Swedish Hövding (Chieftan) Airbag Headgear Makes its Debut

Summary: Is the Swedish airbag bike helmet a reality? Can it really protect the way a traditional helmet does? We are waiting to see test results and answer a lot of questions.

Hövding cycle helmet

These British newspaper / blog articles with an embedded video introduces Swedish headgear that is based on the airbag principle, with an inflating protective bonnet designed to deploy when the rider is about to crash.
Airbag helmets have been the subject of conversation for years, often accompanied by photos of riders with balloons on their heads. But this one appears to be a serious attempt to put the mechanism to work. The device is a project of two Swedish design students, and other sources say it is expected to be on the UK market in 2011 at a price of 260 British pounds.

The airbag is nylon, and inflates with a gas generator when embedded gyros and accelerometers tell it a crash is taking place. The gyros have to be powered during use, so the Chieftan has a rechargeable battery. That seems like a real drawback to us, since the user has to be aware of the battery charge level (there are led indicators) and remember to keep it charged. After a crash the manufacturer wants the headgear back to check its “black box” for recorded movements prior to your crash. They offer a discount on the replacement. That implies that this is not a multi-use product.

If the device can detect all crash scenarios, the mechanism could be used to deploy other forms of protection for other body parts.

The video shows a test dummy on a bicycle struck from behind by a car indicated as moving at 20 kph (12 mph). The dummy is thrown over the hood and impacts its head on the flat part of the windshield. The bag deploys prior to the impact.

That is one specific scenario. But did the helmet perform? You can see the helmet bottom out and let the head hit the windshield anyway, and there is no instrumentation registering how many g’s the dummy head saw. And what would happen in a simple fall? Collision with a tree branch or utility pole? The mirror of a bus, or the front of a truck? Another impact after the bag begins to lose air?

Helmet lab testing normally includes testing wet, cold and hot samples. They are tested against rounded anvils and curbstone anvils as well as flat ones. How well would this device perform against a grapefruit-shaped anvil, or one that was the shape of a curb?

It is not possible to answer questions based on one article and video. There is no need to be too skeptical until we see more. That same thought applies to the helmet with a fiberboard helmet liner introduced by design students in the UK last month.

Perhaps the most important immediate news is that at least somebody is trying to solve the shared bike program helmet problem. Shared bike programs all over the world are in need of an easily transportable helmet or one that can be dispensed from vending machines at very low cost for users of shared bicycle programs who did not think to bring a helmet. There is at least one folding helmet from Dahon currently available in Europe, but it does not meet US standards and is expensive. We have been talking to manufacturers about shared bike helmets recently, but getting glazed looks that tell us they are thinking “there is not enough market to make it pay.”

Stay tuned, the airbag helmet is bound to be interesting!

Courtesy of WABA’s helmet advocacy program, the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute: BHSI.org

One Attendee’s Thoughts on Confident City Cycling

We’re always telling cyclists — even experienced ones — how much they can benefit from one of WABA’s Confident City Cycling (CCC) classes.   Here’s a quick recap of a class from someone who took the CCC1 and she agrees.

The class worked. I do feel more confident! I rode home after the class, in the dark, up a long a** hill and it feel great once I made it up and home.

WABA teaches classes for all levels, from basic “Learn to Ride” classes to lunchtime commuter seminars to a full series of Confident City Cycling and advanced skills courses.  You can find a listing of all our educational offerings online here.

We hope to see you soon.

New On-Street Bike Parking

Together with WABA’s bicycle parking program coordinator, District Dept. of Transportation crews installed new on-street bike parking corrals in five locations in northwest Washington, DC. On-street bicycle parking is new to the DC region–the first corral was placed in front of the WABA office last Spring. We worked closely with Georgetown BID to install three of the five in that neighborhood, where relatively narrow sidewalks combine with lots of pedestrians to make parking a bike on the sidewalk difficult at best. Now, at M St and Thomas Jefferson, Prospect St and Potomac St, and on K St right in front of the movie theater, cyclists can park safely out of the way on the street. For local business owners, on-street bike parking makes sense too. They can fit 8 potential customers into the space previously reserved for one car, while their business becomes known as one that supports bicycles as effective transportation.

Two more on street bike parking corrals were installed at the bike-friendly corner of 11th St. and Park Rd NW, one in front of Redrocks Pizzeria, and the other in front of Meridian Pint. Given the number of bikes we used to see locked to the fences nearby, we’re sure these two new racks will be filled up in no time!

Capital Bikeshare Rider’s Guide

It’s time to celebrate the one week anniversary of Capital Bikeshare system.  To much fanfare, the largest regional bikesharing system in the North America launched with over 40 stations and 400 bicycles.   The current online station count is over 60 as of  September 27th.  I’ve seen more CaBi’s on the road in the past week than I’ve seen SmartBikes in the past 6-12 months.  As with any new system, there have been some minor hiccups but generally it has been a very successful start!

Now that we are home to the largest regional bikesharing system, it seems appropriate to share a few tips as we all familiarize ourselves with CaBi.  The following tips are not in order of importance and it is by no means a complete list.  They are just a few helpful thoughts about CaBi.

  1. Purchase the annual membership: Capital Bikeshare is still offering the promotional rate of $50 for an annual membership and it’s a real steal.  Founding members receive a limited addition key fob and a American Appeal CaBi t-shirt.  At just over $4 per month, its less than the cost of two trips on the metro!
  2. Stay up-to-date:  The Capital Bikeshare website displays in realtime (updated every 5 minutes or so) the number of bikes and available docking spots at all in-service stations.  Check the station your starting from and the station you’ll be ending your trip at.  Nothing is worse than riding up to a full station of bikes or coming out of the grocery store to an empty station.  The kiosks will inform you of nearby stations with available bikes & docks.  The free app Spotcycle can be downloaded to your iPhone, BlackBerry or Android-based cellphone.  Spotcycle provides users with a map of stations and bike information.
  3. Time yourself: Included with your daily, monthly or annual membership are unlimited free 30 minute rides.  After the initial half-hour, the fee meter starts running.  Minutes 31 – 60 will only set you back $1.50 but rates start climbing significantly after that.  Save yourself some money and set a countdown timer on your watch or phone.  Start the clock at 25 minutes which gives you a few minutes of buffer on the end to find the station you’re traveling to and dock the bike.
  4. Educate yourself: This is a great chance to review rules of the road, bike laws and the safest way to ride a bicycle in traffic.  We offer a wide range of safety education classes for beginning riders all the way up to advanced riders. And if you’ve been riding for year, it never hurts to brush up as you’ll be a role model to new riders on the road.
  5. Remember your helmet: For commuters using the system on a regular basis, getting in the habit of carrying around a helmet will be the norm.  A quick glance around the grocery store or local eatery, you’ll see someone toting around a bike helmet.  What’s tricky are the unplanned trips on a CaBi.  An unplanned afternoon ride home after a long stressful work day or a quick trip to a meeting across town.

Incorporating bikesharing into your daily routine will take some planning at the outset.  However, you’ll quickly begin to see stations close to you places you go and  the time savings in travel time especially for you short trips.  Please share your own personal tips for using the system and, as always, enjoy the ride!