Motorcycle-helmet companies have tried for decades to invent a helmet that could keep a rider's head cool in hot weather.
Now, a Los Angeles-area entrepreneur appears to have done it.
Steve Feher has been thinking about beating the heat for a long time. In the early 1960s, in his native Honolulu, the future inventor did his first patent drawings on a room fan and a desk fan. He was 11.
As an adult, he found some success patenting a ventilated blanket to keep patients cool in the hospital operating room.
Then he struck gold, and became wealthy, with patents on similar thermoelectric principles, applied to automobiles, that cool the seats in vehicles built by Rolls-Royce, Bentley, Ferrari, Infiniti, Lexus, and GM.
The royalties from that invention earned him "many millions, maybe a little more than $10 million," Feher said - money that made it possible for him to pursue still more inventions.
Having spent the last seven years in Los Angeles, Feher has applied the technology to headgear. He has invented, patented, and manufactured what may be the world's first practical, air-conditioned motorcycle helmet.
Stylish, lightweight and certified as protective, Feher's "Mr. Cool" helmet uses two small fans and a thermoelectric device housed at the back of the helmet and powered by a wire connected to the motorcycle's battery to blow air through the helmet liner.
This creates cooling over the vascular system in the scalp, resulting in an overall sense of chill.
The technology could provide welcome relief to motorcyclists in warm temperatures, when summer riding can become uncomfortable, sweaty, and even unsafe if riders with hot heads have difficulty staying focused on the road.
It may even encourage riders to wear helmets in places where they aren't required by law.
"It's more comfortable to ride with the air-conditioned helmet than it is to ride with no helmet at all," its inventor said.
Feher, 66, lives alone in Beverly Hills in a midcentury house with sweeping city views. An avid motorcyclist and driver, self-educated after high school, he currently owns a Ducati Multistrada 1200, a Mercedes-Benz AMG G65, a Smart Car 451 Brabus Coupe, and a Ferrari 458 Italia.
The strictest test of the Mr. Cool helmet so far, he said, was riding the Multistrada in Malibu on an afternoon when the temperature was 114 degrees.
"The AC helmet made it tolerable," Feher said. "I wasn't even perspiring."
My experiment with Feher's helmet proved inconclusive. The day wasn't hot enough to give the prototype a proper test. But I did ascertain that the temperature inside the helmet seemed to drop as the ambient temperature rose. It was more comfortable and felt cooler when it was 85 degrees outside than it had at 75 degrees - the opposite of the effect in a regular helmet.
Otherwise it behaved like a conventional helmet, though it was slightly larger and about 4 ounces heavier than a traditional full-face helmet. Though the rear-mounted fan produced an audible whir, there was no noticeable sucking or blowing sensation inside the helmet itself.
Feher believes the technology will have wider applications. He has produced subsequent patents that demonstrate the effectiveness of the thermoelectric head-cooling system for bicycle helmets, equestrian helmets, welding helmets, and even a baseball-style cap for runners.
He has also patented a similar system that would warm helmets for snowmobile riders.
The potential is there: Motorcycle helmet sales in the United States number 1 to 2 million units a year. Bicycle helmets top 15 million units. Snowmobile helmet sales are about 1 million units annually.
Feher has given Helmet Solutions - founded by Kirk Chung, a former executive at KBC helmet company - exclusive license to produce the AC helmet.
Chung said two distributors with whom he met recently said they could envision moving 50,000 units a year within three years.
The AC helmets will be sold directly to consumers online and in some retail outlets, starting later this year, for about $500. Helmet prices vary widely, but that's higher than entry-level helmets made by HJC, Bell, or Icon, but comparable to mid- to high-end head gear from Shoei, Bell, Arai, or AGV.