The entire RoadBikeRider Review Crew jumped at the chance to do a roundup review of the MIPS helmets available to road riders. We all wanted to learn more about MIPS: What is it, how does it work, any difference from a regular helmet in terms of fit/form/function? And, how about cost?
First – What is MIPS?
Modern (non-MIPS) bike helmets are wonderful pieces of technology in terms of their impact resistance. They are designed – and tested – to help prevent skull fractures and other major blunt-force trauma. They are not, however, designed to mitigate the forces that can cause a concussion.
A Swedish company called Multi-directional Impact Protection System — MIPS — patented the slip plane concept (what it calls a low-friction layer), using two layers in the helmet (the MIPS “liner”) to help mitigate the rotational force of an impact, which can result in a concussion or other brain injury.
Here’s how the company itself describes the technology: “In a helmet with MIPS Brain Protection System the shell and the liner are separated by a low friction layer. When a helmet with MIPS Brain Protection System is subjected to an angled impact, the low friction layer allows the helmet to slide relative to the head.”
(At the end of the review is a link to a detailed analysis and report from helmets.org regarding MIPS technology, as well as a link to the MIPS website.)
Short of wanting to test the helmets to their true capacity, none of us on the RBR Review Crew volunteered to crash, so we did the next best thing: We came up with a set of criteria to evaluate the helmets against one another using a standard helmet as the baseline. The following is the list of criteria used. We also added any notes and gave each of the criteria a rating from 1-5 points.
Our Testing Criteria
- Ventilation (# of vents, how well air flows /stays cool, does the MIPS liner interfere with or cover vent holes, etc.)
- Fit and fit adjustments?
- What padding is offered; how well does it work?
- How easy is it to adjust, buckle, put on/take off?
- How easy is it to get the fit dialed in, and keep it dialed in?
- Extras/Special Features (carrying bag, sunglasses slots, extra padding, bug mesh, aero properties, additional safety features like bright or neon colors, etc.)
We made a concerted effort to try to acquire a test version of all of the MIPS road models on the market at the time of the testing. You’ll note, however, that at least one well-known maker is not represented; POC elected not to provide a current model helmet because they were nearing the launch of an updated model.
The manufacturers represented in this review, however, were extremely helpful in getting us their MIPS helmets to test. And a couple even bent over backward to help out: The Smith Overtake helmet wasn’t even in the U.S.; Smith pulled one of the helmets from their Asia manufacturing line and direct shipped it to us for testing. And Giro sent us 2 MIPS helmets to test, one men’s and one women’s.
Helmets Delivered – Initial Impressions
Once the helmets were delivered, we got a chance to look them over and compare them to each of our favorite standard helmets.
It seems to us that manufacturers have taken two distinct approaches to adding MIPS versions to their lines: Some have created entirely new helmet designs in which to implement MIPS; others have used existing helmets, adding MIPS liners to those. We mention this in part to help explain the wide range of prices for MIPS helmets, and also to note that one of the biggest issues we had was with the way they fit.
Compared to standard helmets, MIPS helmets in some cases can fit slightly tighter. At least two of our testers experienced an overly snug fit with a MIPS helmet of the same size they normally wear.
The helmets.org article mentions this issue. “MIPS says the liner reduces the helmet size by a half centimeter, so the manufacturer would have to adjust the size in some way, either selling the consumer a larger helmet or reducing the thickness of the helmet liner.”
Our female tester’s helmet was so tight (side-to-side) in the temples that she had to cut part of the foam padding away so that her temples wouldn’t be over-compressed. The Smith Overtake was also tight to the point of our tester not being able to wear his standard “dew rag” or any other sweat-redirecting product. (He chose to pass along the ill-fitting helmet – a large – to another of our testers who normally wears a medium. It fit the second tester just fine.)
So, if you are considering a MIPS helmet, we suggest that you test fit one size larger than normal before you make the purchase. And don’t forget to wear whatever sweat band or head covering you normally wear under your helmet while testing the fit.
Some MIPS helmets can carry a slightly higher price tag than a standard helmet. It’s important to note that Bell purchased part of the MIPS company, and that other makers license the technology to use in their helmets. It’s hard to say how much this affects pricing.
As noted earlier, it seems that the lower priced MIPS models on the market are those that used an existing design in which to implement the technology, vs. designing an entire new helmet.