Folksam, a Swedish insurance company, has conducted an independent study into helmet safety and concluded that an airbag design is safer than a selection of traditional bicycle helmet designs.
The study was carried out with funding support from the Road Safety Trust in the UK and consisted of five physical tests. The testers used two shock absorption tests with straight perpendicular impacts and three oblique impact tests for the X, Y and Z axes. Computer simulations were then carried out to evaluate the risk for concussion.
The data was then combined and the helmets that performed better than the median in both the shock absorption test and the oblique impact test were given a 'Recommended' label. In total 8 out of the 27 helmets on test were given the label and all of them apart from the airbag helmet had some form of rotational impact protection - 6 MIPS and 1 Wavecel. The helmets that received the label are: Hövding 3, Biltema Cykelhjälm MIPS, Tec Quadriga MIPS, Scott Vivo Plus MIPS, Bell Super Air R MIPS, Bontrager Specter WaveCel, Occano MIPS and Specialized S-Works Prevail II/ ANGI MIPS.
The standout helmet was the Hövding 3 helmet that was released in September last year. It's worn as a collar around the neck and when it senses an impact it inflates an airbag around the wearer's head to protect them. A video of the helmet in action is below:
Yes, it definitely looks a bit goofy to us but going by the numbers of Folksam's study, it's significantly more protective than the other helmets in the test. The testers noted that "The Hövding 3 performed at least three times better than all the other conventional helmets" in the shock absorption test and it was also the best performing helmet in the other tests too. It's worth noting the airbag was pre-inflated to 0.56 bar and a larger anvil had to be used compared to the rest of the helmets due to fear of hitting the sharp edges of the anvil and affecting the results.
It's not the first time we've seen airbag technology with cyclists in mind as Helite also makes a protective vest that follows the same concept, as we tested at Eurobike last year
. It's worth saying that these products aren't designed for mountain bikers (in fact, Hövding warn against it) and we've no idea how they would cope with things like drops or jumps at this stage but Matt Wragg and Paul Aston have both previously spoken to Dainese (who pioneered MotoGP airbags) about the concept and they said that the technology would not work for mountain bikers given the sudden and unpredictable movements of the sport. However, Helite also make these vests for horse riders and skiers, so maybe they could crack the code.
Other things to note from the test was how much difference rotational impact protection can make on a helmet. There were two helmets test with MIPS and non-MIPS versions and both times the scores increased significantly with the addition of the technology - the Biltema Cykelhjälm went from -10% up to 37% and the Giro Caden from -37% to -13%.
The full test can be found here