While many in the helmet industry are busy finding the latest technological innovations to build new, safer helmets, one man in Oregon is turning to a primitive material to make custom-designed helmets that absorb more energy than the standard plastics: wood.
Dan Coyle has been making helmets (and paddles and even eyeglass frames) since the 1990s, Outside Magazine reports. Now, with some help from Indiegogo, Coyle is selling his Tree Piece Helmets and billing them as "The First Sustainably Built Natural Fiber Bicycle Helmet."
The helmets are made of salvaged wood -- mostly Douglas fir -- and lined with cork, making them more durable than polycarbonate. At 21 ounces, they're heavier than a racing helmet, but on par with a typical recreational helmet. There's some circulation and venting from the cork liner, but the company admits the helmets are generally warmer than plastic.
Although Coyle has had the helmets tested (favorably) at an impact lab, certification calls for large-scale production. He's hoping to get funding for two of his models to be certified through his current Indiegogo campaign.
One of the most frequent questions Coyle gets is, "Won't the wood crack?" The answer is a partial yes, in an accident.
"The cracking that happens in a wood shell as in a foam helmet is energy being diverted into the destruction of the helmet rather than the skull," his website explains. "On the other hand, it is still important that the shell retain some integrity and not fragment. HMVK, the polyurea compound we coat the inside of each shell with, allows the shell to absorb energy without fragmenting in an accident."
One undeniable difference, however? The price tag. The helmets start at $375.