The Intersection of Motorcycles, Helmets and Safety
What follows is a brief conversation with Kali Founder Brad Waldron as we relaunch the Kali Motorsports Journal to bring you stories at the intersection of motorcycles, helmets and safety.
Brad, so even though Kali Protectives has become better known as a bicycle helmet brand, you make it clear when you talk about the brand that motorcycle helmets drive everything Kali does. Can you explain?
Kali got its start when we wanted to improve the process of making a traditionally constructed motorcycle helmet, where you take the protective foam and glue it into the shell. This is still the way helmets are made for the majority of companies. The shell spreads the load before the foam takes over the job of dissipating the energy. There is a gap between the shell and foam, as it is near impossible to get a perfect match when they are made separately. When you hit the outer shell there is little energy being dissipated, so your brain is moving rapidly around the inside of your skull. We now take the shell and inject the protective EPS, Contigo or Cassidian, into the shell which subsequently eliminates all the gaps. Now that foam is a perfect match for the shell and thus it is supporting the shell. These structure then support each other. This allows us to make a thinner shell, which allows the impact force to get to the energy dissipating foam quicker, which helps slow down the rapid movement of the brain.
Moto helmets as a structure are more complicated and more expensive in general. This gives us more room to work and experiment. Don Morgan’s ‘Conehead’ idea of putting crumple zones in the protective foam was easier in a helmet with little or no ventilation holes. We learned on the moto helmets and then took on how to get it into the much smaller space of a bicycle helmet with holes all over it. Same with LDL, how and where to put it and test it , was a lot easier when you have a larger surface to work with. Once you have a baseline, you can get more creative.
You are pretty passionate about motorcycle helmet design and you have a warehouse full of motorcycles in all shapes and sizes. Have you always ridden motorcycles? Can you tell us a little bit about your very first motorcycle?
I haven’t always ridden, as a matter of fact my dad had a Honda 100 when I was young, but after my brother ‘took’ it to Huntington Beach (probably took him 9 hours on that bike) for a surf trip I was never allowed to touch it. It wasn’t really until I started making carbon parts for motorcycles that I decided I needed a bike. I like to be active in the things I’m building. I was never able to catch a ride on an F-18 Fighter when I was working on them, but would have jumped at the chance. The local hangglide community has asked me to work on a helmet for them, which has me re-thinking that I need to be active in all things I work on.
Anyway, I found a used Yamaha 426. And anyone who knows that bike knows that it is super tricky to start, so the only solace I had when it was stolen was laughing at the poor person who was trying to start it. It was a pretty big bike for a first bike, but I loved the power it had to pull me up the steeps, without too much finesse.
Since then our quiver has grown, now we have a Honda 250, Kawasaki 450, and my wife Charlotte’s Yamaha 125. My mechanic says I need to sell those for an old man bike, like a KTM 300 with electric start and a kickstand. Hmmm?
On the road side my main bike is my Ducati 796 and my GSXr 600, plenty fast enough for me. Oh, there is also a Moto Guzzi Nevada and Kawi 250 dual sport. Seems like a lot when I write it down, I’ve never bought a brand new bike.
As with all things, we never get to do the things we love to do as often as we would love to do them, but if you could throw your leg over one of your two wheeled steed today, where would you go and what would you do?
Oh man, there are so many cool options. I would probably start with Highway 1. Either way, North up the Oregon coast to Vancouver, or South to Tijuana. There is so much coastline and fun twisties around here. No matter if it’s the 17 mile drive down to Big Sur or up the Avenue of the Giants it all sounds great as I sit here at my desk.
Can you tell us one thing you are super proud of when it comes to your work in Moto?
I believe in what we are doing, the technologies that we apply to our moto helmets are significant and make for a product that, in my opinion, gives you the best possibility to survive to get up and ride again. Unfortunately, it is not cheap to put these technologies into our helmets. Being an independent brand, and not a major distributor, costs are an issue. Distributors own their own helmet brands and are most interested in price sensitive options. A helmet, is a helmet, is not true. There are brands out there, not just Kali, that are doing more than a basic, a helmet is a helmet is a helmet.
Where do you think Kali Protectives will go with their motorcycle design in the future?
We will stay true to our original mission, which is to make the safest helmets we know how to make. Never ending commitment to follow the research as well as do our own R&D. Put as much technology into each product as we can at each price point. And continue to drive the technology down to all price points.