One day, while watching cyclists ride by on bikes from London’s bikeshare program, inventor Jeff Woolf suddenly noticed the fact that no one was wearing a helmet, despite the cars whizzing past. Two years later, after confirming the obvious reasons why—helmets are annoying to carry around all day, and someone renting a bike for a day might not even own a helmet—Woolf has designed a solution: a helmet that folds completely flat, so it can easily slip into a bag.
He’s not the first to try to create a foldable helmet. But Woolf says others on the market have been heavier, and they don’t actually flatten out, so they tend to take up almost as much room in a bag as an ordinary helmet. Woolf’s Morpher helmet, on the other hand, weighs around 8 ounces and folds up so it’s only a couple of inches thick.
The size means the helmet could also go in vending machines for people to rent at bikesharing stations. “To put traditional helmets in a vending machine, you’d need an enormous machine to hold any decent number of helmets,” Woolf says. “With Morpher, it can fit in a flat drawer in an ordinary vending machine. You put in a credit card, and out comes a shiny new helmet.”
Woolf’s in China now, working with the world’s largest helmet manufacturer on the final aspects of the construction. (When I spoke with him, he was eating at a restaurant, Chinese pop music blaring in the background. He answered the phone in Chinese.) The next steps, after finishing a round of funding on Indiegogo, will be starting to manufacture the product and conducting official government safety tests. Woolf says he has no doubt it will pass, since prototypes have tested well in the factory. In fact, he thinks it might even have the potential to be safer than an ordinary helmet.
“I have a theory that when you have a crash wearing the Morpher helmet, because it has a nylon membrane running all the way through it, the impact may be dissipated outward versus straight towards the skull,” Woolf says. “It certainly will be as safe as an ordinary helmet, but it may even have an advantage.”
Woolf has personal experience with the importance of helmets. Several years earlier, he was hit by a car while riding a bike, and flew through the air to land on the curb. He broke his shoulder and ribs, but was otherwise mostly okay. “The helmet saved my life, and if not my life, it certainly saved me from major brain damage,” Woolf said.
"When you look at the news, we hear about deaths on bikes—how many people die each year, and how people are injured," Woolf says. "But what the figures don't show is how many of those injuries are awful brain injuries...the cyclists can't take care of themselves, and they and their families are devastated for a generation afterward."
Whether it's his helmet or someone else's, Woolf says, he wants to encourage helmet use. During his research, most of the people he spoke with were completely aware they were risking their lives when they ride a bike without a helmet. Woolf hopes his helmet will make it easier for people to choose not to take that risk.