The Invisible Made Visible
You know what kind of sucks about riding a bike? Other than all that pedaling? Bike helmets. Sure, they keep that overrated “brain” from getting splattered, but they take a lot of the open-air-joy out of things, and they’re not comfortable. A pair of Swedish women have developed a remarkable solution: the invisible bike helmet.
I was skeptical of this “helmet” and its chances for success for a variety of reasons when I first heard about it last year, and the fact that it doesn’t seem to have penetrated the market for protective head gear very much since then confirms my initial skepticism. Here’s why:
1. It still looks uncomfortable. It’s true that bike helmets, even well-ventilated ones, can be hot to wear and that people often forego the helmet for that wind-through-the-hair feeling. So imagine going helmet-less but instead wearing the equivalent of a heavy winter scarf every time you ride. Now imagine it in New York. In July.
2. It doesn’t allow for spontaneity. If one feels the need to always wear a helmet while riding, then one needs to always carry a helmet in case one wants to ride. (This is why bike share systems in cities with mandatory helmet laws tend to see low ridership.) The invisible bike helmet may pack in to a bag more easily than a plastic helmet, but it still must be carried, rendering it useless the moment it is accidentally left at home or at the office.
3. It’s expensive. It costs about $600. As Todd Edelman wrote, “If you really think a helmet can help, then buy five 60 dollar helmets for friends and give 300 dollars to your local bicycle coalition or another org. fighting desperately to keep streets safe and collisions from happening in the first place.”
4. It’s single-use. Much like the car airbag from which it was clearly derived, the invisible helmet must be reset after it deploys, adding a significant cost to an already significant cost. Regular helmets must be replaced after any type of collision, but at a much lower expense to the consumer. (See #3, above.)
5. It’s battery-powered. According to Fast Company, “The whole setup runs off an on-board battery, and charging is taken care of via a micro USB port.” Sounds cool. But what if the charge runs out? And what if you don’t realize it?
6. It distracts from the real danger. The fact that so many of my non-cycling friends sent me this link speaks to the opportunity cost of focusing on this arguably cool invention. It sends a message that cycling is inherently dangerous and that only technology and consumerism can save cyclists from distracted or reckless drivers.
Design, of course, is inarguably important in the ongoing quest to improve cyclist safety, but design should be focused on roads, not fancy gadgets. As the Dutch and the Danes learned a long time ago, the goal is to build a city where no one feels that a helmet is necessary.