We need to reinvent these things, not make them prettier.

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.

Top image (clockwise from left): FEED for Target Bike Helmet - Blue PaisleyBelle Helmets Hand-Painted Red Apple; Sawako Furuno Brown Croc Bike Helmet

About the Author

Most Popular

  1. photo: A Lyft scooter on the streets of Oakland in July.
    Transportation

    4 Predictions for the Electric Scooter Industry

    Dockless e-scooters swept cities worldwide in 2018 and 2019. In 2020, expect the battery-powered micromobility revolution to take a new direction.

  2. photo: Dominque Walker, founder of Moms 4 Housing, n the kitchen of the vacant house in West Oakland that the group occupied to draw attention to fair housing issues.
    Equity

    A Group of Mothers, a Vacant Home, and a Win for Fair Housing

    The activist group Moms 4 Housing occupied a vacant home in Oakland to draw attention to the city’s affordability crisis. They ended up launching a movement.

  3. Life

    The Cities Americans Want to Flee, and Where They Want to Go

    An Apartment List report reveals the cities apartment-hunters are targeting for their next move—and shows that tales of a California exodus may be overstated.

  4. Charts

    The Evolution of Urban Planning in 10 Diagrams

    A new exhibit from the San Francisco Planning and Urban Research Association showcases the simple visualizations of complex ideas that have changed how we live.

  5. photo: a pair of homes in Pittsburgh
    Equity

    The House Flippers of Pittsburgh Try a New Tactic

    As the city’s real estate market heats up, neighborhood groups say that cash investors use building code violations to encourage homeowners to sell.  

×