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A Cardboard Helmet, To Go With Your Cardboard Bike

By Bill Chappell | NPR
Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Would you ride a bike while wearing a helmet made of cardboard? What if its design was inspired by nature — specifically, a woodpecker? You'll have a chance to do just that next year — meaning you could outfit yourself in a full-cardboard biking kit, if you also go for the $20 cardboard bicycle Mark wrote about in October.

First, we should note that we're talking about the helmet's liner here, the impact-absorbing material that, in most of today's helmets, is expanded polystyrene.

The paper-based helmet, which will reportedly be manufactured by German company Abus, shares its corrugated design with woodpeckers. Designer Anirudha Surabhi says the bird often "experiences severe impact to its head," similar to the impact a cyclist can suffer in a crash.

The design site Core77 quotes Surabhi as saying, "In fact, it strikes the tree 10 times a second and closes its eyes every time so that they don't pop out, which means a monumental amount of energy that goes through its head."

To dissipate that energy, woodpeckers rely on corrugated cartilage as a buffer between their beak and skull. Surabhi says that his helmet mimics that structure, by incorporating a network of honeycomb-shaped corrugated cells.

"This structure results in 90 pecent of the liner being air," he says.

The result is a helmet that meets or exceeds Europe's safety standards, which also govern common polystyrene helmets, says Surabhi. And that meets the goals he set after suffering a crash that left him with a concussion, despite wearing a helmet at the time. He claims that his cardboard helmet can absorb three times the energy of many polystyrene-based helmets.

As the Urban Velo website reports, the Abus helmet "is slated to be released in the States sometime in 2013."

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