Four years ago, Rachel Hall, a student at Temple University, was riding her bike when a car hit her. She was in a coma for weeks.
The Hall family kept returning to one question during that time.
“We were asked countless times, ‘Why wouldn’t you wear a helmet?’ And we really just kept chewing on that question,” said David Hall, Rachel’s brother.
David Hall, along with a fellow engineering student at Virginia Tech, interviewed cyclists, and found that people often don’t wear helmets because they don’t like the style or the inconvenience.
The pair spent two years developing a new material to make a bike helmet that can still protect someone from an impact, but can also fold to the size of a large water bottle.
Hall and his co-founder named their company Park & Diamond — the intersection in North Philadelphia where his sister was struck. Their first batch of helmets will go out in June to people who supported their crowdfunding campaign. Hall says his sister jokes she should get the first one off the production line.
Maria Boustead believes the product could become popular. As the founder and owner of another Brooklyn-based, bike-centered start-up, she asked to try the prototype of the new helmet.
She says the product feels like a baseball cap, and is “something I would have no problem with wearing throughout the day…I can’t think of any other bike helmet where I would say that.”
Boustead adds that a foldable helmet is a big deal, because even regular cyclists like her find it inconvenient to carry a helmet around. She says she was recently eating with a friend at a restaurant, where waiters bumped up against the helmet on the back of her chair, so she put it under the table, but then she and her friend kept kicking it during their meal.
This is not the first folding bike helmet, but it’s thought to be one of the sleekest. Helmet designers have been working on similar ideas since the 90s, and several companies already sell folding helmets.
Tom Moeller, an industrial designer who created helmets for cyclists and skiers for more than 20 years, says some of his colleagues at the helmet company Bell were talking about a collapsible helmet in the mid-1990s, but couldn’t hit on a worthwhile design.
“This focus on, ‘Was the victim wearing a helmet?’ Well, what about, ‘What was the driver doing?’”
“This way of discussing things ignores the real problem, which is that drivers pose a tremendous danger to people whether they’re wearing helmets or not,” Weiss said, adding that cyclists are safer in countries with more bikes on the road.
“When you have streets that are designed primarily for cars … and you have drivers out there who are not looking out for cyclists, pedestrians, that’s a recipe for disaster.”