Posted: 15 May 2013
As well as being worn for (obvious) safety reasons, motorcycle racing helmets act as a sign of recognition and can often differentiate riders from their on-track rivals. But did you ever wonder how riders get their unique designs created and painted on their lids?
Helmet designer-to-the-stars Richard Stevens from Rich Art Concepts is responsible for creating designs for riders such as Cal Crutchlow, James Ellison, James Toseland and Danny Webb, and he also created Biking Dreams winner Symor Skilbeck’s bespoke Help for Heroes lid. We caught up with him to see what’s involved when creating a bespoke helmet design…
I could never have been a lawyer
“I used to race myself until I was 21 years old and I decided against my dream of going to university and training a lawyer in favour of being a helmet designer. I can't imagine being a lawyer now! Just like any other profession, my work is affected by the economy – at times it can leave me financially vulnerable as people haven't got the disposable income to spend on replica helmets. We have gone through some really tough times but I believe that we’re starting to climb back out again.”
“A motorcycle racer’s helmet design is constantly evolving, with riders often changing their designs throughout a season. My job is definitely fashion-led!
“I like to have a one-to-one meeting with the client to find out exactly what they want to achieve with their lid design, before I get started. It’s important to get a better understanding of their personality as that forms a big part of the design concept.”
When the magic happens…
“I draw a rough draft on a helmet template and present to the client. If they approve it, then that’s when we commit to the actual paint on the shell. I like to give them a rough idea of how it will look, rather than blowing their minds with too much information! Plus a lot of people have their own ideas about what they want and I work to that too.
“Some racers have very specific ideas, but they may not work in practice, for example, their design may not work on the curvature of the helmet. When I see an image on paper, my brain automatically recreates it onto a helmet. I don't tell them that their much-loved design won't work, after all, it's their vision. But I do make suggestions and lead them in the right direction.
“Some riders can be fussy, and even though they don't know what they want, they will know it when they see it. Some are superstitious too and often have secret meanings within their helmet designs, and parts of it will mean things to them. If this is the case, they will often keep this as part of their design for the whole of their career.”
“At the moment, a lot of people seem to be buying neutral helmets and riding gear so that they don't have to change it all when they get a new bike. It's a sign of the times and I understand it completely. However, I think the trend will change again soon as I’m starting to see more people who want to personalise their kit. I think they're realising that having something custom-made is a bit more affordable than they think.
“It's difficult to price things up though. I don't tend to charge more than £500 for a custom painted lid as it is a lot of money for people, especially these days. However, I am currently painting a helmet that has already cost hundreds of pounds to produce. I guess some people might think it costs a lot more to get something bespoke created for them, but I use my instinct as a guide. I think about what I’d be happy to pay for something, and go from there.
“Sometimes my projects aren’t as cost-effective for me as I’d like as I exceed the time I predicted the paintwork to take. However, that’s the nature of my job – I’m only happy when the customer is happy.”
I paint for everyone and anyone!
“It's always nice to paint for a racer as more than anything it acts as good exposure for me. However, I treat all my customers the same. This year I’m painting for four riders, whereas last year it was around 15. Money isn't being spent so much at the moment and manufacturers are holding back. For me, my business is still surviving because of my private customers.”
Sponsorship is key
“Whether a motorcycle racer or car driver, sponsorship is important. Sponsors provide a huge amount of income for teams and if it wasn't for them, the sport wouldn't still be going. However, for this money, they have high expectations and demands – usually including the placement of their logo on the helmet. Frankly speaking, it can be frustrating to get a design right when we’re limited in the way we can use the sponsor’s logo. It is good for the sport but not always great for design!”
“Racers have the added pressure of public opinion. Also, if I’m designing a helmet for a high-profile rider, there is always the possibility of it being made into a replica, which has massive implications.
“Race replica helmets have a usual shelf life of around two years and in my opinion, are similar to football kits – they change all the time. They can be very expensive too.
“When you factor in the racer contracts and bonuses, production of the helmet and exchange rates for major brands like Shoei and Arai, it’s easy to see why race replica helmets are so costly. Add in the fact that many sponsors don't want their logo to be reproduced, the helmet might not even go ahead to replica stage.”
“I love designing and painting helmets and I have started doing a number of karting and car helmets now too. Also I have recently branched out into cycling and rock climbing helmets. This has opened up a whole new world to me – not all helmets are the same you know…!”
Find out more about Rich Art Concepts here: www.richartconcepts.co.uk