Brad's favorite tool? This giant vernier caliper.
With a sign this big you won't miss it if you're driving by.
Bryan pulling a demo helmet off the shelve for a coworker.
There's also this half pipe amongst all the helmets in the warehouse.
You can always find something interesting at Brad's workbench. Here's a part of a prototype rig Brad made to demonstrate how Bumper Fit 2.0 works in their line of helmets. It's an early rough prototype, but a really cool demonstrator at least.
A prototype Kali Tava aero helmet overloaded with Armourgel
A fully-equipped bike work area
Wall ride anyone?
Helmets, and more helmets.
An early helmet prototype in Brad's office
Prototype Bumper Fit layers in various shape and sizes. These never made the final cut.
With a growing line of products Brad is pretty busy nowadays, but he still rides as much as he could. Motorcycles, bikes, or in this case, a skateboard.
If you want to talk about helmets, fighter jets, motorcycles, carbon fiber and beer in one conversation, Kali Protectives’ head honcho Brad Waldron is your guy.
Coming from a successful career building some of the most well-known fighter jets currently in existence and later as director of engineering at Specialized, Brad is the type of CEO that loves to get his hands dirty. Not from the comfort of his air-conditioned office but in his R&D “lab,” deep in the back of this cavernous warehouse. There he plans and prototypes the next big thing, hidden behind rows of helmets, in front of panels of whiteboards that he absolutely cannot live without — so much so that all the walls in his office are covered with them from top to bottom.
Well, Brad knows how to party too. He commutes on a skateboard around the office. There are dirt jumps on a purposely-built dirt track out back and he even has a half-pipe in the warehouse all in the name of fun. So we made a trip down to Morgan Hill for a quick visit and chatted over burritos.
So what do you really do for work?
You know, you start the stuff you do thinking you’re going to ride all the time. It’s like I am now in the industry, I’ve got my own company and I can ride all the time. But the reality isn’t that. You steal your time away right? That’s why we built the half-pipe, dirt jumps in the back so we can ride.
The first thing you would do on your first day as a captain of a pirate ship?
First we’d kill all the lawyers … I used to live on a sailboat, I love the ocean, I love ships. But first thing I would do is just set sail, course, destination and enjoy.
If you can get a boat right now what would you get?
It’ll be something like a CT-41, a tall rig, something that can handle blue water cruiser anywhere in the world. Wouldn’t be brand new and super plastic—it’d be much sturdier.
Uphill or Downhill?
Oh damn, good question. Downhill. But l like to earn it.
Friend’s coming over, what would you cook?
Ribs. I’d slow cook them in beer for four hours, steam them for four hours before I throw them on the barbeque and lather on the barbeque sauce. It’s easy.
Describe your idea of perfect holiday.
Wake up early, do some riding whether it’s on the motorcycle or a bike. Something to get your blood pumping. I am a little bit of an adrenaline junkie. So something that kicks your day off before the family gets up. You get home, you’re juiced up from that adrenaline and you bring your wife coffee, as she wakes up.
What would you be your chosen superpower?
Unlimited muscle recovery so you can just go forever. So if you want to climb straight up for eight hours you can do without thinking about it. Wouldn’t it be nice? I don’t need strength, I don’t need flying, but to do the things that you love to do and never get tired from doing them, that’d be pretty cool.
Carne asada burritos.
What are you most proud of?
Obviously family. But when it comes to Kali, I am most proud that we never have to make a compromise. We never compromise anything about safety and nobody has ever put me in the position that I have to say I wouldn’t wear this or I wouldn’t put this on my kid’s head.
What is the transition like from building cool planes to helmets?
I was super fortunate because I was in R&D and working with military aircrafts, so I got to spend unlimited timelines and budgets. But when you move to consumer goods, it is very difficult because now there is a defined timeline and a defined amount of money you can spend. I am still accused from time to time of spending more time getting products ready than some people would like.
I would tell people when I was the director of engineering at Specialized that if I saw my own resume, I would have chucked it immediately because that transition from high-end aerospace to consumer goods is not an easy transition. You have to change your mentality. You have to think in shorter timelines.
When we were building an aircraft, I was able to build some that never saw the light of day, you did’t care what color it was. You didn’t care what the esthetics were. You just care about performance. Purely about performance.
Helmets are safety products. But in addition to that, they’re also fashion products. It’s something that if it looks stupid, people aren’t going to wear it. You have to have the balance between aesthetics, colors, graphics and everything like that.
I think it’s a very exciting time for helmets. We are really big into using softer foams. But the way the test standards are built, you have to use a hard foam to pass the test.
So engineers like me were always whining, “Oh the standards aren’t really good because they make our helmets too hard. We should change the standard, especially on the motorcycle side, the foam density is too hard.”
But what it started to do is force us to start looking at how to take care of the things that are important such as low-G impacts and smaller impacts without changing the standard. Instead of going about whining that the standards are wrong, it’s now like how do I accomplish what I want and still fit the standard. You’re starting to see a lot of people paying attention to low-G impacts.
It’s not required by the standards but we believe in it. We believe that foam densities are too hard so therefore how do we attack that problem and still pass the standard as they’re written.
Some companies start their design as an art project. So they start with a shape and then build in the engineering. We go the other way around. Giro did this great video on how they design helmets. It’s how we did it at Specialized, it’s how most people do it. It’s a good video. It starts with a designer, he started sketching out designs, started claying it, and then they brought in the engineer and said make this work.
While this is how helmets have been designed forever and it’s run by the design side, we like to start with the engineering and materials first and then see where we can fit it into the aesthetic side. You can’t do it without both. It’s got to be a marriage between performance, engineering, and the aesthetics.
Are you a morning person or a night person?
All out morning. I am dead by 10 o’clock at night but 5 o’clock in the morning—love that time. Nobody’s out, it’s that adrenaline junkie time. I get a lot more done in that time of day. How did that happen? I don’t know.
What is your favorite cocktail?
I am a beer guy at heart. But if I am going to have a cocktail, it’s going to be a Hendrix gin martini.
What about beer then?
How lucky are we living in northern California. I love a good micro beer – So many great options. City Beer is a great place, right next to SF Moto and has all the beers you want. My day-to-day beer is a Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.
What is the one job in the world you would love to do?
This one, without all of the administrative part of running a company. I love being a designer, an engineer, and making new products. So if you would have told me 5, 10, 20 years ago that I’ll be doing this today I would have done anything to have this job.
Had I known all the other parts of this, I might not be quite as excited but I feel very, very fortunate to be in this position.
Favorite book or movie?
Not a huge movie person. I do love the Bourne series. I love action thrillers with a twist.