Why waste time talking about bike helmet design? Vanity? Frivolity? Wouldn’t we be better off clicking over to Tacoma Bike Ranch and making a donation for not one, but three worthy causes?
(Which maybe you should do, and then come back here and we will frivol together with an easy conscience.)
But I do believe design (i.e. fashion, style, architecture, etc.) is as much about underlying perceptions and future practices as it is about shallow surfaces and styling whims. Women wearing pants was more than a style choice. Re-thinking why we organize the world the way we do, why we arrange clothing, rooms, roads, bureaucracies the way we do, can change the way we live in those clothes, rooms, roads, and bureaucracies.
Clothes do not make us, maybe, but they certainly shape us, the way we move, the way we act, the way others act towards us.
So – my rationale.
Now to play dress up.
For convenience and comfort this all-silk, black rain poncho is a dream. A travel poncho I picked up years ago on the cheap and never really worn (for maybe obvious reasons?), it folds up to the size of a thin spiral notebook in its own front pocket. It sheds rain, keeps me warm - but not too warm. It flutters genteelly and satisfyingly as I wheel along and allows a glimpse of the crocheted sleeve of my sweater.
But it also absorbs light, turning me into a visual black hole on the roadside. And honestly, don’t I look like Batman’s Gramma wearing it? Or a member of some obscure religious order – The Cycling Sisters of Mercy?
But I think I could almost pull it off – by which I mean – feel like a civilized being wearing it, if I didn’t have to plunk that helmet down on top. Which helmet, please note, is doing nothing to keep rain off my head or raindrops out of my eyes.
So what about something like the Yakkay hat-helmet? (Thanks to MamaVee over at Suburban Bike Mama for letting me swipe her image and try it on.)
Yakkay, a Danish company, has been selling its helmets only in Europe. And the helmets are spendy: $145 plus whatever 22 pounds in shipping works out to these days from 50cycles in the UK. However, Yakkay is opening its market here in the US this coming spring.
Yakkay has several designs, which you can see on their site. I like best the Tokyo with the wider, all-around brim. It comes in pink jazz tweed, seen above. As well as blue flowered . . .
MamaVee looks much cuter in her Yakkay than I do in these digital fittings. Looking at her picture and those on the Yakkay website I think the helmets actually fit a little lower, and a little more snugly on the head so they are not quite so bobbly. They are still bigger than hats usually would be.
In other non-commercial pictures, the Yakkay consistently looks smaller than I was expecting – smaller than I estimated for my own photo-shopping.
But even with the probable over-sizing, these helmet hats at least suggest some of the gentle protection (rain, sun) we daily cyclists need more regularly than calamity coverage.
So why is only Yakkay making these? It would be nice to see someone local (and less expensive) produce some other styles and colors.
What about something more early-twentieth century in a pale blue grey?
Or even more wide-brimmed still with ribbons and flowers on a summer straw hat?
The only reasons I can think of for not having wide brims to biking hats is that they might block the view / jab the ear of others in the peloton – and then that ubiquitous air-friction.
Not problems most daily cyclists are going to encounter.
Would designs like these make the roads safer for cyclists? Probably.
Think of how we humans have worn headgear for ages. To show rank (royal crown, full feather headdress, pope’s mitre), to signal membership in a specialized corps (nurse’s bonnets, police caps, chef’s hats, soldier’s helmets, graduate’s caps). Think of the different expectations set up, not that long ago, by wearing a top hat, bowler, fedora, or soft cap.
When we wear serious gear-head helmets, we’re signalling that we are unlike other varieties of humans, that we are in service to the Bike.
There are worse things to serve, but many of us are realizing that the serious ultra-pro biking gear keeps others with whom we share the roads – others in large heavy metal machines traveling very fast – from seeing us as like themselves. Styles that humanize the cyclist and the greater eye-catch of headgear with more individuality in shape and design may all contribute to a real visibility that has nothing to do with day-glo shades of green and yellow.
Of course, as Matthias Inks points out, some Enhanced Bicycle Helmet designs may even “make it impossible to reach the speeds where accidents could occur” . . .
(But I think we really will have to do something about the Bat Granny poncho . . . )