Jim has been an advocate of MIPS helmet technology for several years. It is currently the only available technology designed to minimize the risk of a concussion in a bike crash. What was lacking was any data on exactly how much of an edge a MIPS helmet provided. A recent study at the Virginia Tech Helmet Lab yielded some pretty interesting information about helmet safety related to concussion risk.
In 1999 the Consumer Product Safety Commission created the standards which are still used in the helmet industry today. Those standards were created testing helmets dropped onto an anvil at a set speed. They were required to prevent head impact accelerations over 300 g, a force associated with skull fractures and death. One of the major weaknesses in the CPSC testing was that it did not test the entire helmet. Crash data shows most cycling crashes resulting in a brain injury resulted from striking the rim of the helmet. The other major flaw in their testing was it did not attempt to minimize concussion level impacts.
It is been reported that an estimated 81,000 people made a visit to the emergency room in the United States in 2015 for bicycle related head injuries. This is the most for any sport. This number does not include people who never reported to a doctor or went to a primary care doctor.
Researchers at Virginia Tech worked with the Insurance Institute For Highway Safety (IIHS) and designed testing protocols which more realistically reflected crash dynamics. This included the helmet striking asphalt at an angle and at a lower velocity than the original CPSC standards. In addition, they also tested the side of the helmet and along the frontal rim (which is not been included in the CPSC testing).
The entire function of the MIPS technology is to create an inner lining of the helmet with much lower friction so that when the helmet strikes the ground and stops or slows suddenly the head continues to move within the helmet minimizing the rotational forces of the brain the skull.
They tested 30 helmets at six commonly impacted locations. Each helmet was dropped at two speeds. One was the median speed of a riders head striking the ground. The other was a higher speed replicating the 90th percentile involved in real-world crash studies. They installed sensors in the head form to measure the linear acceleration and rotational velocity to measure the risk of concussions.
The researchers created a five-star rating system. Of the 30 helmets tested, four received the top five star rating and each incorporated the MIPS technology. Price was not necessarily an indication of the helmet rating. The $200 Bontrager Ballista MIPS and the $75 Specialized Chamonix MIPS each received a five-star rating.
It’s also interesting that the lowest rating was two stars awarded to two helmets which were still described as “adequate.” They also found that road type helmets performed better than what are described as “urban” helmets which often have a solid cover with the events and may have a thicker shell.
The Virginia Tech Helmet Institute has a long history of testing helmets in various sports. They will continue to test additional cycling helmets, including mountain bike helmets, and will update those results on their website.
Using a theoretical risk of concussion, it has been reported that the helmets with the highest five-star rating would provide more than double the protection of the lowest rated helmets. Regardless of whether that is borne out in real life, Jim’s position is that any technology which gives us an edge in minimizing the risk of concussion is a no-brainer!
For complete listing of the helmets tested go to www.bicycling.com.
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