It’s no secret that bicycle helmet technology has improved dramatically over the past 40 years. Today’s helmets are lighter, more comfortable, and look a radically different than their predecessors. Some of the more recent technological advances aren’t so obvious, though. Since 1996, Stockholm-based MIPS has been working on improving how helmets protect against rotational trauma and angled impacts. In 2014, MIPS partnered with Bell Helmets to bring MIPS technology to a wider audience.
Bell currently offers sixteen MIPS-equipped helmets, which range in price from $60 to $240. With MIPS-equipped helmets available in road, mountain, lifestyle, and gravity models, Bell has something for any type of cyclist. I split my riding between pavement, dirt, and gravel, so I opted to test the company’s Stoker MIPS ($95 MSRP) and Gage MIPS ($195 MSRP) helmets.
What Is MIPS Technology?
MIPS stands for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. The patented system is designed to reduce the rotational component of an impact, which many believe to be related to concussions and brain trauma. According to research performed by MIPS (the company), your head usually strikes the ground at an angle in a crash. Most helmet tests, however, drop helmets vertically onto a flat surface. MIPS’ tests include the aforementioned flat test, but MIPS adds a second test that simulates an angled impact. Their testing revealed that the MIPS system helps reduce strain levels during angled impacts (which are more likely to occur in real world conditions).
How Does MIPS Work?
MIPS-equipped helmets feature a low-friction layer that enables relative motion between the head and helmet at any angle. The ultra-thin MIPS liner–which measures just under 0.5 millimeters–is connected to the inside of the helmet via fittings which resemble high-tech elastic bands. This floating liner allows the outer shell to rotate relative to the rider’s head, as illustrated by the following video.
With the additional liner and attachment points, you may be wondering if a MIPS-equipped helmet fits–or feels–differently than a conventional helmet. Based on these two models from Bell, I’d say, no. With the helmets properly adjusted, they feel just like non-MIPS helmets. In six months of testing, I haven’t noticed any fit or comfort issues that could be attributed to the MIPS liner or attachment points. Granted, you can make the outer shell move if you grab it and violently twist it, but that’s a pretty extreme (and unusual) use case.
A few short years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find a MIPS-equipped helmet for less than $200. Priced at just $95, Bell’s Stoker MIPS proves that the latest helmet technology doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Aimed at the trail/MTB set, the Stoker has the features you’d expect, such as an adjustable visor and goggle compatibility. With its 13 vents and simple design, the Stoker is equally at home on multi-use trails or in urban environments. Available in four sizes (S, M, L, XL), my large sample helmet weighed 352 grams with the included visor.
Despite the helmet’s extended coverage, the Stoker doesn’t feel bulky in actual use. The visor and straps didn’t interfere with my prescription glasses, and thanks to Bell’s SpeedDialFit™ adjustment system, I could comfortably wear the Stoker bare-headed or with a skull cap and balaclava for winter riding (although the dial was somewhat difficult to operate when wearing heavy gloves). Having worn road-style helmets almost exclusively for the past 6-7 years, I was initially concerned that the Stoker’s design might not offer enough ventilation. My concerns were unfounded, however, as I basically forgot that I was wearing an MTB-style helmet. If I do have one complaint about the Stoker, though, it’s that the overall aesthetic is on the plain side, and the Stoker’s limited colorways lack the pop of Bell’s pricier offerings.
Dedicated road helmets are all about the numbers. Riders–especially racers–want the lightest helmet with the most vents, and they want it to look good while protecting their precious grey matter. Boasting 26 vents, CE EN1078 and CPSC certification, and a weight of just 301 grams (confirmed, size large), Bell’s top-of-the-line Gage MIPS definitely ticks all the boxes. And the appearance? Well, the Gage may not have been able to transform me into a KOM-snatching animal, but the Retina Sear colorway definitely lived up to its name (it’s also available in four other colors if you want something less conspicuous).
Numbers don’t necessarily tell the whole story when it comes to ventilation, though. Having dozens of vents is useless if they’re not designed or positioned correctly. Bell’s 60-plus years of experience definitely shows, as the Gage MIPS is one of the coolest helmets that I’ve worn. Ventilation is so good that I often had to wear a thicker skull cap–or, in extreme cases–resort to wearing a different helmet for winter riding. In warmer conditions, the X-Static pads efficiently wicked away perspiration while keeping the dreaded helmet funk at bay. The Gage’s two-way adjustable Twin Axis Gear fit system happily coexisted with my prescription glasses, and riding in the drops didn’t require energy-sapping gymnastics to stay focused on the road or trail.
If these two helmets aren’t your style, check out Bell’s fourteen other MIPS-equipped models. Whether you’re riding dirt, pavement, or hitting the bike park, there’s sure to be a helmet that meets your needs and budget.
Disclosure: Bell Helmets provided review samples for this article, but offered no other form of compensation in exchange for editorial coverage.