Racing Legend Motors Ahead.
The early days of auto racing were a perilous era in which the loss of life was nearly as routine as the wave of the checkered flag. Maverick car racer and builder Roy Richter was no stranger to the realities of the sport, but its hazards were made concrete when he lost two friends to racing-related head injuries in 1953.
Considering their choice of protection-one was wearing a leather helmet, another a construction hard hat-Richter resolved to prevent future loss of life. The result was the founding of Bell Helmets.
Bell’s first product was an open-faced helmet nicknamed the 500. An homage to the legendary Indianapolis Motor Speedway race, it gained instant notoriety in 1954 by helping a driver survive a serious crash at the Indy 500. A year later, nearly every racer in the field was wearing a Bell.
The road to modern helmet con-struction was an evolutionary one, but Bell took a quantum leap in 1963.
After purchasing a manufacturer of police helmets and merging its foam technology with traditional fiberglass construction, Richter found a way to essentially offer a crumple zone around the head. His creation was the world’s first full-face helmet, and he christened it the Star.
The new lid protected racecar drivers and motorcyclists alike, and the Bell Star name soon became synonymous with quality. The Star saw continual improvement for decades, but when the company splintered in the 1980s, the motorcycle division was licensed to Bieffe and company priorities shifted to products such as bicycle helmets.The company eventually reconsolidated in 2003, focusing its efforts on regaining a stake in the motorcycle market, a formidable task considering the mega-sized budgets of other manufacturers.
In order to reclaim its footing, Bell set course on an ambitious helmet project that involved copious research and development. The new helmet was to capture the spirit of Bell’s pioneering past, combining nostalgia with state-of-the-art materials and design. The name had to capture the dueling forces of tradition and progress, and the logical choice pointed back to the company’s first full face helmet-the Star.
"It was a topic of great debate," says Bell Senior Marketing Manager Chris Sackett. "Old school guys remember the Star as being the best helmet in the world, and we felt that this helmet was on par with that."The choice to resur-rect the Star name came halfway into the 3-year development process, and intended not only to resuscitate the mystique of the company’s past glory, but also to recover customers lost to
formidable competitors such as Arai and Shoei.
Successful helmet construction demands the satisfaction of a wide variety of parameters that usually go unnoticed until one of them fails. Does your helmet feel stuffy? Are your ears ringing from wind noise? Are smooth sideways movements challenging at high speeds? And, rather importantly, will your helmet protect you if you don’t keep the shiny side up? These are the questions helmet designers sweat, and Bell sought to answer them with a clean sheet design and lessons learned from the first project of their corporate renaissance, the Moto-8 off-road helmet.
The first enemy of any helmet is weight, and the Star’s Kevlar/carbon fiber/fiberglass composite matrix keeps head strain to a minimum. Using wind tunnel, water tunnel, and computer modeling technologies, Bell developed an exclusive airflow system they call Velocity Flow Ventilation. The research enabled optimal placement of a wicker at the rear exhaust ports so air is broken up, diverted into the helmet, and modulated using vents. Incorporating a series of channels in EPS foam, the end result is the strong distribution of air towards the head. In order to cool the face, a dual-stage chin vent allows air to be pushed up towards the visor, or to enter directly towards the lower portion of the helmet.
Because ventilation often comes at the cost of noise control,a unique shield design was incorporated offering three modes of closure. Utilizing a stainless steel lever on the left side of the helmet, the shield can be set in a normal position which allows for one detent at one half an inch, and smaller increments until it is fully open.Another setting allows the visor to be cracked open for a cooling breeze during stop and go traffic, and the third setting clamps the visor tightly shut against the gasket, reducing wind noise for high speed rides. There is an incremental noise tradeoff for the helmet’s ventilation, but the visor’s locking function counteracts much of that noise, and a foam earcup also helps kill decibels.
Racing demands add complexity to visor design, and the Star’s optional tear-off visor features a resculpted shape that is curved left to right, but flat top to bottom. The visor is easily installed using a quick release system, and racers can gain stability above 130 mph by installing the Track Strip, which adheres to the rear wing of the helmet.
Stability issues also become paramount during side-to-side head movement, an issue that was originally addressed for open-car racing by Jim Fueling. Using a Fueling-type design, the rear of the Star is truncated, enabling smooth head turns at speed- a feature that helps when high-speed lane changes demand smooth, lin-ear head movements. Inside the Star, removable cheekpads are contour-cut, using a heated wire for face conformation. Ageon-an antibacterial, antimicrobial material-controls odor, and the padded lining is machine washable.
Clad with contemporary graphics led by the spectacular Viper treatment pictured on previous pages the new Bell Star bears virtually no visible resemblance to the helmet that invented the full-faced genre 42 years ago, and its performance rein-forces that departure. For a product designed to envelop the head, the Star breathes with breezy ventilation, and its light weight enhances the sensa-tion of freedom. Though helmets have been accused of removing the thrill from riding, the Bell Star offers a fresh alternative to motorcyclists seeking to shield themselves in comfort.
ULTIMATE MOTORCYCLING DECEMBER 2008 / JANUARY 2009