Hel­mets are more than just a piece of foam we have to strap to our head. We spoke to Scott Sports about how they de­sign and de­velop hel­mets with safety and com­fort in mind.

How much thought do you put into your hel­met? That lump of foam and plas­tic could be the dif­fer­ence be­tween never rid­ing again, and rid­ing into the sun­set for many years to come. So we dropped into Scott Sports HQ in Switzer­land to speak to their hel­met en­gi­neers, to find out more about what goes in to mak­ing hel­mets – in­clud­ing win­ning hel­mets like the Cen­tric used by mul­ti­ple World Cham­pion Nino Schurter.


Scott have just about ev­ery kind of bike and make high qual­ity shoes, cloth­ing and ac­ces­sories. They also make some re­ally good hel­mets. But the Cen­tric is the hel­met that was on the head of Nino Schurter when he won the 2017 XCO World Cham­pi­onships, and it’s also the choice of the Orica road team.

“This hel­met was re­plac­ing the Van­ish,” says Marco Crivello when I ask how the whole process for the de­sign and pro­duc­tion of the Cen­tric. “The van­ish was a com­pletely dif­fer­ent de­sign. It was much more min­i­mal. It was higher at the back. For us we wanted a new di­rec­tion in the de­sign.”

“The Van­ish was a bench­mark for us, but there was a lot to im­prove,” adds Alex Dimitriou. “First of all the safety, the weight, the aero­dy­nam­ics and ven­ti­la­tion. We wanted the same ven­ti­la­tion as the

Van­ish but with bet­ter aero­dy­nam­ics. This re­quest was com­ing from the prod­uct man­ager.”

Crivello and Dimitriou also spoke to the Orica team and Scott-SRAM, about what they wanted. The road­ies wanted greater aero­dy­nam­ics, but ev­ery­one also wanted the safest hel­met pos­si­ble.

“It was a dis­cus­sion with Orica but also our moun­tain bike team, Scott-SRAM, as they would wear the same hel­met. Nino has worn this hel­met since the Olympic Games,” said Dimitriou.

So what does a high-end hel­met need? The feed­back from the rid­ers is es­sen­tial, but it’s also feed­back from peo­ple like you and I that dic­tates what brands cre­ate. I ask what the great­est pri­or­ity is when de­sign­ing a hel­met.

“On a hel­met like the cen­tric which is a cross be­tween road and moun­tain bik­ing, ven­ti­la­tion is a big pri­or­ity. Rid­ers will wear it for many hours, so they want a light hel­met, and well-ven­ti­lated. Safety though is the un­der­ly­ing fac­tor. When you go to a hel­met which is meant for En­duro or trail, the safety be­comes one of the big­gest pri­or­i­ties. As you start to de­sign above the safety stan­dards, as weight isn’t such a pri­or­ity,” ex­plains Crivello.

“For this hel­met (the Cen­tric) we tried to be within the stan­dards, and weight was a pri­or­ity. But with our range, per­haps more than other brands, we are still fo­cus­ing on the safety side. Even on this kind of hel­met we are still build­ing with an ex­tra mar­gin of safety. For ex­am­ple there is lower cov­er­age than other brands, it has the MIPS sys­tem, and some low den­sity foam. We’re try­ing to keep a low weight but it still needs to be safe,” added Dimitriou.

“For us – safety un­der­lies ev­ery­thing,” says Crivello. “And it’s prob­a­bly higher than other brands. First of all, we al­ways keep an ex­tra mar­gin on top of the safety stan­dards. So we are never at the limit of the stan­dards. And we don’t com­pro­mise with MIPS. Hav­ing that is a pri­or­ity.”


I’m in­ter­ested in the process from hav­ing a brief, to sell­ing hel­mets. But Alex Dimitriou ex­plains it’s a long process, in­volv­ing un­der­stand­ing what fu­ture tech­nolo­gies might be.

“We do the brief, then we re­view the brief with the en­gi­neers af­ter­wards to see if it’s pos­si­ble. Then we de­cide what the goals we can reach are, and what we can reach to­day – and what we might be able to reach to­mor­row with new technology, be­cause the process is quite long. About 2.5 or 3 years for a high end hel­met. So we must al­ready know what technology we will have avail­able in 3 years.”

“Then once the brief is val­i­dated we give the brief to the de­sign­ers, who come up with some pro­pos­als and the prod­uct man­agers choose a few with en­gi­neers, we start with 2D de­signs. It can be very con­cep­tual, or more ad­vanced, or far from what we can achieve. But it cre­ates ideas.”

“When the prod­uct man­ager is happy and the en­gi­neers agree the de­sign can be reached then we go in 3D. The first 3D model is printed with a 3D printer. It has a full shape.”

I pick up the 3D printed model of the Cen­tric. It’s heavy, and has mark­ings all over it – notes from de­sign­ers and en­gi­neers. Marco con­firms that the 3D print­ing stage has re­ally as­sisted with the de­vel­op­ment.

“We can check vol­ume, sizes and it re­ally helps with the pro­cesses. It is a very use­ful step as do­ing

a hel­met is a big in­vest­ment and very ex­pen­sive. So you can’t go from a sketch to tool­ing.”

Pre­vi­ously, clay was used to model a de­sign – and that wasn’t all that long ago Alex ex­plained.

“We did mod­el­ling with clay a few years ago, while to­day we go di­rectly to 3D print­ing. We work a lot with 3D print­ing, to help achieve some base shapes that we can test in the wind tun­nel, and for fit. With clay you get no con­cept of weight.”

With the Cen­tric, they then cre­ated a pro­to­type and had the tool­ing for such a task.

“We wanted to be as close as pos­si­ble to our safety mar­gin with this high end hel­met, so we re­ally needed the pro­to­type that we could im­pact test with dif­fer­ent thick­nesses, dif­fer­ent shapes.” The back of the hel­met was changed thanks to this ad­di­tional process, to make it ex­actly what the de­sign team wanted.”

“We would use a dremel to hand shape it for fit, or the wind tun­nel. Then we can res­can it to get the ex­act shape. Some mod­i­fi­ca­tions were done only for de­sign, oth­ers have been for aero­dy­nam­ics, other changes for safety.”

The scan of the hel­met lets them fi­nalise the de­sign from the small changes they have made – ready to pro­duce.

“When we have a fi­nal model we have to val­i­date it with im­pact test­ing, we have that done ex­ter­nally. We do our own in-house test­ing too for small tests, but then it’s bet­ter to have a neu­tral test. Gen­er­ally when we send some­thing to the lab we know it will pass, we have tested it 100 times. All the moulds are now done by CNC, whereas 5 years ago there were man­ual moulds by hand – which could bring sur­prises.”


Hel­mets are a manda­tory piece of cy­cling safety equip­ment in Aus­tralia, but they don’t au­to­mat­i­cally make moun­tain bik­ing safer. Marco and Alex are quick to state that there is so much more in­volved than just putting a hel­met on your head.

“How you wear it is the big fac­tor,” says Marco. “I think the fit sys­tem is a big change for safety. Many ath­letes keep the clip closed but the straps loose. They rely com­pletely on the fit sys­tem. Now when they do the test they do the pull test which is on the strap. It’s an im­por­tant part of the sys­tem.”

Alex agrees but says the safety comes from the whole sys­tem. “It is hard to say if one thing is the main con­trib­u­tor. MIPS is a big thing, and as Marco said the fit sys­tem is a part of it. But they are mar­ginal gains.”MIPS and im­proved de­sign have come about in re­cent years – but how much can a hel­met change any­way?

“We op­ti­mise small things, but from the same base, to make a safer hel­met. It’s all sorts of small things. Cov­er­age is lower, holes are op­ti­mised, and other small changes,” says Alex. “Un­for­tu­nately, if you check the hel­met from many years ago and now the main ma­te­rial is EPS. And it has been the same for years,“Marco adds. “There have been changes in den­sity but the big­gest changes are on de­sign and knowl­edge of the de­sign you can use. So you can im­prove weight, safety or ven­ti­la­tion. But it’s the same ma­te­rial.”

And how could they make hel­mets even safer? Moun­tain bik­ers are con­tin­u­ally push­ing to new bound­aries of what we would think was pos­si­ble – so how does pro­tect­ing our heads keep up with that?

“We would like big thick­nesses, low den­sity foam, no holes and that would help to have a safer hel­met. It would be light, but would look ridicu­lous on your head,” says Alex. And that’s the prob­lem – we ex­pect our safety gear to look cool. “De­sign­ers would like to have a very small hel­met, with huge holes, no straps. But it would never pass cer­ti­fi­ca­tion.”

And that’s one of the chal­lenges of de­sign­ing safety equip­ment which isn’t only meant to pro­tect the rider – but some­thing that we want to buy. It has to look good.

“Ev­ery hel­met is an arm wres­tle be­tween en­gi­neers and de­sign­ers with the prod­uct man­ager as a ref­eree!” Adds Alex jok­ingly.

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