Bell Helmets DOME RD Lab Tour

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By Kevin Duke

Bell Powersports invited us to tour its American R&D and design facility this week so we could see with our own eyes the care and dedication that goes into the creation and testing of its head-protection efforts. It was enlightening to learn all that goes on behind the scenes at its Scotts Valley, California, location.

Bell was originally founded in 1923 as Bell Auto Parts, as it was based in Bell, California. It became one of the leading helmet manufacturers in the 1950s, and in 1963 F1 driver Jim Clark became Bell’s first world driving champion. As of 2016, Bell is under the Vista Outdoor umbrella and operates its Bell Powersports division to produce motorcycle helmets, along with its Giro and Blackburn bicycle helmet brands. The manufacturing of Bell’s helmets takes place in China.

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Bell’s marketing manager Chris Killen points at an original Bob “Hurricane” Hannah helmet from the mid-1970s. Helmet engineering was at a fairly primitive stage back then, as evident from the hand-milled air vents in the chinbar.

Inside its Scotts Valley location are 140 employees using an office area for administrative and design activities, as well as a fabrication shop with three CNC mills, a 3-D printing room and, most interestingly, its testing facility where helmets undergo brutal impact testing. Dubbed as DOME (Design, Observation, Materials and Engineering), the lab includes drop testing and angled-impact testing that proves the worth of reducing rotational impacts via Bell’s MIPS (Multi-Directional Impact Protection System) and Flex movable helmet liners.

MIPS is one of the latest advances in head protection, as the shock-absorbing inner structure is designed to slightly rotate on impact – slip-plane-technology – to reduce rotational forces caused by angled impacts that can damage a brain. MIPS liners are said to achieve a 30% reduction in rotational forces, …read more

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