The cyclists’ crash helmet: a subject of great debate. If you are at all serious about your cycling, then you certainly wear one. And now there’s a new scientific approach to keeping our brains as injury-free as possible: Bontrager Wavecel, a new crash helmet liner technology. You may already have heard of Multi-Directional Impact Protection System MIPS, a technology developed by a team of Swedish brain surgeons, and there is quite some debate about which is better. But, no matter, as it’s all in the interests of making cycling safer!

Bontrager Wavecel

The WaveCel Road Bike Helmet is aerodynamic and costs $299.

Crash test dummies

The helmet impact test. This is the laboratory test that most cycling helmet manufacturers have used until recently. This is called a direct impact linear drop test. That means the crash test dummy head and helmet simply go up and then, well, down. No rotation. But more experts agree these days (since the ground-breaking work by the MIPS team) that it is often rotational impact that causes concussion and other damage in a cycling crash. This test, therefore is good for skull protection, but not sufficient to measure brain protection.

Bontrager Wavecel

Helmet without liner. Bontrager’s impact ‘heat map’ with red zones illustrating high impact force.

When you hit the deck with your helmet, your neck twists on the first impact and the brain then sloshes inside the skull, which can cause damage to the brain tissue. The technologies MIPS, and now WaveCel, are therefore aimed at reducing the effects to the brain of this rotational damage.

Bontrager Wavecel

Bontrager’s impact ‘heat map’ for same test using a helmet with the WaveCel liner.

Helmet liners

Both MIPS and WaveCel are essentially helmet liners. There are others too: POC has Spin, Leatt has Turbine 360 and Kali has LDL. These all have one thing in common, though, in that they provide an extra layer between your skull and the helmet’s hard foam shell, designed to absorb rotational impact and lessen the damage to our heads. MIPS was the first of these and it is designed to slip on impact, with its extra layer known as a ‘slip liner’. WaveCel is different. It is a collapsible cellular material, which looks a bit like a plastic honeycomb lining. The makers say that one of the benefits of WaveCel is that it behaves differently depending of the angle of impact, by flexing, crumpling and gliding during impact, thereby spreading the force of the blow. The liner is made up of individual cells, each of which has a kind of mini crumple-zone.

Bontrager Wavecel

You can clearly see the form of the WaveCel liner through the air vents.

Bontrager Wavecel claims

The makers claim that WaveCel is better at preventing concussion in cycling accidents than standard helmets. There is some dispute among the scientists, however. The makers of the MIPS tested the WaveCel system and concluded that Bontrager WaveCel injury prevention technology falls far below the manufacturers own claims. Time will tell who is right on this one—though it’s all good for cyclists, as everyone seems to agree that both systems are safer than standard foam helmets without a liner. Whether you’re a weekend warrior racer, a cyclosportive rider, gravel biker, commuter or all of the above, the choice is yours.

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