Dismayed by the frequency of concussions and other traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) among dirt bike riders, former professional racers Bob Weber and Robert Reisinger endeavored to design a helmet that would reduce their likelihood and severity. What they came up with performed so well during laboratory tests—and in several high-profile crashes by top-level racers—that the technology is now being used in motorcycle helmets for the street as well as in bicycle helmets. And a collaborative effort by their company, 6D Helmets, and Dynamic Research, Inc., an independent helmet testing firm, was awarded a grant by the National Football League to further develop the technology for use in multi-impact helmets used by football players, hockey players and other athletes.
So what is this novel technology? It’s called Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS), a patented “fully active, in-helmet suspension and kinetic energy management system.” It consists of two nested expanded polystyrene (EPS) closed-cell foam liners—an inner liner closely molded to fit the head and an outer liner molded to fit inside the outer shell—that are connected by an array of strategically-placed, hourglass-shaped elastomer dampers, with a 7mm gap between the liners. The progressive spring-rate dampers allow the two EPS liners to move independently in six axes (“six degrees of freedom” inspired the company name), allowing the outer shell to move independently of the head. Upon impact, the liners are able to compress together and/or shear (shift laterally relative to each other) in any direction before they crush like EPS liners in other helmets—all of which absorbs and dissipates kinetic energy and reduces the amount of force transferred to the head.
Tests have shown that, compared to competing name-brand street helmets, the 6D ATS-1 helmet results in significantly less linear acceleration at low velocities (impacts that can cause concussions) and at high velocities (impacts that can cause severe TBIs or death). The 6D also results in significantly less angular acceleration (rotation) resulting from impacts occurring at indirect or oblique angles. This is particularly important because research has found that angular acceleration contributes to TBIs more than linear acceleration.
The great thing about 6D’s ODS technology is that, except for a slightly larger outer shell to accommodate the dual-liner design, you’d never know it was there until you needed it. The ATS-1 doesn’t flex in any noticeable way, and, thanks in part to its lightweight carbon-fiber shell, there’s not a major weight penalty; our size medium weighs 3 pounds, 14.1 ounces—just 4.5 ounces heavier than Shoei’s top-of-the-line X-Fourteen helmet tested last month.
An added benefit of the ODS design is that the space between the dual liners allows air to flow throughout the helmet, and with multiple intake and exhaust vents, the ATS-1 is well ventilated. The helmet is all-day comfortable and has all of the features you’d expect in a premium helmet: an EPS-lined chinbar; a scratch-resistant, UV-blocking, locking face shield that’s easy to remove without tools and includes a Pinlock anti-fog insert; a removable, washable comfort liner; integrated speaker pockets; removable breath guard and chin curtain; and emergency-release cheek pads. On the down side, the helmet is somewhat noisy, but it doesn’t bother me when I wear earplugs.
Research suggests that the 6D ATS-1, which exceeds DOT and ECE 22.05 standards, provides some of the best protection you can buy, which justifies its premium price—MSRP is $895. It comes with a 3-year limited warranty and is available in sizes XS-XXL (spread over three shell sizes) in Gloss White, Gloss Black or Matte Black.