In the Future, Will You Even Wear a Helmet?

01/07/2013 @ 5:29 pm, by Jensen Beeler20 COMMENTS


Here at Asphalt & Rubber, we spend some pixels talking about the finer points of helmet usage, especially when it comes to the debate regarding mandatory helmet laws. Looking at helmets from 50 years ago, and the basic concept hasn’t changed all that much in the time since.

A hard shell, some impact material, and a soft lining mated to a visor and chin-strap system, over the last half-century most of the improvements to the basic helmet design have been for added fit and comfort, or cheaper and lighter materials — even the more creative and innovative designs that are being hocked around the internet right now don’t stray far from the current concept.

Think 50 years ahead though, and it is hard to imagine the same shapes and designs staying constant. In fact, it becomes possible to imagine motorcyclists wearing no helmets at all. No, I am not talking about some sort of libertarian movement that will rush through our political system, freeing us from the shackles of big government.

Instead, I am talking about the true next-generation of safety devices for the gray matter that resides between your ears, which might put the mandatory helmet law debate to rest (well…probably not).

The (r)evolution I am talking about here is the advent of active body protection systems, the most primitive form being the ubiquitous airbag.

Already being used on the race tracks of MotoGP, WSBK, and even the AMA, we see the use of airbag systems in racing suits of companies like Alpinestars and Dainese, and it won’t be much longer until airbag system for street use will readily be available to consumers as well.

It is not hard then to see the writing on the wall for motorcycle safety apparel, as the rate of progress in regards to the development of the current helmet design has so obviously plateaued out, while the pace of development for active body protection systems is increasing rapidly.

While it might be easier to develop and incorporate an airbag into a rider’s jacket, the logical progression of the solution to a rider’s head is not far off. Already exploring the concept for human-powered two-wheelers, some Swedish entrepreneurs have developed a stylish solution for bicycle riders (checkout the video below).

Is it so hard to imagine something similar being developed for motorcycles in the next fifty years? A decade seems more like it.

Source: Hövding

  • Mormont
  • Lindz

    The problem with an “invisible helmet” in a motorcycle application is that at higher speeds, you need the hard shell areas of your gear to deflect energy and allow you to slide, just as much as you need the soft layers and absorb energy to reduce impact.

    On a bicycle where you’d experience speeds of what, 30 mph max on average(?) you can get away with passive safety items that are soft and purely absorb an impact.

    Without going too far into this, I’d predict that an “invisible helmet” might be a legal alternative one day and I could see it’s use on cruiser bikes. Hell, having that as a legal alternative to a hard shell helmet would be great. But on a sport(y)bike with high speeds involved I don’t think we’ll get away from the formula of hard shell/absorption material/soft liner.

  • Isaac (Spektre76)

    I really cannot understand why there is a fuss about helmets in the first place! I know, I know the HOG riders want to “Ride Free” but let’s get real folks. Your brain is a precious thing. Do you really want your children growing up with out you? I ride a Harley and I wear my helmet and all other associated safety gear. I guess you can’t tech common sense.

  • paulus – Thailand

    The helmet has not changed becasue the head has not changed. it needs some help when bouncing at speed.

    I just don’t agree with the article, if anything safety systems are becoming more expansive. We wear more today than any time before (with the exception of knights). The last 30 years has seen a massive increase in wearable protection. Full race leathers used on the road, spin protectors, proper boots and gloves, knee braces, neck braces, airbags.

  • Kevin

    I love creativity and science. Passionate enthusiasm isn’t bad either.

    I believe that impact sensitive gels that can “adapt” their dampening
    ability already exist but might be costly. Outer shells have already been
    proven to be more than effective even when thinner and lighter. What is
    stopping their from being a lightweight “adaptive” gel, smaller helmet
    with a thinner interior mass that forms to you? Change is hard.

  • Keith

    If memory serves at least one sci-fi novel has already presented the idea…it’s called Snowcrash. Good book, even has a side car with a nuke in it. ;) But no thanks a helmet does more than protect against crashes…you get over about 35 for any length of time and that wind in the hair sucks and bugs HURT! So does gravel etc.

  • Andrew

    You want creativity and science? Fine: why stuff around with helmets at all, I propose genetically re-engineering the human body so when threatened with collision we can draw our heads and other extremities in. Like turtles do :)

  • Alex MacPherson

    It is good to see people pushing the limits of what’s possible. There are lots of other factors to look at with motorcycles of course. Yes the helmet protects in a crash but it also protects from the elements, road debris, bugs, rain ect.
    I am sure in the next 20 years there will be all kinds of innovations with new technologies… nanotechnology ect. for motorcycle safety.
    Hats off to the Swedish girls for leading the way!

  • Jay

    I like the idea for a bicycle and I agree with the women that bicycle helmets feel cumbersome. However, on a motorcycle I want to wear a helmet. It keeps my head warm and I need the eye protection a full-face helmet with a face shield gives me.

  • TexusTim

    Buy a good helmet,use it and survive most crashes…do the oposite and your going to get hurt or worse die….that being said I dont want anymore goverment agency’s telling me what to do.

  • There *have* been some big advancements in helmets in the last 50 years, but so far they are proprietary and thus not very widespread. For instance, SuperSkin, which reduces rotational energy in a crash:

  • Robert Chase

    Despite the neat technology modern helmets provide more than just crash protection. They are wind and noise protection as well as protection from the rain. Even if they were able to perfect the modern technology so that it would actually protect you better than a helmet many people would not adopt those technologies because they dont provide wind, noise and rain protection. :)

  • Damo

    I wear a helmet not just for safety, but to keep bugs out of my grill.


    Snowcrash is awesome.

  • Daniel Croft

    @RandyS – I wouldn’t call that a big advance at all. It’s an evolutionary change to the base design that’s been around, almost unchanged, for a ridiculous length of time.

    In other markets, technology has advanced (D3o for example, and other impact attenuation materials that are capable of dissipating energy and are multiple use, not to mention lower profile) to the point that it’s affecting the materials and profiles of helmets that people are using and yet the motorcycle helmet market has remained largely static. Why?

    It’s a proven design but only proven to work in certain circumstances. It’s much easier for manufacturers to avoid legal entanglements but sticking to what’s known than invest in new technology when we’re all still happily buying the thing that requires no R&D.

    I’m not saying that these other technologies are necessarily better but there seems to be no effort to explore these technologies to provide a lower profile, lighter weight and equally (or, ideally, better) protective solution.

    Clearly just IMO. :-)

  • Bruce

    I’m willing to try new technology if it is practical and reasonably priced. That said, an invisible helmet fixes a problem I don’t have. As stated above the hard shell provides a layer of safety not available with a soft system, and the modern full face helmet protects from the elements; sun, rain, debris, cold, heat, etc. Helmets provide a unique look, and whether riders will admit or not, a fashion statement of sorts, otherwise they would all be white. Also, with all the smoked and mirrored shields, a level of anonymity.

  • JET057

    This article from jensen beeler makes me think that you guys are loosing your edge,by researching and contacting the major helmet company’s out there jensen would have written at the stride’s that have been done instead of what he was trying to say whiich is ????????

  • MikeD

    Lindz took the words out of my mouth, thanks for saving this lazy as some extra typing. lol.

  • Oh God not this again PLEASE!

    If you don’t want to wear a helmet, please cut your head off and leave it at home.

    The balloon defense system would only work if it inflated before impact, it’s the initial impact that does the majority of the damage in most road accidents. So what you would need is a system like an airbag, that would sense the initial impact and inflate before that impact.

    What motorcycle riders really need, is a MAD defense, that’s Mutually Assured Destruction for you post Cold War kids. You can achieve this on a motorcycle by attaching Claymore mines to the front rear and sides of your motorcycle, creating multiple kill zones with these shaped charges. That way when some inattentive driver nails you, the mine explodes and takes out everyone in the offending vehicle.

    Very shortly the word will get around, hit a motorcycle, you and your whole family die. Then those in four-wheel vehicles will developed a healthy fear of creaming a bike and do anything to avoid that lethal impact. I predict a marked drop in car collisions with motorcycles, but of course the death rate from those who accidentally dropped their bike will rise significantly. lol

  • pooch

    I dunno, they’re talking about bulk and being uncomfortable, that is one mother of a overstuffed scarf they are wearing. Maybe in Sweden it’s a more realistic proposition than for those who live in hot climates like me. The idea though is cool, a bit lower profile and it would be a winner. but in it’s present form, I simply can’t imagine putting that huge collar on, on a hot day.

  • CTK

    I am OK with wearing a helmet. I think advances will enable helmets to get lighter and maybe more aerodynamic (think golf ball dimples), but I don’t think the form will change much. Remember you are talking about a community that still clings desperately to the telescoping fork and complains bitterly about even incremental change. The motorcycle world is not a place for bold ingenuity. Hell at this point I would be happy with Scorpion re-releasing their high viz colorways for lower end helmets.