Inside Look: Giro Design Headquarters

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

Easton Bell Sports’ Scotts Valley, CA, headquarters houses Giro’s design facility, where all of their helmets for various sports are created.

When developing a new helmet, they have to consider safety and comfort, aerodynamics, weight and aesthetics. The process generally begins with a design, marketing and sales brief that outlines sales and market criteria, then it goes to Greg Marting, Giro’s chief of design.

Click through for the process and an inside look at their design center and offices…

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

“When we start a new project, I’ll start with a sketch, creating shapes, but then quickly move into 3D models,” Marting said. “This lets us better know what we’re looking at from all angles. This is especially important with venting as it gets pretty complex.”

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

“We work with a lot of 3D printed half-scale ‘hand models’ as well as CAD renderings to get it to a testable shape.”

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

“The Air Attack was developed a little differently in that it was driven by aerodynamics first, relying on wind tunnel data. We tested it against all of our competitors as well as some of our older models (white/orange in foreground). We found much of the benefit of the long tail of a TT helmet helmet could be obtained with a truncated Kammtail (black model). We tested that for both aerodynamics and safety and it did well, but then just for fun we took the EPS shell (shiny gray/black) from a typical TT helmet and tested that. It did really well, too, and that’s how they came up with the shape.”

Final wind tunnel testing was done with helmets at 25° and 75° tilt angles, two common positions for riders, and in five degree increments from 0° to 20° yaw angles.

Then they looked at venting and tested a lot of different positions, sizes and internal channels. Some of that, of course, is real world testing. That included one engineer sticking his head out of his wife’s Subaru at sprinting speeds to ensure the magnets would hold the lens shield in place at high speeds. They also had to ensure the lens didn’t distort too much across all helmet sizes, which might have allowed it to rattle loose or cause visual distortion. Lots of things to consider.

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

During the prototyping stage, they have three CNC machines and four 3D printers at their disposal to create tooling and full size samples. These can be used for fit testing and visual inspection, among other things like…

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

…proving to manufacturing partners that a complex molding process is, in fact, possible. Giro’s marketing director Eric Richter said most people don’t realize how many slides and tools go into molding a helmet or goggle. Sometimes even a highly reputable contract manufacturer says something can’t be done so they make the tooling in house to prove the concept and process. That was the case with the interchangeable lens design of their Manifest Goggle shown here.

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On the other side the building is The Dome, their R&D testing and industrial design center. They work on products for bike, snow and motorsports here, and their engineers cross pollinate ideas for new materials, designs and technologies.

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Along the wall is a history of bicycle helmet design. Before EPS shells, there was the soft shell version. In 1985, founder Jim Gentes designed his first helmet (yellow), brought it to a tradeshow as a hand carved prototype and walked away with $100,000 in orders. From there, he saw demand for an aerodynamic helmet and brought out the TT helmet (pink, 1987). This one wouldn’t meet today’s impact standards, but it’s shape is still mimicked today. Next was the first generation Air Attack (white/pink/blue, 1990). Some of the vents were actually hand carved into the shell at the pro races, and they even did early testing with Plantronics in this one for race radios.

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The Terramoto (purple) introduced a fit system and detachable visor in 1994. The Rev 4 (silver) was just a shell with no padding, made only for the pros and only to improve aerodynamics back before protective shells were required in competition. The Pneumo (white) was introduced in 1999 and was the first helmet to have more negative space (ie. vents) than foam and still meet safety standards. As you reduce the amount of EPS, the inmold process becomes part of the structural design. Bell invented the process and it’s what allowed such minimal designs. The next one (black) introduced carbon fiber reinforcements, and the new Pro Light (yellow) set the standard for globally approved lightweight helmets. But people wanted a mechanical fit system and bigger vents, so they developed the Aeon (black w/ silver stripes) and introduced the Roc Loc 5 retention mech.

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With aerodynamics, the principles don’t change, but rider positions do. So they developed the Selector, which let people customize the fit based on their size and position to maximize comfort and aerodynamics.

So what are they working on now?

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They’ve developed Soft Shell Technology using a Vinyl Nitrile interior rather than EPS. Instead of cracking or crushing, it compresses to absorb impact then rebounds to continue to protect from subsequent impacts. Right now, it’s limited to snow and field sports because it won’t hold up to the heat testing in bike helmet safety ratings. When it gets too hot (as in leaving it in your trunk), it’ll get too squishy. They’re trying, but don’t yet have a solution for porting that material over to bike helmets. And, it’s a bit heavier than EPS.

From here we went on to the engineering department where many of the random photos below were shot and some of the aero testing info above was procured.

giro bicycle helmet design factory tour

After the engineering is done, it goes to graphics. All designs start as inspiration, in this case a font book from the 1970′s. They sketch roung ideas, then take it into Illustrator.

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The designs are then placed over grid shells so they can line up graphics with specific points on the helmet. They don’t have complete control as things will stretch and shift a bit during production, but they can get it pretty close by designing the original graphics with expected expansion and shaping in mind. The careful attention to making the pattern and drawing it in by hand is a big reason why their graphics line up so well without relying on decals.

The nice thing about having a component company in the family is they can coordinate color schemes with parts, giving you a totally dialed look…like the orange and green anodized Easton handlebars. They also talk with other component and bike brands to see what others are working on and what’s trending.

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Then on to safety testing. They have multiple rigs to drop the helmets for impact testing. Different sports have different requirements, and bike helmets get dropped on solid steel “anvils” at a prescribed 6.2m/second impact velocity. It’s supposed to mimic a rider falling from their bike, which would result in about a 2m drop. It’s gravity, so the speed of impact on the ground from a basic fall isn’t dependent on your speed (that would come into play if you had a head on collision, but there are so many variables that the stick to a repeatable test). They measure for impact force in G’s, and each helmet is tested at various angles. Standardized CEN and CPSC tests have specific angles, but testing labs have liberty to test at any angle they want if they think a particular part of the helmet might be a weak spot (like a very large vent). They’re also tested at various temperatures, and EPS foam has different characteristics from hot to cold. Giro uses internal ribbing and shaping in the EPS to help handle impacts at different temps without adding bulk or material.

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This one crushed the EPS several millimeters and cracked it (center, between white bits) even though the outer shell looked fine.

They have duplicate test machines at their manufacturing plant in Asia so helmets can be tested right off the line. The equipment lets them quickly adjust to changing standards and evaluate new materials.

RANDOM COOL STUFF

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The tooling for their higher end helmets are like puzzle pieces that need to be manually assembled in the mold so that once it’s made, the tools can be slid out of the vents and holes. It’s much more complex than the simple helmets with just a couple of holes on the top, and the strap mounts, retention mechs and more have to be laid into place as part of the process. Some of the helmets require up to 16 parts inside the cores, which partially explains why the higher end helmets cost so much more. Safety wise, they’re the same, the just take more time and effort to make.

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All the colors of the rainbow!

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Shoe and goggle concepts.

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Easton hockey armor concepts that are likely moving into production. Who wouldn’t want something similarly bad ass for DH?

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Easton wheel testing/measuring machine. One of many in the lab.

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These pedals were rigged up to measure lateral and torsional sole deflection as they develop their cycling shoes.

Anything new? They weren’t launching anything here, but look for about six new helmets to debut from Giro this year, plus stuff from Bell, too. Oh, and we saw some pretty sweet Easton wheels, too.

Comments

Vladimir - 04/18/13 - 2:55am

Better! Tnks!

Matt - 04/18/13 - 7:31am

What!? No helmet debate? I’m liking this new comment section!

Hammertime - 04/18/13 - 12:22pm

Giro should produce at least one high visibility color offering for the Air Attack.

Rico - 04/18/13 - 5:36pm

I was hoping there were special model sides for the dolichocephalic and the brachyocephalic. I really don’t care much about them fins and such.

Lulu - 05/08/13 - 2:08pm

This is awesome!!! Really into cycling and find it super-interesting! Great inside knowledge!

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