The influence of the classic on the modern is obvious, especially to the cycling connoisseur, whose sport offers a glorious history.
Derivative is easy. Using the past as inspiration for something new and better is more difficult. Giro’s new Synthe helmet takes its cue from the ‘hairnet’ designs of yore, but relies on a concept more sophisticated than thin strips of leather to protect the rider.
Encased within its shell is a liner designed with the express purpose of absorbing rotational forces. It’s a technology described as Multi-Directional Impact Protection System (MIPS), developed in Sweden.
Where conventional helmets are equipped with a deformable polysterene layer to absorb the forces of direct impact, Giro’s MIPS-equipped helmets contain an extra liner that allows the helmet shell to rotate independently around the head during an angled impact, and so reduce the impact on the brain of rotational forces.
Giro’s Eric Horton explains that the Synthe had been completed by the time Giro’s collaboration with MIPS had been finalised, hence there are two versions.
If improving a helmet’s capability to protect the skull seems an obvious development for a manufacturer, it’s worth reminding ourselves that Giro was under no obligation to do so. All of its helmets already meet CPSC and CEN standards. Greater commercial reward might be gained from development to reduce the weight of a helmet, say; or to increase its ventilation. Horton, however, sees it differently.
“Fundamentally, that’s what the company is about, is saving people’s lives. Currently, there is no requirement that helmet companies implement this type of technology, so for us, first of all, it was about understanding does it really work? Is it just a crazy idea, or is there really some measurable benefit?
“We absolutely believe that if we know we can make a helmet safer, we’re obliged to. If we know we can do something that will improve its ability to withstand impacts and G-forces to the head, then we have an obligation, whether we are required to or not. That’s just the right thing to do."
Given that, firstly, the Synthe had already been completed, and, secondly, is a lightweight, high-performance helmet of the type issued to BMC Racing, did Giro face an additional challenge in incorporating the MIPS system? Would the task of incorporating an extra liner have been easier on an entry-level helmet, for example?
“Each project is very specific. With a helmet like the Synthe, which is very weight conscious and very ventilation conscious, we do our utmost to ensure that it’s almost invisible; that you hardly know it’s there. That’s the idea: that it’s there when you need it, and that you don’t really notice it otherwise. That’s our ultimate goal.”
Giro is no stranger to working with individual riders, but unlike the Empire shoe, for example, developed with and specifically for Taylor Phinney, the Synthe is not the result of feedback from a specific athlete.
Instead, the helmet is viewed, by those within Giro at least, as the successor to a legion of designs that have graced the peloton in the last three decades, specifically the Aeon, the Aspect, and the Air Attack, to name only the ‘As’. It has already spawned a legion of imitators; a phenomenon that Horton is regarding as the sincerest form of flattery.
"The Synthe was highly influenced by some earlier, more adventurous projects like the Air Attack and the Aspect helmet, and has very quickly been emulated. We went to the Eurobike show, where you could see its influence already. The look of helmets has changed again. ”
Despite the more recent heritage, the Synthe has a style very much of its own. We return to our starting point: an aesthetic not a million miles from the classic hairnet. Horton confirms our hunch.
“We tried to emulate some of the features of the hairnet, especially across the front of the helmet. We kept it very flat, and it has a bar that goes across the forehead. That was a reference to the hairnet.”
The hairnet has had its day, but Giro will hope that by uniting something of its classic aesthetic with a new technology designed specifically to limit the impact of rotational force, they will give a timeless design a new lease of life.
Giro will exhibit at the Rouleur Classic, an intimately curated show of road cycling’s most desirable brands, to be held at Vinopolis, London Bridge, from November 19 to 21, 2015. To find out more, visit Rouleur Classic.