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Like many of you, we are suckers for custom painted helmets. As one of the only places that a rider can express themselves, we’re always interested to see the special styles that a rider, helmet brand, an artist will come up with for a shell. Unfortunately, a desire by most brands to have racers endorse what they sell to the general public has all but ended the trend of custom painted helmets. Bell Helmets doesn’t seem to be buying into that concept, though. Through the first half of the 2018 Monster Energy Supercross Series, the helmet company has put out a number of special one-off lids with their extensive roster of athletes. The designs have ranged from simple and understated to incredibly detailed, all while maintaining the branding requirements that some athletes have with their sponsors. In order to learn more about the paint process and program, we asked Athlete Support Manager Benny Tozzi for a quick rundown of the inspiration, the artists used, and the input from the riders.

Over the last fifteen years, there has been a downward trend in custom painted helmets, but recently Bell has pushed one-off pieces for racers. That goes again the marketing norm of racing in exactly what you sell, but really, these helmets get more attention than what’s already in a catalog.

Yeah, exactly. I think Eli is a good example of that. He’s wearing his replica seventy percent of the time, but we want to take advantage of special occasions for each of our riders. We take that opportunity to partner with gear companies and other sponsors to do something unique.

At Houston, we saw Bell, Fox Racing, and SCOTT all come together to put the Monster Energy/Pro Circuit/Kawasaki guys in products that all followed a black-white-red pattern, and I’m sure the same thing happens with Thor and 100%. Every apparel brand has a plan of what riders will wear for the year, so at what point will Bell and the other brands plan things together?

We have a really good relationship with all of the gear guys, so for Cooper Webb and Star Racing, Andy at Thor gives me the gear plan and we will go over it together to talk about what gear will work with the helmets that we have. We try to formulate a game plan to attack the year. The same thing happens with the other brands like Fox Racing and Alpinestars.

Monster Energy always has apdesigns paint their athlete helmets and Rockstar Energy always uses Tagger Designs. With that, are those the two most commonly used painters for Bell?

Both of those guys kill it for us. Tagger does a lot of production helmet graphics for us and is helping out with Justin Hill’s helmets at select rounds. With so many guys sponsored by Monster Energy, apdesigns handles a lot of our racers this year. Those two dudes are awesome and to be honest, there are not a lot of bad painters these days. BEAM Designs and AirTrix are great, too, and we use them for other projects.

There is always corporate branding guidelines from sponsors that must be followed, but at the same time, it seems like they are allowing Bell and the painters to have free reign this year.

With Monster and apdesigns, they’ve given us a lot of freedom with our athletes. Their logo definitely has priority on the helmet, but outside of those perimeters, they allow us to do whatever makes sense.

Are the races highly involved in the process of sharing ideas or things that they want?

Some guys will sure tell me what they don’t like [Laughs]. Some guys are very involved like Justin Hill was with his pieces by Tagger at Oakland and Tampa, and Aaron Plessinger helped us out with the paint job that he ran in San Diego. A lot of times I will just take what I know the riders like and what I know is coming with the gear, and we will all come up with something that is good.

How far in advance do you have to plan with the painters? The galaxy scheme that Cooper to match the Thor gear has so much detail to it that there is no way you could drop a lid off and expect it to come back in a few days.

That one was done way ahead of time. Once I get the plans from the gear guys, I’ll head to the painting studio and lay out the idea with the artist. We will look at the schedule and know when we need things for a certain rider. We always know what’s coming, but there are always last-minute jobs that have to be done because of crashes the weekend before. These painters will put in the hours to get the lids done for racers.

As great as custom paint is, there are times like Houston when you ran a stock graphic and it looked great. It seems like Bell will do a little bit of everything.

We’ve adapted some stock graphics and we will actually do that quite a bit this year. That allows us to take advantage of the products that are in our catalog and it looks along with the products that the gear companies offer.

Does it bum you out when you hand a guy a fresh helmet and he immediately drops it on the ground to get the first hit out of the way?

[Laughs] It definitely makes me cringe. But usually they are respectful about it and wait until I’m gone, but Joey Savatgy will make it a point to get my attention when he does it.