The bicycle industry is an ever-changing machine of product improvements and there always seems to be the next greatest thing being released. We are told we need it and it’s better for us, like the mountain bike wheel size shift from 26” up to 29″, then back to 27.5″ now going back to 29″, axle standards, boost spacing… the list goes on.
Helmet design hasn’t changed a lot over the last couple of decades, shapes and internal structures have evolved, lighter weights and better fit but nothing like the latest addition to bike helmet safety.
No doubt you will see more and more of Mips, the new additional layer of safety in sports helmets. It’s more than just a funny looking plastic thing so let’s have a closer look and explore its benefits and even it’s downsides.
What is Mips?
Mips is short for Multi-Directional Impact Protection System. Its a separate thin, plastic layer incorporated into the structure of a helmet to help reduce the force of an impact by providing a low friction layer between the wearer of the helmet and the helmet itself.
Attached by small plastic rivet-looking hooks, it’s a separate cage fitted inside the helmet. There is a small gap between the body of the helmet and this layer, which then moves and slides in the event of an impact. The liner can move 10-15mm on these locating rivets.
The fit and design of the Mips layer are custom made for each model of helmet. This helps retain the fit and feel of the manufacturer’s design and it also helps retain standard sizing. The additional Mips layer is designed to accommodate the various shapes, sizes, ventilation holes and application of the helmet
I have also seen a few different colors, those being bright yellow, transparent, black and transparent grey, the yellow really stands out making it easy to spot if you haven’t seen one before.
The development and history of Mips
The concept of the Mips design has its origins with a Swedish neurosurgeon called Hans von Holst. Researching the relationship between head injury and helmet construction, working together with Peter Halldin from the Swedish Royal Institute of Technology, they developed a new addition to helmet safety.
Their research focused on the rotational impacts of helmet wearers and the resulting injury, taking a different approach to understanding the effects and outcomes and testing solutions using testing that better simulated real-life situations which was a complete departure from standard helmet testing procedures and traditional thinking.
Giro was quick to integrate Mips into a select number of helmets in their range from 2014, and they own a share of the Mips brand.
How Does it work?
I’m definitely no doctor, but I do know that your brain has a small gap surrounding it which helps to absorb impacts to the head and allows movement , so if it didn’t it’s pretty easy to see what difference having no gap at all would be like, the severity and injuries result would be far greater.
Mips works on this very same principle, that small gap between the outside of your head and the inner wall of the helmet allowing movement and absorption.
You could say there are two main types of impact, Linear and rotational. With linear impacts, your head is stopped by hitting something which the helmets absorb by deformation. Rotational is when you fall on an angle, striking your head and forcing your brain to absorb the rotation of the impact.
Often with impacts in sports, they come from any random direction and usually, there is little time to adjust or be ready for it, and from experience, it can be over before you even know what hit you!
With these impacts the helmets commonly dig into the ground or object they are protecting you from, the initial hit can be very large and it sometimes moves the helmet on your head, even knocking it off.
Also depending on how you fall that shock transfers directly down your neck which is really bad.
When you grab hold of a helmet with the Mips liner installed is surprising how much it moves, the movement is around 10 to 15mm. The extra movement gives your helmet the ability to rotate and transfer energy away from your head.
Is it safer?
The helmet manufacturers tell us it’s the next best thing to have, of course, some of them own a share of the Mips company and their, marketing is strongly focused on telling us, the consumer that we certainly need it.
There seems to be a lot of debate on various forums and documents, but no doubt we will see it become a lot more common and more detailed independent tests will be carried out giving a better understanding of its real benefit.
Testing undertaken by the Snell Foundation showed no significant improvement in safety vs a non-Mips helmet, in response Peter Halldin replied under their testing conditions, their Mips system outperformed non-Mips fitted helmet in every single test (and there were 17,000 tests) You can read the full article on the Helmets.Org website.
Of course, real-world conditions cannot be compared to lab conditions, any additional safety in a helmet is only a good thing.
Which helmets have Mips?
The number of helmet manufacturers adding the Mips technology into their lines is consistently growing, most main helmet companies have most of their higher-end products featuring it as well as kids helmets such as the Giro Scamp.
Mips is also found in snow, moto, and equestrian helmets. The more common brands you might come across would be
Does Mips work for everybody, any downsides?
So the benefits of this new system sound good so far, the extra protection is a real bonus but along with the extra layer inside your helmet, there are a couple of things to be aware of.
I have found that having the plastic lining right next to your head can limit the airflow and ventilation slightly. It’s not a big issue but if you live in a hotter climate it’s something to keep in mind.
If you have long or fine hair or your thinking about getting your kids a Mips helmet, extra care may be needed when you remove it to avoid snags and pulling their hair.
Also, there is usually a price premium over regular helmets to account for the additional add-on.
Can I put Mips into my existing helmet?
No, new helmets are designed to work with the extra Mips layer, the fixings needed can’t be retrofitted, also the shape of the liner is unique to each helmet design for ventilation and pad alignment etc.
I’m shopping for a new helmet, do I need Mips?
So there is plenty of lab evidence to support its use and the marketing is there to tell us we really need to buy it, along with helmet manufacturers owning part of the company.
If I was personally shopping for a new helmet, I would take a serious look at the particular helmet I was buying, if it feels good, and if the ventilation is still manageable I think I would choose the Mips version. If I was concerned with my budget and lived in a year-round higher temperature climate, that might change the decision.
Alternatively, I would have no problems picking a non-Mips helmet and would be perfectly happy with that.
So now you have a fair idea of the what Mips is and how it workes in helmets in the market, do you own a Mips helmet? have you just bought one or still can’t decide? share your thoughts below.
At this time of writing, I ride with a Giro Aeon on the road and a Scott MTB helmet, both non-Mips and will be looking at the Mips options vs non-Mips when the time for replacement happens.