kind of needed to update our children’s helmet line. We decided, okay, we’re going to come out with some new children’s helmets, so let’s design the shells to accept this MIPS system and let’s introduce that into our children’s selection first before we bring it out into our other helmets.

But, it’s definitely a feature that we’re going to include in more helmets going forward, because we really believe in it.”

Bz:

I want to keep talking about this, but I need to jump back to the previous question.

The reason that we don’t see what a lot of people might think are common-sense features like faired and rounded vents is, it’s not what consumers are demanding, it’s not what they’re looking for, it’s not going to sell?
CS:

“Yeah. And I would politely take issue with people saying that that’s what they’re looking for, because that’s not what they’re looking for, because that’s not what people are buying.

The market is addressing what the consumers are looking for.”

Bz:

When people contact you they’re not saying, ‘Hey, I wish you’d make a helmet with faired/rounded vents, no aero tail, etc.’
CS:

“Nope. People are telling me they want lighter helmets, they want better air flow, they want a particular style or cosmetic. That is what people are concerned about.

Or, you know the other big issue that we face with our helmets is – you’re probably not going to believe this – our helmets have a reputation for not being sunglasses-friendly. You can’t stick your glasses in the vents. That’s the number one feedback I get on our helmets. People are critical of our helmet design because the vents are not positioned for people to easily stick their sunglasses in their helmets.

Every time I get that comment, while acknowledging that’s what the market is asking for in the high-end helmets, it still blows me away that that is what we’re getting requests for and that is what people are concerned with.”

Bz:

What about after a serious professional crash like Wouter Weylandt’s, or Chris Horner’s crash? Do you suddenly get an influx of people saying, ‘What about these safety features?’
CS:

“During that first week of the Tour, well, not following Weylandt’s crash, really, but during the first week of the Tour and the number of crashes that happened in Brittany, I noticed the buzz on the internet, people asking questions about helmet safety.”

Bz:

But, they didn’t contact Lazer with those concerns?
CS:

“Nope. I received exactly zero questions from consumers.

I can’t say it’s not happening. Maybe people are asking their dealers about it, or asking other people about it. But I fielded no direct questions from consumers or from dealers looking for follow up, or regarding how and when helmets might be improved in order to address their concerns regarding helmet safety.

And, honestly, if I did get those questions, it would have to go back to, well, you know our helmets are designed to meet and exceed the current testing standard. If somebody or an organization decided that they wanted to improve the testing standard and that testing standard was adopted by the government in whatever market that we’re talking about, we would encourage that.

I mean, we are a helmet manufacturing company, and the rider’s safety, at the end of the day, is our number one priority. So, anything that can be done in order to improve the safety performance of the helmet is absolutely something that we want to pursue and take seriously. But, we can’t do it at the expense of the viability of the company.

We still have to meet the needs that consumers are looking for.

Because honestly, the consumers look at the helmet certification, I mean, nobody is selling uncertified helmets anyway, but the consumer goes into a bike shop or they’re shopping on line, and they’re assuming correctly that all the helmets they’re looking at are passing the testing standards. So, the very fact that they’re wearing a helmet at all, they feel, ‘Ok, as far as helmet safety, I’ve done everything I need to do to make sure I’m wearing a safe helmet by just buying a helmet at all. Well now I’m gonna look at weight, I’m gonna look at the air vents, I’m gonna look at how cool this helmet looks on my head. And those are the criteria that I’m going to use to evaluate which helmet to buy.’

You know, what else can the consumer do? There’s no other testing standard out there. There’s no data that anybody could look at. There’s speculation, ‘Well, you know I think a helmet should be this, or it should have this, or it should have that.’

Consumers, there’s really not much that they can do with that information.”

Bz:

Do you think that the more stringent and more realistic MIPS testing standards might eventually be adopted voluntarily industry-wide?
CS:

“I hope so! I hope that, because honestly, [between the] motorcycle industry and bicycle industry, [in] bicycle crash injuries, this rotational brain injury accounts for a real significant portion of brain injury. So, it would be my hope that helmet testing standards, that the current standard is either replaced, or that the ability to test the head’s resistance to rotational injury with a particular helmet is taken into account in helmet testing.”

Bz:

Back to MIPS.

How do you think that will be phased into your overall product line and over what time period? What’s the next place you’ll introduce MIPS?
CS:

“That’s a good question, and that’s going to probably have to be a follow-up question. Because I don’t have the answer to that.

I don’t know what segment we’re going to introduce MIPS into next, whether it’s going to be mountain, full face, road, price-point adult, urban commuter, I don’t know. It could be one or a combination of those different markets, or it could be all of them. I don’t know.

The owners of the company are going to be here in the United States next month for Interbike, and that’s certainly something I can talk to them about and find out what the future plans are for that MIPS system in the rest of our line.”

Bz:

Because each helmet has to be designed individually for or with the MIPS system, it’s not something you can do at the snap of a finger. It takes time to redesign each helmet and each helmet line?
CS:

“Yep. We’re not going to… no, I can’t say that. I can’t say that we’re not going to have MIPS in everyone of our helmets at some point, because we very well may. As a matter of fact, if MIPS or some equivalent becomes part of the testing standard then not only Lazer, but every manufacturer, has some way to address this rotational injury phenomenon.

But, we’re always working on the next-generation helmet that’s going to replace whatever our current model helmet is in whatever helmet segment we’re talking about.

So, I can only assume that as we’re going forward and new helmets are being designed, that MIPS can, and may very well be, incorporated.”

NOTE:

Here’s the official answer:

“While we continue to study the implementation of the MIPS system in our helmet line we are not yet prepared to discuss a timeline for integration into the entire line nor are we able to discuss which helmet might incorporate the MIPS system next.”
Bz:

I have to believe that you’re not the only guy, not just at Lazer but in the industry, who’s not happy with the testing standard. So is the responsible government agency being lobbied to change or upgrade the standard?


CS:

“Not that I’m aware of. I mean, you’re dealing with three entities – Australia/New Zealand (ASI), United States/Canada (CPSE), and every country in Europe (CE). Honestly, I don’t know who is setting the CE testing standard. Well, the CE testing standard is not just bicycle helmets, it’s nearly every helmet sold in Europe. If you look at the back of your motorcycle helmet you’ll see that CE certification. It just means it’s approved for sale in that country.

The bicycle industry, I don’t know if helmet manufacturers have the resources to lobby all the different government entities that may be involved in improving the testing process.”

Bz:

Is there an industry organization?
CS:

“There’s not a helmet manufacturer’s organization. Not that I’m aware of. There’s certainly advocacy groups, in the United States and I can only assume in every country around the world where cycling is a major activity, that advocates on the part of cycling and the cycling industry.

That would be certainly a good project for those advocacy groups to take on, to improve helmet safety, or at least be reviewing current testing standards to be sure that they are matching with real-world circumstances.

I can say on behalf of Lazer, we would have absolutely no objection at all to reviewing or improving testing standards in order to improve helmet safety. We’d have no objection. In fact, we strongly encourage it.”

Bz:

If the industry isn’t going to push for change, how do you think it’s going to come around? Or who’s going to enact that change?
CS:

“That’s a good question. Whether it’s driven at the consumer level, the dealer level, the manufacturer’s level. I don’t know. I think that what, for better or worse, what the likely scenario is, that manufacturer’s like Lazer identify a particular problem, like rotational brain injury, and either take it upon themselves or work with an organization like MIPS, in order to introduce features that address that. Then other manufacturers take that issue seriously and look for features that address that as well. Then at some point all these manufacturers will be addressing a particular problem from so many different directions that somebody finally decides, ‘Well, everybody is trying to solve this problem different ways. Let’s come up with a standard testing procedure and ensure that all helmet manufacturers are meeting that testing standard.’

But, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Bz:

When that change finally comes it’ll come from inside the industry, not from the government?
CS:

Absolutely!

I believe, if I know my history, that the automobile industry early on could be an indicator. Because I don’t believe that features like, and maybe I’m wrong, but features like seatbelts and safety glass and airbags and center-mount brake lights, I don’t believe that these innovations were mandated by any testing agency.

I believe it was a concept that was tested, proven to provide a safety benefit, and introduced by manufacturers to gain a competitive advantage that said, ‘Look, our car has this feature and it makes it more safe than another car at that price point and we think you should buy it because of that.’

Then all of a sudden other manufacturers are like, ‘Okay, now we have to have a center-mount brake light because these guys do.’ And then they’re all offering that safety benefit. Then the government may step in and say, ‘Well, everyone is doing this anyway, but they’re all doing it lots of different ways. Now, the center brake light has to be in this position, has to be this width, has to have this kind of illumination power.’ And they codify what everybody is already doing, into a testing standard.

I don’t know if seatbelts, safety glass and airbrakes are the same situation. I could be wrong. It could be a situation where one country mandated airbags and the manufacturers said, ‘Look if we’re building this model car in this country and it’s got an airbag, we may as well just put them in all cars.’

But I think that often you see innovation from manufacturers who are looking to distinguish their products and give them an advantage in the marketplace. Rather than trying to meet the testing standard within their own country.”

Bz:

Is MIPS owned by Lazer? Or will we see this system offered by other manufacturers?
CS:

“Nope. No, Lazer is a Belgian company based in Antwerp. I believe MIPS is a Swedish non-profit research institute, that partners with manufacturers, but is a stand-alone company.”

[Editor’s note: MIPS is indeed a Swedish company, and the MIPS system acronym stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. It is not clear from their website statement whether they are non-profit or not.]
Bz:

So we’ll see MIPS offered by other manufacturers?
CS:

“We’re already seeing it. I mean, Lazer is not the first company to incorporate it into bicycle helmets.

POC uses a version of MIPS in, I believe, one of their full-face helmets and perhaps one of their bucket helmets.

o, MIPS actually came to market in bicycle helmets from POC.

Lazer, is the first company that is offering a MIPS helmet in an in-mold manufacturing process. We’re also the first company that is offering MIPS in a children’s helmet.”

Bz:

Initially it’s going to cost $20 for a MIPS-upgraded helmet vs. a non-MIPS helmet of the same model. What’s the actual cost of installing MIPS?
CS:

“I don’t know what our installation cost would be. I mean, it’s a more expensive manufacturing process to incorporate MIPS. So that’s reflected in the cost. We’re not making an additional profit on the MIPS helmet. That increased price just represents the materials and the manufacturing cost to include that.”

Bz:

Do you support MIPS in their research and development?
CS:

“Yeah. Now I don’t know what that looks like as far as a financial component, at all. But we worked very close with them to develop the shell, and they worked with us to develop the interior portion of the helmet. Because we wanted to make sure that the MIPS retention system was going to go into our shell, be compatible, and actually work. So, yeah, we worked very closely with them. It was a totally collaboration.”

Bz:

It wasn’t just a matter of fitting the MIPS, it was a complete helmet redesign. It wasn’t, ‘How can we make MIPS fit in this helmet we already have.’

CS:

“Yeah! They designed a MIPS system specifically for Lazer and specifically for this helmet.”

Bz:

When you say “system” you aren’t just talking about the rotation part and its singular attachment point. The entire helmet is the system?
CS:

“That’s correct. And that’s why this is not something that you can add to a helmet after the fact. It’s not even something that you can redesign an existing helmet to be able to take. The shell has to be designed and the foam had to be molded correctly in order for the MIPS system to mount and function correctly when there’s an impact.

And if you look at it, MIPS designed this ‘insert’ specifically for our helmets. They looked at our existing Rollsys® system that we used on our mid- and high-end adult helmets, and they duplicated the look of that Rollsys® system for the P’Nut and the Nut’Z helmets. Because they felt that the front belt and the rear basket that’s used in our retention system did such a great job, as far as the attachment points on the head, that they kind of duplicated that look when they designed the insert that goes into the shell.

So, the MIPS system, looks like our Rollsys® system, because that was the foundation they used.

But, you can always tell a MIPS helmet, because the retention is this bright yellow. And that’s how you identify the part of the helmet that’s actually going to move vs. the shell. Because everything yellow is what’s moving in the case of an impact.”

Bz:

Since MIPS liked and chose to keep and use your Rollsys® system, will we see a version of your retention system in other manufacturers’ MIPS helmets?
CS:

“No. I can only assume that other manufacturers are going to want to collaborate with MIPS in order to either take their retention system and figure out a way to modify it to do the same job in their helmets, or to come up with a completely new system.

The benefit that our Rollsys® system offers, is it encircles the entire head between the front and rear component of the Rollsys® system. To my knowledge, I don’t know of another helmet manufacturing company that is making a retention system that encircles the entire head. The competitors that I’m aware of, the entire adjustable section of the retention system sits at the back of the head, and as you adjust it tighter it pulls the front of the helmet tighter against the rider’s forehead.

We developed this, again, to go all the way around the circumference of the rider’s head and to offer the adjustabilty and the comfort, and that’s why it was so easy for MIPS to use that same style mechanism. Because it does go all the way around the rider’s head, and that’s what you have to have with this MIPS system. If you’re going to isolate the rider’s head from the shell, it has to hold on to the entire circumference of the rider’s head.”

Bz:

I’ve read a test report that compared the performance of sub-$20 helmets and $150+ helmets. They found virtually no difference in performance, and the cheaper helmets slightly outperformed at low impacts.

For an additional $20, the MIPS helmets are supposed to reduce brain damage, or potential brain damage, by about 33%. Is that a real number?
CS:

“Yeah! And that’s directly from MIPS.

If you want to follow up on that I can put you in contact with those guys. They’d be more than happy to talk to you about their system and that number.

Obviously it’s their number, it’s their testing standard. But, it’s a real number and they’ve duplicated it in the lab time and time again.”

Bz:

A $20 investment can reduce your risk of brain damage by about 1/3?

CS:

“Yes.”

Bz:

But the MIPS system isn’t going to be available in lower-end helmets.
CS:

“Not yet.”

Bz:

I can’t expect to buy a $45 helmet, as opposed to a $25 helmet, and expect to have a MIPS system in it?

CS:

“Not from Lazer. Not from anybody, I believe.

Technology like this can’t be deployed all at once.”

Bz:

What about over the next five to ten years?
CS:

“Oh, absolutely! I think it’ll be a much shorter time frame than that.”

Bz:

Less than five years?
CS:

“Yeah. I don’t know if it will be ubiquitous in the helmet market. But, I am pretty confident to say that within the next five years you will be able to find a MIPS helmet at a number of different price points, for adults. Absolutely.”

[After my interview with Chris, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Daniel Lanner, a technical engineer from MIPS. – Bz]
Bz:

Would you explain the MIPS testing standard/procedure? Chris referred to is as more “real world.”
Daniel Lanner:

“I take it Chris refers to the fact that today’s helmet tests, no matter helmet category, are only focusing on straight radial impacts (90 degree) whereas in a majority of all hits of the the head to the ground, you fall with an angled impact.

The difference between the two impacts is the type of violence or energy they transmit into the brain. A straight radial hit provides straight radial or translational energy, a type of energy we know is less damaging to the brain. The angled impact, however, gives rise to rotational energy and violence to the brain. So today’s helmets are not tested to withstand the most common and most damaging blows to head – angled. Rotational violence is the cause of the most severe type of brain injuries. These injuries are called Subdural Haematoma and Diffuse Axonal Injury. (Please view our website for more extensive information)”

Bz:

Would you explain the reliability of the claim of reducing potential brain damage by about 33% using a MIPS vs. non-MIPS helmet and how that number was arrived at?
DL:

“It is difficult to set a specific number in percentage that the MIPS system reduces brain damage. The reduction using the MIPS system differs depending on impact site and direction to the helmet. However studies have shown that rotational measurements (rotational acceleration and rotational velocity) correlate well to the risk of brain injuries and that a reduction of these measurements reduces the risk of brain damage. With the MIPS system, we reduce the magnitude of these rotational measurements in the order of 25-55 %.”

Bz:

Chris was aware of three manufacturers using, or soon to be using, MIPS: Lazer, POC and one other. Who is the third manufacturer? Is that number rising? Will MIPS helmets be more broadly or even generally available over the next few years? Do you have a time frame?
DL:

“Except for POC and Lazer, the US brand Burton brings their snow helmet brand RED to market this season. In addition, two different equestrian helmet brands – Back on Track and Felix Bühler – distribute helmets in Europe.  At this weeks’ international bicycle trade show, Eurobike, there will be two additional brands launching helmets with MIPS. I am afraid I can’t reveal their brand name yet.

We are currently working on implementing MIPS in several bike, snow, motorcycle, military and ice hockey helmets. All to be launched during late 2011 and 2012.”

Bz:

Is MIPS working to change the legal standards (CPSE, ASI, CE) officially? Or will the higher, more realistic MIPS standard remain entirely voluntary? If so, do you think that it will eventually spread throughout the industry in all (US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Europe) markets?
DL:

We are members of and participating in meetings with the mentioned certifying bodies and yes, we are working towards having the general test standards upgraded with a demand that helmets provide protections against angled impacts and rotational violence. We believe that the consumer demand for optimal protection will create a pressure on helmet manufacturers to include such technologies well ahead of any change of regulations. The official changes tend to take very long.

MIPS are, as mentioned  above, delivering our technology to a fast growing number of leading brands in most helmet categories and we expect that to continue spreading across helmet segments and geographies.”

Bz:

Are you aware of any alternate “real-world” standards either in use or in development by other companies?


DL:

“If you refer to the helmet industry, no. For other industries, a good comparison could be made with the airbag for the car industry. It started out as something very exclusive and to some consumers an obscure safety feature. But as the market got aware of the massive safety impact it has, the airbag has more or less become a “real-world” standard without authorities changing laws and regulations. Would you buy a car without an airbag? We see the same happening in the helmet industry  where consumers will shift from old technology to new technology and include MIPS or future similar solutions.”

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You can also read and discuss Pt 2 of this interview at Cyclismas

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