The hands-down most striking piece of bike kit to arrive on the European market in recent years is Hövding, the so-called invisible bike helmet.
The result of a seven year design mission and oozing with Scandinavian urbanity, Hövding has garnered swags of design and innovation prizes and is currently a frontrunner for the European Business Awards 2013-14.
The best introduction to the product is this viral video (well worth watching!), which has now been seen by over 12 million people. Then there’s the website, which makes you want to move to Sweden and hang out with super attractive people, hair blowing in the wind, laughter rippling through the streets…
So Hövding certainly looks good, but what’s it like to use?
On first unpacking Hövding from an enticing yellow cube (the team has spared nothing in their attention to design), I was struck by the serious tech that is packed in the neck. At 780g, the collar is somewhat weighty in your hands, and certainly heavier than a piece of sealed styrofoam. Most of the weight comes from a carriage at the rear, which holds a gyroscope, accelerometer, helium canister, lithium-ion polymer battery, black box data system, and a full-scale airbag for your head. Nevertheless, careful ergonomic design means that the collar sits comfortably once riding, with the weight evenly distributed across your shoulders. My favourite aspect is the moment when you put it on; zipping, clipping, and being rewarded with a satisfying set of Rocketman blips and lights. The collar is certainly not unnoticeable, but after a week of cruising around with one, I’d adjusted fairly well. For greatest comfort, I’d recommend the Medium, as the Small is pretty tight.
Hövding is currently only available in Europe, but the company is looking to launch globally, particularly in upwardly mobile markets where helmets are compulsory such as Australia, New Zealand, and scattered states in North America. Of course, in parts of the world where the sun always shines, the somewhat bulky high neck might prove tedious. After a couple of longer, sweatier rides, I felt ambivalent about the prospect of using Hövding for a long-distance cycle tour (particularly because the battery needs recharging every 18 hours), but if you’re casually commuting in chic, wintry European cities, then it seems just the ticket. There’s also the fact that it currently blows all competitors out of the market on safety testing.
Hövding works by constantly computing your movements while cycling and comparing them against clever algorithms developed from extensive analyses of patterns of normal riding and cycle accidents. In the much-vaunted Internet of Things, one might legitimately ponder what data is being collected as you ride. You can, nevertheless, cruise easy. The box constantly tracks and records movement, ready to react in milliseconds, but that information is only retained in the event that the unit inflates (something I didn't actually test), and then is only accessible upon returning Hövding physically to the company for analysis.
All in all, Hövding stands unparalleled in two respects. The first is style. Hövding lends immediate street-cred, particularly with its suave range of patterned cotton scarf covers, or shells. The second aspect, and the reason you may be seriously tempted to fork out the hefty RRP of €399, is safety. Hövding has significantly and consistently outperformed all competing helmets on the market. The debate about traditional cycle helmets is long and controversial, but there is certainly evidence that they need to be replaced frequently (as often as every three years), and that they can occasionally do more harm than good. Hövding allays all those fears. Further, although it is single use only, in many countries where it is available, it can be insured for replacement if inflated.
Beyond the lucrative urban cycling market, Hövding is looking to expand into other areas, from equipping alpine explorers and ocean adventurers to providing support for those prone to life-threatening falls. As uptake rises and the company starts to claw back the very significant costs of innovation, testing and design, we can all look forward to being just a little more Scandi.
Scores: Aesthetics 5/5; Functionality 3/5; Quality 5/5; Fit 4/5; Value 3/5.