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Bontrager WaveCel – Did Trek Just Revolutionize Safety Helmet Design?

Being a fan of all things two-wheels, we noticed a new safety helmet design introduced by Trek Bicycles’ Bontrager division. The new helmets are known as WaveCel, and they incorporate a new structure that, according to Trek, is “up to 48x more effective in preventing concussions caused by common cycling accidents.”

These screenshots from the Trek website, as well as the two videos below, provide more detail, but it is worth noting that at least some of Trek’s claims relate to the performance of WaveCel versus EPS foam helmet technology, rather than some differing helmet designs, such as MIPS.

Concussions are big news these days in all sorts of sports and transportation activities. American football has created most of the concussion-related headlines, but this WaveCel technology looks like it could possibly be applied not just to bicycle helmets, but to other sporting activities, including motorcycle helmets, as well.

Bicycles typically travel at lower speeds than motorcycles, of course, but we understand that professional Trek road cyclists, including those who race the Tour de France, and decend the Alps and the Pyrenees at speeds exceeding 60 mph, will be protected by WaveCel helmets. Testing at Virginia Tech has resulted in very high ratings for the protection offered by WaveCel helmets.

Take a look at the videos below, and tell us what you think.

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  1. bmbktmracer says:

    Somebody call the NFL!

  2. Anonymous says:

    Just got one on my front porch today. I am no longer a motorman due to breaking a bunch of bones (me & ktm brake failure & a guardrail) just after my 60th birthday last August. I am, however getting back on 2 wheels & now felt the need for a good helmet.

    • Tim says:

      I just bought a new MIPS bike helmet a month or so ago, then not a week later I started seeing ads for these. Surprisingly, they have some very affordable models. I see some on the internet for $119. If only I had waited a couple more weeks to make the purchase…

    • Tim says:

      I just bought a new MIPS bike helmet a month or so ago, then not a week later I started seeing adds for these. Surprisingly, they have some very affordable models. I see some on the internet for $119. If only I had waited a couple more weeks to make the purchase…

  3. Crazyjoe says:

    Just thinking out loud but would a bicycle helmet be any better than nothing for a motorcyclist. I know there’s to many opening in it but it actually does protect the head using the six foot drop requirement. I saw some guy riding a Burgman with a bicycle helmet. At least his head was cool. Could it offer some protection for someone who doesn’t normally wear one?

    • mickey says:

      Anything is better than nothing. A bare head has little resistance against anything solid.

    • Mikey says:

      Why would anyone ride a motorcycle without a helmet? Your head is the most valuable thing you own.
      Plus the wind and the bugs in the face suck. Then there’s the rain.

      • Jeremy says:

        I always wear a helmet, but there are plenty of people that consider that wind-in-the-hair feeling of as part of the experience they love. Accepting the additional margin of danger is the cost of that experience. In fact, the additional element of danger may indeed be part of the prize.

        I assume everyone posting here foregoes the safety of seat belts, airbags and two tons of crumple zones from time to time (or all the time) to enjoy the euphoria that is motorcycling. While many of us, myself included on occasion, will give an incredulous, cockeyed stare to someone who chooses to ride without a helmet, it’s that same stupid part of the brain at work that pulled us out of the safety of our Honda Accords and onto the seats of motorcycles. We shouldn’t be so quick to judge.

        I really wish everyone would wear a helmet. But then my wife wishes I would never ride a motorcycle. Sometimes our personal natures just win out over good sense.

        • Don says:

          I think that’s the most well-reasoned, considered, and respectful response I’ve ever read on the internet. Kudos to you.

    • TimC says:

      Possibly better than nothing, possibly worse. A std bicycle helmet can only absorb a little energy/take the edge off. There isn’t enough energy absorption to decelerate the head, which is where the real brain injury prevention of a m/c helmet comes into play. Might help with abrasions going down the road – but I say “might be worse” because a bicycle helmet can catch on stuff, causing more neck torsion etc. So for m/c speeds I’d consider it a draw – just like those fake-DOT things that some of the more badass cruiser guys wear – looks like something but that’s about it.

      This is why a) I really get annoyed when people INSIST you MUST wear a helmet while bicycling – sure, if they did that much, then I’d agree – but they don’t make that huge a difference and aren’t often a factor in most bicycle crashes. (Or ski – I have 2 friends that have both had big time concussions and were shocked because they were wearing a helmet – people just don’t know.) And b) I say below that if the energy absorption has gone up like they claim this would be great.

      • Dave says:

        Bicycle helmets do a great deal to protect against head injury. The EPS is designed to crush, just like in a motorcycle helmet. They must pass CPSC testing to be sold in the US and others for Euro. It certainly isn’t as durable or protective as a good motorcycle helmet, but it’s a great deal better than nothing.

  4. Jabe says:

    Oh great! First electric motorcycles and now this.

    OK kidding. I’ve managed to wreck every helmet I ever owned due to crashes (mostly off road but a few on) and they all did their job, but I have also noticed I break easier as I get older. Since I haven’t gotten any smarter and my riding skills are in decline, I should welcome any additional protection.

    Where I live and ride most motorcyclists don’t wear helmets. I chose to respect their choice just as I do the concept of natural selection.

  5. Mikey says:

    Bring it. This will be my next helmet. Hopefully it’ll be thinner than the foam insert and should allow for a more compact helmet shell thus making for less wind resistance at speed.

    It would also make for a cooler helmet with the summers getting increasingly hotter. The only downside I see is it will be noisier due to increased airflow but I always use earplugs, so not a factor.

    Bring it now.

  6. Tommy D says:

    Isn’t this just a MIPS technology using a different medium? The wave cell vs a sheer liner of EPS.

    • Dave says:

      It is not really the same. It offers the same benefit, but has additional benefits beyond just a shear layer. You could think of it as more of a multi density crush zone so it absorbs conventional impacts better than a normal EPS only liner (which is also present in Bontrager’s wave-cell helmets).

    • Tim says:

      Those concussion rate estimates the guy quoted in the video were pretty remarkable. I couldn’t tell if he was saying 53% or 63% for a standard helmet versus less than 2% for this new tech helmet. I would presume a MIPS helmet is probably somewhere in between the two.

      • Dave says:

        I find the claims remarkable too. For a liability driven segment like safety gear, any claim like this is a big risk. It is my understanding that MIPS cannot make efficacy claims because the implement does not absorb energy in and of itself.

    • Don says:

      Not the same technology at all, but trying to achieve the same goal and then some.

  7. Allwold says:

    This is potentially a game changer for not only motorcyclist but many sports. It really can be used for all types of impact protection I hope we see it in motorcycle helmets soon.

  8. Bob K says:

    I’m excited about this tech. I’ve been dreaming of a helmet liner that resembles the Forcefield armor for years. Great for multiple impacts and very breathable. In the right thickness, it just might be viable. But Trek is answering the call. I can’t wait to this this hit the market.
    I see other applications too. Obviously helmets for other sports, from skiing to football to hockey to rock climbing. But also for body armor in those sports. The current foam padding in football and hockey body padding is cumbersome, heavy and hot as hell to wear. I don’t know what this wavecell weighs but the breathability would be most welcome in hockey body protection and in helmets. When I was a kid in the 70s, the padding sucked, and pucks hurt, even from a wimpy kid with wooden shafted sticks. And the fact that wavecell is capable of moving with regard to itself, means it can stay in place while still moving with you. Freer movement will make for better player performance too.
    I have a dream!!!

    • guu says:

      Look at Koroyd. It looks like straws stuck together and has been used for some time in helmets and armour. In helmets traditional vents with inlets and outlets work better, IMO.

  9. todd says:

    From what I’ve read, it’s the distance to the ground that matters with a helmet, not the horizontal velocity your head is traveling. Unless you slide into a curb…

    • Bob K says:

      This was proven to be correct more than 30 years ago when I first read articles about it.
      Regarding curbs…when I lived in western London and was road racing (and cyclocross) as a young teenager, they have square edged curbs, much like cast pavers, on the roads everywhere. They were about 6″ high. Flying through some of those quaint little hamlets downhill at near 50 mph and throwing into an ess at the bottom, befor the climb up the other side, I’ve had my share of lowsides filleting the skin of my leg. Spinning round and a curb coming at me, I’ve hit them. Always did good at keeping my head off the ground, but the curb thing is a reality.

      • Bob K says:

        I always bring this up in these discussions but it’s pretty old now so the monetary figure is way out of date, but the point still stands.
        In 1998, a study was published and reprinted in an issue of Mountain Bike Action magazine on head injuries. The average medical cost of a head injury was $75,000. In 1998. Can’t even put that in 2019 numbers because health insurance regulations have changed dramatically and made costs skyrocket beyond inflation equations.
        It stated most cycling related head injuries occurred at a standstill. Simply put, losing balance/footing and falling over and whacking their head. The rest ranged from lowsides and endos. The endos being the worst as even though 6 ft may have been the max height, the angular acceleration was multiplied immensely..
        Before toe straps and clip in pedals, you could bail out at least. That was always fun tho. hahaha As for 6 ft, I’d fallen from a standstill plenty of times when I got my first SPD pedal set. First trying to get used to them but when severely fatigued, not having the strength to rotate out and just falling over in a heap. Embarrassing but I know I’m not the first or the last to look a fool.

        • TimC says:

          Yep, failing to unclip gets us all. And yep at a standstill it’s a big arc down, more height/time for a due to g.

          I don’t get the MTB guys that clip in; it’s just asking for trouble when you need to get a foot down without thinking about it, no matter what the supposed gains might be.

          • Dave says:

            There is a level of control and power transmission that you can’t achieve on flat pedals. I liken it to the difference between trying to ride with your palms just resting on top of your grips and wrapping your hands around them.

          • guu says:

            You unclip with the same motion as you would pull of a flat pedal. There is no need to think about it. Falling backwards is somewhat sketchy, though.

            In Europe at least the wast majority of cycling accidents with serious consequences happen to elderly people.

          • Don says:

            With mountain biking you have so many more opportunities to unclip, especially when learning, that it becomes second nature. If you’re only clipping out once or twice, like on a road ride in the countryside, I could see it taking longer for that to happen. Falling over once or twice does seem to speed up the process though 🙂

  10. Reginald Van Blunt says:

    Very nice idea, however I wonder about direct force absorption rate at higher velocities as in motorized vehicles operation. Twisting forces are probably more often experienced in all accidents, but I don’t see this material decelerating at a variable rate to make up for the limited space in all helmets from the outer shell to the head. Perhaps a fractal geometry design, if using just one material within the shell ? More power to all efforts though. Thank you for working to make things better.

    • Bob K says:

      They didn’t talk about that at all and I’d want to know too.
      The one thing I know about crashing bikes a lot since the 70s is that most often, the highest your head will hit pavement/dirt from is usually no more than 6 ft. And that would be on a road bike or XC mountain bike…even cyclocross. And I’ve raced all three when I was much younger. Never hit my head once in a spill. Even going over the bars, clipped in, My head never came down from more than 6 ft.
      And that is the answer you are looking for to your question. Because crashes are 99% forward moving, regardless of height, it will always be a glancing blow, which is where this technology shines, but yes, you still have to account for the vertical component of the crash at 32 ft/sec/sec and need the answer to the ability to slow down the head via distance over time. These bike helmets are pretty thin, so even if the energy absorption/dissipation is fantastic, the head still needs to slow down via distance over time to be effective in decreasing Gs to reduce concussions.
      That said, I don’t believe my $100 beer cooler helmet by Bell will crush enough from 6 ft high to help me a whole lot, should I need it to. I’m more inclined to think, it might only crush to 3/8 or 1/2 thickness at best.

    • Dave says:

      Since helmets are bound by regulatory standards, it can be assumed that this helmet performs at least as well as everything else out there in the cycling market. I’ve handled one of these helmets and the wave-cell is a layer, with a thinner EPS helmet structure around it. It would seem to me to allow both layers to collapse separately and more thoroughly, absorbing more energy. The test results seem to bear that out.

      I am sure this tech is scale-able to motorcycle helmet design. It will be a matter of another manufacturer getting rights to work with it and designing some helmets around it.

  11. ill_mostro says:

    As long as they make one shaped like a German helmet with a spike on top to go with my skull face mask. Great setup for summer riding.

    • Tom K. says:

      I’m in, but only if they make it in a large enough diameter that I can look like The Great Gazoo from the Flintstones cartoons.

      But seriously, you have to wonder what the optimum diameter for a helmet actually is, balanced between managing G-forces to your computer, vs. weight, aesthetics, aerodynamics, and twisting your head off in a crash. How much protection is gained from every additional 1/2″ of thickness in a standard helmet?

  12. Tank says:

    I hope they make a motorcycle helmet I can wear when it’s over 100 degrees.

    • Anonymous says:

      They already do. You just choose not to wear them.

      • fred says:

        I’ve been wearing motorcycle helmets in 100F+ weather since the early 80’s. The newer ones are better, but it’s always been a matter of choice, not of availability.

  13. ill_mostro says:

    Looks promising! I’ve been amazed that moto/bicycle helmet safety technology has been pretty much stagnant for decades. The shell designs and venting have progressed, but the basic EPS (expanded polystyrene) guts of a modern helmet are firmly stuck in the 70s. Still protecting our noggins with (ostensibly higher quality) styrofoam used in coffee cups and disposable coolers.

    • Bob K says:

      Pathetic, isn’t it?

    • Dave says:

      I don’t think we’ve been using EPS for this long because of complacency. There’s monetary reward for anyone who can build a better mousetrap. I have to believe that up until now, EPS is just the best thing for the purpose, like leather for other applications.

    • ELR says:

      Try to attend an Arai Helmet seminar sometime. My local dealership has put on a couple of them over the last few years, so I assume others do the same around the country. You’ll see what goes into modern motorcycle helmets, and you’ll learn that it isn’t your father’s EPS they’re putting in there.

      That said, if something truly better comes along, I’m all for it, and this stuff looks very promising!

  14. mickey says:

    Looks like a fabulous product (and I assume they would put it in standard looking motorcycle helmets)

    Like Hi-Viz clothing and the new D30 armor, things are getting safer for motorcyclists all the time (if they are just willing to wear it)

  15. Hot Dog says:

    Poseurs want to know if it’s available in “Doo Rag Hi-Viz flat black”.

    • fred says:

      LOL Interestingly enough, there is such a thing as hi-viz black. Well, at least they have black gear, etc that is highly reflective at night.

  16. TimC says:

    This looks truly revolutionary. Current bicycle/ski helmet tech within practical size/weight limits is “take the edge off” only.

  17. gpokluda says:

    Great to see some new technology make it to helmets. Of course you have to wear one to enjoy the benefits.

  18. ApriliaRST says:

    Bravo. I’ll take one as soon as it becomes available.

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