As a follow-up to our previous posts regarding (a) practices that enhance visibility of bicycle riders, and (b) the ANGi crash-sensing device for bike helmets available from Specialized, in this post we will highlight a couple innovations in bike helmet safety technologies. Specifically, we will discuss two safety technologies developed to minimize the effects of rotational forces that a rider (specifically the rider’s head) might experience in a crash.
For decades most bicycle helmets have been designed to use molded expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam as a dampening and protective material, often encased in a more rigid plastic shell. In the mid 1990s Swedish researchers developed a new technology designed to mitigate both the direct and angular forces that often occur in a cycling accident. Research demonstrated that the human brain is more susceptible to rotational motion than linear motion that occurs as a result of angled impacts versus linear impacts, consecutively. The result of that research and design was the development of MIPS – Multi-directional Impact Protection System.
When the Swedish researchers and others developed the MIPS Brain Protection System (MIPS BPS) they placed the MIPS layer between the helmet and the EPS layer. However, more recent helmet designs generally place the MIPS layer between the EPS layer and the rider’s head. The MIPS layer allows the friction layer to rotate approximately 10-15 mm in any direction as the result of a rotational force. The rotational slippage enabled by MIPS BPS allows the head, and the brain, to continue in its original direction long enough to lessen the rotational forces on the brain.
MIPS is owned and managed by MIPS AB, a Swedish company. MIPS AB also provides a separate website that highlights the safety features provided by MIPS BPS. MIPS BPS technologies are used in a number of safety devices, such as helmets used in cycling, equestrian, skiing, motorcycling and other activities.
In March 2019 Trek announced its new WaveCel technology as used in Bontrager bike helmets. WaveCel was developed by Legacy Biomechanics Laboratory, which is based in Portland, Oregon. WaveCel uses a three-dimensional lattice structure to create plastic cells that will lessen and absorb rotational forces. Similar to the newer generation of helmets that use MIPS BPS, the WaveCel lattice sits between the EPS layer and the head.
There has been some controversy regarding whether MIPS or WaveCel provides better protection. However, Virginia Tech University researchers have been testing helmets regarding concussion risk to provide a more objective, neutral third-party evalulation. In Virginia Tech University’s most recently published tests of bicycle helmets, the top-17 of the 54 rated helmets use either WaveCel or MIPS technology.
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