Helmet Hair (and Why This Is Not a Vanity Issue)

As a League of American Bicyclists Cycling Instructor who specifically teaches women and girls, specifically in highly-diverse Metro Atlanta, I encounter a specific reality over and over again. And that’s this: Women and girls with “natural hair” and/or culturally-appropriate hair styles cannot find helmets to fit them correctly. This includes the two young girls who are refugees-of-war with whom I worked the past seven weeks.

They are not the problem. I make that clear to them. “Helmet hair” (or, rather, the ability to even fit a helmet over certain hair styles) is not a vanity issue, and any belittling or minimizing of its importance is inappropriate. It is a systemic safety failure.

I tell every single girl and young woman that they are needed in industrial design and urban planning to (1) create a helmet that works for them, and (2) create safe infrastructure so that helmets are no longer necessary.

street photography taken while Traveling at the Speed of Bike on the Atlanta Beltline

In the meantime, what are instructors supposed to do when students show up with equipment that is impossible for them to wear correctly? Do we refuse to give classes to them? What’s more, how can we have a law that anyone under age 16 must wear a bike helmet and yet not have helmets that are appropriate? I’ve heard people say, “Just have them use a helmet that’s a bigger size,” as if they grow on trees and we can just pluck one out and hand it to them. Doesn’t work, anyway. See this excellent video for why.

video product-testing helmets for natural hair, with specific suggestions

I think I’m going to reach out to the Georgia Institute of Technology. Perhaps there is already some industrial design work happening to create an appropriate and safe helmet solution for women and girls with hair that does not fit under currently-available and affordable bike helmets. If so, I’d love to shine a light on the work being done. Anyone have any contacts there?

UPDATE: Within about two hours of this post, I was connected with someone at Georgia Tech who may be doing the kind of work that’s needed. Stay tuned!

Tagged with: