How Lazer’s improved helmet protection technology came to life
To trace the origins of Lazer’s all-new KinetiCore technology, you have to travel way back to 2010. Lazer’s R&D manager Guido de Bruyne says that they wanted to develop a way to add rotational protection to their helmets while reducing the overall weight. “We were looking at alternative technology out there, and the key moment was when we started looking at the helmet itself rather than something you add on to it.”
But the question was: how do you go about achieving something that hasn’t been done before? The team discovered that the answer lay in computer simulations. “We used a computer program that could simulate a helmet’s design and protective performance before it was made in the mould,” says Lazer’s general manager Sean van Waes. This was crucial to the development of KinetiCore, because once the helmet’s in the mould then the product is essentially finished, so changing it takes you all the way back to square one.
The major benefit of these simulations was that Lazer could design helmets that worked within specific limits required to pass certification tests. This made designing helmets more affordable, more accurate and, most importantly, quicker. Prototypes could be designed and instantly rejected if they went into red zones.
These prototypes were also put into impact simulations so the team could see exactly what happens not just with direct impacts but also rotational impacts. Rotational impacts occur when a cyclist is moving and collides with a hard surface sideways. This type of impact is difficult to protect against, as the brain tends to move inside the skull at such an impact.
By having a simulator tell us what will happen in direct impacts and rotational impacts, we began to have an advantage over our competitors,” says Van Waes.
Lazer’s next major breakthrough was, ironically, triggered by helmet technology patents. “The existing patents filed within helmet protection technology encouraged us to look beyond resembling a technology that was already out there,” says Lazer’s commercial and marketing director Mike Smink. As a result, Lazer worked on building the protective technology into the helmet rather than adding it on as an extra. This was a turning point in development, and resulted in huge gains in impact protection, ventilation and reducing weight and plastic use, as there was no longer a requirement to add-on protection technology.
Within their simulations, the team began designing ‘blocks’ constructed from EPS foam that were built to crumple under impact. These had the dual advantage of removing material from the helmet as well as offering potentially advanced protection. “We focused on the fact that if you break something, it also absorbs energy,” says De Bruyne. The team took inspiration from ‘crumple zones’ in aeroplane and car engineering, in particular the way parts of Formula 1 cars are designed to crumple in a crash and in doing so absorb the energy of the impact and help protect the driver.
The problem was that there were myriad ways the blocks could be designed and positioned. De Bruyne estimates that they tested more than 5,000 helmets before landing on the golden setup.
“We worked hard to evaluate what shaped block would provide the best protection. Those blocks were then copied to existing Lazer helmet models, where we could make a comparison with and without them.”
The result is KinetiCore’s Controlled Crumple Zones – a unique set of blocks designed to buckle in the event of direct or rotational impact, redirecting energy away from the brain.
Bumps in the road
In developing KinetiCore technology, Lazer worked with the University of Bern, the University of Ghent and University College London, as well as Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology. But it wasn’t all plain sailing. As Lazer’s sales director Peter Duynslaeger says, “Our ambition almost killed us.”
Over the years of development, frustration grew as the team inched closer to what they were aiming for, but couldn’t get quite close enough. “Sometimes it felt like we were taking two steps forward and one step back,” says Smink. “We were getting closer but we were never sure how close we were.”
Even in the summer of 2020, De Bruyne felt that they weren’t making the progress he strived for. “We hadn’t seen the level of performance we were aiming for from the helmets. We had to make some drastic changes to get there. We didn't understand KinetiCore. It was new, and by changing the blocks we tried to understand it better. Also, we set ourselves an extra challenge by designing a number of different helmets with KinetiCore built in at the same time.
“It's a constant learning process,” he adds. “We’re still discovering the full potential of KinetiCore technology and understand the mechanics of how it works so the next model will perform even better.”
The team tested and failed, tested again and failed again until finally they succeeded. There were several key moments where they realised that KinetiCore was on track to achieve something special. For De Bruyne, the first was when KinetiCore technology achieved accreditation in the University of Strasbourg’s impact tests. “We showed that KinetiCore did what it was promising to do,” says De Bruyne. “That was the moment I thought, ‘We can pull this off.’”
“At that point, I realised that KinetiCore was really going to be producible and we were going to launch it within a year,” adds Smink.
The next significant moment of success came when Virginia Tech awarded three KinetiCore models with 5 stars (‘Best Available’) through its independent bicycle helmet ratings. These ratings added to the many Lazer already gained with its current range, making it the brand holding the most 5-star and 4-star bicycle helmet ratings. “This was hugely important, as they have six impact locations where you can see real-world impacts rather than random impacts on a helmet,” says De Bruyne. “It's targeted at the places where lots of accidents occur. In addition, these independent tests confirmed that we had managed to pull off the same protection levels with built-in, instead of added-on, technology.”
One of the many benefits of KinetiCore is that there truly are no limits to the technology – it can be designed into every Lazer helmet for every type of cyclist, from the youngest riders’ helmets right up to the top-end helmets aimed at road cyclists looking for enhanced aerodynamic performance. KinetiCore provides customers with the ultimate in lightweight comfort and ventilation, while providing the confidence that they’re protected from multiple types of impact while cycling. By removing material for the extra ventilation and Controlled Crumple Zones, Lazer also takes steps in reducing its impact on the environment by using less plastic than in comparable older models.
“KinetiCore has all the ingredients to become the number one when it comes to rotational impact protection,” says Duynslaeger.
The company is on a constant quest to improve its helmets and remain at the forefront of protective technology, meaning customers can cycle in comfort with the confidence that comes when wearing KinetiCore protection.
“This is the essence of why Lazer’s been in this business for over 100 years,” says Smink. “Our aim has always been to protect cyclists in the event of crashes in the most comfortable and stylish way possible. And KinetiCore aligns to that mission that we have as a company since it began – ‘to contribute to a society where cyclists can enjoy riding in safety’.”