20 Mar 2019

Now this is something very cool. Bontrager have just released an entirely new approach to helmet construction that is said to be 48 times more effective at preventing concussion than a regular EPS helmet. That's an extraordinary claim, so what's it all about?

We don’t do a lot of product news at Flow, but we’re making an exception here, simply because you don’t often get a new product that moves category ahead to this degree. If this product really does live up to its claims, and they have the studies to show it does, then we’re talking about mountain biking becoming a lot safer. Rather than using Bontager’s blurb, we’ll try to explain the helmet as we understand it.


Inside the WaveCel helmet.

What are we looking at here?

It’s called WaveCel, and it’s a whole new method for constructing a helmet. You’ve still got a traditional EPS (expanded polystyrene) shell on the outside, though it’s a lot thinner, but within this you’ve got the WaveCel material, which is where the magic happens in the event of a crash. It’s made from some kind of collapsible plastic (we’re sure Bontrager don’t call it plastic), and it feels firm to the touch, but in the event of an impact it behaves in a manner that traditional EPS cannot.

The squiggly stuff could save your brain.

How does it work?

Whereas EPS is designed to simply compress/crumple to absorb an impact, the WaveCel stuff can react in three different ways – flex, glide and crumple. The video below does a very good job of demonstrating how the WaveCel can operate under different impact forces.

Why is it necessary?

Helmets really haven’t changed a lot since the days of a Stackhat, with the basic principle being the EPS crushes so your skull doesn’t. More recent studies of the actual forces involved in bike crashes revealed that the bulk of impacts involved non-linear forces – twisting, sliding, glancing blows etc – the kind of forces that EPS alone didn’t do a tremendous job of dissipating.

This lead to technologies like MIPS and other variants thereof, which were designed to give a degree of separation between your head and the forces acting upon the helmet shell, allowing some of the initial rotational forces to be isolated from your skull. But in essence, these were systems still being applied to a standard EPS helmet. The WaveCel approach sees the entire helmet working to dissipate those non-linear forces (plus linear forces too, of course).

Adjustment is via a Boa dial.

What does the science show?

The big call out is that WaveCel is 48 times more effective at preventing a concussion than a standard EPS helmet, and significantly more effective than a MIPS equipped helmet as well . Given what we now know about traumatic brain injury and its lasting effects, and how a single concussion can have lifelong outcomes, that’s a figure that’s hard to ignore. We’ve uploaded the entire scientific white paper here, and if you’ve got the time to have a read, do – it’s compelling stuff.

The Blaze helmet, right, is 427g. The older Rally MIPS helmet, left, is 385g.

Is your helmet any bigger or heavier or hotter?

Wave Cell doesn’t make the helmet any bigger. It does however add a bit of weight, approximately 50g. The Bontrager Blaze helmet we’ve got weighs in at 427g in a medium, whereas our older Bontrager Rally MIPS helmet is 385g. In terms of heat, we’re not sure yet – these just landed in our hands now, so no ride time has been logged yet.

What about cost and other features?

The Blaze helmet we have here, including the magnetic camera/light mount, is $349 AUD. Notably, the helmet comes with Bonty’s Crash Replacement Guarantee, so if you wreck it within the first year of ownership, they’ll replace it for free. Speaking of which, much like an EPS helmet, WaveCel is a single impact only material and should be replaced after a serious impact. WaveCel helmets are going to be available in other categories too, at a variety of price points.

Well done, Bonty, for making the sport safer without making it look kooky. You can learn more here: https://wavecel.trekbikes.com