Swedish Ingenuity

I fell in love with cycling during my six months in Europe last year. It is practical, convenient, exhilarating and fun. A major difference between biking in Europe and in Australia is that in the latter, you are obligated to wear a helmet. While I’m not an expert and can’t say whether having a helmet makes riding safer, I can say for sure that it puts a dent on the prevalence of cycling.

One of the ways to Copehagenise a city is to implement a public bike sharing system. When the idea was floated in Sydney in the late 2000s, I was completely dismissive. Wouldn’t work. Rubbish idea. I’ve had a 180-degree shift in thinking after witnessing and experiencing such systems all across the continent — including London, Paris, Barcelona, Copenhagen and Oslo. While I have nothing but effusive praise for the idea, it really needs to be accompanied by an intentional plan. Bicycles must be integrated as part of the urban planning framework.

At least within the City of Sydney council area, this plan is slowly coming into fruition. However, the mandatory helmet laws will remain a huge drag on take-up of a bike sharing system. Who’s gonna have the foresight and the means to lug a helmet around everywhere?

So everything I’ve said up to this point has been a huge, waffly prologue to the point of this post. Enter the Swedes. Two enterprising women, Anna Haupt and Terese Alstin, have spent the past seven years coming up with something that just might revolutionise the way we think about bike helmets. They have invented the Hövding — an “invisible bike helmet”  that is a stylish collar with a sensor that deploys an airbag when the cyclist is in the middle of a fall. Here’s the full breakdown of how it works.

Pros: don’t have to awkwardly carry a helmet around everywhere; maintain safety while the head remains blessedly free; super freaking coolness.

Cons: won’t protect you from stuff that just bangs into your head; fashionable in winter but kind of awkward to wear in summer.

For the chic Scandinavians who hardly experience 20-degree temperatures over the year, the Hövding provides an additional layer of chic-y goodness. As a Sydneysider who would most likely be riding in T-shirt-shorts-and-thongs, it might be a little incongruous. Even so, full props to the two ladies for their wonderful invention. Those industrious Swedes never cease to amaze me. To the Danes: I know you invented the Lego. And to the Norwegians: I know you invented the oil. But come on guys, lift your game!

By the way, here is the Hövding in action:

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