Helmets are a rather stagnant segment of the motorcycle industry, with even the more “innovative” designs being evolutions to the basic principles of crash helmets, rather a revolutions.
Companies like Skully and Reevu aim to add more visual features to helmets, while major brands like AGV, Arai, and Shoei are ever improving their designs for better customer fit, whether it be through additional helmet models, or rethinking how the helmet fits to the rider’s head.
All of these improvements are good for us motorcyclists, of course, yet they are all based on the same basic principles of a hard protective shell, lined with some sort of impact absorbing material.
In fact, the only truly revolutionary helmet design we have seen, comes from the bicycle sector, and involves advanced airbag technology. In 50 years, we’ll be wearing these helmets (or not wearing them, as the case may be). But until then, the basic design continues to evolve.
While we tend to think of helmet safety in terms of crash protection, another aspect, usually overlooked, is considerably important: wind noise. I can tell you as someone who makes his living off riding motorcycles, I am deathly afraid of losing my hearing from bike and helmet noise, and thus always wear earplugs while riding.
I have yet to see a helmet on the market that truly eliminates wind noise to a level that can’t cause hearing damage, and of course that comes with a trade-off for ventilation. When given the choice, I’ll take the helmet that breathes, and keep my earplugs at the ready.
Louie Amphlett, a recent product design graduate from the University of Brighton in the UK hopes to have a solution for me and my ears though: a helmet with golf ball dimples on its shell, which he calls the Lenza One.
The idea behind the dimples on the helmet is the same as for why golf balls have them: the micro-turbulence created by the dimples acts as a thin layer of air that buffers the rest of the passing air over the ball, which in turn leaves less macro-turbulence in the ball’s wake, and thus less drag.
Because aerodynamic principles dictate that how you cut the air in front of an object is just as important as how you restore it behind the object, a dimpled ball results in having about half the drag of a comparatively smooth ball. Science!
In theory on a helmet, a dimple design would mean less drag from the helmet’s many facets and surfaces, and thus less whistling through vents, and less neck strain from aerodynamic pressure.
Motorcycles and helmets are of course a bit more dynamic in their movement, compared to a golf ball, so it is hard to tell if Amphlett’s design would have any real world impact; but on paper at least, it seems to hold some merit. The designer hopes to test his theory in a wind tunnel, shortly.
If it works so well for golf balls, why hasn’t the motorcycle industry picked up on the idea, you might ask?
The answer might be as simple as aesthetics, and where function gives way to form. Even the race track is not immune to the idea of something needing to “look fast” instead of actually being fast, and motorcyclists are a surprisingly conservative bunch when it comes to new ideas.