Interview with 6D Helmets’ Bob Weber: A Safer Helmet Standard

Mar 13, 2017 View Comments by

Bob WeberBob Weber, co-founder of 6D Helmets, is a lifetime motorcycle enthusiast that started riding when he was eight or nine years old. He started racing motocross in 1977 and became a pro in 1980, and still races today for fun, to challenge himself, and to stay fit and involved in the sport he loves.

His wife Nancy works with him at 6D managing accounting and is instrumental in the company’s day-to-day operations and success. Their oldest daughter, Lauren, is an aerospace engineer, and her sister Allison studies biology at San Diego State.

Bob has worked in the industry since 1980. During his 10 years at Manchester Honda in Manchester, CT, he competed in regional and national motocross events in and around New England and the East Coast. After moving to California in 1990, he became the national sales manager at White Brothers Performance Specialties before selling advertising for Petersen Publishing. After serving as publisher of Motorcyclist, Dirt Rider, and Sport Rider magazines from 1995 to 2002, he spent eight years as general manager of Troy Lee Designs, dedicated to “the world’s fastest racers.” With partner Robert Reisinger, he started 6D in his garage with the intention of creating a safer helmet.

RR: What was your first bike?
Bob Weber: A Honda Z50.

How did you get into motocross?
I lived in Belgium when I was young. My brother and I would put our bikes on the train and ride them the rest of the way to the GPs. I got hooked over there, and started racing in 1976 in Nebraska when we returned to the States. I aspired to ride like Roger DeCoster!

Before 6D, you had a career in the powersports industry. What’s your professional background?
I raced in New England as a local pro and worked at Manchester Honda in Connecticut as the parts and accessories manager. In 1990, I put everything I owned into a 24-foot Ryder and my wife and I moved to California, where I worked in various jobs in the industry before starting 6D and convincing a good friend and brilliant engineer, my business partner Robert Reisinger, to come into business with me.

Conventional helmets—from riding to football—have a stiff shell and soft padding and are designed to protect your skull. Yours are designed to protect the brain. Can you explain the difference?
When helmet certification standards were developed, they only knew what kind of energy it took to fracture the skull. Nobody was thinking about the brain and there was little knowledge about brain injury. The standards were developed to prevent skull fracture, and manufacturers built helmets to pass the standards. Our goal was to reduce the transfer of angular acceleration to the brain during an impact; to separate the outer layer of the helmet from the wearer’s head.

What is the difference between angular and linear acceleration in a crash? Is head injury more often the result of one versus the other?
Angular acceleration is like rpm. It’s the rate of change in angular velocity, which can be thought of as rotation around a center point of mass. Linear acceleration is directed through the center of mass of the object—the brain—meaning a direct, straight-on impact. Angular acceleration in a crash spins the skull and brain, and studies have shown that it contributes more than linear acceleration to rotational brain injuries.

PrintHow does 6D’s proprietary Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS) technology work?
ODS consists of two EPS foam liners separated by 27 dampers. This allows the two separated liners to shear, or displace in relation to each other upon force being applied to the helmet’s outer surface. The ability of the two liners to displace independently of each other in any and all directions effectively reduces the transfer of angular acceleration to the brain. Think about it like this: if there is no ability for the inner liner to shear or displace independently, then the head rotates directly as the helmet does.

How long did it take to develop this special technology?
It took two years to get the technology developed, tested, homologated, and installed into our first helmet, the ATR-1. Because we were developing it to manage angular acceleration, we did significant rotational testing while working on the development of the helmet. This is testing that no one else was doing. We tested in accordance with DOT, ECE, and AU standards, too.

Where did the idea of the ODS come from—what inspired you?
The rotational brain injury of a fellow motocross competitor. I was continually noodling the problem in my mind—”How can we make a better solution?” I knew we needed to separate the EPS liner into two layers, but I didn’t have a good method to do it that would provide the shearing capability we needed. That is when Robert brought his concepts to the table and we were able to figure it out together.
What kind of rider and riding conditions would be best served by wearing one of your helmets?
Our helmets are suitable for all types of riding and racing. They manage a broader range of energy demands than competitive helmets and are therefore a better bet in any crash event.

6D is considered the first comprehensive revision to the motorcycle helmet in half a century. Why do you think it has taken so long?
I think part of that is the standards. They haven’t changed in any significant way in the same time period. I also believe that it was easy to keep building helmets the way they were always made. The tooling costs are high, so everyone just focused on aerodynamics, comfort, shield improvements, and graphic designs.

6D HelmetsWhere do you think helmet technology is going? What do you think will be the next step?
The NFL is desperate for a solution to repetitive low-threshold impacts. CTE, Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, is a newly discovered disease related to repetitive concussion and brain injury in athletes. We have to find better ways to isolate these impacts from the brain. Today, the only way to do this is to increase the size of the helmet and soften the liner system so that the head and brain can come to a stop over a longer distance. However, the helmet cannot get too big or too heavy, as that creates other problems. The answer is in the materials and technology inside the helmet. A simple monolithic block of EPS or EPP inside a shell is not the answer. It’s only part of the answer.

How do you see electronics and helmets fitting together? Do you think it would add to rider safety to integrate heads-up displays, rear views, or even something to monitor an impact?
This is an interesting question. Heads-up displays and electronics are an excellent means of adding a safety solution to the riding experience, as long as the rider is not distracted. Technology to monitor impact levels is critical too. They have this in football now, and others are experimenting with it for motorsports. Knowing what kind of impact an individual sustains in a crash is important and these tools can assist with that.

You also offer bicycle helmets and were awarded a grant from the NFL to assist with further development of 6D’s technology. Do you think you’ll use or license the use of ODS to help create safer helmets for other athletes?
Yes, I hope so. The grant from the NFL is super important. It has provided us with the ability to test materials that we might not have been able to test on our own. These materials and the further development of ODS will definitely influence our helmet offerings in the future. Whether we win, lose, or draw in the NFL’s Head Health Challenge, the benefits to our company and the consumer are significant.

You were once a road cyclist. How else do you like to spend your down time?
Right now I don’t have a lot of time for recreation, but I try to get out on my motorcycle or bicycle as much as possible and still compete in the local MX scene here in Southern California.

Where are your favorite places to ride?
I really like racing the REM events at Glen Helen Raceway. It’s a fun family atmosphere and I can forget about work for the day. For the street bike, there is nothing better than riding up to Laguna Seca for the GP or AMA races. Once you’re out of greater LA, the roads to Monterey are pretty epic!

Photography: Bob Weber and 6D Helmets

 

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