Inspired by armadillo-like pangolin and beehives, the Alpha is one bizarre helmet that makes bold claims about its innovations. But do activity junkies really want a retractable helmet?
We’re not talking football stadiums or Mazda Miatas here. No, this is a convertible for your skull, and we’re skeptical. We’re also crazy intrigued as to how this helmet will solve all kinds of engineering dilemmas we see arising from the design.
Golem Industries, makers of the proposed retractable helmet, touts “[the Alpha] removes the problem of helmets being bulky, makes them incredibly easy to use and increases their safety.”
Is this true? Let’s take a look.
Are Helmets Really Too Bulky?
The main selling point of the Alpha is that it quickly and easily retracts, “resting on your shoulders, just like a hood.”
According to Golem, this solves the problem of having to lug your helmet around and stow it, which is why they are targeting recreational users, particularly bikers, snowboarders, and skiers.
Is this really more convenient? We’re not sure, as setting a helmet down has never really posed much of a problem for us. Wearing a wraparound helmet collar wherever you go strikes us as far more cumbersome than simply taking it off and tossing it on a table.
What’s more, the Alpha is secured by clipping around your neck, which, despite Golem’s claims of comfort and safety (the clip is designed to break away if tugged), is a major no-no for almost anyone.
Perhaps most importantly, the Alpha retails over $300. A Lazer Blade MIPS, an excellent helmet that weighs just eight ounces, is less than half the price.
Easy To Use?
The ease with which users can put on the Alpha and slide it back (two buttons on either side unlock the shell to fold back) appears intuitive and simple. But is it really easier than plopping a helmet on top of your head and snapping a chinstrap?
We’ve used a fair number of helmets with retractable face masks for motorcycles, and even skiing. And while the canting visor, or even chin guard in the case of motorcycles, can work like a charm, the idea of having an entire helmet fold over your head seems impractical.
And what about your hair? Wouldn’t it get caught into the folding mechanisms? Or at least completely wrecked when this thing folds over it? And what about sweat? It seems like a padded, protective collar resting around your neck would result in a huge shirt stain. We have many unanswered questions here.
Safer Than Traditional Helmets?
The Alpha may make sense for some users if it offers superior — or even equal — protection to other helmets.
Golem’s claim is that its honeycomb shock absorption and pangolin-like, overlapping armor offer better protection than other helmets. This is great news if true, unfortunately, the Alpha has yet to undergo safety testing and has not been approved by any independent testing agency.
It also seems tricky to build any sort of shock-absorbing material into the folding design. The “shell” part of a helmet does very little to protect the head; it’s the built-in foam, or in some cases other substances, that actually does the work.
For that reason, we’ll stick with our old-fashioned helmets for now.
Alpha has some unique designs and potentially useful applications for the industrial and military sectors — especially if it improves portability and accessibility in high-intensity situations. For now, though, it doesn’t look like an everyday item.