A bike helmet is a bike helmet – right? It used to be that every helmet ensured the same level of protection for your brain, with or without more bells and whistles such as added ventilation or weight savings. Enter MIPS technology and your brain bucket just got a whole lot safer.
Traditionally, helmets have been designed to crush or crumple under blunt force to spare your brain from trauma. While this design helps to keep your skull intact, it doesn’t provide protection from angular impacts which are much more common in cycling. Very rarely will a cyclist land directly on their head without any subsequent sliding or movement. Cycling crashes more often result in lateral and rotational forces, which in turn cause, your brain to physically “bounce” against the natural hard shell, the skull. It is this uncontrolled movement that causes traumatic brain injuries, TBI.
MIPS is an acronym for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. The prototype was designed by the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm in 2001, in conjunction with a Neurosurgeon, who was tired of seeing so many brain injuries on his operating table. Extensive research showed that in order to reduce brain injuries, the head needed to be enclosed in a helmet that didn’t just crumple under blunt, but one that also reacted to oblique forces. The aim of the system is to allow the helmet to move in reaction to impacts and minimize the movement of the brain.
Most cycling helmets feature an interior layer of polystyrene foam liner with an additional hard plastic or carbon exterior shell. The original MIPS helmets featured a similar two layer design; a low-friction layer that allows them to slide independently of each other separates the two layers. This layer mimics the natural properties of the low friction cerebrospinal fluid present within nature. This design process is called biomimicking. The tests performed took traditional impact testing and expanded it to include angular and oblique impact forces.
While very effective, it was a difficult design to implement because many cycling helmets use In-Mold construction. This method fuses the foam liner to the exterior shell leaving no room for the low-friction layer.
The latest MIPS development is to place the low friction liner directly against the skull. This provides the same protection against rotational and lateral forces while giving manufacturers many design options. The most effective MIPS helmet designs allow for maximum sliding upon impact with the ground, and therefore often feature a rounded profile with a lack of ridges that could get ‘caught.’ One example of this design is the POC Octal Avip. Its smooth design features several larger vents ‘carved’ out of a rounded design to provide adequate ventilation no matter how hard you ride.
MIPS helmets are designed to be worn securely against the head so that the effectiveness of the low-friction layer is maximized. Be sure to buy the size that is correct for you and ride safe!