Believe it or not, a helmet made from paper can be strong enough to save your life in a bike crash.

These helmets, created by three students at London’s Royal College of Art, are designed to be used by bike share riders.

The idea is that you could rent them cheaply, and then discard them at the end of your ride, where they would be recycled into a new helmet.

The helmets have no glue or additives, and cost about one pound to make.

They’re currently just two millimeters thick, but the next addition will be nine millimeters thick--the same thickness as a lot of packaging.

2013-07-03

Co.Exist

A Disposable Helmet Made Of Paper Pulp, For Bike Sharing Programs

Cyclists who use bikesharing programs are much less likely to wear helmets than people who ride their own bikes. A team of designers in London has come up with a solution: Temporary helmets you can throw away.

2013 may be the year of the bike-share in the U.S. (with the country’s biggest three cities all gearing up to deploy new programs), but cities still haven’t figured out a way to address an important part of the equation: rider safety. Thousands more bikers around the country will begin to hit the streets on borrowed bicycles, and it’s unlikely that they’ll do so with a helmet. (The carefree convenience of just hopping on a bike is certainly diminished if you’re lugging along a helmet in your backpack; bike share users are less than half as likely to use a helmet as cyclists who own their bikes.)

While entrepreneurs in Boston have put together a prototype for a helmet vending machine to accompany bike-share kiosks, a team of designers in London is rethinking helmet design, coming up with a solution that’s cheap and disposable (so it doesn’t have to be sanitized after each use) and that makes sense for a bikesharing program. Their idea is a helmet made from recycled paper pulp that could be cheaply rented in conjunction with a bike share bike, and then broken down at the end of its use to be turned into a new helmet.

"The idea to use paper pulp came about through standing around on tube platforms, sitting in buses and trains watching Metro and Evening Standard newspapers blow around," explains Thomas Gottelier, who co-created the helmet with two friends at the Royal College of Art in London. "We had previously seen what kind of structural integrity could be gained from molding paper pulp and it seemed like a logical step to use this vast resource that currently circulates our public transport network."

Gottelier figured out they could make these recyclable, biodegradable helmets for less than £1 each, without adding any glue or artificial additives.

Believe it or not, Gottelier says a helmet made from paper can be strong enough to save your life in a bike crash. "Our current helmets are two millimeters thick which already provides an amazing amount of strength and impact absorption," he says. The next prototype, made in collaboration with an industrial partner, will more than quadruple that thickness to nine millimeters--the same thickness that’s used for packaging, which, according to Gottelier, is crash-tested using more rigorous standards than bicycle helmets.

"In terms of distribution, our overriding concept for the helmet was for it to be distributed in conjunction with the Barclay’s bike-hire scheme, with the price included in the hire of the bike," says Gotellier. "We have already been in talks with [city transit agency] Transport for London who are keen to make an initial trial order of the helmets." The team has also been invited to other meetings with representatives from the city and the bike-sharing program.

If put in place in London, the paper pulp helmet concept could be a useful model for cities struggling with dismal rates of helmet usage in their bike-sharing program.

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10 Comments

  • urm

    I think other commenters should maybe realise that this helmet is made from waste that will otherwise end up in landfill. Sure the aesthetic is a bit dodgy, but the idea is a good one and is turning a waste stream into a potentially valuable resource. Its not like anyone is making people where these, they should be provided as an option for cyclists when hiring shared bikes. The advice obviously should be that when used they should be re-pulped and then made again. 

    This is a student project and they seem to be doing very well from it. They could be making a huge contribution to the safety of the many people who hire bikes in London from something that costs nothing. What did you do today?

  • Ugh

    As many have pointed out, this seems like a silly, misguided, and wasteful project. What makes it worse is that this article is 0% critical, making it 100% non-credible.

    I ride often, always wear a helmet, and replace my helmet every couple years (regardless of whether it's taken a hit). But I'm fully aware of the numerous studies that show helmets don't making biking any safer, that they create a false sense of safety (on part of cyclists and motorists), and that most fatal accidents would have still been fatal whether or not the cyclists was wearing a helmet. A helmet it isn't going to protect one bit you when a car going 50mph clips you from behind! But I still always wear a helmet. If you ride  regularly, if you shell out $$$ for an annual membership to a bike share program, then just buy yourself a $20 helmet. Cheap helmets are just as safe as expensive ones... they're just heavier.

    If you're just tooting around for the day, clogging up the Brooklyn Bridge bike lane on your CitiBike, then you're better off spending that $20 on Wafels & Dinges, and spending 20 minutes learning how to ride a bike. Stay in the bike lane (on the correct side!), obey traffic lights/signs, use your bell, and hold your line!

  • urm

    Not sure exactly why this is a wasteful project, when the whole point is that it is made from the massive amount of free newspaper waste generated each day. If it requires no other elements than the pulped paper itself, it seems pretty sustainable and if there is even the smallest incremental improvement in safety, then you could have saved someone's life. Nothing will help you being hit by a car at 50mph, but when someone falls at a low speed and hits their head on a pavement (when potentially knocked over by another cyclist) this could save their life. 

  • jmco

    Helmet rental vending machines or rental street carts with helmets (and bottles, and water, juice and back packs, etc.) is a far better idea.

  • jmco

    This is a terrible idea. Even regular helmets, once damaged or in a crash, need to be disposed of. But people might use these disposable helmets and then keep reusing them. Not to mention moisture and degradation on exposure to the sun.
    But what really makes this a bad idea is they missed the whole point of a helmet on a bike.
    If you bike a lot or to work, you need to buy and wear a helmet. But if you just use a shared bike occasionally, say once a month in summer, the odds you will be in an accident drop and the need for a helmet declines. Sure, you could still be hit and die and, if you only ride once in a while, just go buy a cheap helmet for when you do. If you loose it or forget it, no biggie. Just go get another one.
    I think all these disposable head cans do is add more waste to the landfills.
    That vending machine should have a helmet recycling bin next to it so they can be properly put back in the pulp recycling system.
    Plus, they are silly looking as hell. Did they not think to sell a stretch cloth wrap to cover it? Perhaps in safety orange or with sponsor logos, etc.?

  • Bradford

    STUPID IDEA...
    Why doesn't anybody think about TEACHING BICYCLE RIDING SKILLS...???...
    Probably 80 - 90% of the people I see riding bicycles are flaming IDIOTS, who really DON'T KNOW how to ride safely, defensively, and assertively...
    I recently witnessed a very high-level racer-type get creamed by a car that was turning into a parking space...Luckily, no injuries or damage, but the cyclist was riding *NEXT* to a lane of traffic...BOTH cyclist and driver were "at fault", but the cyclist was MORE "at fault"!...
    And, yes, this IDIOT cyclist was duly wearing his helmet...
    The BEST tool to keep cyclists safe would be loaded handguns and firearms training...
    Yes, I DO mean that seriously....
    Hey, you can get convicted of "Assault w/a Deadly Weapon" driving a car, why shouldn't cyclists be equally armed...???...
    You arrogant Libtards always think you know everything, and are so much smarter than the rest of us...

  • Lucas Jerzy Portela

    Besides, do you really think a paper or plastic hat will prevent the ignorance-in-action of The Bull In The China Shop?! (aka: automobiles).

    dude, you are naive...!

    (before doing dumb things like that, ask Holand how they manage to have 50% of the population riding bikes during summer, and never less then 30% even trhou winter time. A clue: they are against the use of helmets - probably they know what they are doing, I gues...)

    (but Holand is mercyless, mercyless!, with the use of any motorized vehicul...)

  • Lucas Jerzy Portela

    This is one of the most stupid ideas I've ever come across!

    What is in fact a good solution (more people in bikes without helmet means more people in bike, thus less danger for everybody), y'all have misturned in a false problem (more helmets always means less bikes. Always! - wich means more danger for everybody).

  • Justinwade12388

    I am sorry, but that is a stupid statement. People can choose to wear it or not. When they told us that we had to wear seat-belts in cars, people didn't stop driving, they just choose not to wear them.