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The Honeycomb Material That’s Making Helmets Better

For your next helmet, look for the bright green honeycomb. It just might save your life.

Unless you found it tucked between the clothing and dairy aisles at your local big box store, your bike probably has at least one feature that qualifies as genuinely innovative. Maybe even revolutionary, depending on the bike maker’s level of skill. In any case, your bike is, from an engineering standpoint, special, and you know it. It’s why you bought the thing. The same goes for everything else: backpack, shoes, sunglasses, GPS watch. They’re all innovative, in their own way. Why, then, would you ever consider wearing a helmet — the one thing standing between you and a potentially life-threatening head injury — that’s anything but?

Smith, long an innovator in the world of sports eyewear and safety, uses a pretty miraculous material in its helmets. It’s called Koroyd, and it will completely change the way you think about protection.

Koroyd is a meticulously engineered impact-absorbing material that was originally developed for the aerospace industry. It looks like a bright green honeycomb lattice, containing thousands of co-polymer tubes thermally welded together — almost like a sheet of bunched-up plastic straws. On impact, the “straws” buckle and crush, absorbing and diffusing the energy. But how is that any different from existing helmet technology?

“The cool thing about Koroyd is that it’s an engineered structure for crushing in a homogeneous way — it actually absorbs and dissipates energy, instead of acting like a spring,” says Eric Thorsell, a Design Engineer at Smith. Ubiquitous EPS styrofoam compresses and rebounds — it doesn’t absorb and dissipate that energy like Koroyd. It’s an antiquated material derived from the packaging industry. “You can imagine if you have a chunk of foam, and you bang on it with something — at first, it’s this nice big fluffy chunk of foam, but as that hammer starts going through, the foam is compressing and getting denser and denser, so its ability to resist that force is being reduced. With Koroyd, those tubes will buckle all the way down, creating a linear energy absorber.”

is among the lightest energy-absorbing materials on the market -- Smith’s Forefront helmet, for example, weighs between 320g and 338g (that's just under 12 ounces). And it lasts far longer than standard EPS helmets.

Koroyd is designed, with expertise from the aerospace industry, specifically for reducing brain and skull injury. And when Thorsell’s team tests it against standard helmets, it’s absorbing 30 percent more energy. It allows cool air in and, when the riding gets fast, functions much like a car exhaust, evacuating hot air away from your head. It is among the lightest energy-absorbing materials on the market — Smith’s Overtake helmet, for example, weighs 250 grams (that’s just under 9 ounces). And it lasts far longer than standard EPS helmets.

“With EPS, when you get hit, the helmet is done. You need to replace the helmet,” Thorsell says. “The foam is densified and just doesn’t absorb impact like it used to. Koroyd has the ability to elastically deform. So, for low-speed impacts, it can absorb and release energy without crushing.”

It doesn’t matter whether you’re leisurely cruising on tarmac or flying down trails so fast your eyeballs get windburn. You must ask yourself: what price am I willing to pay for peace of mind? I seek innovative, high-performance equipment for everything else — shouldn’t my helmet be the same? Thorsell wagers it should, and not just because Koroyd is an improvement from older technology. Smith’s helmets are designed, ultimately, to do one thing: make you a better rider.

“If you can go out and spend a whole day in the saddle,” says Thorsell, “and you never once have to think about the weight on your head, or the tightness of your fit system, or the fact that there’s sweat dripping down your face — if we can continue to innovate and create something that allows you to have the perfect day riding, without any minor annoyances, while at the same time creating a product that makes you feel safer and gives you confidence — that’s where we’re headed. We want people to get out there and focus solely on riding, not having to worry about those other things.”

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