The Kranium Helmet – an advance in helmet safety?
18th December 2012
The Kranium Helmet – the cardboard helmet – caused a bit of a stir when first brought to the cycle industry’s attention. That Kranium helmet has now become the ABUS Ecolution helmet. It promises increased impact absorption through the use of honeycomb cardboard, but will cycling enthusiasts ever be using this technology and is it actually a safer helmet?
The Kranium Helmet could have had a major impact on one of the most common of cyclists’ arguments: to wear or not to wear a helmet. Non-helmet wearers maintain that cycle helmets are just not safe enough, so why bother. Advocates argue that something, anything must be better than nothing, and so the debate rages on, until such a time that someone actually invents a safer cycling helmet. May be the relatively low-tech cardboard used in the Kranium helmet is the answer that helmet advocates have been waiting for to quash any ‘not safe enough’ argument once and for all?
At first we weren’t sure; it is a ‘cardboard’ helmet, but the designer, Anirao Surabhi, himself the victim of concussion after a cycling accident, points out the lack of evolution, beyond styling and aerodynamics, in cycling helmet safety design and that we all just assume our expanded polystyrene (EPS) helmets are safe; he has a point. Wouter Weylandt’s death in the Giro d’Italia in 2011 whilst wearing a helmet is a tragic case in point.
In his goal to make the safest helmet ever, Anirao used the woodpecker as the source for his inspiration. Woodpeckers heads go through a huge amount of shock every time they peck away at a tree and its a honeycomb structure of cartilage that helps them withstand those shocks.
This honeycomb formed the basis of the Kranium helmet design. Anirao uses laser cut dual density honeycomb board – basically cardboard – which is then made up into a lattice structure designed to be stiff in certain places, flexible in others. He claims its recycled cardboard, produced using no electricity.
The honeycomb structure means that 90% of the liner of the Kranium helmet is air, so it is both lighter and significantly increases the crushing threshold compared to an EPS lined helmet, enabling the Kranium helmet to absorb three times the impact of a traditional helmet.
Being waterproof is not the strong point of cardboard and so the honeycomb has to be treated with a special solution to protect it from rain, sweat and even fire. That process is so good that the Kranium helmet can then be submerged in water for 7 days and still pass the European tests! In fact the Kranium helmet is so strong and the test results so impressive that Anirao is set to design a full face motorcycle helmet…
So are we all going to be using cardboard helmets in the future? Well, that depends. For a start the manufacturing rights have been bought up by ABUS, which presumably prevents others from utilising the technology, so don’t expect a cardboard Giro anytime soon.
ABUS have launched a production version called the Ecolution. Its a cool ‘street’ design to fit in with ABUS’ range of urban helmets and even has a neat cardboard inspection window. We like it a lot – just what you need for a quick trip downtown on the fixie, but it remains to be seen if ABUS will ever produce a sporting or race version that will appeal to the enthusiast market; of course it then depends upon whether or not the brand conscious enthusiasts and racers ever adopt it.
The weight of the ABUS Ecolution doesn’t look promising for something which was 90% air either, at 550g, though it does also utilise a hard shell and an EPS liner, giving extra security but at an obvious weight penalty.
More worryingly than the initial styling or weight issue, there is the question as to whether this is actually a much safer helmet design or not. Certain ‘experts’ are a bit critical of the testing data, stating that it appears that the Kranium only works well for certain types of impact, for instance on the top of the helmet which is hardly ever impacted in a cycling crash.
Indeed the angle of impact is all important and represents a significant difference between the types of head on forces a woodpecker is subject to and the ‘glancing’ forces experienced by a crashing cyclist, perhaps rendering the cardboard lattice structure much less effective in reality. Besides this other manufacturers are now exploring differing materials to increase the impact resistance of their helmets with some promising results. Though it is an interesting product which may be picked up by commuters and other urbanites, the Kranium/Ecolution may not represent the technological advance that helmet advocates are looking for.
And so the debate rages on…
Anyway, here are two videos, the first discusses the development of the Kranium Helmet with the designer and the second shows it undergoing some impact testing. You can check out the ABUS Ecolution using the link at the bottom of the page as well.