Olivier Colombo - Consultant & Corporate Advisor
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Leatt's Jörn Steffens

Leatt's Jörn Steffens article from Racer X Online  January 20th, 2016 

Last week we spent some time with Jörn “The German Giant” Steffens, Leatt’s product and design specialist and industrial designer, to get educated about the company’s new lid, the GPX 6.5 Carbon Moto Helmet. We talked about it briefly in last week’sRacerhead, but here we will get into the details behind the design and what makes this helmet—envisioned as a hybrid between a full-face mountain bike helmet and a motocross helmet—unique.

Two things I noticed right away were the helmet’s size and weight; it’s 5 to 20 percent smaller in profile than other major competitors, with an adult medium/large carbon fiber version weighing 2.899 pounds. In addition, eleven large ventilation ports with 191 vent holes help keep you cool. Leatt is also being unusually open about its testing procedures. Let’s find out more.

Racer X: You’re touting the use of Armourgel as a big advance in this helmet. Can you tell me a little bit more about Armourgel?

Jörn Steffens: We are continuously searching for materials that can do something that others cannot. When I found it [Armourgel], I thought this would be something very suitable to help in reducing head injury, because it has two properties. It is an extremely good impact protective material. This is why we’re using it in gloves and in protectors. Helmets are not great for reducing low-speed impacts because the standards are not designed to do that, but low-speed impact is actually what causes concussion. Our 360° Armourgel® Turbine Technology reduces low-speed impact significantly, resulting in up to 30 percent reduction of head impact at concussion level. You’ll find more 360° Armourgel® turbines at the side of the head; if I would knock you on top of the head you would feel pretty much nothing, but if I hit you hard on the side you’d immediately pass out. This is a very vulnerable area, so that’s why we put more 360° Armourgel® turbines [on the sides of the helmet], a total of eleven throughout the helmet. And then there’s the rotational acceleration which is also extremely dangerous on the brain. It’s like Michael Schumacher [and Dale Earnhardt]. There’s just many, many examples.

What do you mean by rotating?

In the immediate impact, if the helmet can rotate a little on your skull, that reduces the risk of rotational acceleration. There’s up to a 40 percent reduction of rotational acceleration to the brain. In South Africa we have a team of biomedical engineers and we have a complete lab in which we test the 360° Armourgel® turbines.

One thing Leatt is doing that other competing helmet companies are not is publicly displaying the information on how you do your testing. Can you tell me more about that?

We are 100 percent transparent with that. The only problem is that there are no [international] test standards but there is biomedical data that you can look up and then you can actually tweak your test rigs that are designed for DOT or for ECE to get that low-speed impact.

What is ECE?

ECE 2205 is the European standard for helmets [DOT is the American standard]. All of the information you can find in our website.

Can you tell me more about how you test rotational acceleration?

We explain the theory. But again there is no international standard for that. At the moment there are people working on a standard so that you can actually compare test results. We are linked with TÜV, which is the leading test and certification institute in Germany. I knew that they were doing some rotational acceleration testing, and we did a similar test with a hybrid dummy. This is the type of dummy which the car industry uses. Imagine you were laying flat on a table and then your head was sticking out and then a wedge shaped device hits your helmet. It is covered with #80 sandpaper, so it rips the helmet and rotates it back. Inside the dummy skull you can measure how the helmet performs without the turbines and how it does with the turbines. This is a very, very accurate testing method. The problem is that the hybrid dummy is very, very expensive. We have a hybrid dummy because we do all the testing for the neck braces with it. Very few other companies have a hybrid dummy, if you just do helmet testing you don’t have one. That is a very expensive piece of equipment. I think it costs about $80,000. We use a very accurate test method. That’s why we are very confident with all the data, all the claims we are making. We’re a company that’s in safety and you cannot just tell bullshit to people. 

Actually one very important feature in our helmet is that the bottom profile is optimized to work with our neck braces, so there are no funny spikes, funny ridges, funny spoilers, whatever.

Besides the turbines, what else is unique about the shell of the new helmet?

Actually if you compare it with our competitors it’s a much smaller helmet. Not only is it smaller, it’s also lighter because we are using two technologies. We in-mold the helmet which means that there’s no gap between the shell and the EPS liner. The other is we are using a technology called V-Foam which is a dual density liner that has cones and absorbs the impact much better than standard [foam], even multi-layer liners, which are mostly just flat layers on top of each other. The cones [the shape of the V-Foam] absorb impact energy much better than standard liners. We talked about rotational acceleration, and the further you get away from the center, the larger the circumference you pull and it rotates more. If you’re nearer to the head it rotates less. So this is the effect we are having with the smaller shell. Also less weight is reducing the acceleration.

Do you do your own manufacturing or do you outsource that?

Every single piece in this helmet is Leatt’s design, except for the V-Foam. Australian Physicist, safety guru and helmet genius Don Morgan is the inventor and has patented the name Conehead. There is some technology that we’ve been using that is available in the manufacturer of our choice, but the helmet is our design. There was a white piece of paper and now we have a helmet.

You guys go from the A-to-Z process. From design to the production.

Absolutely, yes. I spent months in the factory to get things right.

Is there anything else you want to add?

Actually one very important feature in our helmet is that the bottom profile is optimized to work with our neck braces, so there are no funny spikes, funny ridges, funny spoilers, whatever. It’s a very smoothly designed bottom which offers a lot more movement compared to standard helmets. At the back of the helmet you have a little ramp once you bend your head backwards beyond the normal range of movement, it actually touches the neck brace earlier than most other helmets and functions as a force diffuser. So that’s a nice combination, more freedom of movement during riding but less when the neck bending gets critical. It’s a system, it’s all fully integrated. That includes hydration; we have an inbuilt little channel on the inside of the chin guard for our hydration system. We believe that if you offer features, you should offer them in the proper way. Make it a system rather than, “I do this and then I do that.”

There are few more features to mention. I think that venting is something that people really underestimate. When you see some helmets it’s all about air enters somewhere and then it gets out but the vents are small and the air-flow limited. But of course if you open up the vents, you don’t pass DOT. That’s why we came up with our vent covers. I like to compare the conditions inside a helmet with taking a shower in a small bathroom. You turn on the shower and everything gets fogged. And then you open the window and within ten seconds everything is gone. That’s actually very much the same effect here and you do not find a lot of foam in the padding so the sweat cannot stay.

There’s not a lot of absorption of sweat?

No, exactly because there is less foam which can absorb and accumulate the sweat. We couldn’t do a bicycle type of liner because motorcycle riders would have asked if we have gone nuts. So we did a kind of hybrid liner in-between a motorcycle and a bicycle helmet to give the motorcycle riders what they are used to. We have achieved a lot of airflow but it is not so much about ventilation; it’s about letting the heat and the moisture out, even at low speeds or when the vents are not pointing in the correct”position. For that you simply have to open the shell.

Leatt's Todd Repsher demoing the VFoam and Armourgel turbines of the helmet.