The world may never see a perfect helmet. We may never find a way to prevent 100 percent of immediate and future effects of head trauma. We still just don’t know enough about the science behind brain injury to see every potential cause and consequence. But we do know enough to see that there’s still hope in trying. The field of study that drives modern helmet development is brand new. Some of its focal points are even newer, and the one that seems to get the most attention recently is angular impact protection. Oblique collision testing is so new that it’s not even required before a helmet goes to market. Instead of a requirement to reach store shelves, good angular impact protection is now a performance feature. It’s why nearly every major brand’s flagship helmets have some sort of measure to deflect indirect hits. There’s, of course, the ubiquitous MIPS liners, but there’s also POC’s Spin, Leatt’s Turbine 360 and Kali’s LDL. These methods allow for some amount of deflection of a (usually) traditional EPS foam helmet shell around your head. In nearly every case, the helmet’s structure itself is still primarily built to address linear impacts. Bontrager has decided to take a different approach.
At first glance, Wavecel looks a lot like Smith’s Koroyd material. Koroyd is a plastic honeycomb structure that Smith claims does a better job than EPS foam at decelerating your head in linear impacts. Like Smith’s Koroyd helmets, Wavecel helmets are a hybrid of traditional EPS mated to the new unique structure underneath. Unlike Koroyd, Wavecel is specifically designed to deflect angular impacts. Less a honeycomb and more a grid of waves, Wavecel isn’t as laterally rigid as Koroyd. If you hit something at an angle wearing Wavecel, it will buckle in whatever direction your skull is traveling. That allows it to offer angular impact protection just like those aforementioned traditional measures. Or rather, research shows it’s able to do a far better job of it.
A study produced by the Accident Analysis and Prevention journal within scientific publication giant Elsevier found that riders wearing Bontrager’s Wavecel helmets are 48 times less likely than riders wearing traditional helmets to suffer a concussion. Of course, that number is immediately followed by an asterisk specifying exactly which impact scenario that “48” applies to. And the specific math that yielded that multiple of 48 over traditional helmets is never applied to Wavecel’s effectiveness over helmets with other existing angular impact protection systems. But Elsevier’s study shows that Wavecel helmets produced significantly better deceleration than MIPS-equipped helmets at nearly all angles of impact and at nearly all speeds. The study reads like something between a medical journal and a patent document. And as I said before, the science behind the claims of concussion and injury reduction aren’t completely developed. We don’t know the true severity of repeated small impacts, for instance. And the damage assessments we have are based on simulated models of the most complex organ in our body. But the truth is, Wavecel does a better job at doing the things we know could be done better, and Elsevier provides a nifty graph that sums up the findings nicely. An interesting takeaway from this particular piece of info is that Wavecel offers the greatest benefit over the alternatives in high-speed angular impacts.
Wavecel helmets aren’t stingy with their active ingredient. On that note, they expect you not to be stingy either. Right now, the only mountain Wavecel offering goes for $300. The bulk of the contact your head will have with Bontrager’s Blaze Wavecel MTB helmet will be through the Wavecel material itself. The holes in its honeycomb are a bit larger than those in a Koroyd helmet, and Bontrager claims it’s better-ventilated. It’s also more natural to form into a sphere. In fact, the test panel of Wavecel material has the odd property of bending in three dimensions when you flex its edges up or down. It seems to want to be in a round shape to match your head. The inside surface of the Wavecel material is treated to keep its edges from cutting your skin in an impact. Despite its plastic feel, it actually seems like comfortable material to make a helmet out of.
But for now, all we can do is guess. We’ve got test helmets on their way to our editors, and we’re looking forward to getting some time out there with them. And as I knock dutifully on the wood of my desk, I remind you that, as with any helmet test, I hope not to truly find out all that the Bontrager Blaze Wavecel helmet is capable of (knock). Again, there is no perfect helmet. But if one offers a better chance that I’ll come out healthy on the other end of a crash (knock, knock), I’ll take it.