Bicycle helmets protect riders from head injuries, but those turtle-shaped plastic and polystyrene lids turn any ensemble except striped spandex into nerdwear. A pair of enterprising designers, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, started Hövding Sverige AB, Malmö, Sweden, to manufacture a fix that provides both safety and fashion acumen—the Hövding bicycle helmet. The Hövding looks like a scarf or hood, until its sensors signal that a bicyclist is falling forward. It then expands like an airbag to shield the head of the wearer. Bicycle helmets are compulsory for Swedish children 15 years old and younger. “Fashion-conscious people like ourselves would not have fancied wearing an ugly hair-flattening polystyrene helmet, so we set about looking at alternatives in case people in Sweden were going to be forced to wear a bike helmet in the future,” says Alstin.
The strong nylon airbag folds into a collar that, when surrounded by a fabric shell that can be customized to match various outfits, looks like an interesting scarf or neckline treatment. The collar also houses sensors that send a signal when the wearer suddenly accelerates or abruptly changes position during an accident. The signal triggers the collar’s helium cold gas inflator and fully expands the airbag over the rider’s head within a tenth of a second. The airbag slowly deflates, protecting the head from multiple bumps. Granted, the inflated Hövding turns any ensemble into alien-from-outer-space wear; a fashion faux pas, however, is preferable to a concussion or brain injury.