Testing, testing

Helmets are now a common sight on roads and mountains around the globe. Thanks to a mix of technology, information, behavioral change and regulation, what would have been inconceivable twenty or thirty years ago, is now far more common place.

In some countries wearing a helmet has become so synonymous with enhanced safety that it’s a shock to the senses when a bike rider or skier passes by in nothing but a bandana, with a head exposed to speed and all of nature’s hard and sharp edges.

POC started precisely because the enhanced speeds and risks involved in ski racing at the turn of the century were not being matched by better protection and equipment. With a mission to ‘protect lives and reduce the consequences of accidents for athletes and anyone inspired to be one’ it was clear that helmets were where the best safety gains could be achieved; it hurts when you break a bone, but in most cases it will eventually heal. Damaging the brain, however, is a different prospect altogether and central to our wellbeing is what’s inside our head.

Advances in medicine and research around head trauma and brain injury are constantly providing more and more evidence to illustrate why helmets are a good investment. But although certified helmets may appear pretty similar from the outside, they are not all born equal, and they are certainly not subjected to the same testing regimes.

Helmets have to achieve international certification standards to be legal and sold on to a consumer, the most common are the European, American and Australian standards. Each one is slightly different and, e.g. even if an American standard is not legal to sell Europe, and vice versa, they are all based on high safety standards.

However, how they are testing to meet these standards depends on each manufacturer. Some will look to test purely to pass the minimum safety requirements and not consider issues of weight, ventilation, fit etc in too much detail, others will test way beyond the requirements to ensure the helmet is optimized.

Developing a structurally optimized helmet requires testing on multiple zones across the helmet surface to fully appreciate what is happening at each point of impact, not just a single impact zone. This information is then analyzed and considered by in house engineers to assess what might improve the helmet even further, such as adding density or volume in one area of the helmet versus another etc.

The Obex SPIN snow sports helmet is a new helmet that nicely illustrates the complexity and diligence in testing the whole helmet against a multitude of linear and angled impacts. With well over one thousand individual tests carried out across nineteen different impact zones, a variety of impact scenarios and simulated conditions, it is a helmet that has been truly analyzed and optimized for the best performance possible.

Not all helmets are the same, and not all testing is the same. It is not uncommon to find a test or review that will present a figure or result that does not correspond to our data sets and evidence. From a scientific perspective, questions of methodology, focus, impact frequency etc will all paint a different picture, but our objective and experience, is in creating award-winning helmets and technologies built on unquestionable quality and relevance. Testing is as essential to us as the materials and experience we use in creating our protection, and even if it means we choose to test more than we have to, we will continue to do it. When lives depend on it, testing, and then testing some more is the only way.