Think back to the first bike helmet you owned. It was probably big and bulky and you may have even hated wearing it. Cycling has been around long before your first bike ride, which means helmets have been evolving over the course of many decades. From cloth iterations to the first mass-produced helmet by Bell, cycling helmet technology has most certainly changed over the course of cycling’s history and we’re happy to be taking big steps in the bike helmet safety movement.

Let’s take a journey through different eras of cycling helmets and highlight the advancements in bike helmet safety today.

The beginning of bike helmets

Bicycles have been around since the 19th century, but not like we know them today. In the beginning, bicycle wheels were uneven. Some had a very large front tire and small back tire. Some only had metal tires, making every ride bumpier than the last. Needless to say, when bicycles first came onto the scene as a mode of transportation, falls and crashes unfortunately happened frequently, and so did head injuries.

In the late 19th century, when the design of the bicycle was advancing, so too was the awareness riders had for their safety. Thus, the first bicycle helmet was born. It was made from pith, a plant material, and covered in cloth. What you’re probably thinking is correct — this helmet wasn’t very sturdy or safe. The material wasn’t durable, so pith helmets would break upon impact, meaning riders would need to immediately discard them and seek a replacement. Given that few cars occupied the roads at the time, this helmet seemed to work, but cyclists still needed a stronger alternative.

The growing need for bike helmet safety

At the turn of the 20th century, cycling was increasing in popularity but not in safety. Many cyclists around the world were starting to take the sport more seriously. As the innovation of bikes grew, and as racing competitions became ever more prominent in the cycling community, the number of racers experiencing head injuries also increased. 

The next iteration of the bicycle helmet was made of leather. Strips of leather would lay around the head with a wool ring on top to hold them together. While these helmets offered a mild upgrade in head protection, it still was not enough to safely protect a cyclist’s head. In the event a cloth helmet were to strike the ground, it simply wouldn’t be strong enough to cushion the head and reduce brain injuries or trauma.

Over the next few decades, helmets evolved by being designed with a harder shell. The new shell was an improvement, but the helmets would feel heavy and unbalanced while still not doing much in terms of protecting a rider from a head injury. There needed to be a way to understand widespread complications with helmets so that manufacturers could take steps to improve their products and boost safety.

It wasn’t until the 1970s, when an organization called the Snell Foundation began testing cycling helmet technology, that society and competitive cyclists alike were made highly aware of the danger of bike helmets on the market. The Snell Foundation developed essential safety criteria in the design of the bike helmet and in 1975, Bell Auto Parts invented the first real, safe helmet for riders. This is the helmet often thought of when remembering your first bike helmet: a helmet with a hard plastic shell and a styrofoam-like interior lining.

Thankfully in 1984, The American National Standards Institute introduced the first widely accepted safety standards for bike helmets. These new standards helped to remove unsafe helmets from the market and store shelves and created a precedent for helmet safety in the United States.

By the early 1990s, bike helmets were starting to be designed with a thin, hard shell exterior and the newly invented expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam interior liner. Additionally, in the early 2000s, races enforced more stringent guidelines; helmets became mandatory for professional events after Andrei Kivilev’s death at the 2003 Paris-Nice. These rules ensured that all participants – during training and competition – wear their helmets to ensure optimal safety.

Advancements in bike helmet safety today

Today, bike helmets are aerodynamic and lightweight, and they’re also sleeker and safer than ever before. Cycling helmet technology has not only improved for what goes on top of your head, but also the strap that goes under your chin. There are many factors to consider when choosing a bike helmet today, regardless if you’re riding to race or riding for fun. 

Bike helmets are now built for comfort, speed, and safety, the best of both worlds for those who cycle competitively and ride leisurely. At KAV, we’ve created a bike helmet for ultimate protection with top-of-the-line innovation.

The Portola Helmet fits right into our mission of promoting cycling safety and reducing brain damage or trauma from impact through the advancement of technology. It is also sustainably made in the U.S. Through 3D printing, we’re able to create a custom-fit, energy-absorbing helmet for every unique individual. Rather than using EPS foam, which is outdated technology, we developed our own proprietary polymer of thermoplastic polyurethane and carbon fiber. This blend is optimized for both rotational and linear forces, creating a helmet that is 25% more impact resistant than the national CPSC safety standard. Order your custom-fit KAV Portola helmet now.