A refusal to wear helmets leads to hundreds of fatal bike crashes each year. A team of former SpaceX engineers may have found the solution.

Lukas Schulze/Getty Images
  • A team of engineers, including former SpaceX employees, set out to discover why cyclists are so resistant to wearing helmets.
  • After three years of research and development, they are now unveiling a collapsible bike helmet that’s safer and more comfortable than the traditional model.
  • The helmet resembles a baseball cap and folds down into the size of a water bottle.

Bike commuters have long been willing to risk their lives to avoid the unpleasantness of wearing a helmet. Park & Diamond, an engineering startup that manufactures portable and stylish helmets for cyclists, want to change that.

The idea came about in 2015, after co-founder David Hall learned that his sister, Rachel, had been involved a hit-and-run cycling accident, which left her in a coma for four months. Hall realised that Rachel was one of 85,000 Americans that year to suffer a traumatic brain injury from a cycling-related accident.

Along with fellow engineering student Jordan Klein, Hall set out to discover why so many cyclists were resistant to wearing helmets. After interviewing thousands of potential customers, they discovered three major pain points: comfort, style, and portability.

People were put off by having to lug a bulky object to and from work – or be seen wearing it in public.

Park & Diamond 3Park & DiamondPark & Diamond’s collapsible bike helmet

From there, Park & Diamond – named after the intersection where Rachel was hit near Temple University – spent three years researching and developing a product that was safe enough to bring to consumers. They soon found that the problem could not be solved using traditional materials.

“We started from the ground up,” said Hall. The company hired an engineering director from SpaceX, who helped them secure free access to ANSYS, an engineering software company worth more than $US1 billion.

While Park & Diamond didn’t invent the collapsible bike helmet – companies like Closca and FEND have developed foldable models as well – its style is far less bulky than other products on the market.

The “secret sauce” of their helmet, which resembles a baseball cap, is material from the aerospace industry. The outer shell features a geometric pattern that is better at absorbing energy than the traditional model. The helmet also folds down into the size of a water bottle and can be personalised for individual wearers.

In September, the company revealed the product on the crowdfunding site Indiegogo, aiming to raise around $US50,000. Within 24 hours, they had raised three times that amount, and have since exceeded $US500,000.

“From the very first day, we were blown away by the response,” said Hall. Now, he and Klein have their sights set on customising the design even further, venturing into new styles and designer collaborations. For those who prefer beanies to baseball caps, a new model could soon be on the way.

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