Hard plastic-coated foam is the traditional recipe for bicycle helmet design, but we've seen designers experimenting with new ways of protecting the rider's noggin. Inflatable and cardboard helmets are just two recent examples, but German company Rockwell has another idea: bean bags.
Although we've seen Vaco12 technology used in ski helmets in the past, Rockwell helmets are the first we've seen that bring it to bike helmets. You can read more about Vaco12 technology in our more detailed spotlight, but the short of it is that it uses pods of beads to spread impact energy in many directions. That's in contrast to foam, which absorbs energy up to a point, after which energy can find its way through to your head in a direct, linear path.
In addition to its absorption advantage claims, Vaco12 conforms more closely to the head than hard, stiff foam. The individual bean bags conform to the shape of the cyclist's head to provide a closer, more comfortable fit. Rockwell also says the Vaco12-based design uses less material than traditional bike helmets and offers more flexibility. Our quick look at the helmets confirmed that they seem sleeker than other bike helmets, but we didn't get to compare them "head to head" with competitor helmets.
In addition to the inner Vaco12 layer, Rockwell's helmet has a hard outer shell and a textile softshell sandwiched in the middle. Rockwell says the head is able to breathe comfortably through the softshell mid layer, even on hot days, thanks to the spaces between the bead pods inside. We'd be curious to know just how well the design breathes, as this is a common issue with bike helmets in general and seems like it could be a disadvantage of this design.
Rockwell told us its helmets are primarily aimed at urban cyclists but could also be used for mountain biking. It is currently working to begin production and plans to get the helmets to market in time for the Northern summer or fall. They will come in a variety of color combinations, with prices landing between €110 and €140 (US$150 to $190)