Cycling down the path of life

HelmetHub Safely Transforms Bikeshare System

HelmetHub is a bicycle helmet vending system. It is being developed by MIT students undertaking the Prototypes to Products class. The City of Boston reached out for a solution to clear safety concerns directly resulting from the increasing adoption of bikeshare programs.

With over 17,000 bikeshare systems operational worldwide it’s easier than ever to rent a bicycle, but the convenience of helmet access has not evolved in-step. The Boston Bikeshare experience shows that only 30% of rental system users wear a helmet. This is less than half the rate for other riders.

The HelmetHub has several design features that make it sustainable for the rigors of city use. The first thing you’ll notice is the narrow width for efficient use of tight city sidewalk space, and the user interface is just like that of the bikeshare system. There’s no need for external power hook-up as they draw everything they need from a solar panel, this makes installation much more efficient and keeps costs low.

Working with Bell Helmets they will dispense helmets for only $8, and these can be returned after the ride. That’s a small price to pay for the added safety of a helmet.

Not content with simply creating this innovative safety solution, the MIT students are rolling out an aggressive global business plan for HelmetHub. Beginning with 20 beta testing units in Boston this summer, they plan to sell an additional 500 units to municipalities for installation in 2013. Their 5 year plan calls for 6,200 unit sales. With bikeshare growth currently running at 70% per year I have no doubt that they are well positioned to successfully execute this plan.

The economics seem spot-on too, with break-even being achieved after only 2 years of service per unit.

This is a smart safety solution on so many levels. It seems reasonable for municipalities to offer helmet safety if they are going to the trouble of installing bikeshare systems. Not only will this help to protect tourists, it may also protect them from liability. I can see HelmetHub helping to expand the adoption of bikeshare systems especially in cities with compulsory helmet laws. I honestly don’t see how you can reasonably offer bikes without helmets.


What do you think, is HelmetHub a winner?



  1. I like this idea since in many cities, it’s smart to wear a helmet. But, I wonder about a couple of things regarding this design; will people feel comfortable wearing rented helmets (I’m not so sure I would) and are there any health issues (I’m thinking lice!) I wonder if they have a plan to use a removable paper insert or something? Very interesting concept.

    • Great questions Jennifer. I hope the MIT team thinks of these issues and wonder what health authorities think about re-using returned helmets. Another issue is the structural integrity of the helmets. Who makes sure each helmet is safe to re-use, they can’t possible know if each helmet has been accident and impact free. I’m sure they’re working through these and other developmental challenges. I hope it takes-off.

  2. The trick is in the details. If one could rent the helmet not for a single trip but perhaps keep it for a few days, it would likely have great appeal for tourists who might be buying a short-term bike-share pass. If not, then I think most people would forego the $8 freight.

    Given how inexpensive a basic helmet is, one would think they could charge a buck or two and increase the rental volume geometrically.

    And if there’s not some sort of steam-cleaning mechanism, I think I would skip the helmet and ride au naturel.

    • I believe the helmet return is completely voluntary. When you pay yout $8 the helmet is yours. The return option is purely for the convenience of not having to carry a bike helmet around with you.

      I am not even sure whether the helmets that are returned will be used again. Seems wasteful but perhaps there are health regulations in place that prevent re-rental of returned helmets. We need some answers from the MIT team.

  3. This is an intriguing idea to me, especially at a cost of only $8. I also wonder about renting used helmets and how that will work, as you both have pointed out. I’m sure these are things they’ve already taken into consideration with their initial launch.

    • I’m not certain thet they have taken everything into consideration. I hope to hear from the MIT team so we can better understand the return of helmets and what happens to those.

      It’s kind of like the heart-rate monitors that they provide at spin class. How clean are they, really?

  4. Aside from the ick factor of wearing helmets previously worn by who-knows-who, helmets are not one-size-fits-all.

    • That’s a great point Heath. Perhaps these Bell Helmets are completely adjustable?

  5. hygiene is a big issue , we have bikeshare program in Brisbane with a law of compulsory helmet use. However people cannot use those bikes effectively because of discrepancy between law and its practicality.

    for hygiene ,the solution would be inserting an UV sterilizing unit to these helmet vending machines.

    • UV light is a powerful sterilizer and disinfector. Without specific knowledge on this I would think it would be fairly simple to integrate a UV lamp in the design for this purpose. Let’s hope the MIT team read this thread!

      Thanks Nomad, I’ve been to Brisbane a few times. Beautiful city, mate!

  6. solved the helmet problem in New Zealand in 2008
    At Nextbike:
    The helmets are secured by the lock that secures the bike to rack and released when the bike is unlocked
    Helmets are sprayed with antibacterial spray after every use.
    Helmets have very little padding so cannot hold much rain and are out in the sun – without liquid bugs die very quickly.
    Further if it’s bugs you are worried about I suggest you don’t touch the handlebars or seat OH and nobody thinks twice about borrowing a helmet from a horsetrekking, rafting, luging or climbing company.
    We found if people didn’t want to wear the provided helmet they travel with it in the basket.

    This vending machine has a number of other challenges:
    It adds another transactional step to getting your bike.
    It cost $8 to hire a helmet which is weird when the majority of trips are short one way trips that are normally free.

    • You present a strong argument for doing away with the vending idea altogether Jilian. As a society I think that perhaps we are too concerned about bugs and have forgotten that solar UV is a great sterilizer. How do they deal with theft and re-stocking?

  7. Cant see this taking off – we have bikeshare here in DC and they were selling helmets for $15 – one you get to keep so I’m not going to pay $8 to wear someone elses sweaty head helmet everytime i get on a bikeshare bike. half the reason they’re popular is for short trips between stops and offices. you arent going to pay $8 everytime to get a helmet – you might as well buy one yourself for $15 – if you want to get more people wearing them, do a deal like they did in DC – i got a really cool red helmet with yellow logos on it matching the bikeshare scheme here.

  8. While as a bike shop owner, I see more profit from helmet hysteria, I also am annoyed by schemes which presuppose 100% helmet use.

    The countries we most admire for high bike use are largely low-helmet use.

    Pushing helmets discourages bike use, full stop.

    To go a step further, the helmet obsession has a lot in common with advocates’ thinking on bike share — a “there, all fixed” solution.

    ie, put out a lot of free bikes. Boom, instant bikers.
    make everyone wear helmets. Boom, safe biking.

    The reality is that we need bike education in primary school, MUCH harsher laws for those who kill with cars through carelessness, and more facilities to make biking safer.

    – Michael McGettigan / trophy bikes philadelphia
    Leage Cycling Instructor

    • Thanks Michael, I appreciate your comments.


  1. Rental Helmets, Coming Soon to a Bike-Share Station Near You | - [...] more bike-share users to use helmets, the HelmetHub crew is looking to go worldwide. Network blog Bike Lane Living …
  2. Rental Helmets, Coming Soon to a Bike-Share Station Near You | Body Local NYC - [...] more bike-share users to use helmets, the HelmetHub crew is looking to go worldwide. Network blog Bike Lane Living …
  3. Helmet Hub Moves Forward | Bike Lane Living - [...] Lane Living recently featured Helmet Hub as the student team from MIT launched this innovative system. The project began …
  4. Bicycle Helmet Vending Machines Now At Boston Hubway Stations | Bike Lane Living - [...] followed the HelmetHub idea from its original inception by MIT design students, through concept development and market readiness. Our interview …
  5. Paper Pulp Bicycle Helmet | Bike Lane Living - [...] protection for users of Barclays bike share system in London. Currently, Boston-based HelmetHub offers synthetic helmets to users of their Hubway …