Having recently organised myself to take my running gear away with me when we spent a week in Portugal, I was interested to read about a folding bicycle helmet.
The inventor, Isis Shiffer from New York, has just won a £30,000 prize to enable her to move towards commercial production of the helmet. She spotted a problem that needed solving, a gap of sorts that needed filling. When you go away on holiday, even on city breaks, it is almost always possible to hire a bicycle. Hiring a helmet is more problematical. Packing a normal cycle helmet, however, is not easy; they take up rather a lot of room in your suitcase. And besides, you may not know until you get there that you actually want to hire a bike. So she got her thinking cap on.
When I was a child, every Christmas my mother would get out the box of decorations: crepe-paper streamers to be hung around the room, all sorts of bits and pieces to go on the tree and larger decorations in the form of bells and globes, made of paper but folded flat. When you opened these very unprepossessing-looking things they changed from flat shapes into 3-D objects of beauty - at least to child's eye. That is the principle of the folding cycle helmet. Made of stiffened paper or card, it comes a flat object which, when opened out, has a sort of honeycomb structure, sturdy enough to protect the rider's head.
Shiffer says her plan is to coat the helmet with a recyclable or biodegradable waterproofing material, such as wax, for rainy days. It will also be kitted out with an indicator or mechanism to highlight when it should be ditched for recycling and replaced with a new helmet. The finished product is expected to cost about $5 (£4) per helmet and could be dispensed in vending machines at bike-hire points.
I wonder if she will produce it in a range of day-glo colours. After all, cyclists need to be visible.
Some years ago, when I was first attending Italian classes in central Manchester, one of the younger members of the class (a young man from an Italian-Argentinean family, who was only coming to classes so that he could get an extra A-level qualification) turned up in a hi-visibility jacket and a brightly coloured helmet. He had come by bike. Our teacher, a carefree Italian (at least in cycling matters), fell about laughing. The young man said that when he visited family in Italy, if he went cycling he would not be seen dead in such an outfit but in Manchester, with all its traffic, he feared that without the reflective clothing he might actually end up dead.
Safety trumped fashion-consciousness. Fear of death beat fear of ridicule.