They’ve become ubiquitous on busy streets and intersections of cities around the world: bike sharing stations are now everywhere. While convenient, eco-friendly, and low cost, there is one glaring safety issue with these bikes for hire, there’s no convenient way to get a helmet.
For the uninitiated, bike sharing programs put matching rental bikes stations around a city. Users can rent a bike to ride around town and are typically charged either per hour or per mile. When they are done, they can return the bike to any station in the city. With well more than half a million shared bikes, these programs exist in more than 600 cities around the world.
Right now, bike sharers essentially have two options: to lug around their own bike helmet or to simply ride without one. The vast majority of riders chose to not wear a helmet, which can create huge safety risks, especially as bike sharing increases in popularity and more rental bikes are on the road. Bike sharing brings bikes to the masses, but that doesn’t mean everyone who uses it is a skilled rider, especially on a bike that is new to them; this alone can lead to an increased risk of crashing.
Studies have shown that people exposed to bike share programs are twice as likely to bike. However, an Australian study also found that cities with bike sharing programs actually have fewer head injuries in cyclists than do cities without bike sharing programs, which could go to show that bike sharing programs actually make it safer to ride without a helmet. But that doesn’t supersede what doctors and experts have been saying for decades: riding a bike with a helmet is definitely your safest option.
Introducing the EcoHelmet
Tired of having to carry her own helmet around all day for short bike rides, industrial designer Isis Shiffer created a revolutionary product to increase safety and make helmets much more accessible. The EcoHelmet is a foldable paper helmet designed to be purchased from vending machines at bike sharing stations.
“You could buy a helmet for $5 or less, and when you’re done with the ride, you’d put it back in a recycle bin located at each station,” said Shiffer. “I want my helmet to keep cyclists safe, and make cities safer and greener at the same time.”
Although the helmet folds to the size of a banana and is made of cardstock, don’t think it lacks in safety. Shiffer claims it protects just as well as a standard polystyrene helmet thanks to its honeycomb pattern, which spreads impact evenly around the head and absorbs the shock of a hard blow or fall. The prototype was tested by dropping 10 pounds of weight from three feet, which is withstood. According to U.S. federal safety standards, a bike helmet must protect the wearer’s head from an impact equivalent to a 6-½ foot drop; EcoHelmet will next go through more testing to be certified to that level.
The paper is covered with the same corn-based biodegradable wax used on disposable coffee cups, which makes it waterproof. Shiffer says there is also a possibility to produce the helmets in a lightweight plastic material.
Potential for Growth
EcoHelmet won the prestigious 2016 James Dyson Award, which is awarded to the top new product design by students and graduates that solves a problem. Although EcoHelmet is just a concept and a prototype right now, there is lots of room for growth and distribution. Shiffer is meeting with potential investors to officially launch the helmet line. Her ultimate goal is to partner with bike share services to distribute the helmet at their stations. Clearly, there is a large market, but the question remains if there is demand for the product and if people would really pay $5 for a cardboard helmet.
Bike sharing programs have grown at an astonishing pace around the world—who knows, in a few years we may be seeing helmet vending machines alongside bikes are our favorite urban stations.