The battle to protect your brain has begun. Bontrager came out swinging with its WaveCel technology — a plastic material that collapses and shears on impact to reduce rotational forces — and now MIPS is fighting back by disputing Bontrager’s claims with its own testing.
MIPS brought rotational forces to the forefront of bike helmet design in 2010, highlighting the damage such forces cause to the brain frequently in bicycle crashes. MIPS aims to reduce the amount of rotational force that’s transferred to your brain in the first milliseconds of a crash, by allowing the helmet to slip independently of the helmet’s harness system in the event of a crash.
Bontrager supplied a journal article from Elsevier Information and Analytics that concludes both slip plane systems like MIPS and cellular structure systems like WaveCel do, in fact, reduce rotational forces, but that same study also concluded more testing was necessary to determine the specific differences in effectiveness between various systems that address rotational forces.
MIPS says it put WaveCel through its own battery of tests and was unable to replicate the results Bontrager has boldly claimed.
And here we arrive at a problem that MIPS brought up recently: the lack of consistent third-party testing. MIPS is conducting its own battery of tests and comparing those results to Bontrager’s claims. Bontrager put its helmet through its own protocol. Those two testing protocols may or may not be the same. We just don’t know where MIPS and Bontrager line up on its testing and interpretation of results.
“We at MIPS have conducted more than 22,000 tests and we know that not all helmets are equally safe,” says Johan Thiel, CEO of MIPS, “not even the ones that claim to address rotational motion. While we hope from a consumer standpoint that Bontrager’s claims are accurate, we are curious to see how it lives up to the tests conducted in our lab.”
Doctor Steven Madey, an orthopedic surgeon and one of the two inventors of WaveCel, specifically notes a difference between slip plane systems like MIPS and the WaveCel product, which could account for some of the discrepancies.
“We’ve tested things like MIPS which are slip layers. We also tested cellular structures. We noticed that there are limitations in slip layers and cellular structures,” says Madey. “We noticed that when you increase the energy of a hit, a slip liner starts to stick more and more and become less effective. At lower energies, they perform very well, but at higher energies, they stick and perform the same as foam helmets. WaveCel is designed to take higher energy impacts and shear on itself.”
Madey says that WaveCel actually performs better at higher impact forces, well beyond the testing protocols required in standard helmet testing in both the United States and Europe.
There’s a lot to digest when assessing the claims from both MIPS and Bontrager. However, a helmet equipped with some sort of system that addresses rotational forces can produce measurably better safety performance. That’s the good news.
The bad news is current testing is inadequate to determine the differences between systems. Is WaveCel safer than MIPS? Is MIPS safer than Koroyd? Are all three of these safer than just EPS? Is EPS alone better than nothing?
Those are the questions we need answered. Unfortunately, those are the questions we can’t answer until there’s a reliable and consistent third-party testing protocol. It seems safe to say at this point that any system that addresses rotational forces will outperform a helmet that relies solely on EPS. But that’s about where the clarity ends.
Virginia Tech recently made a splash with its helmet testing, and Bontrager is quick to point out that all of its WaveCel helmets have been granted a five-star rating in the Virginia Tech testing. And while that’s certainly impressive, it’s important to note that non-WaveCel helmets have also been granted five-star ratings, including Bontrager helmets equipped with MIPS.
As a consumer, consider it a boon that several companies are trying to reduce rotational forces on your head during a crash. Until we see reliable and consistent testing from a third-party entity, we are left to rely on manufacturers’ claims and testing, which tend to be vague.
More companies should join MIPS’s call for better testing.