If there’s one sport that prizes head protection as much as motorcycling, it’s American Football. Whether you hold season tickets or just tune in for the Super Bowl commercials, you’re probably aware of the National Football League’s (NFL) recent emphasis on safety. That sea change began when several former NFL stars developed a degenerative brain disease called Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.
Facing an existential threat to the sport, the NFL addressed the issue by adjusting rules, penalties, and equipment standards. That was only the tip of the iceberg, however. To spur further innovation in protective helmet gear and traumatic brain injury detection, the organization held the Head Health Challenge (HHC) in 2013. By 2016, HHC III opened submissions to innovative helmet designs utilizing advanced materials.
After rigorous testing and judging, the NFL awarded the HHC III $500,000 grand prize to the joint team of Dynamic Research Inc. and 6D Helmets. The two firms split the prize money, with Brea, California-based 6D using the funds to further develop and integrate its Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS) technology into its newest motorcycle helmets. Using elastomeric isolation dampers as a buffer between two separate EPS liners, the ODS system allows the helmet to rotate around the user’s head, reducing rotational forces in the event of a crash.
Released in 2016, the ATS-1 represented the brand’s only road-oriented helmet. However, in 2019, 6D released an evolution of the model with the ATS-1R. Equipped with a fine-tuned shell shape, revised visor detents, and improved ODS system, the ATS-1R quickly became one of the most advanced motorcycle helmets on the market. We were fortunate enough to get our hands on the latest ATS-1R to see if 6D’s NFL-backed tech lives up to everyday use on the road and track.
Featuring a 3K carbon fiber shell, the ATS-1R is 200 grams lighter than its predecessor. The dual-layer EPS liner may add bulk to the helmet’s profile, but it still only weighs 3.4 pounds (in medium size). As a result, the helmet feels light in the hand and on the head. The plush interior lining and robust cheek pads keep the lid snug as well, but users can personalize the fit with 6D’s multiple cheek pad options. While 6D advertises the ATS-1R as an intermediate oval shape, the fit is closer to a long oval out of the box.
After several rides, the helmet loosens to a more traditional intermediate oval profile, but customers should be aware that the sides are initially narrower than the competition (Shoei X-Fourteen, Arai Corsair X, etc.). When the ATS-1R fully breaks in, however, the firm fit eliminates any slip during side-to-side movements. As a result, the helmet feels light yet secure, and the ODS technology reassures riders that the ATS-1R will flex and rotate when worse comes to worst.
Despite that close-fitting characteristic, the 6D lid never feels stuffy. An inlet at the chin bar and three intakes at the crown funnel in fresh air while 15 transfer channels and five exhaust ports maintain circulation. In my time with the ATS-1R, the brow vents proved most valuable for rider comfort and fog dissipation. While I preferred the standard tinted shield over the Pinlock-equipped clear visor, the vents never allowed fog to form in the helmet and kept incoming air out of my eyes.
Those riding in warmer climates may remove the chin curtain and neck roll for even more ventilation or reinstall them to reduce wind noise. While I didn’t use a comm unit or glasses while testing the ATS-1R, 6D also equipped the helmet with integrated speaker pockets and an eyewear-compatible liner for extra on-road comfort and convenience. The ATS-1R may be a race-bred helmet, but 6D imbued it with a fit and feel that’s conducive to everyday street riding.
6D’s race lineage is most evident in the ATS-1R’s finish. Flaunting a carbon fiber weave under its sporty Rogue graphics, the helmet looks every bit the part. That eye-catching style translates well to the road as well, grabbing motorists’ attention without bordering on juvenile or obnoxious. Similarly, the air intakes and visor locking mechanisms are understated but effective. On a warm day, riders can push the visor lever forward for extra airflow while dedicated track riders will flip the lever back, locking the shield in place for extra crash protection.
Whether you’re on the back straight or a backroad highway, the rearward aerodynamic wing reduces buffeting and lift at high speeds. While wearing the helmet on the circuit, the aero appendage helped maintain a snug fit at speeds over 120 mph. Many riders can easily exceed that mark, but the countless 6D-sponsored MotoAmerica and American Flat Track racers prove that 6D’s aero kit performs well at much higher speeds too.
At home on the track…
… and on the street
Of course, at those upper limits, vision is critical, and the ATS-1R’s massive eye-port helps riders keep their gaze up and ahead. Providing 180 degrees of lateral vision, the 4.5-inch-tall eye-port rivals more adventure helmets than road-focused lids. On the street, that broad peripheral view allows the rider to easily scan their surrounding for potential threats. On the track, users benefit from the wide field of vision as well, quickly identifying braking makers, apexes, and fellow riders.
Lastly, the tool-less shield changing mechanism comes in handy both trackside and roadside. Similar to Shoei’s system, the ATS-1R features a simple-to-use swapping mechanism that allows riders to change visors in a matter of seconds. As conditions change on the road and the raceway, the ability to quickly change shields is an invaluable asset. However, most of the ATS-1R’s wind noise is a result of the visor apparatus. At the track, a set of earplugs instantly remedies the situation, but those hoping to pull double duty with the 6D helmet should also invest in road-legal hearing protection too.
Though the 6D ATS-1R boasts some of the most advanced technology found in a helmet today, I was lucky enough not to test its protective properties. While the ODS system is confidence-inspiring, it’s the ATS-1R’s usability that shines day after day. The 1R is a marked improvement over its predecessor, and it also helps that the much-improved lid isn’t just lighter on the head, it’s lighter on the wallet too.
Still, at $724.95 for solids and $745 for graphics, the 6D helmet is anything but cheap. On the other hand, it justifies that price tag with track-inspired performance and styling mixed with road-oriented comfort and convenience. It may take several wears for the snug liner to contour to the rider’s head, but the massive eye-port, 3K carbon fiber shell, and ODS technology easily separate the ATS-1R from the crowd. NFL-approved technology certainly headlines the ATS-1R’s spec sheet, but the helmet backs up the hype with practical everyday performance.