When I started biking in New York City, I bought my first adult bike helmet, maybe because I was finally old enough to let my fear of death take precedence over my fear of not looking my best. But it is true that helmets can seriously cramp your style, especially in the hair department. This is why the new “invisible bike helmet” by Swedish company Hövding is so brilliant.
Back when I was a kid, I biked to school every day, wearing a pink styrofoam helmet. It was ugly, and I was sufficiently ashamed. My only salvation was that most kids at school wore them—blue ones, pink ones, red ones, yellow ones… I can’t remember at what age I stopped wearing a helmet, but I do know that I would not have been caught dead in one as a high schooler, even though the bike was my main mode of transport. My mother still won’t wear a helmet, because they make her feel sweaty. We all have excuses, right?
Instead of being worn on your head, like regular helmets, Hövding is a collar worn around the neck. It contains a folded-up airbag that unfolds only if you happen to have an accident. When unfolded, the airbag is shaped like a hood, surrounding and protecting the bicyclist’s head. Numerous years of research went into recording the movements that are common to most bike accident scenarios, and informed the creation of an advanced trigger mechanism controlled by sensors which pick up the abnormal movements of a bicyclist in an accident.
Founders Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin started working together on a joint master thesis in Industrial Design in 2005, while enrolled at LTH, the Faculty of Engineering at Lund University in Sweden. A law had just been introduced in Sweden making bicycle helmets mandatory for children up to the age of 15. This triggered a heated debate on whether the law should be extended to include adult cyclists too.
“To people like us, who wouldn’t be seen dead in a polystyrene helmet, the thought that we might be forced to wear one by law was cause for concern,” says Haupt and Alstin. “Producing a bicycle helmet that people would be happy to put on looked like a much better way to go than legislation forcing people to wear one or else. We realized that our industrial design master thesis was the perfect place to find out whether the traditional bicycle helmet could be improved on.”
They started 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 around, they’re ugly, they ruin your hair, nobody else wears them, you can’t get your hat on underneath. Call them good arguments or lame excuses, but it was clear that bicycle helmets were a hot topic.
“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 do really want to protect their heads in road accidents, but there are limits.” It isn’t the bicyclists who need to change, thought Haupt and Alstin, it’s the product.
When they asked people how their ideal version of a bicycle helmet should look, they received a wide range of responses; some thought it should look like a “cool hat with a built-in helmet,” others thought it should be small and portable or something that allows you to change its appearance, similar to phone skins. The most interesting response the pair got, however, was much more visionary. “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.”
Short film about The Invisible Bicycle Helmet, by Fredrik Gertten
Since that moment, Haupt and Alstin has worked tirelessly to bring their vision to life. They’ve had plenty of setbacks and challenges, and faced criticism and skepticism, but persevered through it all by sticking to the firm belief that nothing is impossible. They’ve now managed to raise about ten million dollars in investment capital, won a prestigious INDEX: Award for the design to improve life, and garnered an impressive amount of international attention.
Short video showing you how to put it on
Just a glance at the company’s website makes it clear that style and fashion play an equally important role alongside technology and innovation. Haupt and Alstin also recently handed over the role of managing director to Fredrik Carling, who has held previous roles at global fashion company such as Diesel and Levi’s, in an effort to keep pushing the envelope when it comes to style. “Hövding is totally unique,” says Carling, “it’s not just a cycle helmet or just a fashion product. It offers the best head protection, and combines fashion with high tech. And most of all, Hövding is a product we need right now, more than ever before.”
Short video showing you how to change the shell
Hövding was recently tested by Swedish insurance company Folksam, together with 12 regular bike helmets, and performed more than three times better than the best competitor. “We have always known that Hövding has incredibly effective shock absorption capacity. The helium gas protects like a thick air mattress around the head, so the blow is very soft and mild. It feels incredibly good that this has now been confirmed by a major insurance company,” says Anna Haupt. (Check out the crash test video below.)
Live crash test in Stockholm
Hövding is the Swedish for “Chieftain” and the company’s imaginary Hövding is a leader and a role model, with its sights set on changing the world. The founders want to encourage others to follow in their footsteps and dare to demand something better, to stand out from the crowd, and believe in themselves and their own capabilities. “We may be a small company,” they say, “but we think big and we aim high. Delusions of grandeur are exactly what it takes.”
It will, most likely, take a bit of time for cyclists getting used to the idea of trusting this helmet to actually work when it’s supposed to, but once they do it has the potential to replace conventional helmets. People who would not be caught dead in a regular helmet can now wear one without sacrificing on style, which has the potential of saving countless lives. That is what we call true innovation.
Hövding is currently available in two styles and can be purchased on the company’s website and in selected design and fashion shops in Sweden, Norway and, soon, Denmark.