Swedish Hövding (Chieftain) Airbag Headgear
: A Swedish company was producing airbag bike headgear. It did not meet the CPSC bicycle helmet standard
for sale in the US. They had been seeking exemption from the CPSC standard, and BHSI opposed that. In 2019 Hövding
brought out a third generation design, but we did not have much info on that, so some of the page below may not be relevant.
But on December 23, 2023 Hovding filed for bankruptcy, following a sales freeze and recall of their third generation product by the
Swedish Consumer Protection Agency. Hovding is contesting the recall in court but says they are folding the company anyway.
Recall: A statement on the Hovding site
says: "The reason for the bankruptcy filing is that on November 1, 2023, the Swedish Consumer Agency imposed a temporary sales freeze on the company and then on December 15, 2023 announced a permanent sales freeze and recall for the product Hövding 3." Hovding has contested the recall order in court, and "The administrative court has inhibited the Swedish Consumer Agency’s decision and it is therefore not the responsibility of Hövding Sverige AB to take back any products. Regardless of the outcome of the court process, the bankruptcy administration will not be able to accept any complaints, withdrawals or warranty cases." So there will be no refunds.
The page that follows was written when the Hovding was still being sold.
The Hövding web page
explains their headgear that is based on the airbag
principle, with an inflating plastic protective bonnet designed to deploy when the rider crashes. Here is a video of one test crash
Airbag helmets have been the subject of conversation for years, often accompanied by satiric photos of riders with balloons on their heads
. But this one is a serious
attempt to put the mechanism to work.
On December 17, 2017, the company petitioned CPSC for an exemption from the US helmet standard, proposing to substitute a
weaker test. We published an Update newsletter with details
. Then we sent detailed comments to CPSC, asking them to refuse the exemption
Published test reports say that even when inflated, the device does not deliver equivalent protection to a conventional
helmet. The deployment is reactive, so if you crash into an object before falling the airbag will not be opened and
The device is a project of two Swedish designers who founded the Hövding company, and was in design and development
for five years before it was introduced in October of 2010. The designers wanted to create a product that would not cause
"helmet hair" and would appeal to those who would not wear a normal bike helmet.
The airbag is nylon, and inflates with a gas generator when embedded gyros and accelerometers tell it a crash is taking
place. The gyros have to be powered during use, so the Chieftain has a rechargeable battery. That seems like a real
drawback to us, since the user has to be aware of the battery charge level (there are led indicators) and remember to
keep it charged. Is your phone always charged?
After a crash the manufacturer wants the headgear back to check its embedded "black box" for recorded movements prior to
your crash. They offer a discounted replacement.
A video on the Hovding site shows a test dummy on a bicycle struck from behind by a car indicated as moving at 20 kph (12
mph). The dummy is thrown backwards over the hood and impacts its head on the flat part of the windshield. The bag
deploys prior to the impact.
That is one specific scenario. But how well did the helmet perform? There is no instrumentation trace visible registering
how many g's the dummy head saw. What would have happened to the dummy when it hit the road after the car? And what would
happen in a simple fall? Or a collision with a tree branch or utility pole, the mirror of a truck, or the front of a bus
or truck? And if the cyclist had not been stationary, but had been traveling at a speed near that of the car? And what if
there is another impact after the bag begins to lose air? Nothing in the Hövding website addresses those questions.
Although the device may activate from body motions in some crash scenarios, there are others where the motions occur
after the impact, so this reactive device would not cover the full range of impacts that cyclists experience.
The greatest danger in using the device would be impacting something with a bare head if the device did not deploy. We
are not going to be easy to convince that it will always be there, given the many ways an impact to a cyclist's head can
Can it pass standards?
Helmet lab testing normally includes testing wet, cold and hot samples. For CPSC certification they are tested against
rounded anvils and curbstone anvils as well as flat ones. The test would have to be of a fully-inflated Chieftain. How
well would this device perform against the grapefruit-shaped hemispheric anvil, or the curbstone anvil? Would it perform
after being immersed in water for four hours? Would it pass the positional stability test once it was inflated? Would it
perform at -15 and plus 50 degrees Centigrade? (That's 5 to 122 degrees F.) All of these questions assume testing on
conventional equipment as called out in the CPSC standard, and there are good reasons based on field experience for each
of the test parameters.
We doubt that the Chieftain can pass CPSC, and it would have to for the US market. The CPSC definition of a helmet
"Bicycle helmet means any headgear that either is marketed as, or implied through marketing or promotion to be, a device
intended to provide protection from head injuries while riding a bicycle. "(Section 1203.4.2 (b)
That seems to encompass the Chieftain. Hövding has introduced the device in the European market at a very high
price, but is not selling them to US customers. Apparently it is not required to pass the CEN bicycle helmet standard to
be sold in Europe. It might simply be certified for the CE mark. At least one test lab says the inflated Chieftain does
not pass the European standard. (See Que Choisir
testing below) EN 1078 defines a helmet as "an item to be worn on
the head and intended to absorb the energy of an impact, thus reducing the risk of injury to the head." That would seem
to exclude the Chieftain. Hövding must have some idea of that, but we could not find any reference to standards on
their website. We did find
some info on the SP Labs site stating that the Hovding passed a series of tests they designed specifically for it,
permitting the CE Mark. That is very different from passing the EN1078 helmet safety standard. The CE Mark is not a
safety standard like EN 1078. Now the SP labs protocol for testing a Hovding is available attached to
the Hovding petition for exemption from the CPSC standard
Swedish Folksam testing
In 2012 the Swedish insurance company Folksam tested bicycle helmets, including the Hövding. Unfortunately they used
unconventional testing methods. They state in the article that all the helmets met the European bike helmet standard, but
the Hövding does not, making it misleading to include it with the other helmets. They rated the Hövding highly
for one type of test they did, saying it was three times better than the other helmets, but did not even attempt to
include it at all in their other tests. And they don't explain what "three times" means. You have to applaud their
willingness to take on the challenge of testing the Hövding, but the article really does not provide enough
information on the testing to make it useful, and did not even attempt to do a full battery of tests. You can read the
article in English attached to
the Hovding petition for exemption from the CPSC standard
French Que Choisir testing
In 2014 the French consumer magazine Que Choisir
reportedly published an
article very critical of the Hövding based on lab tests. You can find more in this
Rad & Rön article
titled Inflatable Bicycle Helmet Does Not Meet the Safety Standard. It notes that the airbag
even when inflated failed to protect as well as a standard helmet in the test drops called out by the European standard.
The translation: "Hövding refers instead to its "accredited test method" to show that the inflatable helmet meets
all safety requirements. Accreditation, however, consists only in letting the Swedish laboratory SP test the helmet
according to criteria developed by SP. No third party in the form of a standards authority or other lab has reviewed the
test method." There is also a lot of discussion of the article on French blogs. It is highly critical of Hövding's
attempts to pass off their test failures as irrelevant. The end of the article recounts a phone call from Hövding
threatening Rad & Röns with legal action if they published the article.
Stanford Testing - 2016
In 2016 Stanford testers produced this video clip
their testing of the Hövding and other tests. The results were immediately picked up by the media and by
as a full endorsement of the product, although the researchers pointed out that they had inflated the
bag with different pressures, not the Hovding standard inflation, and that inflation levels are critical in an airbag.
Without the right air pressure, the bag may bottom out and pass all additional energy directly to the head. This Stanford news
says that "Without the maximum amount of air, the air bag helmet could bottom out, causing the head to
hit the ground with much more force than if it were wearing a traditional foam helmet. In current versions of the air bag
helmet, a chemical process triggers expansion, which doesn't seem to guarantee maximum air pressure." The researchers did
other work to determine what the optimum airbag helmet would be. You can see the results in this journal article
for $40. Or without fee you can read the copy
the Hovding petition for exemption from the CPSC standard
There are some interesting videos on Youtube of Hovding performance. Many show stuntmen crashing and the airbag
deploying. Some show the airbag not deploying despite violent movements that are not crashes. But the ones below tell a
story of the airbag not performing as expected:
This Youtube video
This YouTube video shows a user who says his Hovding did
not inflate when he fell because it was not turned on. He goes on to say that it inflated on another occasion while
he was removing his backpack.
This YouTube video shows a Belgian Minister testing the
Hovding. It does not inflate until after he hits the floor and is rebounding.
This YouTube video shows a Hovding failing to inflate in a
stunt man's crash.
This YouTube video has surveillance video from a
supermarket showing a Hovding inflating when a customer jerks after slipping briefly, although the customer did not
This YouTube video has surveillance video high above a
street showing an airbag helmet inflating when a cyclist is riding in a normal way and did not fall.
if halted at the right moment shows
that had the stunt rider's wheel encountered the bench only a short distance further along he could have hit his
unprotected head on the stanchion before the Hovding inflated. Here are two photos from that video and a companion video
with a different point of view of the same stunt:
The next frame would show the Hovding just beginning to inflate. In numerous other demonstration videos found online the
stunt riders carefully avoid any contact with a stanchion other than with their shoulder or a part of the bicycle, since
a direct head impact would be unprotected by any airbag deployment and very likely to cause serious injury.
Introduction to the US market? - 2017
In May of 2017 Hovding's representative Nancy Nord (a former CPSC Commissioner) requested a meeting with CPSC staff,
described in this Public Calendar item:
“Wednesday, June 21, 2017
Andrew Stadnik, Ian Hall, Michael Nelson (Directorate for Laboratory Sciences), Richard McCallion (Office of Hazard
Identification and Reduction), and other CPSC staff meeting at the request of Nancy Nord of OFW Law representing a
European maker of protective head gear for cyclists that is not the shell-type helmet. The company is interested in
introducing its product in the U.S. but the product would not pass the test method specified in 16 CFR 1203. The product
is tested to the European requirements (SP-Method 4439). The firm wants to discuss consideration of an alternative test
method they believe is equivalent to or more stringent than that set out in the 16CFR1203 standard. The meeting will be
held 1:30-2:30 at the CPSC's National Product Testing and Evaluation Center, Conference Room 103, 5 Research Place,
Rockville, MD 20850. For additional information contact Andrew Stadnik, firstname.lastname@example.org. Transmitted to the Office of
the Secretary 5/24/17. Posted in the Public Calendar 5/24/17. (S)”
We asked to attend that meeting, but it was then canceled, and another meeting arranged that excluded the public under
CPSC's "proprietary technology" rules.
Petition for Exemption from CPSC bicycle helmet standard
On December 17, 2017 Hovding petitioned the Consumer Product Safety Commission for an exemption to the CPSC bicycle
helmet standard. We sent out a newsletter
when the petition became public three months later, on
March 10. We submitted detailed comments opposing the exemption
in response to the
CPSC request for comments on the petition. You can see
the Hovding petition for exemption from the CPSC standard
on the CPSC site.
The Chieftain raises other questions:
We have never seen an analysis of the coefficient of restitution of an airbag headgear. The air certainly cushions the
blow, but does it then bounce back at the head delivering a second blow in the opposite direction? Lab tests cut data
collection off too soon to determine that. It is definitely a problem with foam-lined helmets. In some impacts the airbag
would not deploy before the head was struck: truck and bus mirrors, bridge abutments, overhanging limbs, signs, etc.
Post-impact deployment could make injuries worse. Abrupt reversal of direction is implicated in concussions. Wearability
and comfort are not assured by the open air photos. Some who have tried our sample thought that the weight and
shoulder/neck position are less comfortable for them than a conventional bike helmet. Would it be sweaty in hot weather,
since there is no ventilation between the wide collar and the chest? The designers complain about helmets feeling like a
"mushroom" on their head, but millions of riders wear helmets comfortably, and this device around your neck might be
worse. Durability is a question: there is a statement in the company's instructions about not being able to wash the
collar that we do not understand. The Hovding should not be immersed, so leakage of water into it is possible in bad
rainstorms. Could it interfere with neck flexibility while riding? While crashing? Could it injure the rider's neck as it
deployed? Charging the battery is required for the headgear to deploy. Riders often forget to charge phones and bike
lights. Would they remember their Hövding despite its alarms? Phones and most bike lights have alarms too. If it
died, would they continue the ride with no airbag? Would a rider remember to turn the mechanism on for every ride? Any
conventional helmet is ready to protect when strapped on.
It is not possible to answer questions based on the manufacturer's website and video.
If the device can detect all crash scenarios, the mechanism could be used to deploy other forms of protection for other
body parts. APC Helmets has an airbag system in a motorcycle helmet, but they have fitted the airbag to deploy under the
helmet as a neck support in the event of a crash. In that case if the airbag does not deploy you still have the
protection of a conventional helmet. Hit Air has a system with an airbag jacket that deploys when a rider is thrown from
the motorcycle and a tether is yanked. The problem is that in some scenarios the airbag will not open, as when the
motorcycle and rider crash together into a barrier or go down simultaneously to the side. For equestrian use it might not
deploy if the horse rolls on the rider.
Perhaps the greatest significance of the Hövding is that at least somebody is trying to solve the head protection
problem for riders who will not destroy their hair styles.
The non-helmet might also help to address the problem encountered by shared bike programs. Shared bike programs all over
the world are in need of an easily transportable helmet or one that can be dispensed from vending machines at very low
cost for users of shared bicycle programs who did not think to bring a helmet or do not want to carry one. There are now
several fully-certified folding helmets available
. But the Hövding does not meet US
standards and is expensive. If the Hövding can be improved it could be an advance.
Update in 2019: Version 3
Hövding introduced a new Hövding 3
in 2019. It has a twist-dial fit adjustment and a link to your phone,
among other improvements, but we do not have full info on other changes yet. There is a YouTube video review here
Update in 2022: petition withdrawn
We now understand that Hövding had withdrawn the petition some time ago. We had requested email notifications of its
progress, but never received any. We don't find confirmation of the withdrawal anywhere on the CPSC site, although
there are documents on the Regulations.gov site
indicating that Hövding reps met with Commissioner Feldman and staff followed up asking about what materials
presented were confidential.
Update in 2023 after Hövding bankruptcy
In November 2023 a Hövding representative at an ASTM F08.53 bicycle task group meeting requested that the group
consider revising the F-1447 bicycle helmet standard to permit the Hovding product to qualify. The task group chair (BHSI's Randy Swart) agreed
to work with the Hövding representative but expressed no opinion regarding whether or not such a revision was possible.
On December 23, 2023 Hövding announced that it was folding the company, as noted above.