Five minutes with: innovative tech company Rheon Labs

Using a unique active polymer, Rheon Labs, based in Battersea, London, offers impact protection solutions for industries ranging from cycling to the NFL. BikeBiz visited the innovative tech company, to hear from head of technology Roman Chaika and marketing manager Ben Scott

This piece first appeared in the November edition of BikeBiz magazine – get your free subscription here

Can you give us a bit of background on Rheon Labs?
Chaika: In essence, we are energy control solution providers. So we look into the areas where kinetic energy needs to be controlled. In the cycling space we primarily concentrate on impact energy and we have a very big history around developing technology for any sort of helmets and protecting the brain.

So the actual technology itself is strain rate sensitive, so it reacts to the rate of the energy that it sees. So during low strain rates, when you wear it on your hands or on your body, the technology is soft, flexible and malleable.

The moment impact is applied it stiffens up and helps to absorb the energy on a chemical level. The higher the energy, the stiffer the technology will become to absorb those high energy impacts. The second thing is the geometry, we design them to behave differently in different directions.

Why this is important for us is to control the energy from different orientations and angles, because it rarely happens that in a real world crash you will fall in just a linear fashion. There will always be an oblique element to it and obviously there is a big market now looking into crash reduction using rotational systems.

What we’re advocating for is that both energies matter. Linear energy obviously matters for any likelihood of a skull fracture, it contributes a lot to the concussion as well. And then rotational energy that creates that movement of the brain inside the skull then creates the extra strain on your brain cells that then result in concussion. It’s equally important to have both.

What sectors are you currently working in?
Chaika: So we’re widely in the sports area, this is where we’ve been born, so we’re producing body armour for motorcycling and MTB, and in the helmet game we’re covering everything starting from cycling to motocross and moto helmets.

Rheon also is an energy absorbing layer in NFL helmets and that creates another revolutionary technology of multi-impact helmets, because these helmets are impacted more than 30-40 times during each game, that results in over 1,000 impacts in a given season.

So if you’re working with moto helmets you’re designing the system for a 1% likelihood of crashes, when you’re designing the NFL helmets you know it’s going to be hit, you know it’s going to be hit multiple times. How do you design it to sustain repetitive impacts?

For example, to validate that technology, the loading on each particular helmet was simulated 10,000 times to just estimate over the lifetime of the product, how it will behave. After 10,000 impacts the performance will be the same as if you’re starting fresh.

What brands are you currently working with in the cycle industry? How did those partnerships come about?
Scott: [California-based helmet brand] Kali on the helmet side and brain protection, then Rapha looking more at apparel and softgoods [particularly Rapha’s MTB knee pads, which contain Rheon padding]. We can expect to probably see a few more in the space of the next year. I think they’re a bit of a mix.

So the Rapha one: it’s about people that we believe share our vision for innovation and rethinking stuff. So we’ve met these people through different trade shows and community events. So Dan [Plant, Rheon founder] and Brad [Waldron, Kali founder] met at a trade show where they just had the shared vision for brain protection and that’s where that relationship evolved from.

With Rapha our commercial director came from Rapha so he knew a few people there anyway, so that’s where it was born from that. Really they are just two companies that share our vision, that really want to push the boat out and that’s, I think, where these things always start and where they grow when you have that like-minded vision.

Are you looking for new partners in cycling? What do you look for in your partnerships?
Scott: The answer is: Yes. We want to find partners that share the vision, and those problems that we really think Rheon can change the game in and there’s still a lot that we see coming. We’re trying to push the technology more into that control, the full spectrum.

So expect a few different things, thosetypes of product designed for touch points, vibration control, saddles, grips, these kinds of things all the way through to brain protection and muscle control. There’s plenty of things we can do.

We want the partners we have or other people that just share our vision to push them out and create something new. Collaboration is the buzzword we use, so understand our role. Someone like Rapha, they’re the absolute experts and they understand their riders perfectly.

Even when they went into mountain biking, which is a new step for them, the weight of research they put into the consumer – all these things that we could have guessed and had a go at, but that’s their area. Our role is the energy absorbing energy control.

We understand that, data-driven, how you can have the most optimised product for that, and it’s really I think the magic is where that comes together, isn’t it? And that’s what we’re trying to do, find those intersections with partners and then hopefully the product is the sweet spot in the middle that comes out of it.

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