Some of today's most innovative motorcycle helmets aren't coming from Bell, KBC and other industry giants.
They're coming from Akuma, a tiny outfit in San Antonio, Texas.
Never heard of Akuma? Chances are if you're a rider, or know someone who is, you will.
Akuma helmets are the brainchild of inventor, entrepreneur, bike enthusiast and former Navy pilot Kerry Harris, who lays claim to the "world's first and only African-American motorcycle helmet company in the world."
His military-themed hoods sport "some of the trickest helmet graphics anywhere," says webBikeWorld. Harris's brain buckets also are equipped with mesmerizing LED displays, giving the helmets superhero ambience at night, "a feature that no one has matched," the publication adds.
Oh, and lighted helmets mean riders are easier to see, a compelling safety element.
Eye candy aside, the real innovation lies inside Akuma helmets.
Harris has developed the Integrated Power System or IPS, which can power multiple electronic devices on or inside the helmets - mini cooling units, LEDs, map lights and Bluetooth communications equipment, to name a few.
Harris tried without success to market his helmets to large distributors (gee, that sounds familiar).
"This is an industry that hadn't changed in 35 years," he says. "There's always a resistance to something new."
So, he set out on his own to transform an industry.
Harris came to his inventive journey by chance.
He was stationed in Japan in the late 1980s when a buddy returning stateside traded him a motorcycle.
Harris quickly learned how to ride, but never got used to the helmet's stifling heat when he came to a stop.
He fashioned a helmet cooling system from cordless phone batteries and old computer fans. He also attached some LEDs.
"I thought, if a bike has lights on it, shouldn't the helmet?" he recalls.
It wasn't long before fellow riders in Japan began pulling him over, asking where he got the cool brain bucket.
"That was my first introduction to the biking culture," he says. "If you ride, you're in the fraternity."
Soon, he was retrofitting helmets for $100 a pop.
Once back in the States and out of the military, Harris spent a few years perfecting his internal power supply, making sure it complied with federal and international safety regulations. He applied for the patent for his IPS technology in January 2005, which was granted two years later.
When major distributors spurned him, he sold directly to retailers, dealers and customers.
That's kept his costs low. Akuma lids run $239 to $429 - relatively inexpensive considering all the high-tech plumbing.
"We've had pretty good success with (selling) them here," says Matt Goulais, general manager of Yamaha San Antonio.
Goulais notes that the city has a lot of military personnel, who are attracted to Akuma's Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine motifs. (Akuma also has a design just for ladies.) The designs and the technology "certainly make his product different," Goulais adds. "I think he's gonna do well."
Harris isn't letting the success with his helmets go to his head. And he isn't slowing down.
"The helmet is the power supply," he says. "That's key."
He envisions new models with liquid crystal displays, electroluminescent visors, heating and cooling improvements and other Star Wars-like features. He's also working with another inventor to plumb rearview cameras into helmets that display what's behind riders on their visors or windscreens.
"You'll be able to put on your helmet," he says, "and control all these devices with voice-activated commands."
Visit www.akumahelmets.com .