Playing Defense: Advancing Helmet Technology

Modern bike helmets have a tough job. They need to protect the skull and brain against a wide range of impacts, vent air well, be lightweight, and maintain a sleek aesthetic. Here, we take a look at some of the different approaches helmet companies are taking when it comes to addressing an increasingly mainstream health concern — traumatic brain injuries and concussions.

Helmet Safety History

From the soft leather football helmets of the 1920s to bicycle helmets being made compulsory in UCI races for the first time ever in 2003, recreational helmets have come a long way in a short amount of time. As early as the 1950s, athletes and doctors began to realize that helmet safety requirements were needed to protect athletes. Because of this, three main standards emerged: CPSC, which is law in the United States, CEN which is used throughout Europe, and ISO, which is used internationally. These three standards were developed with the goal of mitigating major head trauma.

As the science of head injuries has continued to develop, numerous helmet companies have found ways to adhere to the current standards while developing innovative ways to address low-G and rotational impacts with the ultimate goal of minimizing brain injuries — something researchers are still learning more about even today. Read on to learn about some recent innovations in bike helmet technology. 

MIPS

Created from the combined knowledge and efforts of a Swedish engineer and a Swedish neurosurgeon, MIPS was designed to alleviate rotational forces generated from an impact. Research began in the mid 1990s, with the first MIPS equipped helmets going to market in the early 2000s.

The product itself is made up of a low-friction layer positioned between the head and the helmet that absorbs some of the rotational forces generated by an oblique or angular impact typically associated with a rider falling from a bike. Basically, the MIPS liner shifts upon impact so that your brain doesn’t rattle around in your head as much. Several major helmet brands on the market use MIPS technology. On the sales floor, you can tell if a helmet is equipped with MIPS or not by looking for a MIPS sticker or a thin, yellow plastic layer lining the inside of the helmet.

SPIN System

Released in 2017, POC’s Shearing Pad INside (SPIN) system was developed with the desire to address the same kinds of rotational impacts that spurred the creation of MIPS, but with a totally different approach. POC’s research showed that, compared to a direct or linear fall, the amount of force required to cause serious injury from an oblique impact is often much lower. Even a “light” fall that generates low rotational impacts can have serious consequences on brain health.

The SPIN system reduces the impact of oblique falls by shearing the forces in any direction. This is done using several strategically-placed pads that allow relative movement between the helmet and the head — kind of like a slippery pillow. While these pads don’t look much different from the typical padding that lines a bike helmet, they pack a big punch when it comes to shearing forces.

ODS System

As a relatively new helmet company, 6D has made a big splash in a short amount of time, engineering a revolutionary new impact system called Omni-Directional Suspension (ODS). 

What is ODS and how is it different from what’s already on the market? This system essentially uncouples the two main layers of the helmet and adds elastomer dampers between those layers. Picture a suspension system inside the helmet that makes the helmet more capable of managing energy at lower demands, which is where concussions happen. You’ll find this technology in every 6D helmet.

LDL

LDL stands for “low density layer,” and describes a softer layer that sits next to the head and folds over upon impact. Created by Kali Helmets, this layer consists of viscoelastic padding that’s placed throughout the helmet and absorbs both rotational and low-G impacts. In fact, according to Kali’s studies, this technology reduces rotational impact forces by up to 25% and low-G impact forces by up to 30%. A majority of Kali’s bike helmets have this technology.

CEN – European Committee for Standardization (French acronym)

CPSC – Consumer Product Safety Commission

EPS – type of foam used in helmets

ISO – International Standard Organization

LDL – Low Density Layer

Linear impact – an impact that travels in a straight line

MIPS – Multi-Directional Impact Protection System

ODS – Omni-Directional Protection System

Rotational impact – an impact that results in rotating forces

SPIN – Shearing Pad INside

TBI – traumatic brain injury

UCI – Union Cycliste Internationale

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