The cycling helmet that won't ruin your hair

What is the problem?
Every year, about 30,000 people are injured or die in bike-related traffic accidents in Sweden alone. Many of these accidents would have been a lot less serious if the cyclists were wearing bike helmets. However, according to a Swedish government survey, less than 30% of all cyclists wear helmets — mainly due to lifestyle, vanity or cold issues. People do not want their hair messed up or cannot fit a warm hat under the helmet in cold weather. “The range of bicycle helmets available is extremely narrow, they all look the same and the lack of variety results in very few people wearing them. For most people, bicycling isn’t a sport. They’re just using their bicycles to get from A to B, bicycling to work, into town or to go out in the evening. Despite this, almost all the traditional bicycle helmets on the global market have a sporty design. At the same time, image is becoming increasingly important to us and our clothes and accessories are an essential part of the way we express ourselves.

Lots of people are deciding not to wear bicycle helmets because they think they look horrible and because they really don’t go with their own personal style. The fact that people are choosing not to wear bicycle helmets when we all know how important the protection they provide is, was a clear sign that the design needed a radical makeover, adapting it to the demands of today’s bicyclists and all the latest styles. A helmet that just sits on the shelf is no good to anyone”, say inventors of Hövding, Anna and Terese.

The INDEX: Jury says: “We see this as a first step in fueling a paradigm change in the area of bike safety. It hinges on the professional competency of the designers, not the adaptive capability of the users, other than in the most superficial sense. This illustrates how design still provides users with what they never thought they could have.”

Too many cars – too few bicycles
In the first half of the 20th century the bicycle was a much more common mode of urban transport than it is today. After the Second World War however, the ownership of private cars increased continuously to today’s level of More than six cars for every ten people in some EU countries, meaning that a great number of journeys that previously occurred by bicycle are now undertaken by car. In these times of increasing anxiety about climate change, the question of environmental sustainability - in every aspect of our society - is of the utmost importance, and urban transport is just one of the sectors that need to be reformed, since the environmental problems caused by mass private car transportation in modern cities are many. The bicycle can play a part in the resurrection of our cities to sustainable places.

Anna and Terese elaborate: “Between 1990 and 2003, the number of bicycles produced in the world remained steady around 100 million bicycles per year. But since then, production has increased up to 130 million bicycles in 2007. The climate change is believed to be one major reason for the increase in bicycling – people are choosing the bicycle instead of the car. The financial crisis in 2008 had a vast negative impact on the automotive industry, while the bicycle industry was hardly affected. The INDEX: Jury explains:

There is a global surge in biking in urban environments – for environmental reasons, lifestyle reasons and health reasons. Taking part in this change raises both problems and opportunities, shifting the Intersection between lifestyle and a movement. This design is addressing exactly these issues.

An airbag worn as a collar, triggered by sensors
Hövding is a bicycle helmet unlike any other on the market. It’s ergonomic, it’s practical, it complies with all safety requirements and it’s subtle and blends in with what you are wearing, because it is worn as a collar around the neck. The collar contains a folded up airbag that you will only see if you happen to have an accident. The inflated airbag is shaped like a hood, surrounding and protecting the bicyclist’s head, and the trigger mechanism is controlled by sensors which pick up the abnormal movements of a bicyclist in an accident. The actual collar is the visible part of the invention, and it is covered by a removable shell that you can change to match your outfit. Hövding is a practical accessory that is easy to carry around, it has a great-looking yet subtle design – and it will save your life. “The shell surrounds the collar, and the most important function of the shell is to enable you to change the look of your Hövding – every day if you feel like it. The shell is removable and attaches to the collar with zippers. It’s easy to change the shell to match your outfit, to suit the Season or to wash it. The shell’s appearance can be varied in a virtually endless number of designs, colours, patterns and fabrics, turning Hövding into a fashion accessory. At the moment there are two different shell designs to choose from but we will be launching new collections all the time. Unlike the collar, the shell is washable”, says Anna and Terese.

The Hövding Helmet (short video) from INDEX: Design to Improve Life® on Vimeo.

People would rather get hurt than mess up their hair
The most effective protection against serious skull injuries is to wear a helmet when bicycling. Although people are well aware of the risks on the roads, a large majority are choosing to ride their bikes without wearing a helmet. And this decision is for the most part based on not wanting to look “stupid”, as many cyclists put how they look with a helmet on. So by approaching the problem from an entirely different angle – and by eliminating the classic shape and design of the bike helmet – the designers have come up with a very cool and attitude changing solution to a problem that has been draining government treasuries (helmet campaigns) and killing cyclists for many years. Anna and Terese share their process: “We started out with a survey, asking people on the streets why so few people wear bicycle helmets. They came up with plenty of reasons: 'They’re a pain to carry about, they all look hideous, they ruin your hair, nobody else wears them, and you can’t get your hat on underneath.' Some good arguments, it’s true, others more like excuses. It was clear that bicycle helmets are a hot topic that everyone has an opinion on and strong feelings about. Bicycling is something we do every day and there’s a sense of freedom that goes with it. Although people are well aware of the risks on the roads, the vast majority are choosing to bicycle without a helmet. When it comes down to it, people really do want to protect their heads in road accidents, but there are limits. It isn’t the bicyclists who need to change, it’s the product.

"When we asked people what they’d ideally like the bicycle helmet of tomorrow to look like, we got responses like these: “Something small that you can fold up and put in your pocket. Something that lets you change what it looks like, like you can with mobile phone skins or wigs. Invisible. The instant we heard the word invisible, we realized that was what the world was waiting for. An invisible bicycle helmet. That wouldn’t ruin your hair."

“The team behind Hövding defined the problem, not as a design of a helmet, but as a solution to a problem. We applaud the shift in frame from helmet to protection as it is an important part of the design thinking approach. The solution takes into account both safety, protection and an underlying streak of vanity”, The INDEX: Jury says about the decision to select Hövding as a winner of INDEX: Award 2011.

Designed by
Anna Haupt & Terese Alstin