Three-dimensional, also known as 3D printing, has come a long way over the years. Companies have started using this technology in the cycling industry to make one-off parts and, most recently, saddles. A company called KAV has leveraged its technology for creating 3D hockey helmets and developed a cycling helmet. When you think about it, helmet sizing is a range, which can compromise the fit. Having a custom-fitted helmet should ultimately increase comfort.
Launching on Kickstarter this month, the KAV R1 is reinventing the bike helmet. I asked Whitman Kwok, CEO and Co-Founder of KAV, a few questions.
Sheri: KAV currently manufactures a 3D hockey helmet. Is it being used in the NHL, and by whom?
Whitman: The KAV H1 is utilized by NHL veterans and their children, including Curtis Brown, Scott Hannan, and Andy Sutton. Having each suffered their share of injuries throughout their careers, they appreciate the performance and additional protection of the KAV H1 for themselves and their kids.
Sheri: There are 3D bike saddles on the market today, are there any other manufacturers of 3D helmets?
Whitman: 3D printing will do to helmets what carbon fiber has done to the steel bike frame. It enables performance gains, and therefore, every manufacturer creating a high-performance helmet will utilize it in some capacity. Currently, Riddell 3D prints the helmet liner in their top-of-the-line helmets. When you wear a large helmet, as is the case in football, comfort and protection improve with a 3D printed lining without the added expense of printing the shell.
KAV prints the entire helmet and this is critical when dealing with helmets with smaller offsets like those found in cycling. By fabricating the entire helmet to the head, we ensure the optimal level of protection at each impact location but also minimize the cross-section of the helmet to reduce drag and weight. I’ll elaborate on this more in the context of different head shapes below.
Sheri: What made you decide to create a bike helmet?
Whitman: Our mission is to provide the benefits of personalized protection to every athlete. Hockey has one of the highest concussion rates per activity hour, so it is a natural place to start. With cycling, there are thankfully fewer injuries per activity hour but with close to a billion bikes in the world, that’s an immense opportunity for us to do good. A no-brainer, as they say!
Sheri: What interesting data points have you discovered regarding people’s head size and shape (gender, age, ethnicity)?
Whitman: No two heads are alike and by definition, no head matches the canonical head form used for a traditional injection-molded helmet. The industry has long known that heads also come in a rounder or more oval shape. If you have an oval head and wear a round helmet, you get a nice mushroom effect. If you have a round head in an oval helmet and there’s a lot of fore and aft movement and you get a built-in visor from the front overhang. It’s why cyclist swear by certain helmet brands that happen to use a shape approximating their own head shape.
In hockey, we discovered that children aren’t just smaller versions of adults. Their chins grow at a different rate, and we found that hockey cages weren’t properly braced against their chin which has repercussions on the cage contacting the head during checking or puck impacts. We created a patent-pending chin cup that accommodates a range of chins. It’s great for kids, but adults also benefit from having the extra adjustment.
Men and women also have different head shapes. Typically, the forehead tends to slope more in men which is naturally more aerodynamic. However, if you put a woman with a more upright forehead in the same helmet, it requires carving out the energy management system near the top of the forehead compromising the integrity of the helmet.
Sheri: Explain the different materials that comprise the KAV R1.
Whitman: The KAV R1 utilizes a proprietary Thermoplastic Polyurethane (TPU) for its energy or impact management. TPU has several inherent advantages over EPS foam, the traditional material of choice for bike helmets. It’s incredibly durable and resilient and so it can survive a fall off your handlebars without damaging or affecting its performance. TPU conducts heat 8x better than foam so you stay cooler. TPU also doesn’t absorb odors or sweat, and it’s easy to clean and resistant to most household chemicals so you can have confidence that the helmet will perform as intended – unaltered by the sun, sweat, or whatever you’ve got going on in your garage!
Even though it’s a great base material, we’ve developed our formulation for cycling that’s 20% lighter than existing TPUs and performs well over a wider range of temperatures. One of the benefits of our ice hockey experience is -30C degree impact testing. If you’re gung ho enough to ride, we’re crazy enough to protect you.
Sheri: How does your design account for the rotational forces during a crash like MIPS, WaveCel, and other products on the market?
Whitman: The beauty of 3D printing is that we can create mechanical structures with anisotropic properties for the energy management system. What that means is our crumple zone absorbs linear energy but also shear stresses to minimize rotational forces and we can define each independently of the other. This optimizes the impact performance by location to account for flipping over a handlebar versus falling backward while doing a wheelie. Because both linear and angular forces are handled by the energy management system, it eliminates the weight and complexity of a separate rotational management liner that can obstruct vents or get tangled in your hair.
Sheri: Has a third party, like Virginia Tech, tested and verified the KAV R1?
Whitman: VTech focuses on testing helmets that are in the market. We look forward to having them test the R1 once we’re ready to launch.
Sheri: How is a customer measured for a 3D helmet?
Whitman: Customers are provided a fit kit that they can take a set of measurements (e.g. tape measure around their head for circumference) from the comfort of your home. Our machine learning system compares your measurements to a database of scanned heads. Going beyond average head shapes, it knows how heads vary, and even the ways scans and measurements are sometimes inaccurate. Our system then creates a helmet that’s designed for optimal protection and a perfect fit. It’s not all that different than getting your bike professionally fitted.
Sheri: What can someone expect to pay for a road helmet?
Whitman: We’re finalizing pricing in light of rising material costs, but since each helmet is made to measure in the United States, cyclists should expect to pay slightly more than other mass-produced top-end helmets. Supporters pre-ordering on Kickstarter (https://bike.kavsports.com) will receive a discount and get their helmets before the general public.
Sheri: You’re launching on Kickstarter this month. When do you expect to start shipping, and what is the lead time?
Whitman: We’re targeting the end of summer for a limited edition run before ramping up full production. The trickiest thing for us is to scale our production the right amount since every helmet is precision printed and then hand finished here in Redwood City, CA. It requires both highly trained technicians and building out our 3D printing infrastructure.
Once we ramped up production in hockey, players received their helmets within two weeks of ordering, but the backorder quickly got as long as several months once demand picked up. We’d like to use our Kickstarter campaign to better gauge demand this time around, but it definitely behooves people to order early to get in the front of the queue.
Sheri: Is the KAV R1 available in different colors?
Whitman: Yes, it will come in black and white. Our Kickstarter supporters will have the opportunity to influence the availability of other additional colors.
Sheri: Are you offering helmets for MTB or commuter?
Whitman: The R1 is great for gravel or XC mountain biking as it has more coverage on the back than a traditional road helmet. The design and materials allowed us to improve the protective area with only incremental weight.
Commuters will appreciate riding in style and ventilation, so they arrive to work refreshed. We’re also engineering a special feature for commuters, but we will have to leave you in suspense while the patents are filed.
Sheri: What are the KAV R1 warranty and fit guarantees?
Whitman: We want to protect you for life and do so with the best-in-class warranty, crash protection, and a grow with you program. KAV offers a five-year warranty on all our helmets and guarantees the fit. We offer a crash protection program covering 50% of the cost of replacement in exchange for your old helmet, which we use to improve future helmets. Many of our hockey customers are still growing, so we offer a grow with you program where we discount helmets that kids outgrow. We’re looking to do something similar with the R1.
Sheri: What is the weight of a typical size “small” KAV R1 helmet?
Whitman: We’re going to release more detailed pricing and specs at our launch. You can get the latest info and sign up to get first in line at https://bike.kavsports.com.
Sheri Rosenbaum regularly contributes articles and reviews products for RBR. She’s an avid recreational roadie who lives in the Chicago area and a major advocate for women’s cycling, serving on the board of directors and volunteering with the Dare2tri Paratriathlon Club. Click to read Sheri’s full bio or visit her web site sunflowersandpedals.com.
Jim Langley says
Fascinating interview about one of the most important products, Sheri. Thank you!