Editor’s Note: This sponsored post is courtesy of Bell Sports.
Hilgard Muller has always been a tinkerer. Even in his youth Bell’s Director of Research and Development was pushing the envelope of possible. As a 10-year-old, Muller decided he wanted a radio controlled airplane. But instead perusing a Sharper Image catalog for some pre-assembled model, he headed to the local hobby shop, bought some balsa wood and went to work, designing his own flying machine with nary a plan or set of instructions. When the senior Muller saw how serious his son was about the project, he helped him get hold of a transmitter. And yes, in case you’re curious, the plane did fly.
That first foray into the world of industrial design has become thematic in Muller’s adult life. After attending California’s San Jose State University, he went right to work, hooking on with Bell as an intern. That was 18 years ago. “I’ve been working with the design team ever since,” said Muller.
During that successful span, Muller’s been front and center on a host of important projects, but arguably none so industry influential as the removable chinbar helmet, which debuted as the Bell Super 2R in late 2014, and has since been updated with the recent release of the updated Super 3R in the fall of 2016.
Muller credits the emergence of enduro racing — and his talented design team’s foresight — as reasons why Bell was first to market with the current generation of what has become one of mountain biking’s most popular helmet styles.
“We started to see a big growth and increased interest in enduro-style riding about 5-6 years ago,” recalled Muller, who worked closely with designers Scott Allen and Kyle Ellison during the entire development process. “Bikes and the people riding them were progressing really fast, and more and more people were carrying two helmets at enduro events. So when we launched the original Super helmet we made sure to build a platform that could have a removable chinbar added later because that was always our intention. Turns out our timing was perfect.”
Indeed, events such as the Enduro World Series, which debuted in 2013, helped drive rider need for dynamic head protection that’s light and breathable going uphill, but still offers top line safety features when it’s time to head down.
“The emergence of enduro really was the genesis,” continued Muller. “You have a rider saying, ‘I have hydration pack to carry gear, I’m climbing a large portion of the day, but I only need a chinbar for descending. There has to be a better way?’”
Bell was ready with the right answer for that question. The original half shell Super trail helmet incorporated a ridged injection molded plate that later became the foundation for the chinbar attachment in the Super 2R.
“It was all very intentional,” revealed Muller. “We discussed the idea of the chinbar three seasons ahead of the Super, but initially didn’t think consumers were ready for it just yet. But when we did unveil it, we felt like the timing was spot on, and judging by what has happened in the marketplace since, I’d say we were right.”
Of course, Muller is alluding to near industry wide adoption of the removable chinbar concept. Today, Giro, Leatt, Uvex, and Lazer are just some of the manufacturers that have followed the lead of Muller and his team, releasing their own contemporary versions of removable chinbar helmets.
“I love seeing that we created a new category,” admitted Muller. “That ethos of innovation has always been part of the Bell DNA. I also love seeing what other companies are doing, because that competition drives us all to make better product. It’s interesting to see the various interpretations. Sure if we cornered the market that’s great for business. But then we don’t need to push as hard. This motivates the Bell team to step up even further and that’s the fun part. That’s what I live for, problem solving and innovation.”
At the same time Muller feels no one else has matched the Super 2R and now Super 3R for its clean and elegant solution, which requires no tools. Instead the chinbar swap takes about 15 seconds. Muller is also convinced Bell has made the right call in terms of safety certification.
“We are asked why we did not pursue downhill certification with the Super 2R,” he explained. “It was a very conscious decision to develop a helmet that had an additional measure of face protection, but also prioritized low weight and ventilation. Our aim was to balance these consumer needs and expectations. The Super 2R and now Super 3R were intended to serve those specific consumer demands and that’s why it’s been so successful.”
So where do we go from here? Muller can’t get into specifics just yet, but he says all mountain bikers should be excited for what’s to come. “Our team is firing on all cylinders,” he said. “We have a great group that’s as motivated as ever to push boundaries. Bell will definitely continue to challenge norms and turn heads.”
For more info please visit www.bellhelmets.com.