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Designing the future of sustainable cycling

The Revolutionary Paper Helmet

Robert L. Peters, a doyen of graphic design and its education, is credited with the phrase “Design creates culture. Culture shapes values. Values determine the future.”

Never could a truer word be spoken than when it comes to cycling.

Often heralded as the sustainable alternative to our carbon-consuming world, the cycling industry is frequently a hotbed of futuristic design, innovative approaches to culture and health-promoting values.

Cue, the paper cycling helmet. Despite its oxymoronic nature, this new invention is in fact taking the industry by storm as it combines high-end design with sustainable sourcing and futuristic ideals.

For R&D and technology publication The Memo, ‘this paper helmet is cycling innovation at its best.’ Branded as the EcoHelmet, the design is the brainchild of New York designer Isis Shiffer, and has recently won a prestigious James Dyson Award for its contribution to design engineering.

The helmet, which is made of waterproofed paper and woven into a honeycomb pattern to create its sturdy form, tackles a number of important issues currently effecting the cycling industry.

One such issue is the safety of cyclists who participate in bike share schemes. The Memo reported that ‘almost 90 per cent of bike-share users don’t wear helmets, and most feel unsafe on the road.’

With the popularity of bike-sharing as a rental model soaring internationally in recent years, something must be done to accommodate the needs of the ad-hoc cyclists who put their lives at risk on a daily basis by riding without adequate protection.

Shiffer aims to sell the EcoHelmet for the reasonable price of 5 USD, and to make them available for sale at each bike share stop. One sales model could be that undertaken by renowned innovators Facebook in their creation of a keyboard vending machine.

Reported back in 2011 by Fortune Magazine as an efficient and cost effective way to distribute equipment, this could work well as a dispensing model for the helmet and make its usage as user-friendly and convenient as possible.

The helmet can also be seen as a solution to further reducing the impact of cycling on the environment. Although of course cycling is by far the eco-friendlier option when compared to driving individual vehicles or even taking public transport, this too is not without its own carbon footprint.

The Guardian undertook such research back in 2012, and argued that the processes used to make and dispose of bicycles must be considered when analysing their overall impact on the environment. It is reported that most mainstream bicycles are manufactured in China and East Asia, with specialised parts often being made in the USA and shipped to Asia for assembly. When all this is taken into consideration, the eco-friendly credentials of your bike suddenly look a little less green. Combine this with the plastic that goes into making your helmet and the devastating impact this is having on the environment, and the need for a more sustainable model is self-evident.

Although the EcoHelmet is not yet ready for mass production, it is hoped it can be rolled out in the near future with the help of investors and bike share programs looking to adopt the idea. For CityLab, the helmet could be a game changer. It argues;

‘helmet use plays a role in shifting the culture toward safe cycling practices, and underpinning all of the complaints about headgear is the very real inconvenience of lugging your helmet around everywhere. The ease and unobtrusiveness of EcoHelmet would render those gripes obsolete, and make cyclists and bike-share companies alike breathe a little easier.’

Through a simple, crisp design, forward thinking technology and an innovative approach to sustainability, the EcoHelmet could soon be coming to a bike-share near you.

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