Whether you’re anything from a road cyclist to a mountain biker, you know that staying safe on the road is absolutely crucial.
One term you might’ve heard regarding cycling safety is “MIPS” – but what is MIPS helmet protection?
An acronym for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, MIPS is an integrated safety feature embedded in bike helmets. It’s primarily designed to reduce rotational forces in a head impact, which are a leading cause of brain injuries.
The likelihood is, you’ve seen MIPS as an included technology advertised across familiar brands online or in-store, usually with a yellow symbol on the helmet.
Generally found on a broad range of helmets with price points between $50 to $200+, MIPS has been credited as a staple safety option, and has become more affordable in recent years.
In this article, we’ll explore:
- What Is A MIPS Helmet
- History Of MIPS In Helmets
- How Does MIPS Work?
- Potential Benefits MIPS Can Offer Over Regular Helmets
- Alternatives On The Market
- The Future Of MIPS
- Should You Be Using A MIPS Helmet?
Let’s dive in!
What Is MIPS Helmet Protection?
You can find MIPS as an inclusion with a huge range of familiar brands. It’s recognized as a leading technology in reducing the impact of rotational forces in helmets.
It’s considered that in biking and other action-based sports, oblique or angled impacts are much more common. Traditionally, helmets were designed with a focus on linear, or head-on impacts.
Whilst these impacts can lead to skull fractures and internal bleeding, MIPS says that rotational impacts additionally lead to concussion and brain injury:
“For us, MIPS means a safety system for helmets developed with the intention to reduce rotational motion to the brain in the event of a crash. Research shows that rotational motion involves a greater risk of brain damage than straight impacts. The purpose of MIPS safety system is to add safety in the event of that kind of accident.”MIPS
A helmet that has MIPS technology appears very similar to one without it at first glance.
However, if you peek inside, you’ll notice a slim yellow liner beneath the pads. Some manufacturers may also include a small yellow MIPS logo on the helmet’s exterior as an indicator of its difference from non-MIPS helmets.
History Of MIPS In Helmets
As a reasonably new technology widely available on the market, MIPS was developed in Sweden from the ’90s to the early 2000s.
Neurosurgeon Hans von Horst and Ph.D. student Peter Halldin created, tested, and patented the technology after realizing there was no focus on rotational impact when it came to biomechanical research.
As of 2023, MIPS can be found on helmets manufactured by 143 brand partners such as Specialized, Smith, Bell, Giro, Bontrager, and Lazer.
The technology isn’t limited to just cycling. The MIPS system can be found in helmets on construction sites, horse-riding helmets, and motorbike helmets.
What Is A MIPS Helmet: How Does It Work?
The MIPS system is an interior layer of low-friction material integrated into a helmet.
Its purpose is to enable the helmet to move slightly in response to an impact, thereby reducing the rotational forces that can lead to traumatic brain injury and concussion.
This layer generally sits between the expanded polystyrene foam and the helmet liner, allowing motion of about 10-15 mm in all directions – reducing the transfer of rotational force from impact to your brain.
If an impact occurs, the MIPS layer inside the helmet permits it to rotate slightly around the head. This movement redirects and absorbs some of the impact’s energy, lessening the risk of severe injury.
Beyond this, the company behind MIPS has produced accident test scenarios with statistics that support the increased safety claim of their helmets. MIPS say they have conducted 20,000 helmet impact tests since they began.
These tests indicate that a MIPS helmet is at least 10% better at handling impact from rotational motion, with the variety of average generally sitting at around 20-70% across helmets that use the tech.
What Is A MIPS Helmet: The Benefits
#1: Potential Reduction of Injury
According to (predominantly MIPS-funded) studies, MIPS helmet protection offers a notable advantage in the potential reduction of traumatic brain injuries, which can lead to severe long-term effects.
This risk reduction is especially important for cyclists.
With an additional layer of defense against rotational forces, MIPS helmets can lessen the risk of such injuries and bolster the safety of even the most skilled cyclists.
#2: Improved Comfort and Temperature Management
While MIPS helmets may be slightly heavier than traditional helmets, they’re often designed with additional ventilation and cooling systems to help keep you comfortable on the road or dirt track.
This weight increase is minute and not something to give serious consideration to when it comes to choosing a helmet.
#3: Improved Safety in a variety of situations
MIPS helmet technology can provide additional safety in a variety of different conditions, from fast descents to off-road biking.
No matter what type of cycling you enjoy, safety isn’t limited to one style.
This spreads beyond cycling too, and as we’ve mentioned, MIPS technology exists in other sports arenas such as snow sports, moto, horse-riding, and climbing. This gives the feature some more license for credibility.
What Other Options Are There?
While MIPS is a leading company in this field, there are other helmet technologies available on the market that provide comprehensive impact protection, including impact from rotational motion.
We think there are two main alternatives worth mentioning:
WaveCel is a helmet technology developed by Bontrager.
This technology works to prevent impact from both linear and rotational forces by using a collapsible cellular material instead of traditional foam.
This works by a three-step stage of absorption and has been said to reduce rotational forces by 74%, and is reportedly 48 times more successful in concussion prevention compared to helmets without WaveCel.
#2: Kask WG11
Kask WG11 technology is also a protective layer designed to impede rotational impact. Like MIPS, Kask produces their own in-house testing scenario.
This test is called “Rotational Impact WG11”, and Kask says its internal protocol is based on objective methods and scientific sources.
The Future Of MIPS
The MIPS portfolio is expanding and suggesting they will remain the helmet protection technology frontrunner for a while.
In 2019, MIPS acquired Fluid Inside and is integrating this supporting technology to counter both linear and rotational impacts.
Beyond this, after a spell of POC Sports marketing their in-house pad system SPIN, they actually announced in 2022 that they are returning to using MIPS in their helmets, and are phasing out SPIN. The MIPS version is called MIPS Integra.
The company behind MIPS also are continuing to develop safety solutions, and has recently teamed with Specialized during the 2022 Tour De France to launch their latest MIPS tech “Air Node”, which is a variation on the regular MIPS to optimize for breathability.
Should You Be Using A MIPS Helmet?
The bottom line is, the majority of helmets on the market nowadays have a high standard of safety. All cycling helmets of course need to pass a set structure of testing before being available to end-user cyclists.
So if you’re buying from a well-known retailer, you can already be sure of a quality baseline of safety. However, if you’re looking to make a confident decision, take comfort in the fact that Specialized now features MIPS in every helmet model they produce.
Moreover, when ascribing value against cost, buying a helmet with MIPS instead of a helmet without MIPS is a worthwhile decision. The reason is, even if you’re looking to purchase a helmet below $100, there are plenty of MIPS-equipped options on the market.
Another reputable source that should give you confidence is the Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings, which independently assesses the objective quality of helmets, without any manufacturer influence.
Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings
Virginia Tech, working with the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, release an annual bicycle helmet ratings list.
Bike helmets are measured ultimately in their concussion reduction through cyclist impact experiences:
“Our bicycle helmet impact tests evaluate a helmet’s ability to reduce linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head resulting from a range of impacts a cyclist might experience.”Virginia Tech
Still in doubt?