“If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.” –Dwight Eisenhower
One of the greatest feelings is the freedom to travel, whether by your own power or a mechanical motor, far faster than your own legs can take you. Kimya Dawson understands how delightful this is (and how much is missing when you can’t have it), as you can likely tell from her song,
I’ve always loved the feeling of biking, fast, along a deserted road, feeling the wind rush past me and seeing the world go by.
Many people (who have hair) also love the feel of the wind in their hair, but there’s a trade-off for getting to experience that. Namely, in an accident, your head is completely unprotected from collisions with very solid objects such as cars or the pavement.
For most of us, the tradeoff of wearing a helmet is well worth the reduction in fatalities and the severity of traumatic brain injury resulting from such accidents. I myself only began wearing a helmet after getting hit by a car while on my bicycle about a decade ago, but protecting my head is worth the discomfort, inconvenience and reduced field-of-view that comes with wearing a helmet.
But let’s not kid ourselves; they are uncomfortable, inconvenient, sweaty and unsightly, even when worn by the best cyclists in the world.
I’ve seen a few attempts to make fashionable helmets, and while they’ve been amusing, I’ve yet to see something that I’d call a good option, just something that could perhaps be considered the least worst option.
Because it’s clearly smarter to be safe, I still hope everyone chooses to wear one. But I did wish there were better options than the currently existing helmets.
Apparently, someone else not only had the same idea, but went ahead and did something amazing about it.
The woman shown, above, is wearing a bicycle helmet. Yes, yes she really is.
In 2005, two students at Lund University in Sweden, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, came up with an idea for a bicycle helmet for adults that was completely invisible, but that would protect you in the event of a crash. Over the past seven years, they researched and developed Hövding, the world’s first bicycle helmet that only self-activates when a crash is imminent.
This remarkable device — the collar around the woman’s neck — is an inflatable airbag (which takes just 0.1 seconds to inflate completely) powered by a cold helium inflator that’s one of the smallest on the market. But what’s truly amazing is the sensors, which are accelerometers and gyros, that pick up the abnormal movements of a cyclist in the early stages of an accident. That was the part that took the longest to design and test, and to meet the EU’s strict helmet safety standards. How do the sensors work? From the site itself:
When Hövding is switched on, the sensors are constantly monitoring the wearer’s movements. A bicyclist’s movement patterns are divided into two different categories:
Normal movements: All bicycling in the city and on main roads, as well as all the normal movements you make before, during and after a bicycle ride such as running up and down steps, locking your bicycle, braking suddenly, giving way, pumping the tyres, etc. are defined as normal movements. Normal movements won’t cause Hövding to inflate.
Abnormal movements: The movement patterns of a bicyclist in an accident are defined as abnormal movements. In an accident, a bicyclist’s movements are completely different from those seen in normal bicycling. That’s why the airbag is only triggered by accidents*.
To be able to distinguish between these two categories of movements, we’ve spent the past few years gathering data on the movement patterns of a large number of bicyclists in everyday bicycling situations. We’ve also re-enacted all known types of bicycling accident and recorded the movement patterns of bicyclists in these accidents. We staged fatal bicycling accidents using crash test dummies, while other bicycling accidents were re-enacted by stunt riders, male and female. We put all these movement patterns into our database and have developed a unique, patent pending, mathematical method for distinguishing between normal and abnormal movements. This method combined with the sensors is Hövding’s brain.
The sensor turns on simply by snapping it closed around your neck, and can be recharged via USB.
They have a number of videos and films showcasing the different aspects of this product, including its fashionability. The safety of this helmet is perhaps the most impressive, but my favorite video showcasing this innovative (innoventive?) helmet is this one, below, by Focus Forward Films.