In 1965 Dr Robert Smith banished steamy goggles from the slopes with his invention of double-pane goggles with breathable foam venting around them. His company – Smith Optics – then turned their innovative gaze upon the cycling world.
Smith Optics Inc are born out of Sun Valley, Idaho. A hotbed for snowsports (if you can have a hotbed for snow?). Their invention of using foam as venting in double-pane ski goggles revolutionized the world of messing about on skis.
“Their invention for what, sorry?” Good question. They didn’t invent double-glazed goggles. They didn’t invent having vented goggles.
They invented the utilisation of foam as the venting medium. Previous goggles just had open gaps as venting. These allowed snow to get inside the goggle panes, blocking vision. Foam prevented snow from getting in but still allowed air to flow through.
That’s it. There’s a little ‘pub fact’ for you. A small, seemingly trifling idea that seems so obvious now. But this small idea had a big impact in the goggle world.
The first Smith Optics products were made at Dr Bob’s kitchen table using dental tools, glue and foam. Dr Bob was a dentist by the way. They made one-off goggles for a small audience of ski slope staff up until the late 60s when Dr Bob decided to bite the bullet and start a proper manufacturing business.
Things have changed quite a bit since then.
Ever since those early days, Smith Optics have consistently strived to set and raise industry standards in style function and fit. Their name is renowned for the quality and innovation associated with its products. Smith Optics customers quickly turn into Smith Optics fans.
In the 1990s Smith Optics merged with Italian eyewear behemoth Safilo Group S.p.A, ensuring a large financial boost which really helped them create, develop and expand their product range.
Although starting out producing purely functional eyewear for sports such as skiing, Smith Optics now cater for the casual and fashion market too with a large range of sunglasses in up-to-date colourways and frame shapes.
With big money backing Smith Optics also began sponsoring a massive number of high-level sports-people.
Among the large roster of cyclists on Smith Optics’ books there is: Steve Peat, Aaron Gwin, Cam McCaul, Lar Sternberg, the United Healthcare Pro Cycling Team, Tom Daniels and Team Vanderkitten (a female cycling collective designed to promote women’s cycling in general).
As well as having these riders there to keep the Smith Optics brand and logo appearing in front of cameras and spectators, the sponsored riders also contribute heavily into the testing, research and development of new products.
The new Forefront MTB helmet is a prime example of how Smith Optics continue to produce equipment that’s at the cutting edge and just-that-little-bit-different.
It’s not your typical helmet, both in its appearance and its construction. As well as the sci-fi look and the GoPro integral breakaway mount, there’s plenty of stuff going on inside and underneath.
Doing away with expanded polystyrene Smith Optics have instead used a honeycomb-like material (‘Koroyd’) as the helmet’s principal material.
The Forefront helmet boasts up to 30% more impact absorption when compared to traditional polystyrene designs.
Koroyd honeycomb allows the helmet to have much larger vents without any compromise in structural integrity.
This combination of high-level protection and head heat-dissipation – not to mention the goggle-friendly shaping – makes the Forefront ideal for enduro racing. Which is the initial and principal discipline that the helmet is aimed at.
What’s Enduro? It’s doing this (below pic) against the clock.
The art of looking
But the heart of the Smith Optics range is definitely their eyewear. Goggles for Downhill, glasses for road riding, shades for lounging… you name it, there’s something for everyone and every occasion.