I’m an admitted Swedephile. I don’t even care if I made up that word. My ancestors come from Sweden, and when I traveled there, I was overwhelmed by the competence of everyone and everything. Trains are on time to the minute. Every house I saw, even the hostels, had recycling and composting bins. They have electric buses. They’ve got universal health care, free education, and the smallest discrepancy in pay between men and women doing the same jobs. And every Swede I met spoke better English than I do. So now add to the list of Swedish accomplishments the invisible bike helmet. The gal above is wearing one and the guy below is too. If you look really, really hard, you just might be able to make it out.
As an avid biker, I can totally relate to the goals of Anna Haupt and Teresa Alstin, the founders of the Hovding company. As bike enthusiasts, they believe that cars are yesterday and biking is the future. But they acknowledge that traditional bike helmets are bulky and uncomfortable, and because I don’t live in Sweden, I’ll also add that they make bikers’ heads all hot and sweaty, and don’t do hair any favors either. So the two set about solving the bike helmet problem for their 2005 master’s thesis in industrial design. Their resulting design won an Ideas Grant from Innovationsbron and then won a Venture Cup, and these victories allowed them to bring their idea to fruition. Check out the video below, and be patient—they build the suspense and drag out the actual gimmick of the helmet until the very end.
So the invisible helmet is actually an airbag in a collar that deploys if and when the cyclist needs it for protection, which is pretty brilliant. The airbag itself fits like a hood, and is made out of rip-proof nylon. It protects a larger area of the head than a traditional helmet, and Haupt and Alstin did seven years of research on bike accidents and head traumas to design the airbag to protect areas most susceptible to biker injury. A cold gas helium system inflates the airbag, and then it remains inflated for a few second after impact, just in case there are accident aftershocks, but then it starts to deflate.
In order for the helmet to work, a cyclist has to wear the collar and zip it completely up to the chin. There’s an on/off button on the zipper tag that activates the helmet. LEDs on the front indicate the battery level and power status. The battery can be charged via USB, and lasts for 18 hours of cycling. A fabric shell surrounds the collar, and can be swapped out for cleaning or for fashion. Cycling in the summer with a tank top on and this big heavy collar around the neck, it’s hard to imagine people would be psyched about this, but in Sweden, it’s pretty much never that hot, so they’re fine.
The Hovding helmet costs 399 Euros, which is about $532. Extra fabric shells are 59 Euros (just under $80). One of the coolest details about the system is that if you buy one and later have an accident, a black box in the collar will record 10 seconds of data about the cyclist’s movements during the accident. The company asks that bikers who have crashes while wearing the system contact them and send the black box back. Some insurance companies will cover at least part of the cost of a new Hovding in the event of an accident.