It’s been known for some years that the majority of concussions and brain injury’s that occur in mountain biking come, not from direct blows to the head, but from glancing blows and impacts that turn the head. The rotational forces that these types of impacts set up lead to your brain twisting inside your head and this in turn leads to stretching and shearing of the nerve cells in your brain. It’s this stretching and tearing of the nerves within the brain that is the major source of damage. One way in which this can be thought of is; you can spend hours punching a book or banging it on a table and, while it will be damaged and start looking tatty and dog eared, the information contained in it will remain intact and useful. Twist that same book so the pages tear, however, and the information contained in that book can stop making sense within seconds. Rotational forces cause more damage.
WaveCel technology works by using a specially designed liner that sits inside the helmet between your head and the outer shell. Thanks to its design, the liner can flex, crumple, and glide adding all round improved protection against head impacts when mountain biking.
Reducing rotational forces…..isn’t that what MIPS helmets do?
Yes they do! Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS) helmets are designed to use the impact absorption of the standard foam used in helmets for direct blows, while having a slip liner that rests against you head to allow the helmet to move around your head and reduce the rotational forces that develop in a crash.
In essence MIPS helmets and the WaveCel system do the same thing, but the WaveCel system does it much more effectively by allowing greater impact absorption and a greater amount of movement of the helmet outer casing around your head. The WaveCel website references research which suggests the reduction in rotational forces can be as much as 73% over a standard helmet, which can reduce the risk concussion of by up to 98% over a standard helmet.
I’ve already got a good helmet. Is it really worth it?
Speaking as a Physiotherapist who leads the therapy service for a regional neurological rehabilitation centre and deals with brain injuries from road bike, mountain bike, motor bike crashes etc everyday; getting the best protection for your brain that you can should be your priority. I can give added insight into this as, around a year ago, I came off my bike and hit a tree wearing a £400 full face helmet. I was only out for a fraction of a second (I don’t remember hitting the tree but remember hitting the ground) but, one year on, I’m still having trouble with things like fatigue, banging into things on my right side and occasionally doing weird stuff like putting my shoes in the fridge!
Some initial reviews have started to pop up on the WaveCel helmets over the past week and there’s only a single research paper out there at present comparing the different types of helmet, but initial thoughts have to be that this is an extremely encouraging and important step forward in improving helmet effectiveness and reducing brain injuries in mountain biking. As the promotional video says “You can have a lot of bikes in your life but you only get one brain”.
If you’re going to take the time to practice, practice like the elite.