A recent New York Times Style story points to an alleged new fashion trend: prettier bike helmets. Simone S. Oliver writes:
Unlike motorcycle helmets, bicycle helmets have historically had zero cool factor on city streets.
But that may be changing, with designers evolving out from traditional vented racing-style helmets to styles more associated with skateboarders.
Oliver acknowledges that the trend might have its critics, but brushes them aside, noting that "though some might scoff at the idea of making helmets de rigueur, one must remember that more options leave fewer reasons for cyclists to go unprotected."
Count me among the scoffers. This piece misses the larger problem with helmets. Decoration doesn't make them less bulky or hard to store, and they still create a sticky mess of flattened hair. (Motorcycle helmets, by the way, are also not cool. The motorcycle is what's cool. Someone would look really stupid riding a bike with a motorcycle helmet on.)
People who don't wear helmets now aren't going to start because they come in more colors. What we need are more safe, transportable ways to protect your head while biking. The Times article does identify one such product: the Hövding Invisible Helmet, a sort of airbag collar that inflates upon impact. But the helmet ("a luxury item," Oliver notes) costs €399, making it highly unlikely to achieve critical mass.
We can't ignore the fact that the helmet issue is a huge deterrent to bike commuting for a lot of people. Biking to work from my apartment in Washington, D.C., would take about 20 minutes, while public transit takes nearly 40. But biking also means competing for roadway space on major avenues during rush hour. Until there is a way to protect my head from a body-over-handlebars crash that is both easy to ditch and also doesn't make me look like a human turtle, I'll still be much more inclined to walk or take the bus.