• Newlane

The evolution of the bike helmet

From the earliest days of cycling there were head injuries. There might not have been many cars around in the late 1800’s but uneven roads and bikes of variable quality meant riders still faced plenty of hazards.

So in 1883, people who enjoyed riding fashionable high-wheelers (bikes like the Penny Farthing with an over-sized front wheel) developed helmets made of pith, a cork-like material that comes from certain trees. Although these would deform or even break in an accident, they did at least ensure riders were protected against a single impact.

The early 20th century

Around the turn of the century racing cyclists wanted something lighter and more streamlined, so began using helmets made from strips of leather-covered padding. Initially these were formed of a ring around the head with a wool covering inside it. This soon evolved and the wool was replaced by more strips of leather running from front to back.

During the 1940s and 50s experimental designers added a hard-shell dome underneath the leather in their bid to offer greater protection.

The 1970’s

It was around this time that cycling began to enter the mainstream as large numbers of people started riding for fun as well as sport. This prompted a non-profit organisation in the US called The Snell Foundation to conduct a series of tests on a range of helmets to assess their effectiveness. It found that many simply weren’t fit for purpose. In response Snell established a set of criteria for head protection from which all current safety standards are derived.

So in 1975, based around the Snell criteria, the manufacturer Bell Sports created the first version of a product that bears a resemblance the helmet’s we see on the roads today. It consisted of a hard plastic shell bonded to a foam-like material, made from expanded polystyrene. This was the beginning of the modern bike helmet.

While helmets have continued to develop since then, they are almost all made from a rigid outer plastic shell covering an impact controlling foam liner.


That hasn't stopped manufacturers continuing in their quest to create that perfectly cool helmet which can satisfy ever-changing consumer demand. We've seen the development of smart helmets that connect to your phone with integrated lights and headphones. Producers are also looking into eco-friendly options although using recycled materials to build a protective product is proving far from straightforward for manufacturers.

Prices vary significantly, depending on design and materials. You can spend as little as £30 on a bog-standard helmet but it’ll cost you ten times that for something which shaves a hundredth of a second off your personal best round the velodrome.

And of course we couldn’t end our history of bike helmets without mentioning ‘foldables’. A helmet is hardly the ideal shape to carry so around designers and manufacturers have sought to create a compact version without compromising on safety. Our aim at Newlane is to enable more people to ride more often and feel safe as they do. That's why we've dedicated three years to developing our now patented flip-clip system which is the core of our cool bike helmet for the 21st century.

You can find out more about our revolutionary packable product and be among the first to own one by signing-up to our newsletter. Thanks for your interest and enjoy life in the Newlane!