Designing an Innovative Bicycle Helmet

Ruben Hekkens is a graduate student at the Delft University of Technology, in Delft, Netherlands. As a masters project, he is developing a “lifestyle bicycle helmet for use in urban environments.”

Because very few urban cyclists in Holland wear helmets, Ruben sees an opportunity.

It reminded me of an old marketing parable of two shoe salesmen sent to a cliched Africa:

The first shoe salesman headed into his new territory unsure what to expect. It was less than an hour of the shoe salesman’s arrival to Africa when he quickly phoned back to his headquarters and requested the first flight out, explaining to his boss, “This is a disaster! Nobody wears shoes!”

The second shoe salesman expected a challenge but was optimistic about this new opportunity. After a safe landing he quickly became thrilled at what he observed. He contacted headquarters and told his boss, “I can’t believe what I’m seeing, send stock A.S.A.P! Nobody wears shoes!”

Whether or not you consider the low rate of helmet use in Holland to be a problem worth solving, you’ve got to admire Ruben’s ambition.

Ruben would like your input on his project, so here’s your chance.
Designing An Innovative Bicycle Helmet

Click here to take Rubens questionnaire on helmet designs.

Girl with a Pearl Earring
Girl with a Pearl Earring | Image: Wikipedia

Delft is between Rotterdam and The Hague, and was the home of 17th Century Dutch painter, Johannes Vermeer.

You know, I don’t want to skew Ruben’s research or anything, but I think helmet no. 7 is atrocious. I can understand the attempts some have to make helmets look like fashionable hats, but I think all such attempts are doomed. But if you’re in the stomping grounds of Vermeer, and attempting something as potentially futile as putting helmets on the heads of the Dutch, why not try an homage to the master, and make a helmet that would fit gracefully in a Vemeer painting?

That would be classy.

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17 thoughts on “Designing an Innovative Bicycle Helmet”

  1. Kim says:

    Another stupid solution in search of a problem, have they actually bother to find out if the Dutch need helmets? No, of course not, cycling in the Netherlands is safe, which why only tourist wear cycle helmets in the Netherlands. There is nothing classy about money grubbing fear merchants!

  2. Mikael says:

    Another Follow the Money tale. Amazingly, he show helmets covered in fabric. Fancy increasing your risk of brain injury? Buy one!

  3. Gene @ BU says:

    For Dutch style commuting and given their advanced bike infrastructure and cultural acceptance a helmet isn’t necessary. Also I think the biggest difference in bike culture between the U.S. and Netherlands is that bikes are rarely used for sport or exercise.

    Here in the U.S. with a low level of bike specific infrastruture, a gap in the awareness and acceptance of bikes by motorists, the variety of uses for bikes (city riding, commuting, fitness, performance riding, etc.) it is very risky not to wear a helmet.

    Hopefully Ruben will sail the big pond and find an accepting market here in the U.S. for well designed helmets that fit the purpose.

    I think he may be on to something.

  4. Tom Bowden says:

    The helmet in the painting would never meet safety specs – if the scarf part came unraveled and got caught in the spokes, she would be decapitated.

  5. Jaime Roberto says:

    #7 with the brim lowered has the shape of a German soldier’s helmet. If many people start wearing those, the Dutch might think their bikes are being returned by a bunch of German hipsters.

  6. mombrakesforbikes says:

    Re helmet design #7: Ruben should check out Yakkay’s line of upscale helmets. I’ve overheard sports bikers sneer at these, saying they’re for hipster wannabes, but I think they’re a good solution for riders who hate the look of helmets but bike in areas where not wearing a helmet is like playing Russian roulette.

    Personally, I’d love to wear the second one on one of our local Tweed Rides.

  7. Yes, and once all those Africans were wearing shoes, it suddenly became okay to litter the ground with broken glass. If Ruben succeeds in his evil plan, Dutch drivers will see it as the helmets’ responsibility, not theirs, to ensure cycling is safe.

  8. I still don’t know why I can’t get any traction with my movement to slowly phase out the heads themselves. We’re not using them at all anymore and it would really take a load off the necks of the world. No Heads=No Helmets.

  9. Fabio says:

    Haha, the helmet number 7 is really horrible, but almost cute in its ugliness. The Dutch have this cutting edge that few others have 🙂

  10. Misty says:

    ….People where I live wear shoes, and it’s still considered rude to litter the ground with broken glass.

    Then again, maybe people are just nicer here than in Steven’s neck of the woods. 🙂

  11. Gene @ BU says:

    I took Rubens survey and here’s my helmet wish list;

    – Removal sweat band that can be washed and easily reattached.
    – Removable, adjustable visor.
    – Reflective 360 degrees.
    – Front and rear hooks for lights.
    – Cylinder shell liner like the one used in the lacrosse Pro7 helmets (Cascade Lacrosse). Cycling helmet manufacturers can learn a lot from lacrosse helmets.
    – Straps with an adjustment flywheel on the back to easly readjust the fit.
    – Fitted helmet rain caps.
    – I like the look of Nutcase helmets that look more reasonable while riding in work cloths. I would vote for Helmet #1.

    I’m glad to see a grad student push the limits of R&D. Go for it Ruben!

  12. Ruben says:

    Hi Ted and Cbb readers,

    First of all, a big thanks to you all for your support and for taking the survey ! I have received a load of responses and will have a nice evening tonight reading through all of your comments 😉

    I feel the need to reply to some of your critical remarks. Though Ted has posted a charming story on shoe salesmen and Vermeer, it does not reflect my project well. I mailed bloggers telling them “As there are (yet) among the Dutch very few urban cyclists currently wearing a helmet, I reach out to bloggers for information!” This does of course not mean I am developing a helmet for the Dutch – I simply also need information from people who are currently wearing a helmet while commuting. These are hard to find in Holland.

    Please be reminded that graduates usually are encouraged to innovate in their projects. This has led to interesting bicycle ‘helmets’ developed by Anna Haupt from Sweden ( and Anirudha Rao at RCA London.( These people are not ‘money grubbing fear merchants’, but probably as committed to cycling as you all are. I certainly hope that my project will turn out to be as inspiring as theirs.

    As for the atrocious helmet number 7, it is certainly a woman’s helmet. Men and women were shown the same helmets in the research, though men were shown men wearing the helmets and women were shown women. I could’ve taken a men’s Yakkay helmet as #7, but I chose to show the two sexes all the same helmets.

    1. Ted Johnson says:


      I appreciate your tactful response, and the explanation.

      I feel a little remorse for having exposed you to the hysterical anti-helmet faction that combs the bike blogosphere. I hope that you have received some useful feedback via your survey.

      Personally, I believe that people should feel free to ride with or without helmets. Cycling without a helmet is less dangerous than being in a moving car. For the people (like myself) who choose to ride with a helmet, it’s nice to have options. The appearance of the helmet matters little to me. I, like BluesCat, am resigned to the helmety look of helmets.

      For people (unlike myself) who prioritize personal appearance, yet still would prefer to wear a helmet, it would be nice for them to have options that encourage them to cycle more. We can criticize the “culture of fear” all we want — and I do. And we can also grouse that people who won’t cycle because helmets are unattractive are caught between the “culture of fear” and the “culture of vanity.” I say that too, but never in public. Oops.

      When I scan the marketing messages that inundate us everyday; when I look at all of the absolutely useless products that businesspeople have designed and manufactured to fill artificial needs, I can get disgusted. To calm myself down, I am constantly reminding myself that we (humans) are not perfectly rational beings, but instead are a particular kind of primate that responds to information with primate imperatives leftover from a world we no longer inhabit. And marketers, whether we know it or not, are in the business of exploiting these ancient imperatives.

      What is one to do about the masses of malleable primates out there who are products of consumer culture; who will buy teeth whitener, ringtones, leafblowers, and handerpants — who buy cars when a bike would serve their practical needs just as well or better?

      We can scream at them, look down on them, call them “sheeple.” But we’ll never scream louder than consumerism, vanity, and the innate instinct that always seeks peace of mind.

      This is fodder for an entire post. But Ruben, I wish you luck. If you can design a helmet that gets more vain scaredycats on bikes and out of cars, I hope you make a million dollars. If you design a helmet that gives me a little more utility than the ones I currently use, I’ll buy one. The societal and environmental good that you create will more than compensate for the fact that helmets are overrated for their safety value.

  13. BluesCat says:

    No matter what, a bike helmet gives EVERYONE a Big Alien Head look. I’d like to see a helmet which DIDN’T do that but I don’t know as that is possible.


    I’ve resigned myself to looking like The Creature From the Pod everywhere I go on my bike.

  14. Scott says:

    Of course the Dutch don’t need helmets. It’s been proven that their skulls are much thicker and their brains are suspended in such a way that there can be no damage in the event of their heads hitting the ground. The Dutch also don’t need back-up parachutes because the Dutch pack their parachutes flawlessly (you will see, however, silly tourists parachuting with back up parachutes). I assume Dutch boats don’t bother with life vests either, since their waterways are so good.

    All joking aside, you may change your mind if you ever know someone personally who has suffered a traumatic brain injury from cycling. My son did, and it happened when he was making a slow turn (less than 10 km/hr) and didn’t involve a vehicle. If he had been wearing a helmet he would have walked away. Instead, he almost died, spent two weeks in the hospital and another two weeks in rehab and is permanently changed. He lost his career as a chef (lost his sense of smell), can’t keep a stable relationship or a job. All because, at 23 years old, he thought only nerds wore helmets. Five days before his accident, his mother tried to talk him into wearing a helmet and he laughed.

    I believe its should be a personal choice to wear a helmet, and take any sort of risk that doesn’t involve other people. But don’t fool yourself by thinking the only thing bike helmets protect you from are accidents involving cars or poor cycling infrastructure.

  15. Bike Hanger says:

    I think I’ll stick with my regular helmet.

  16. ruskie says:

    I haven’t yet bothered with a helmet even though I’ve been hit by a car(and to show how small the world is by the husband of one of my moms classmates) when my breakes failed in the rain. My main concern is asthma not so much head trauma. But I should probably look if I can find a helmet that would be usable for me(though I think I would miss the wind through the hair and so on).

    Hopefull I’ll be able to do some commuting by bike this year being overweight, high blood pressure, asthma and up and downs of roads doesn’t help much.

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