This past week I saw this video of the Invisible Bike Helmet for the first time. If you haven’t watched it yet, check it out here.
When I was watching the video for the first time, I thought it was a hoax or a joke until I got to the 3:00 minute mark, at which point I had about 40 simultaneous thoughts. I won’t subject you to all of them, but here are a few highlights.
- Is this something triathletes could use? My first thoughts were about whether or not the neck brace could be made reasonably aerodynamic, and how hot it would get racing on during a humid summer morning. It looks perfectly natural on Swedish women in Sweden where (I have no proof of this and refuse to do the minimal research required to find out if this is true) I doubt it ever gets too hot*. In the Midwest, July and August means lots of humidity and 80 to 90 degree temperatures. If I were racing all out on a day like that, would the sweat on my neck become unbearable? Would the neck brace create drag? Would any drag it created be better than my utterly normal, non-aero helmet? How would it compare to, say, the Rudy helmets I keep getting ads for? The Hövding (invisible helmet) website says it weighs about 700 grams, compared to about 350 grams for a Rudy aero helmet.
- Is this safer than a traditional helmet? My brother and sister-in-law are doctors, and the first thing they mentioned after seeing the video was that if this helmet could protect both the head and the neck, it would be a huge improvement in helmet safety. Right now, traditional helmets do a good job of protecting our brains, but our C-spines are left completely vulnerable. If this could protect from neck/spinal injury, that, to me, would make it absolutely worth any aero losses.
- Is it even approved/safe for racing? The Hövding hasn’t been approved yet for use in the US, but it seems to be gaining popularity in Europe, so I would imagine it’s only a matter of time before the CPSC takes a look at it. The Hovding website mentions that it is not approved for “extreme cycling such as BMX, off-road cycling, mountain biking and trick cycling,” but doesn’t say anything about road racing or triathlon racing. Reading through the FAQ yielded some interesting considerations about hairstyles (a too-rigid mohawk would prevent the helmet from inflating properly to cover the entire forehead) and headgear (a regular baseball cap with a brim would work fine with the helmet, so a racer could still protect his/her face from the sun).
- What would T1 look like? Would race officials have a hard time verifying if one’s helmet were on? In theory it would not take any more time to zip up a neck brace during T1 than it takes to clip a helmet shut, but when I think about my shaking hands coming out of the water, I’m not sure how challenging it really would be. And as long as race officials were prepped on the new helmet design, I would suspect it would be fairly obvious who had a Hövding around their neck and who was running out of T1 unprotected.
On the whole, I am (clearly) quite intrigued by the idea. I love the fact that someone has thought about head protection in a new way, especially if the neck support could keep us even safer in the event of a crash. Right now, the helmet costs about $575 which is clearly much more than a typical commuter helmet. However, I know quite a few triathletes who spend that much or more on an aero helmet. Another criticism I read about the helmet is that if it deploys (that is, if there is an accident), it is no longer functional and a new helmet must be purchased. Again, though, this is not different than a traditional helmet. After a crash, it needs to be replaced as well.
It will be interesting to see what happens when the Hövding makes it to the US, and if it becomes a part of the racing world at all in the next ten years.
*Okay, I did the research. According to the Climate of the World website, the hottest month in Sweden is July, when temperatures typically range from 13 to 17 degrees Celsius, which is about 55 to 63 degrees Fahrenheit. So yes, much more comfortable weather for having something around your neck all the time.