“To MIPS, or not to MIPS – that is the question..”. Also known as Multi-directional Impact Protection System, technology has been engineered to act as a protection system inside helmets for ensuring the safety of the brain. It works to reduce the impact energy that is transferred to the brain when the rider is involved in an accident or crash where the helmet is subjected to an “angled” impact with any surface or object. This is very important because these rotational forces can cause concussions or more severe damage to the brain.
What is MIPS?
A brainchild from the researchers at Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology, the MIPS helmet uses a slip-plane that has a pair of layers that are turning on each other. This rotation is identical to how our cerebrospinal fluid is turning on the inside of our skull. The helmet is therefore able to replicate the natural means that our bodies use to defend themselves against angled impacts. The system uses a layer of lower friction in the middle of the liner and the helmet’s shell. As a result, whenever there is a case of an angled impact, the helmet is allowed to slide parallel to the user’s head. The yellow slip plane rotates by distances between 10 and 15mm in the spacing between the helmet and the head. This is crucial because in case the helmet is involved in an accident, in the initial 10 to 15 millisecond- a huge amount of rotational force is transferred to the internal layers of the helmet, which subsequently transfers to the brain too. MIPS works to minimize the severity of this impact force, and possibly reduce the risk of any sort of injury to the brain.
With several similar technologies being implemented inside helmets by manufacturers to address the safety concerns, MIPS came into the spotlight in 2010 and since then more than 60 brands have adopted the technology in their helmets. Manufacturers explicitly point out that MIPS is 10% more effective in dealing with the rotational impacts in comparison to any other helmet that does not use the yellow slip plane( due to legal concerns ) – they believe that this 10% can prove to be significant since there is no way no crashes can have the same type and impact of damage in a helmet.
MIPS w/ CPSC
Usually, MIPS is found on the high-end helmet models from manufacturers, for which they might charge a few dollars more. Regardless of the price, these helmets are compliant with safety standards that have been set to protect riders. The Consumer Product Safety Commission assures that any helmet that is compliant with CPSC standards will not obstruct the vision of a rider, will stay on the rider’s head in case of a crash, and will reduce the impact of the force that is transferred internally in such a case.
In compliance with CPSC standards, MIPS helmets use the same EPS on their outer layers. This outer layer is elastomerically attached to a layer of low friction. This is what allows the layer to move relatively in all directions. Basically, the rotational force is being redirected into linear energy, whereas, a helmet that has MIPS will make the head rotate less than one that does not have MIPS. The majority of the force is absorbed. With very limited time available to the helmet to do anything to the impact force, the force is multiplied by quite a significant amount. This is why the MIPS layer needs a lower coefficient of friction to minimize the head’s rotation.
➥ We advise you have a look at other safety standards when it comes to manufacturing bike helmets
A neurosurgeon from Sweden, Hans von Holst was positioned in Geneva for research with WHO he was concerned with the high rate of injuries sustained to the brain in individuals who have been involved in accidents, even if he or she was wearing a helmet. Being a neurosurgeon, he was able to figure that even though the human brain is very good at handling linear impacts, whenever rotational forces come into play during angled impacts – the brain does not fare too well.
A good example to illustrate this would be the impacts that a boxer has to sustain during fights. We see uppercuts knocking these athletes out while a punch directed straight to the face leads to breaking the nose, teeth, etc. The neurosurgeon noticed that helmets and the standards of safety that prevailed back then were set in regards to dealing with linear forces, while the extreme brain injuries that individuals faced originated due to rotational impacts from crashes in horseback riding, skiing, and cycling. The helmets did not have any means to deal with rotational forces back then.
The neurosurgeon collaborated with researchers from Stockholm’s Royal Institute of Technology – Peter Halldin and Svein Kleiven. They were using models that could be used to test helmets. The brainchild of this collaboration was slip-plane MIPS technology in 2007. By 2010 it was being used in the commercial production of helmets
Advantages of using helmets having MIPS
With MIPS helmets, a bunch of advantages comes hand-in-hand. The protection system works independently of the direction of impact while protecting the brain from the increased stress level that is accompanied by such angled impacts. This is the most obvious benefit MIPS offers.
If we look deeper into it, MIPS hardly makes a helmet heavy or bloats up its volume. Whenever MIPS has been integrated into any helmet model, the layer is designed especially to ensure that other aspects of the helmet like its shape, ventilation, etc. can perform better as a whole system. Attention is also paid to ensure that the MIPS layer does not stick out. Additionally, a helmet that has MIPS will not strain your wallet. The technology will make you spend a little bit more, but the value is quite worth the money that you are spending.
➥ You can compare the effectiveness of these two helmets: Bern Berkeley vs Brentwood Helmet. Of these two, Bern Unlimited Berkeley does not have the MIPS technology but Brentwood Helmet uses MIPS.
For further clarification, you can look into the following video from Global Cycling Network for extensive insight:
What does MIPS do?
The importance of rotational motion
Most of the impact that your helmet has experienced has likely been angled/oblique, and that is why scientists have been looking at the rotational motion for a long time. They have divided biomechanical injuries into two types- rotational and linear. The former combines angular velocity and torque generated by the angular acceleration that will put the brain at more risk for both severe and minor injuries. Rotational injuries put our brain at risk of various axonal injuries and subdural hematoma. They are quite different from how a force-directed perpendicular would affect the brain tissue. With a high enough friction coefficient between the helmet and the road, angled impact with the road will generate a tangential force on the helmet that is very harmful to it.
MIPS development process
With the variable sizes, shapes, design features, and patterns for ventilation – its manufacturers have concluded that there is no specific MIPS size that can be used in all helmets. Product engineers from MIPS state that the MIPS system can vary from one helmet to the other. They use road bike helmets as an example, where they say ventilation, weight, and safety are all equally important. To ensure maximum safety, the best way to go would be to cover all the sides. They know that such a design would minimize ventilation and discourage riders from using it. This urges MIPS to make sure that there is a balance while the helmet is compliant with its safety standards.
It is always not the yellow layer slip-plane that uses polycarbonate plastic. In some helmets, a pair of EPS layers make up the protection system. In case of an angled impact, the EPS layers
move in a relative motion to each other to minimize rotational forces that are passed on internally. This means there are no additional liners here that would have otherwise affected the helmet’s ventilation.
Competitors of MIPS & how they work (WaveCel)
An alternative system to MIPS would be WaveCel, which is widely used by manufacturer Bontrager and many others. It allows rotational movement thanks to the cellular material that will flex, crush, and glide. The technology uses ‘rotational suspension’ through a built-in crease that can flex. The material then crumples and folds inside before sliding along the exterior that is using EPS foam exterior. WaveCel, however – has to be replaced if the helmet is involved in a crash.
What the future holds for helmets with MIPS
Since testing with more head forms is the best way to advance, MIPS has been designing unique head forms because they believe that the ones being used today in helmet tests cannot provide the insight that is needed into helmet protection. Although the standards used nowadays can equip a helmet with enough vertical protection, they should help to measure forces from angled impacts too. A spokesperson from the company believes that the strain has to be computed from a model that uses a finite element. However, since all models are different, helmets cannot still be given a pass/fail grade from tests analyzing rotational factors. The company is very hopeful that new test methods will come up soon.
Frequently Asked Questions
Q1. Compared to other helmets, how much safer are helmets that are equipped with MIPS?
Ans.: The manufacturers who have incorporated MIPS in their helmets are unwilling to classify MIPS as the safer version – despite the engineering, innovation, and testing that may have been involved in developing this technology. A certain helmet manufacturer infers that every accident is different in the way it affects the individual, the helmet he or she may be using, and the circumstances involved.
A helmet that has been integrated with MIPS technology will handle rotational forces with 10% more efficiency than any helmet that does not use the slip-plane. The standard for maintaining this is so high that if any helmet handles rotational forces 9% better – the particular helmet will not be allowed to use the technology.
Now the obvious question that arises that is this 10% enough to reduce injuries a human brain could sustain? MIPS is careful not to claim this and rather goes on to say that they appreciate any percentage of minimized damage to the brain.
MIPS vs No MIPS | Credit: GearJunkie
Q2. How am I supposed to know that I’m getting one of the safest helmets out there?
Ans.: Frankly, there is no foolproof way you can say that any helmet – with MIPS or without MIPS – is the safest. This is quite discouraging since all helmets have to be compliant with the same set of standardized tests and there could be a scale to compare one to another. With the uncertainty that comes with bicycle accidents, helmet manufacturers prefer to stay away from litigation that would have otherwise resulted from claiming that their helmet is the safest. Helmets that are subjected to the tests only get a pass / fail rating which is independent of how “well” the helmet may have performed. So the only fact that we can go by is a helmet that uses MIPS slip-plane technology will handle rotational forces 10% better than a helmet that does not have the technology.
However, another issue that comes forward is some helmet designs have the natural ability to be resistant to rotational impacts. So, for example – if Brand “x” produces helmets that can handle rotational forces 40% without MIPS in comparison to helmets from Brand “y”, even if the latter is integrated with MIPS for a 10% improvement, it will still not be up to the level of the former.
A collaboration between Virginia Tech University and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety carried out a test to rate 69 helmets, and the effect of rotational impacts was a part of these tests too. The results illustrated that the 23 helmets that scored the best had some sort of a system to reduce forces for angled impacts, which included the MIPS system too. So too much protection of the MIPS helmet is certainly not a setback.
Q3. What specific mechanisms does MIPS BPS protect against??
Ans.: MIPS minimizes rotation motion that is a result of angled impacts to a helmet. This absorption and redirection of energy minimize the magnitude of the force that is transmitted internally. By using a layer with a low coefficient of friction, the layer moves only by a small extent to the helmet itself in the moment of contact. The system allows the head to continue its direction without passing on any rotational impact on the brain. While energy is being absorbed due to heat generated by friction, the load is transferred over an extended area of the liner.
Q4. Is there any disadvantage to using a MIPS helmet?
Ans.: With the MIPS protection system, you are certainly not heading in the wrong direction. The only issues that may come up while using such a helmet would be in regards to the helmet fit.
A snug fit is a way to go with any helmet. In many of the MIPS helmets today, it has been integrated into the original design. On the contrary, you can also find models where the mold of the helmet remains unchanged and MIPS is just an addition to the existing design. Even though the liner is thin, the pivot points and the anchor contacts will increase the width. This is why many manufacturers use a felt patch that can be found between the liner and the foam so that it can slide with sufficient freedom. As a result, the fit of a MIPS may be a little smaller and during purchase, it would be a good idea to settle for one size bigger.
The layer may cause some discomfort as the plastic of the liner will press down on your forehead with daily use. Of course, this would depend on how the forehead pad is constructed.
Credit: Bike Test Reviews
Having a helmet on during a crash can make the difference between life and death. So if you can use a helmet that has a good protection system, good ventilation, minimal weight – why not go for it? You obviously cannot guarantee how things will come out on the other side of a crash, but MIPS is a great leap towards minimizing the risk. The only difference with a MIPS liner would be the yellow logo that is used by some brands, and while you have it on your helmet you will hardly feel a difference. So we think MIPS helmets are certainly worth it!