With an entirely new trail helmet line on offer, how does a brand like Specialized approach developing four new helmets?
The all-new Specialized Camber and updated Ambush 2 helmets launch today, rounding out a completely new trail helmet line-up for the Big S. Pete sat down for a chat with Specialized’s helmet product manager Alex Jerome to find out more.
What was the impetus behind launching an updated Ambush and the new Camber?
The teams whole goal was to refresh the entire trail line. That was the idea from the start, but with high-end helmets, you’re looking at a minimum of a 24-month development cycle and that’s if the process is relatively smooth, especially at the high end. The challenges around the globe right now don’t make that any easier.
The way things started out with development, the goal was to get the mid-price point Tactic out as soon as we could, so there was emphasis put on that. That came out last September alongside the Gambit, then we were just working towards the Spring to release the Ambush and Camber.
It’s not like we started on Ambush and Camber once Tactic and Gambit were done, they were all going at the same time, it’s just difficult to push four helmets out simultaneously.
Once you’ve made the decision to update the a helmet line, what happens next?
As the product manager, I put together all of the briefs for each product. I work closely with the team as a whole once that is complete and make sure we are aligned on what goals we are focusing on with each product.
Our team started from the inside out. We started with some internal CAD studies with a blank shape in CAD which was aimed at getting the kind of ventilation that we wanted. That was one of the big pillars we wanted to pull through all four helmets. We started with those internal CAD studies to maximize the internal volume of airflow from front to back. That made up a big proportion of what the design language is based around, you can see this when you look at the four helmets next to each other. They all have that broad top with that main, central vent. That essentially allowed us to add parameters to the project and would guide the other design decisions.
How many people are involved in bringing a helmet design from concept to reality?
Our core team is about 12, but there’s other folks in the company who are also crucial too.
Why is the Virginia Tech rating so important to Specialized?
Virginia Tech is important for riders and consumers. VT started testing with American football helmets before moving into cycling helmets along with other sports. They are a third party testing & validation center with no affiliation to any brands in the industry. This is a great step forward as most brands in the cycling industry now use Virginia Tech to test their products and it allows the end consumer to see how different helmets from different brands perform in third party testing.
All four helmets feature MIPS, did you consider developing your own system like other helmet brands have?
We have a really strong symbiotic relationship with MIPS and see the benefits of our helmets mitigating rotational forces and the MIPS solutions help them do that.
What are the challenges of trying to make a consistent helmet range while reducing compromises?
Having a full line with different price points certainly make this process easier. The higher the MSRP the more refined features we can include. The Tactic and Ambush both share the same coverage, so you can ride either and feel like you’re getting that same confidence. Going up to the Ambush though you have the adjustable Tri-Fix, dual density EPS, MIPS Node solution and in-molded rubber flaps to keep glasses storage clean and rattle free. Both helmets came with the priority from the start to include good glasses integration.
We did a ton of development on the rubber flappers on the Ambush, including different types of durometer rubber to stop the glasses rattling, and then added in ramps to help guide the glasses arms past the entrance. We even designed the whole system to take the pressure from the glasses arms off your head when you’re riding. You don’t see a lot of this kind of thing on trail helmets, which kinda blows my mind seeing as how many people ride with glasses these days. Some helmets have nowhere to put your glasses… They just have to go in your pocket.
How do you guys approach the prototype stages?
Our approach is to design a helmet from the inside out, and that’s for a few reasons. Number one being we try to keep as much soft material as close to the head as possible, secondly being the focus on ventilation that we discussed. From there, countless 3D prints we have of helmets and parts of helmets.
There’s a lot of back and forth at this stage between design and engineering. We also do some FEA (Finite Element Analysis) simulations, which is usually reserved for steel, aluminum and carbon, but this is pretty new for foams, like EPS, to see what’s happening there and what’s happening in real life.
We also use Computational Fluid Dynamics too, which is very helpful for us as we are developing ventilation and working on airflow internally.
Even before we start tooling a product, we have a lot of tools at our disposal for the development process.
Has 3D printing made the prototype stage easier?
The 3D printing has helped the way we develop helmets. In the past, models would have been designed in clay, and that takes a lot of time. We do everything in 3D on the computer and then just print it. Even small design tweaks can be done pretty quickly and then reprinted. Nothing replicates how a product looks in real life and on a head, regardless of how it looks on a computer screen.
We printed so many visors on the 3D printer trying to get the shape and height right for these new trail helmets. Our designers can make these changes pretty quickly which is pretty nice.
These are the kind of tools that helps us put out four helmets this quickly.
Are your athletes important to your helmet development?
Our athletes, ambassadors and riders are involved from the beginning. Even if they’re not a racing athlete, we try to be in touch all the time to get their feedback. Riders feedback in general are super important to this part of the process as well.
Tuesday 8th March… Then they’ll all be out.
No real disasters, but we had to get creative with how we worked in the current climate the last couple years. Previously we’d be hands-on with our co-workers in Asia, now we do Zoom meetings watching and discussing real time development with our co-workers & vendors.
Shipping & logistics has been a struggle but that’s not unique to us or the cycling industry.
The trail helmets for me are almost wrapped up, other than getting the launch complete. So what’s next has already been going for a while! The funny thing is, we’re launching now, but from a product point, it’s been done for a while. The product aspect has been done, and it’s more marketing team and assets in the run up to the launch.
You can check out the updated trail helmet range from Specialized on their website here.
Read Pete’s review of the Specialized Ambush 2 on our Gear page here.