“I will always remember the first time I saw someone wearing a LID,” says founder Sam Terry. “There are good and bad days in any job, and especially in a start-up, and this was a particularly low day. And then I saw someone cycle by in an orange LID helmet on an orange Brompton bike and it brightened my day in every sense. That was really cool, a real moment.”
The synchronicity extended beyond the colour coordination. Like a Brompton, LID’s folding helmets are designed to save space, helping more people to enjoy cycling in safety. Sam’s first sight of his product on the street had captured his original vision perfectly. And once you understand the challenges he faced along the way, it’s no wonder the moment meant so much.
“I first had the idea in 2011,” Sam tells us. “I used to commute 10 miles across London by bike. At that time, the Boris Bikes had just been launched and no one was wearing helmets on them. One day I saw a guy come off and crack his head. It prompted me to start doing some research, including simply talking to people at traffic lights. I found out that the average journey time on a Boris Bike is 18 minutes, and for that people just don’t want to carry a helmet around with them all day. Plus, lots of people think sporty cycle helmets look silly, which they do.
“It clicked with me that we could make something that looked cool and folded, so it’s more space efficient and compact. In 2011 there were no other folding helmets available. So that’s where the idea came from.”
At this point you’d be forgiven for assuming Sam to be a serial inventor or perhaps a cycle industry vet choosing to go it alone, but you’d be way off. “I was a banker,” he says, “about as far from starting a bike helmet company as could be.” The learning curve ahead would be near vertical and riddled with pitfalls for someone new to the industry and its quirks.
The first step, at least, was simple: “I cut up a helmet at home and glued the pieces onto a beanie hat.” Prototype #1 complete.
“In those early stages I was in no massive hurry with it,” Sam continues, “but I did file a patent. Then in 2015 I got serious about it, had some 3D renders done of how it would look, and got some press coverage.” It wasn’t exactly his local paper, though. The LID prototype had been lauded by The Times and the Evening Standard, no less.
“That gave me the confidence to pursue this, so in the summer of 2015 I decided to leave banking and bring this to life.” Sam was now fully committed. Reality bit almost immediately.
“Rather naively, I didn’t appreciate then how long the development process would take. The design team I previously worked with in London had never done helmets before and were basing their knowledge on other projects, so they thought it would be six to nine months’ lead time after finding a manufacturer, which I had just done thanks to the Imperial College London Sports Engineering team.
“I flew out to Las Vegas in September of 2015 to meet this manufacturer at the Interbike show, thinking we’d see product by the following summer at the latest. They told me it was going to be a two-year project.
“That was a big moment,” says Sam, no doubt understating the feeling of the bottom dropping out of his world just weeks after giving up a well-paid job and having invested heavily in CAD work and prototypes. He admits there were plenty of times along the way when he thought he’d have to give it all up, but that none were worse than this one. Unbowed, he forged on.
The manufacturer wasn’t playing for time. A stylish, safe, folding helmet, it turned out, is a tricky thing to engineer. “The biggest challenge was how to connect the sections,” says Sam. “We went through a whole series of iterations and prototypes for that before we came up with what works. Then we had to put it through its paces in an in-house test lab to get the assurance it would pass official tests. It was a long process.”
There was another concern, too. “By this time, a couple of other folding helmets had come out and I started thinking that I might end up late to the party, but they had lots of clips and hinges and didn’t look great.”
That speaks to the fine line that a compacting helmet has to tread. It’s no use a helmet folding down a bit smaller if it takes too long to do so, nor if it’s ugly. For Sam, it was all about striking a balance.
“You’re trying to find the best blend of style and folding, knowing that you’re never going to have something that fits in someone’s back pocket, but that it will compact enough to make a difference when it goes in their bag.”
The first sample of the final design was delivered to Sam in July 2017, at which point he was still working from cafés, showing raw prototypes to potential investors and asking them to picture the finished helmet as he’d had in his mind for six years. At last, it was now in his hands. “It was another special moment,” he says. “I was really happy with it. I still am.”
More sizes, including a children’s range, are coming early 2019, and there is no shortage of ideas for what will follow. A range of helmet accessories, such as rain covers and winter liners, is set to follow, too.
Most of all, though, Sam sees LID as an enabler of mobility: “The scope is endless, especially with this new category of electric scooters which have exploded in the US and are now coming to Europe. When I started on this in 2015 that wasn’t on anyone’s radar; it all happened in the last year. So, the future is exciting.”