Bell has a long and storied history in the helmet world, but in recent years the company seemed to have taken a pitstop. They were still a presence on the lower priced, mass market side of things, but lacked a high-end, cutting edge professional grade helmet. With the introduction of the Full 9 helmet, Bell has reemerged, fueled up and ready to race. Drawing inspiration from their already successful Moto 9, which was developed for the demands of motocross racing, the California based company sought to create an industry leading cycling specific full-face helmet. Led by Amy Martin, an energetic, tattooed mechanical engineer with a passion for safety, the team at Bell created the Full 9 over a two year period, a period which included extensive real world testing on the head of the fastest rider on the World Cup circuit – Aaron Gwin. The final version of the Full 9 is scheduled to be available at the end of March.
Full 9 Details
• Full carbon shell • Eject Helmet Removal System compatible • Certifications: ASTM F1952-00 DH, ASTM F2032-06 BMX, CE EN1078, CPSC Bicycle • Overbrow Ventilation
• Magnetic, removable cheek pads • Integrated, breakaway helmet camera mounts • Built in speaker pockets • Weight: 1050 grams • MSRP: $400 USD
The Full 9 is available in five different colors, and in six different sizes ranging from XS to XXL.
The helmet on the left has Shock Doctor's Eject Helmet Removal System (an aftermarket addition) installed. This system allows the helmet to be easily removed by first responders, decreasing the likelihood of further head, neck or spine injury. The Full 9's cheekpads are secured via magnets, and are easily removable to further facilitate helmet removal, as well as making it easier to keep them clean.
The integrated camera mounts, compatible with both GoPro and Contour cameras, have a breakaway feature designed to keep the camera from causing unnecessary head or neck movement during a crash. This isn't a single use feature - if the camera comes off during a crash, it's easy to push it back onto the mount and continue riding (providing you emerge unscathed).
Behind the Scenes: Designing the Full 9
Where helmets are born. The Dome houses Easton-Bell's engineers and designers, as well as the testing and rapid prototyping facilities. This is where the Full 9 came to life, inspired by Bell's much-lauded Moto 9 helmet.
Inside the Dome
Bell has the ability to design a new helmet completely in house - they have graphic design, rapid prototyping, impact testing, even wind tunnel testing capabilities all under one roof. A helmet like the Full 9 can go from a sketch on a piece of paper all the way up to a final version ready to be sent off for production without leaving the building. The actual production of the Full 9 takes place in China, in the very same factory where Fox and Troy Lee helmets are made, along with composite parts for Boeing aircraft.
The heart of the design facility is called The Dome, a brightly lit office area where the number of tattoos outnumbers the number of collared shirts by a huge margin (Danny Sun, Bell's senior illustrator, is also a talented tattoo artist). Sketches and concepts are tacked up on the low cubicle walls, and helmets in various stages of design are scattered on every available surface. It's controlled chaos, a gathering of talented engineers and artists with a passion for artfully executed functionality. Inspiration can come from anywhere - shapes and colors found in nature, or from Bell's long history. Since the company has been around since 1954, there's a wealth of racing heritage and style to draw from. From Evel Knievel and Steve McQueen to James "Bubba" Stewart, Bell has a history of putting helmets on some of the wildest speed demons around.
The hallway leading into the workspace is lined with helmets from various stages of Bell's history. The helmet on the left is a V1 Pro from 1983, a significant helmet because of the increased attention paid to adequate venting. That's a bomb disposal helmet on the lower right, underneath Bell's first full-face bike helmet from 1984.
Sketches and concept drawings are everywhere, a testament to the creative minds Bell's artists and designers possess.
Once a helmet goes from the initial sketching stages, "eggs," half scale models of the helmet, are hand carved from foam. These models allow engineers and graphic designers to begin working to bring the initial concept to reality.
The Full 9's egg, with a prototype signed by Aaron Gwin in the background. Although he is no longer riding for Bell, Gwin provided valuable feedback throughout the project.
Bell houses an impressive array of 3D printers and scanners (the scale helmet and chain were both 'printed' using the 3D printing machine on the left).
Helmet graphics are carefully designed to ensure they wrap correctly over the shell, without any unusual bulges or distortion. Graphics are often applied to a helmet via a water decal, and then covered with a clearcoat.
A Tour of the Easton-Bell Test Lab
Testing Bell does extensive testing of their helmets in house before sending them off for certification. This allows them to be certain that the helmets will meet or exceed the various safety standards, as well as test new design concepts without needing to outsource. It's infinitely more convenient to walk into the next room to test a new design than sending it off and needing to wait for the results. The focus of our visit to Easton-Bell was on helmets, but the testing of wheels, handlebars, as well as helmets for other sports (football, lacrosse, etc...) takes place here. There was a particularly nasty looking machine designed to fire an object (like a baseball) directly at a helmet, testing its behavior when hit with a projectile. The test center even houses a small wind tunnel - paying $5,000/hour to rent a wind tunnel was getting old, so Bell decided to build their own, which allows them to test helmet venting and aerodynamics.
An assortment of head forms silently await usage during helmet testing. Up to 600 helmets will be destroyed during the development of a new design.
The anvil test is used to measure the G-forces that pass through the helmet to a head form when the helmet is dropped from a predetermined height. To meet ASTM and CPSC standards, a bike helmet must register less than 300 G's when dropped from a height of two meters.
I take a lot of pride in my work - I don't take my job lightly by any means. It's people's safety, it's people's heads. It's a matter of life or death sometimes. - Amy Martin, Bell Product Manager
Amy Martin, Bell's product manager for bike and motorsports, holds a Full 9 after impact testing.
A Note on Helmet Standards When it comes to helmets, safety is the most important feature. A few years ago, there was an upswing in the number of riders wearing DOT approved helmets - the reasoning was that a helmet designed for the high speeds of riding a motorcycle on the highway would be more than adequate for bicycle riding. While understandable, there is a flaw in this logic. DOT helmets have a much stiffer outer shell, and therefore are much less capable at absorbing slower speed impacts, the type typically encountered by cyclists. Energy absorption is the key component of a helmet's ability to prevent injury – the outer shell of a helmet needs to be able to transfer the energy from an impact into the expandable polystyrene (EPS) inner portion of the helmet. With a DOT helmet, it takes a much greater force to transfer the impact energy past the outer shell, which means that for cyclists there is a greater chance of an injury compared to a helmet designed specifically for cycling. For this reason, riders should wear a helmet designed specifically for their sport
This device tests the breakaway point of helmet straps.
It's not an easy job being a test dummy. Helmets are tested at different temperatures and in wet and dry conditions to ensure they can hold up to real world usage.
Seeing your helmet on top of the podium is what every design team hopes for. Gwin put the Full 9 to the test, and quickly stepped onto the podium with it during the 2012 World Cup season, but has since left the squad. For 2013, a number of athletes on the World Cup circuit will be wearing the Full 9, including the Lapierre team, Madison Sarencen, Mick Hannah, Justin Leov, Bryn Atkinson, and Jill Kintner.