Thursday, 26 May 2011

Bicycle helmet designs

I have to come clean - I am not a bicycle helmet wearer for everyday cycling.
I know this is a controversial issue, with strong feelings on both sides, but I generally come down on the side of feeling that learning to cycle competently and dealing effectively and vigilantly with traffic is the best way to maintain overall safety, rather than relying on protective clothing. Helmets may provide the "icing on the cake" in terms of additional security, but I've seen so many poorly fitted, useless helmets on people cycling like idiots, that I think in general terms it is better to focus on increasing cycling competency than helmet-wearing.

I'll admit, too, that I am also put off by the expense of replacing them, the fact that they are a pain to carry round with you once you are off the bike and the fact that, quite frankly, they look horrible. I wear them for mountain biking, but everyday utility cycling... no.

However, I was very interested to read in the paper this morning about a new design of flat-packable cycle helmet that is up for a Dyson Design award. Here it is, designed by French student Julien Bergignat:

Ok, so it is still a bit weird looking when on, but in quite a funky way!
In searching for these pictures, I came across a whole host of innovative and funky prototype helmet designs. Intramuros magazine in France even held a helmet design competion last year that received 164 entries! Here are some of my favourites from their website,

The helmet that doubles as a bag
Multi-coloured Manga hair style

A helmet with a rigid, lockable strap so you can lock it to the frame of your bike when you leave it

The Chic Option

Squeezes down to fit the wearer's head

The competition winner - a lightweight, aesthetic, adjustable design based on a resilient composite material

Of course, resilience to impact is an over-riding issue that hasn't necessarily been proven yet in these prototypes, but it does demonstrate that there are numerous creative ways we could be thinking about helmet design that might help overcome some of the barriers to wearing them, ensure a better (safer) fit and persuade people like me to add them to their everyday cycling attire.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

Bikes and Trains (and folders)

This morning, 8 cyclists were chasing the measly 3 bicycle spaces provided on my usual train to work (the 08.11 from Bristol Temple Meads to Taunton).

It’s quite interesting to view the social dynamics of the bike-space competition. Should it be first-come-first-served, with those arriving on the platform first getting first dibs on the spaces, or should there be some sort of communal needs-based assessment with the most time-pressured individuals being granted priority? I must say it warms my heart when the latter happens, but it is a rarity as people travelling at that time in the morning (peak time) tend to need to be at their destination at a given time. I haven’t yet seen any all-out platform rage, as people stake their priority claim to a bike space, but I’m sure it must happen on some of the busier commuter routes, perhaps taking the form of bicycle-mounted umbrella jousting (see here for tips

A friend of mine, who regularly commutes with bicycle between Bath and Bristol, has taken to cycling in the opposite direction and boarding at one of the small stations before Bath as he has no chance of boarding at Bath Spa itself. Clearly the solution here might be to “man up” and just cycle the full 15 miles between Bath and Bristol but he’s claiming the 7-8 miles additional combined cycle at either end as justification!

Train companies don’t really like carrying bicycles as the longer loading times messes with their timetabling, but arguably providing less awkward bike spaces where you don’t have to perform bicycle origami to get them into the allotted space might speed up the boarding process. There is clearly a demand, evidenced by this morning’s 5 stranded cyclists and the fact that you can’t get a bicycle reservation on that train for anything short of services usually censored by a super-injunction.

The MBTA's Bike Train has half a carriage dedicated to carrying bikes

So what to do? Lobbying the train operators or your MP for change (find rail company details on and your MP on may generate the best results, but it’s a long-term solution. In the short-term, I was amused to find out about a range of “stealth” bicycle bags “ideal for sneaking on to trains and buses” as the website of one manufacturer claims -  They aren’t cheap and you have to dismantle your bike, but if you are a regular bike-train traveller it might be worth it – I’d love to see them in action. Several travellers on my train now have two bicycles that they use at either end of their train journey. Myself, having been left on the platform one too many times, eventually crumbled and invested in a second-hand Brompton. I might look like a smarmy git, but at least I can always get on the train. 

Smarmy git (aka my mate Ryan) demonstrating integration of rail and folding bicycle!