One of the reasons I chose to not wear a cycling helmet all the time, as I was explaining to a disapproving friend for the zillionth time the other day, is the inconvenience of lugging it about when not on the bike. I use my bicycle primarily as a form of transport, and when I pedal off to do my food shopping, for example, I get flustered trying to juggle a basket, two panniers and an inconveniently shaped plastic hat.
I was very intrigued, then, to hear about the latest invention from the folding bike manufacturer, Dahon: the Pango folding cycle helmet. The press release said it was "designed specifically for urban cyclists" who are "often on and off their bikes – getting coffee, stopping to chat with friends, or popping into a store for an errand". With the exception that I drink tea, never coffee, that described me exactly. I was determined to try it out.
There is currently just one Pango helmet for review in the whole country, and I've had it wobbling around on my head all week. Yes, wobbling. I don't have a particularly small head (my best friend from school used to call me Moon Face, in cruel homage to the Faraway Tree character), but it was way too big for my skull. Ditto everyone at the pub quiz and all but one of the eight of my colleagues who tried it. This is a problem. Although you can slightly adjust the back panel of the helmet as this video shows, the Pango is a one-size-fits-all offering. There are no extra foam pads to stick in the shell – unlike the debonair Yakkays, for example – so if it doesn't more or less fit to begin with, you're stuck. I found the Pango strangely wide, and even when I had the straps as tight as I could, it wouldn't stay put. It is also pretty heavy compared to other helmets in its price range.
I have yet to find a helmet that doesn't make me look like an absolute spanner, and the Pango is no exception. I had the white version pictured above, which has something of the Power Ranger about it. Others felt it had more of a Lego man vibe. The helmet gets its name from pangolin, a Malaysian animal with hard plates covering its back, which, when frightened, rolls up into a ball.
The Pango folds up in three steps. You push down one side panel, then the other, and both interlock with the central panel. Then you fold the rear panel inwards. I struggled with this at first, and worried about breaking the plastic hinges, but once you get the hang of it, it is a pretty simple manoeuvre. I liked the replaceable panels in the top shell that can be changed depending on the weather (a solid panel for rainy days, for example), which were very easy to switch. I would quibble with Dahon's boast that the Pango fits in "just about any bag", however. It is definitely not handbag-sized, and while it does fold into a less awkward shape than a conventional helmet, it is still the length and height of a brick (25cmx10cm).
Dahon says the Pango meets EU and CPSC safety requirements for Europe and the US. But if the helmet doesn't fit you properly, it can't do its job. But it does seem rigid enough when unfolded to assuage my key fear: that the helmet would fold in on itself in a crash.
A great idea that needs a rethink on the sizing and comfort front. For the same price, you could get a far lighter, comfier non-folding alternative.
Price: RRP €99 (£90) or $129
Availability: From March 2010