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Four model range features "groundbreaking tech" designed to deal with angled impacts

Trek and its sub-brand Bontrager have unveiled new helmet technology called WaveCel, which they claim is "proven to be up to 48 times more effective than standard EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam at preventing concussions from common cycling accidents". More on that claim in a mo.

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Although they don't say it directly, WaveCel is designed to compete with MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System), a safety system that is designed to reduce rotational motion transferred to the brain in the event of certain types of impact.

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WaveCel is a collapsible cellular material developed by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Steve Madey and biomechanical engineer Dr Michael Bottlang. They have collaborated for the past 25 years and have worked with Trek and Bontrager’s Research & Design teams on the creation of the WaveCel helmets over the past four years.

Most helmets are designed to protect against direct impacts whereas WaveCel is also designed to deal with "twists, turns, and angled impacts", according to Bontrager.

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"WaveCel absorbs energy in multiple ways. On impact, the layers of the WaveCel material move independently and flex until the cell walls crumple and then glide, actively absorbing direct and rotational energy and redirecting it away from your head.

"This three-step change in material structure—flex, crumple, glide—is remarkably effective at dispersing the energy from an impact. Nearly 99 times out of 100, WaveCel prevents concussions from common cycling accidents."

Okay, so about these safety claims – they're based on AIS 2 Injury (BrIC) at 6.2 m/s test at 45° comparing a standard EPS helmet and the same helmet modified with a WaveCel insert as described in detail in Evaluation of a Novel Bicycle Helmet Concept in Oblique Impact Testing, the authors of which include Dr Madey and Dr Bottlang.

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What the hell is an AIS 2 Injury (BrIC) when it's at home? AIS is short for Abbreviated Injury Scale and BrIC means brain injury criteria. AIS 2 refers to a moderate injury. Oh, and 6.2m/s is about 14mph.

By the time you read this, the full paper, published in Accident Analysis and Prevention, should be available at trekbikes.com/wavecel. You can read an abstract here. 

The researchers compared traditional EPS helmets to helmets with a MIPS slip liner and helmets with a WaveCel cellular structure. To cut to the chase, MIPS and WaveCel helmets reduced headform rotational acceleration by 22% compared to EPS helmets at a 6.2 m/s impact speed on a 45° anvil.  

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"In this impact scenario, [MIPS] helmets and [WaveCel] helmets reduced the AIS 2 brain injury risk to 34.2% and 1.2%, respectively, compared to [EPS] helmets," according to the researchers.

"Results of this study are limited to a narrow range of impact conditions, but demonstrated the potential that rotational acceleration and the associated brain injury risk can be significantly reduced by the cellular WaveCel concept or a MIPS slip liner." 

MIPS last week said that it is concerned by the lack of an industry-wide standard for the testing of rotational motion in the event of angled impacts to the head. 

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Bontrager says that every model in the WaveCel helmet lineup received the highest marks in Virginia Tech’s five-star ranking. The full results will be published here. 

Bontrager is keen to distance WaveCel technology from the honeycomb shaped materials used in some helmets. That's presumably a reference to Koroyd, as used in Smith and Endura lids. 

"[These materials] primarily address linear impacts to prevent skull fractures," says Bontrager. "These systems usually include a slip liner to the helmet to address rotational forces. WaveCel addresses both linear and angular impacts but also flexes to make a uniform dome shape that wraps mostly around the inside of the helmet."

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The Bontrager lineup currently contains helmets that feature MIPS, and that is set to continue. WaveCel helmets come in at the top, indicative of the way Bontrager regards its new technology. The range will follow a good-better-best structure, 'good' being EPS helmets, 'better' being MIPS, and 'best' being WaveCel. The addition of MIPS tends to increase the full retail price of a helmet by around £20. 

There are four WaveCel helmets in the range:

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Bontrager XXX WaveCel (above), for road riding, £199.99

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Bontrager Specter WaveCel (above), an all-rounder, £129.99

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Bontrager Charge WaveCel (above), for commuting, £129.99

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Bontrager Blaze WaveCel (above), for mountain biking, £199.99

All are available in various colours.

The Bontrager XXX WaveCel is the high-end road helmet in the range, as worn by the Trek-Segafredo men's and women's teams, and features a fit system that's controlled with a Boa dial, as do all of the other WaveCel models. The medium sized version has a claimed weight of 352g. The one we have in for review came in at 361g on the road.cc scales. Bontrager reckons that on average WaveCel adds 53g to a helmet.

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The Bontrager Charge WaveCel commuter helmet features a Fidlock magnetic buckle, a rear mount for Bontrager light accessories, and a short peak. The claimed weight for a medium is 428g. Our scales showed 445g for the one we have in for review. 

All come with a crash replacement guarantee that entitles you to a free replacement if the helmet is damaged in a crash within the first year of ownership.

WaveCel is exclusive to Bontrager, the brand having no plans to license it.

For more information, visit trekbikes.com/wavecel.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.