As Citi Bike share has become established as New York City’s newest public transit option, more than a few observers have expressed concern about watching riders hop onto the blue bikes without first strapping on a helmet.

While helmet use is encouraged by Citi Bike as a safety measure, there’s no law in New York City against riding lidless – unless you’re under 14 or a commercial cyclist. But to many users, the convenience and spontaneity of public bike share systems for short trips around town seem at odds with toting around a helmet. A Georgetown University study of Capital Bikeshare in Washington, D.C. found that bike share users are less likely than rides of private bicycles to wear the protective head gear.

Now, at least one U.S. city is experimenting with a way to boost bike share helmet use. Boston’s Hubway, which comprises 1,000 bikes atmore than 100 stations in the metro area, is studying bicycle helmet vending machines produced by Boston-based start-up HelmetHub at four stations this summer. For $2, Hubway users can rent a helmet or purchase one for a few additional dollars.

The machines were first presented by students as prototypes at MIT’s Product Engineering Final Presentation in 2011, and have since been refined and street-tested. The idea is to balance convenience with safety by giving bike share users the same on-demand access to helmets as to bikes.  

Each solar-powered, free-standing helmet rental kiosk contains 36 vertically stacked helmets. A rider retrieves a helmet from a touch-screen-equipped kiosk when picking up a bike at a station, and returns it when docking.The helmets are sanitized and inspected before being returned to circulation. The “smart” kiosks are able to monitor dispensing and collect helmet use data.

HelmetHub, which sees the kiosks not only as a way to encourage more people to wear helmets, but also to increase ridership, seeks to expand distribution to bike share systems worldwide.

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5 Responses to Bike Helmet Vending Machines Studied in Boston

  1. janice dougherty says:

    New York Times magazine article just today tells of an experienced, athletic, helmet wearing man who collided with another cyclist with dire consequences. Helmets are not “all they’re cracked up to be”, sad pun intended. I see too many helmet wearing, otherwise flesh exposed, riders doing dumb, dangerous, illegal stuff all the time, as though they were in some protective bubble. The almost religious, irrational, fervor of the helmet preachers is way out of proportion to reality.

  2. Rob says:

    What about sterilization?

    Im not sure helmets are something I’d like to rent. Having no idea where the helmet has been or who else’s head it has been on.

    • Susi says:

      Rob, thanks for reading and for your comment. Good point. Apparently, the vending service sanitizes and checks the integrity of the helmets before returning them to circulation.

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