Features

A day with the artisan: Cutting a Dashel

Given the full (Cornish) artisan treatment, the humble cycle helmet suddenly becomes the epitome of cool

Words by Fanny Johnston

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If you’re an urban cyclist, your bike helmet plays a major part in your life. Whether it’s on your head, slung on the sofa, sitting on your desk or dangling from handlebars in the hall, it’s hard to miss. A helmet can complement or compromise your whole look, so it helps if it’s easy on the eyes, as is the case with the Dashel.

Like other urban cyclists who want to arrive for a meeting or date feeling suitably dressed, London- based entrepreneur Catherine Bedford found that she disliked the aesthetics of pretty much every bike helmet on the market. But rather than pedalling on regardless, she felt moved to act.

‘You feel silly when you’ve got something stuck on your head,’ she says. ‘You feel self-conscious, when you just want to feel like yourself.’ After spending years looking into all aspects of bike- helmet design, guring out why she didn’t like most of what was available, Bedford designed a helmet that is a light, smooth hybrid between retro style and modern artisanal technology. ‘I liked the idea of getting people who hadn’t looked at sports goods before to take a fresh approach. For example, the people who did the branding and graphic design specialised in jewellery brands. I liked the idea of making Dashel a product that people would want to keep as an accessory, rather than trying to compare my helmets to other bike helmets.’

The result looks iconic, even though it is brand new. Like Jackie O sunglasses, Burberry trench coats and Brompton panniers, the Dashel has everything it takes to be a timeless fashion icon – the bike accessory of the present and future. It comes in a range of strong colours, like 1970s orange and Brompton red, and bespoke colours are also available. At £185, they’re not cheap. ‘Yes, they’re expensive,’ Bedford says, ‘but people spend the same amount on sunglasses or a leather rucksack. It makes them feel good.’

Dashel’s family-owned factory is as sleek, minimalist and elegant as the helmet itself. The Atlantic Highway runs alongside Cornwall’s north coast, bringing you to the golden sands and crashing waves of Bude, the seaside town where Dashel helmets are made. Meaning ‘thistle’ in Cornish, the name Dashel nods at the thorny plant’s characteristics: it is designed for self- protection, but it’s also light as a feather (just 320–390g, depending on your head size). The company is Cornish to its roots: after each day of making the helmets by hand, the 12 members of staff go surfing and fishing.

The Dashel is for the cruising commuter and the Saturday cycler. It is not for the slick sports cyclist. But its main purpose is to protect your head, and it does that well. The weight-to-strength ratio of the Dashel is down to the carbon bre and the way the manufacturers lay the composites together. Ultimately, though, protection comes from the foam-like Arpo layer inside (not only made sustainably, but designed to be super-slim so that it sits snugly on your head), which is built to absorb impact and bounce back from a second immediate hit.

The helmet’s individuality is obvious in its dapper cap pro le, its stylishly linear ventilation holes on top and its carrying loop. Finally, the magnetic buckle secures it as an all-round easy- to-wear item. Where traditional helmets can painfully pinch the skin under your chin while you try to click the buckle shut, the Dashel’s strap magnets naturally seek each other out.

Surely these helmets – like skateboards and guitar cases – are crying out to be customised? Bedford agrees. ‘There’s a store in Zurich that has an art gallery with a graphic design studio behind it. They sell Dashels there, and people have started decorating them. It’s wonderful how people are making them their own. We get fan mail from around the world. But we’re also getting on to the radar of luxury brand collections, so it’ll be interesting to see that unfold.’

Urban cycling – whether pedal-powered or on e-bikes – has taken o in Europe and the Far East in the past decade, but according to Bedford it’s in America that things have recently started to shift. ‘In LA, cycling’s cool. New Yorkers are getting it, too.’ Demand is so strong that Dashel is opening a second factory to supply the United States, South Korea and Israel. Does Bedford dream of a world where every city hallway sports a Dashel? ‘I love the way bikes look. I’ve got a folded Brompton in our hall and another bike leaning against the hedge. I wanted that same feeling with the Dashel: it’s not just a helmet – it’s part of my style.’

The full range of helmets is available at www.dashel.cc.

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