Dan Coyle, a Cornell University graduate of biology revolutionizing the helmet industry with his sustainable designs. After moving to Oregon to work in research, this New Jersey native started getting interested in DIY projects and working with young people doing adventure trips. Coyle has always liked to build and invent. His past projects have included making is own kayak paddles, sewing his own clothes, and creating his own eyeglasses.
In the late 1990s, he started paddling class 5 whitewater and made his first helmets. He felt that using gear that he had created added a different layer to his adventure sport experience, and using natural material deepened his connection to the sport and the beautiful natural landscapes that surrounded him.
Soon after, Coyle started researching. With the desire to create helmets out of wood came the safety concerns of the “new” material. Researching and consulting the wood science experts at Oregon State University was only half the battle. Coyle knew that what he was about to build could hypothetically work and pass safety test, but he had yet to try anything but small wooden and cork samples for their energy absorption, the key to helmet safety. Just a few months ago, in January of 2012, Coyle put his prototypes to the test at ACT Labs, an independent and standardized testing lab in El Segundo, CA. It worked. His designs proved to be legitimate.
Since then, he has run a small sample of helmets through the CPSC suite of tests. They pass, but getting official CPSC approval, which he aims to do eventually, is expensive; he would be destroying more than he sold. Basically, his helmets stand up to all safety tests any other helmet must withstand, but because they are not tested by the government, they can’t get approval.
He recognizes the concerns associated with new technology and addresses questions he knows potential customers will have online.
Meanwhile, his website is up and running, and he’s making quite a splash in the news for his line of Tree Piece Helmets. Not only are his pieces unique, they are made with sustainable materials. Most of the wood used is salvaged from trees that would be used for fuel chips, firewood, other artisan projects, or left to naturally decay in the forest. The sawdust, chips, and splinters produced as a result of building the helmets is natural waste and is returned to the ground to decay as part of the process of nature.
The cork used in his products is one of the most environmentally friendly materials available. It’s completely renewable and recyclable. When most people think of cork, they picture wine stoppers. And that, Coyle points out on his site, is a material known for being waterproof and antimicrobial, both beneficial qualities for helmets.
The company operates out of Corvallis, Oregon, and Dan encourages feedback from his customers, always looking to improve his craft. Prices aren’t cheap for these custom-built helmets. Customers can expect to pay between $265 and $350 for one of these beauties. And you can pick your wood.
Coyle believes his products hold more soul than their typical plastic counterparts. He hopes they inspire a connection with nature and the wearer’s experience within it.
If you’re interested in getting more sustainable gear, check out BamBikes, a company that makes bikes out of bamboo!