The struggle between choosing style or safety now has one potential solution: the Bandbox bike helmet. Not only is it smaller than the average helmet, the Bandbox is designed to be disguised by a variety of different hat covers. From sewing each hat by hand alongside her husband to developing four different harness color options to blend in with common hair colors, Bandbox founder Dr Cheryl Allen-Munley has carefully thought out every detail to create a helmet that people will actually use on a regular basis.
It's also a comfort knowing that Allen-Munley isn't just a bicycle enthusiast who commutes regularly, she actually wrote a dissertation on bike safety and formerly spent 10 years as Director of Transportation in Jersey City, with more recent experience as manager of the Division of Traffic and Signals in Newark.
"I designed it to actually mimic the shape of the human head—basically my head," says Allen-Munley. "Styrofoam—which most helmets are made out of—is not as impact-resistant as elastomeric foam, which is what we use." Another benefit to using elastomeric foam is that the helmet can be made thinner, allowing Bandbox to reduce the circumference of their helmet from the standard 30 inches to 28 inches. Two inches may not sound like a big deal, but when worn, it feels more like a cap than a helmet.
The thermoplastic shells are molded and drilled in New Jersey, then sent to Allen-Munley's house (also in Jersey), where they are assembled into helmets. "We actually pour the chemicals to make the foam directly into the shell—our basement is our factory—and the thing is, for most helmets, [they] pour a mold for the foam and just glue it in. Because we pour it into here, it's one piece. And because it's monolithic, it's really solid." Add a few comfy memory foam pads, and voila! You have a helmet as made by Allen-Munley and her husband.
Unlike Closca helmets, where the interchangeable fabric covers attach with velcro, Bandbox hat covers attach to the helmet by tightening and tying a string. Allen-Munley makes the hats in a special sewing room upstairs in her house, shaping and dyeing them herself. A testament to her hat-making skills: when Allen-Munley sells Bandbox helmets at outdoor fairs, women are often inquiring about the hats—not realizing that they're meant to go over a bike helmet.
The varied styles—each named for a different city—range from fedoras and straw hats adorned with ribbon and flowers to cowboy hats even. There's something to suit everyone, and every season: some of the covers were specifically designed to keep your head warm during fall and winter. The Dubliner, for example, is a wool felt cover in a newsboy cap shape that will keep you warm during the nippiest of rides.
Bandbox bike helmets retail for $60, with interchangeable covers sold separately starting at $44, and are available from Bandbox online and in select stores. Bandbox also offers a $10 discount to Citibike members; contact Bandbox directly for more info.
Photos by Nara Shin