Bicycle Helmet

Collapsible Bicycle Helmets

If New York City’s bike rental system is to succeed then we must solve the problem of headgear. The law mandates helmets for children under the age of 13 and for all working cyclists. If the most vulnerable and the most professional must ride protected why shouldn’t we all? It may be unfashionable to wear a helmet, and it may be a disaster for hair styles, but as the back of my own helmet says “we love our brains”…it is only there to prevent the possible spilling of your brains on the pavement. This may sound dramatic, but ask anyone who has had a serious biking accident.

As a rider of motorcycles the pace of the bicycle seems, at times, ludicrously slow to worry about helmets. But in 97% of all bicycle fatalities the rider was not wearing a helmet. Pretty convincing statistic; if only 3% of bicycle deaths occurred while wearing a helmet, then let’s agree we should all be protected. In cars the statistic is much less cut and dry (though seatbelts would save 60-70% of people killed in car accidents) and we don’t need much convincing about seatbelts.

But helmets are far too bulky to carry at all the times and therefore bikes can’t be spontaneously (or usefully) employed. Headed to a meeting and can’t find a cab?…a bike share would be perfect, but not without a helmet. Fancy a ride after a dinner out?…again, only if we have our helmets at the ready. Cars always have seatbelts at the ready, but bikes are not so easily equipped, and who really wants to wear someone else’s helmet? It bad enough wearing used bowling shoes.

BMW, the ultimate crash protection machine, invented a motor scooter that eliminates the need for a helmet. The C1 has a full enclosure overhead, looking like a slice of a car, and roll bars on the side. No helmet is required (and in fact probably creates potentially dangerous neck strain) but there are seatbelts. Great idea but probably without any real relationship to bicycle safety.

A collapsible helmet is fast becoming an urban necessity, but the only existing models simply turn a large helmet into a small one. There is an amazing Swedish airbag for bicyclists called Hovding ( but assuming you aren’t likely to get one of those $600 items a helmet is your best protection. We want a helmet no bigger than, and much, much lighter than, a laptop; nearly flat, 9”x12” at most, and easy (very easy) to activate. It should be flat, light, fast and cool.

The collapsible top hat always fascinated me. Called a Gibus, after their inventor, they pop up and flatten to make them more manageable in, say, the opera. A spiral of thin steel spring wire pops the top up and holds it down. As a teen I loved old luggage and purchased a purple silk lined, leather case covered with travel stickers from the 19th century. It was a cube that held 4 top hats and weighted about 10 lbs. empty. Fantastic object if you have a bellman, butler and valet, Downton style, to carry it around, but otherwise a completely insane piece of life.

If a bicycle helmet could be as collapsible as a top hat (and maintain a rigid shell) it could be lined with an inflatable cushion to give it a proper fit and real protection from impact. And if all of this could fit into a soft carrying case that became the helmet covering then it all starts to make sense.

Look for it in your local collapsible helmet store.