Trek and Bontrager have debuted a new helmet construction technology that's claimed to be 48 times more effective than EPS foam at preventing concussions. It's called WaveCel
, and it uses a collapsible cellular material that's designed to flex, crumple, and glide during an impact in order to absorb the force of an impact. It doesn't entirely replace the EPS foam in a helmet, but the amount of foam that's used is greatly reduced. The EPS acts as the helmet's exoskeleton, with the WaveCel material situated underneath. The structure of this new material bears a resemblance to the inner profile of corrugated cardboard, which makes sense – it needs to be strong in one direction, but also able to deform during an impact.
WaveCel was developed over the course of the last four years by Dr. Steve Madey, an orthopedic surgeon, and Dr. Michael Bottlang, a biomedical engineer. The two have worked together for more than two decades on other projects related to head injuries and fracture care.
According to WaveCel's peer-reviewed study
, WaveCel equipped helmets significantly reduced the probability of a mild to moderate concussion during an impact. Three styles of helmet were tested – a CONTROL helmet, which used only EPS foam, a MIPS-equipped helmet, referred to as SLIP, and a WaveCel helmet, referred to as CELL. According to the article, “SLIP helmets significantly reduced the probability of sustaining AIS 2 brain injury compared to CONTROL helmets in all impact scenarios, with reductions ranging from 32% to 91%. CELL helmets significantly reduced P (AIS 2) compared to CONTROL helmets in all impact scenarios, with reductions ranging from 81% to 98%.”
In other words, the MIPS liner did help, but the WaveCel-equipped helmet performed even better. In addition, all of Bontrager's WaveCel helmets received 5 stars, the highest ranking possible, in tests performed by Virginia Tech.
According to Bontrager, WaveCel does add approximately 53 grams to a helmet, but that seems reasonable if the material works as claimed. The open design should help keep air flowing into the helmet, and Bontrager say that because a WaveCel helmet uses less foam it's inherently cooler than a traditional helmet – we'll see if that's the case once we have a helmet in for review.
The shape of WaveCel may bring to mind Koroyd, the material that uses hundreds of bonded tubes to provide impact protection. The difference between the two is that WaveCel is designed to both mitigate linear and angular impacts, while Koroyd is mainly used to reduce linear impacts, which is why helmets that use Koroyd often have a MIPS liner added in.
Bontrager's Blaze WaceCel MTB helmet
Initially, there will be four helmets in Bontrager's line that use the WaveCel technology - two road helmets, a mountain bike helmet, and a commuter helmet. The Blaze WaveCel MTB helmet shown above retails for $299.99, which includes a crash replacement guarantee that allows riders to receive a free replacement if it's damaged within the first year. Other non-WaveCel related features include a Boa dial retention system, a Fidlock magnetic buckle on the chinstrap, and Bontrager's Blendr system that allows a GoPro or light to easily be mounted to the top of the helmet. The claimed weight for a size medium is 420 grams, and there are three sizes and five color options.
Bontrager's WaveCel design certainly looks promising, and the more options on the market that can potentially help prevent concussions the better. We'll be taking a closer look and digging into more details about this new technology in the near future.