Flat-pack bike helmet: wear at your own risk?

Bikes Fun & Games
Flat-pack bike helmet: wear at your own risk?

This project by design students Julien Bergignat and Patrice Mouille seems cool at first, but Fast Company’s Cliff Kuang points out some serious flaws:

[The Tatoo] neglects the way bike helmets actually work. It’s not simply that they’re padded–the padding inside a bike helmet is mostly for wearer comfort, rather than protection. Rather, helmets protect you because they’re monolithic and rigid–that allows the force of an impact to transmitted along their length, rather than directly into your head. They’re made of foam both to be lightweight and so that they can easily crack–just like a racecar, they’re meant to break-up upon impact, to further disperse kinetic energy. When wearing the Tatoo, you might feel the warm glow of future-forward design. You also won’t feel your legs, after you’re paralyzed.

At first blush he’s probably right. Is there any value in this project beyond serving as filling for a design student’s portfolio?


58 thoughts on “Flat-pack bike helmet: wear at your own risk?

  1. Andy Brown says:

    Line the outside with a collapsed (flat) helmet shaped liner (mylar, cellophane, etc.). Add a small cartridge of appropriate grade instant-foam insulation which connects to the liner (airtight). When the user is ready to ride, simply activate the canister. The foam will expand (filling out the liner in the shape of a helmet) and harden creating the impact absorbing hardhat (jiffy-pop style).

  2. JW says:

    I have to say that it’s an elegant looking design. I like the concept.

    Existing products have all been through numerous tests, refinements and more testing. I’d expect the same from this, so I see no point in premature speculation on it’s performance.

    1. Stephen says:

      I think speculation on how it would work is totally fine. We know how forces work, we’ve known that by experiments carried out over the last 400 years or so since Newton and we can predict how they will affect other things. Experimentation lets you say for sure but it won’t be a massive surprise because of what we already know.

      You don’t have to actually build a skyscraper to say it’ll probably fall down in an earthquake, you just have to compare it to other buildings that have stayed up and others that have fallen down in earthquakes and see how they behaved.

      Without a rigid structure to redirect and spread forces away from the impact site this is just a foam hat, not a helmet.

  3. TieDyePie says:

    Good points. Cliff sounds right when he writes how current helmets work, but I’m sure there’s ways to make this work as well. A folding set of ridged ribs might give this adequate protection, and keep the final size just as small.

  4. Jason Nocks says:

    What are the alternatives to this concept? That is what it should be compared against.

    Most people looking for a product like this might normally just do without. So, how does it compare against not wearing a helmet at all?

    Also, bicyclists aren’t normally traveling at racing car speeds. For years, some pro cyclists wore a leather hairnet style “helmet”. It would be interesting to compare the above “helmet” against something like that.

    Just my $.02.

    1. Stephen says:

      I get what you’re saying but it can’t just be better than nothing, it needs to actually help before it’s worth doing. Any parachute will slow you down as you fall but if it doesn’t slow you down enough you won’t benefit from wearing it. It’s better than not having one at all but it’s also not good enough.

      It looks like the scrum caps that people wear while playing rugby. It’s enough to cushion you when bumping heads with someone but it’s simply not designed to save you from asphalt.(http://www.pykessports.com/images/Puma%20Scrum%20Cap.jpg)

    2. Young says:

      I used the leather helmets when I was a young cyclist, many, many moons ago.

      Professional cyclists stopped wearing them after a few ones died when a rigid helmet could have saved them.

      I am surprised “makers” can’t understand how much study have gone into safety equipment in the last few decades.

  5. ihart says:

    This should probably be listed under Hats in arts and crafts. It should not be worn as a bike helmet because it is useless as designed. There are certain things that should not be listed on this site for safety reasons for example, “Design your Own Air Bag for your car”

  6. Evan says:

    Well guys I’m no scientist but I’ve always been under the impression that if your going to fly off your bike and hit something hard enough to splatter your head chances are you’re going to experience a spinal cord injury as well. No helmet alone is going to save you from that.

    1. Will says:

      @Evan: I’m not a doctor either, but I am sure that the difference between a slight concussion and severe tissue damage in the brain can be a relatively small amount of energy (that a helmet might absorb). People die of head injuries all the time that don’t involve their skull being crushed or their spinal cord being severed.

  7. Maha says:

    I think this helmet will work just fine (if it doesn’t disintegrate upon impact). Military style helmets only use 3/4″ squishy foam pads surrounded by a rigid shell and that saves your brain from a bullet’s kinetic impact.

    A test seems simple to me: 1) put on experimental helmet 2) Whack head against wall extremely hard.. i’m sure they’ve tried it out.

    It is probably not as good as a normal bicycle helmet.. but a bicycle helmet isn’t as a good as a motorcycle helmet and so on. If you are a casual rider, why not a more casual brain protection setup?

    1. Wilson! says:

      “Why not a more casual brain protection setup?” Because the severity of a head trauma isn’t based on your level of seriousness about riding. Do you honestly think that pavement, or a car’s windshield, will do less damage to your head because you’re a “casual” rider?

  8. Lenore says:

    It seems to me that the value lies in taking a fresh look at an entrenched concept. However, as someone who has had a concussion from a bicycle accident (my helmet may have saved my life, certainly protected my brain from further injury), I don’t think it belongs even in a design portfolio until it has been safety tested. As a brainstorming lead-off point, I think it is fine. I can imagine that a helmet liner with a similar design might be easier to put on over various hairstyles that are not particularly compatible with current helmet designs. Have you ever tried to put a helmet on over a ponytail? French braids? It’s a literal headache.

    1. asp55 says:

      I would have to disagree with you on “I don’t think it belongs even in a design portfolio until it has been safety tested.”

      Looking at how both students have it in their portfolios it’s a great example of the design process, and ultimately a great indicator of how they approached problem solving and tackling the various issues involved.

      It would of course be a much STRONGER portfolio piece if it showed a testing and revision process around actual product usage though.

      1. Andy L says:

        But … as a portfolio piece as it stands now, doesn’t it simply serve to advertise the fact that the designer didn’t take the time to learn the fundamentals of what they were designing?

        The entire PURPOSE of a bicycle helmet is to attach a rigid shell to your head!

        I’m not a designer, but I assume that a designer would be embarrassed to show off an automobile design that didn’t leave room for an engine compartment, or an airplane design that could be parked like buses because they didn’t have those long protuberances coming out the sides.

        (Obviously if you could actually invent a car that didn’t need an engine, or a plane that didn’t need wings, that would be kick-ass. But simply leaving them off your design is not the same.)

  9. illintechnology says:

    A helmet like this could be used for skateboarding or other sports where one crashes often, but not at high speeds. The amount of energy in a skater hitting the ground and a car (at speed) and a cyclist (at speed) is completely different. A bicycle helmet is a one-time-use product. If you get hit by a car you want a helmet that crumples and cracks. If you are skating you just want something to cushion your head and be able to be re-used.

    1. tre says:

      If reusability is the concern of skateboard riders, then a hard shell helmet is what is necessary. If you’re cracking a helmet from a fall, that’s a clear indication that you needed the protection.

      Humans are fairly resilient to forces, as are foam helmets… What humans aren’t resilient to is jerk (integral of acceleration – aka “sudden acceleration”) – and that’s where a foam hard shell steps in. Comfortable foam just can’t take the heat :p

      1. Anonymous says:

        I think you mean jerk is the derivative of acceleration. The integral is velocity.

  10. asp55 says:

    The truth of the matter is that we can hypothesize all day about whether or not this helmet would work or not, but it’s definitely not a design that should go into production and use without proper rigorous testing.

  11. Marty says:

    This is a simple mistake of design over function.

  12. Anonymous says:

    Helmets like this can be used for activities other than bike riding. Anyone take care of disabled children that sometimes thrash their heads around? This would be ideal.

  13. Anonymous says:

    This is not acceptable for skateboarding either. Skateboard helmets are not necessarily designed to take less force, they are designed with more protection for the back of the head since skateboarders (and rollerbladers too) are prone to fall backwards while cyclists are most likely to endo onto their foreheads. The very flexibility that makes this design project ‘work’ also makes it entirely unsuitable for helmets.

  14. Tony says:

    All this discussion about safety testing and being able to predict how it will work is absolute nonsense. Nobody has yet proven that the traditional helmets work despite all the testing they undergo. There’s lots of “helmet saved my life” anecdote that probably wasn’t and nobody has been able to show a decrease in head injury rates when helmet wearing rates increase. Indeed the best studies show the opposite and the countries with the lowest cyclist head injury rates are those with the lowest helmet wearing rates.

    So from that point of view this helmet is almost certainly no worse than any other if you like wearing one on your head.

    Oh, an whoever wrote “they’re meant to break-up upon impact” doesn’t understand the first thing about helmets and how they are supposed to work. If they fracture they have failed and absorbed very little energy in the process. If a helmet has worked as intended it will be intact with an area of heavily compressed foam at the impact point – something that is rarely if ever seen.

    1. Andy L says:

      It’s true that helmet-wearers statistically get into more accidents, making the overall advantage surprisingly small…..

      But … wouldn’t wearing a fake helmet like this one be likely to give you the worst of both worlds?

  15. Tom says:

    The folding bike helmet has already been invented:


    Doesn’t fold completely flat, but goes some of the way.

  16. Maha says:

    You misunderstand, i was not saying a rider’s level of seriousness would affect the severity of the crash.. but the type of riding they were doing. But yes, that helmet looks protective enough to save my brain from the road.

    We can ‘what if’ this all day but at some point you have to draw the line at what is acceptable protection to mitigate the risks. It could be very likely that wearing a reflective vest is a better safety device than wearing a helmet.. seriously.

    1. Wilson! says:

      A reflective vest? Seriously?

      Many moons ago, a friend of mine was mountain biking on singletrack through a forest. Lost control, slammed head-first (and front-wheel-first) into a tree. The liner of his helmet broke into a dozen pieces, and he was able to walk out with assistance and get to a hospital with only a concussion. We were all convinced that had he not been wearing a (quality) helmet, we would have had to carry him out, and this was a couple miles off the beaten path, in the days before everyone had cell phones.

      I’m not sure how a reflective vest would have helped him…

      It’s an interesting, thought provoking design exercise, but I’m not going to try it, or put it on my kids, until it has an ANSI and/or SNELL sticker on it.

  17. ampmxmfm says:

    Cool idea, but for now I would go with a skateboard style helmet. A couple of brands that I like include bern and triple 8. You can see them at http://zoobom.com

  18. ai says:


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