Bike Helmets: MIPS Explained

By Published On: June 16th, 20220 Comments

MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact System. In the past few years, MIPS has become a standard feature of many mid-level and high-end bike helmets. Below is a brief explanation of the origins of MIPS, how it works, and a few considerations to account for when you’re buying a MIPS bike helmet.

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How MIPS Got Developed

The effort to develop what would become the MIPS technology dates to 1995, when Swedish neurosurgeon Hans von Holst, at the Karolinksa University Hospital, in Stockholm, and engineer Peter Halldin, of the KTH Royal Institute of Technology, also in Stockholm, began collaborating on a way to reduce traumatic brain injuries. Dr. von Holst had seen more than his fair share of traumatic brain injuries, so he began brainstorming preventative measures. His answer was to reach out to engineers, and in Halldin he found a willing partner to develop a new kind of bicycle helmet. In fact, Halldin was so dedicated to von Holst’s vision that he began pursuing a PhD in biomechanics to work on von Holst’s problem. Halldin and von Holst realized that the brain could better absorb direct impact than oblique impact, which caused the brain to shift inside the skull due to rotational forces on the head. A rider falling from his bike was more likely to sustain an oblique impact—that is, impact at an angle—yet helmets at the time didn’t directly address the problem of rotational forces on the brain.

In the late 1990s, Halldin collaborated with Nigel Mills at Birmingham University, and together they began testing the MIPS design. The duo’s findings were first published in 2001, and in 2003 the von Holst and Halldin were awarded a patent for MIPS.

Today, MIPS boasts business partnerships with more than five dozen helmet brands, reserving the MIPS label for only those labels that meet MIPS’s strict requirements. Its name has become synonymous with safety.

How MIPS Works

MIPS is a relatively simple idea. The system consists of a low-friction, thin plastic layer that rests inside the helmet, allowing the helmet to slide 10–15 mm around the head upon impact. This sliding absorbs at least 10 percent more rotational force than does a helmet without MIPS, though that figure can be as high as 70 percent (in even rigorous testing, it can be hard to approximate the impact of a real-world crash). The MIPS layer is cut to match the ventilation holes in your bike helmet, so that MIPS has no impact on circulation. 

Pros and Cons of MIPS

MIPS helmets tend to be more expensive than non–MIPS helmets, though it’s hard to argue with a premium put on safety. (A MIPS helmet will start at around $50 at your local bike shop.) Some riders also point to a difference in sizing that the MIPS layer can cause, but this difficulty is easily surmounted by trying on helmets in person before buying one. Buying an adjustable helmet is another simple way to make sure that your MIPS helmet fits correctly.

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