Helmets: Something you may have hated with a passion as a child, but your parents made you wear. As adults, one could argue helmet use is pretty divided. If you head down your local bike path or along a neighborhood street, you’ll see a good number of riders not wearing their helmets.
Two Virginia Tech students think that’s a problem. Co-founders David Hall and Jordan Klein started Park & Diamond and set out to create a safe, compact, and stylish helmet to hopefully convince people to wear them every time they bike.
The interest in refining technology to prevent bike related head injuries is incredibly personal for the team of innovators, especially for Hall. In 2015 Hall’s younger sister was involved in a bike accident in Philadelphia and remained in a coma for four months. The bicycle crash occurred at the corner of Park Avenue and Diamond Street in Philadelphia—which is reflected in the name of their company.
How Helmets Work
Just like the crumple zone in your car, helmets are designed to deform and dissipate energy away from you. The first bike helmets were made of natural fibers, layered together to absorb some of the massive impact of a crash. These helmets were heavy and not very effective.
The demand for safety in the bicycling industry prompted a great deal of innovation in the middle of the 20th century. In 1957, Bell created the first expanded polystyrene (EPS) helmet.
EPS continues to be the main shock-absorbing material in modern helmets. Polystyrene is a synthetic polymer made from styrene. On the outside of modern helmets, a hard plastic shell holds the EPS in place and prevents UV damage.
Not all helmets are created equally, though. Quality helmets must first be certified before they can be sold in the United States. Today, the most common certifying body in the United States is the Consumer Product Safety Commission. Another and even more stringent set of tests is the Snell certification.
These tests evaluate different factors related to a helmet’s performance in the real world. Of course, there are impact tests to evaluate the helmet’s effectiveness at its main job–to protect your head. There are also environmental tests to make sure they perform at a range of temperatures, as well as tests to make sure they don’t hinder a cyclist’s vision.
Park & Diamond expects their foldable helmet to go on sale in “early 2018”. Before it can be sold, it will have to be certified by one or more of these governing bodies.
Why The Different Look?
Statistics on the safety implications of bicycle helmet usage are very compelling. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, the Center for Disease Control and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety have all collected data on bicycle-related fatalities and show equally clear results: helmet use saves lives.
In 2015, 818 people died while bicycling in the United States. Of those, nearly 75 percent of those deaths involved a head injury and 72 percent of those riders were not wearing a helmet, according to the Bicycle Market Research Institute.
Despite clear numbers, many cyclists choose not to wear helmets during some of their riding. Because modern helmets are often bulky and odd looking, many riders choose to go without.
Park & Diamond’s design seeks to solve both of those problems. Designed to look like cycling caps and be uniquely foldable, hopefully riders will be more likely to wear them on each ride.
Innovation and Testing in the NRV
There’s no doubt this is a pretty serious topic and we’re so happy to see our local community of researchers and innovators taking action to improve this widespread issue. In addition to the work Park & Diamond is doing to bring a product to market, researchers at Virginia Tech’s college of Biomedical Engineering and Mechanic’s helmet testing lab are providing independent testing for helmets across a wide range of industries, including football, hockey, and bicycling.
While we’ll never be able to prevent every injury or bicycling accident, perhaps innovative technology, like that being developed by Park & Diamond, will result in more widespread use of helmets and more positive outcomes when accidents do occur.