In recent years we’ve seen multiple successful crowdfunding campaigns launched for foldable bike helmets. Yes, you heard me right, foldable, or collapsible, bike helmets; there are a wide variety of designs.
The thought of folding / collapsing helmets is sure to stir up many questions for those of you who are reading, questions such as: Who would actually wear one of these? Are they safe? and, Who’s making folding helmets?
Rest assured, BikeRoar is here to answer all these questions and give you the goods on folding bike helmets.
Where did folding / collapsible helmets come from?
The first cycling-specific helmets emerged at the beginning of the 20th century. They started out as a ring of leather with a wool ring above, then evolved to a ring of leather around the head and padded strips of leather running along the head and across. These "hairnet" helmets weren't the greatest in protection, but they were better than nothing and simple and soft enough that they could be folded up.
In the 1970s and 80s, safety testing and new materials and designs led to today's modern helmets – those using a hard outer shell and foam-like inner material. This kept the helmets from being foldable and compact, with early ones being downright bulky, but they protected much better.
The desire for compact, modern-style helmets took a back seat to safety until 1997, when the Snapit helmet, by Motorika, received its U.S. CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) clearance, a first for a folding helmet, and hit the market. The Snapit featured a clamshell-type design where one half collapsed into the other to reduce its size to half. The design worked, but its awful looks and weight (454 grams) scared away most potential buyers. Motorika offered the helmet for a few years before laying it to permanent rest as an overall flop.
Despite the lack of success experienced by Motorika, the idea of a collapsible helmet stuck in product engineers’ minds and they continued to pursue them, not as novelty or marketing gimmicks and not as huge money grabs, but because the market was calling for it. That persistence and today's technology has allowed product designers to create multiple styles of collapsing and folding helmets, some of which may achieve mainstream market success. To put it simply, foldable and collapsible helmets came from both market demand and product engineers’ imaginations.
Who would actually want a folding / collapsible helmet?
Did we say market demand? Yes! The explosion of city bike sharing programs in almost all major urban centers across the globe has created an interesting dilemma. To wear a helmet or not to wear a helmet...? It’s been proven that a lot of bike share users aren’t planning on riding a bike, but do so out of necessity. For example, they’re running a bit late, so they rent a bike to get to their destination faster. In Australia, where helmets are mandatory, the city of Melbourne has to re-stock 1000+ helmets per month to go along with their city bikeshare program, which drives the costs up considerably. For many, thought of using a rental helmet, no matter how cleaned and disinfected, is also a turn off. So, why aren’t these people using their own helmets? Simple – lack of space.
We know people may blow off foldable helmets as being an unnecessary product, but when you actually think about it, a helmet that can fit in a briefcase, backpack, or purse could have a huge market and lifestyle impact. Most people don’t leave the house with their bike helmet ‘just in case’ they might have a need for it; they're too awkward and clunky and take up too much space for that. People who commute or leisurely cycle in urban environments often don’t wear a helmet when they are planning to ride; you can see there’s an issue. Having a helmet that occupies half the space or less, one that can easily fit in a briefcase, tote bag, or backpack, may encourage people to bring one and wear one. Making it totable also solves the tough choice of lugging around your own bulky helmet or leaving it exposed when locked up with your bike.
Are folding / collapsible helmets safe?
The idea of a folding or collapsible helmet raises a lot of eyebrows and has most people seriously questioning their safety; however, for these types of helmets to be sellable, they have to be safe. This is where the product designers put in the real work. Making a helmet collapse or fold is not a big task, but making one that safely mitigates the forces of a crash is.
Helmet manufacturers need to meet strict safety standards imposed by multiple safety commissions and government agencies before their helmets can be released into the market. Most of the helmets available have met or are working to meet these standards. You have to think that a lightweight folding helmet is not going to be as safe as a larger, more solid one, but they offer a lot of protection especially compared to no helmet at all. Even a minor crash can lead to a concussion, contusions, cuts, and scrapes. To put it in perspective – if someone in a rush decides to rent a Citi Bike in Manhattan to make a meeting a few block away, a helmet could be what keeps them from showing up with a bleeding head – or worse.
Who’s making folding / collapsing helmets?
Right now it’s independent and forward-thinking startups that are leading the charge on the folding and collapsible helmet front. Many of these have had very successful crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo) campaigns to launch their helmets, followed with consumer-direct, web-based sales, but little local bike shop traction so far. Where are the major players like Giro, Bell, Lazer, and Specialized? Waiting it out.
This is a common theme in the cycling world; most great and revolutionary ideas are brought to market by independent startups. It always takes a few extra years for the major players to become involved. The market response time by the big guys is incredibly slow compared to some indie startups, so you can expect it to take a few more years before we see something from any of them. For now innovation is in the hands of companies such as FEND, Morpher, Biologic, Closca, Overade, and Carrera, who all have folding / collapsible helmets available today.
We here at BikeRoar think the future for folding and collapsible helmets is bright. More cities are adopting bike share programs and more people are riding bikes in general, making for a rapidly growing market of potential consumers. If the city of Melbourne equipped their rideshare bikes with folding helmets, that alone would be enough to float one of these indie startups. It’s easy to see that it’s only a matter of time before we see folding and collapsible helmets collecting a chunk of the urban and commuter market.
The collapsible Morpher helmet shrinks down to a stunning 3 inches when it’s fully collapsed. The helmet lays flat – perfect for those who use a briefcase or totebag, as it takes up very little space. The Morpher looks a little unrefined now, but give it a couple more design cycles and we’re confident that they'll have it looking good.
The people over at Carrera are producing one of the best looking and most functional folding helmets on the market right now. The Foldable comes in 3 iterations – Crit, Foldable C, and the Prem C, and can be purchased at any Carrera dealer. The helmets have smooth and rounded looks; they fold quickly, like accordions, reducing their sizes by 1/3.
Simple, smart, small, and good looking, the FEND collapsible helmet is by far the standout in the market right now. Both sides of the helmet slide inward to reduce the helmet’s overall size by 2/3, making it very compact. When expanded into its full size, the helmet has some serious venting, making it perfect for summer riding; however, you may find it a little chilly when things cool off.
EcoHelmet won a 2016 James Dyson Design Award for its unique paper honeycomb design. The cell structure absorbs impact and folds flatter than any other helmet on the market. Being from paper, EcoHelmet is readily recyclable, but not meant for long-term use. It is also yet to hit the market itself; it is still being improved to meet CPSC certification.
Testa looks like a near-future Beats headphone when collapsed. It's only a concept, but one that earned designer Eduardo Hernandez a 2015 UANL Invention Award. The helmet is to be composed of two plastic headbands attached to a flexible rubber membrane that deploys like an airbag when embedded sensors detect an accident or collision. Again, just a concept, but an interesting one.