Bontrager WaveCel: How the Helmet Lineup Works & How it Compares to Koroyd®
We take a quick—but in-depth—look at the new Bontrager WaveCel technology, including how it works, how it compares to Koroyd®, which helmets you’ll find it in, and how much you’ll pay.
Updated May 28, 2019
About Bontrager WaveCel Technology
Bike technology has changed dramatically over the past 30 years, but Bontrager advertises that helmets haven’t necessarily kept up, which still involve a combination of expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam, a plastic shell, and fabric straps.
It’s for this reason the company added WaveCel technology to its helmet lineup, which is developed by Legacy Biomechanics Laboratory based out of Portland, Oregon. Comprised of a lining on the inside of the helmet, this collapsible structure undergoes a three-step change that absorbs most of the energy from an impact before it reaches your head.
This way, Bontrager says that WaveCel is up to “48 times more effective than standard foam helmets in preventing concussions” caused by common cycling accidents.
Together, Bontrager tells us that WaveCel represents “the biggest advancement in the protection against cycling concussions.”
Taking a Closer Look at How Bontrager WaveCel Works
The Bontrager website explains that WaveCel is the brainchild of Dr. Michael Bottlang, a biomechanical engineer and founder of the Legacy Biomechanics Laboratory in Portland, Oregon, and Steven Madey, MD, an award-winning orthopedic surgeon, who have collaborated for a quarter of a century.
The two spent years researching rotational impact in an effort to solve the problem of traumatic brain injuries in active people, and the result of their efforts is a material that’s recessed into the interior of a bike helmet, which undergoes a three-step change in structure to help absorb energy from an impact:
- First, the cells—which look similar to a pattern of inverted Vs placed next to one another—flex to reduce the initial frictional forces.
- If enough force is applied, the cells crumple upon impact, similar to how a car’s bumper works.
- WaveCel’s structure then creates a gliding motion that helps protect your head by redirect energy away.
Note: Bontrager’s WaveCel helmets feature a meaningfully thinner layer of EPS foam than traditional models, but they don’t get rid of the material altogether.
Based on testing (more next), Bontrager tells us that WaveCel is “the first advanced helmet technology ever to receive funding from the US National Institute of Health.” And after independent testing at Virginia Tech, every WaveCel helmet in the lineup received a perfect 5-star rating for safety.
Despite this added protection, though, Bontrager tells us that WaveCel technology “adds only 53 grams on average.”
WaveCel vs. MIPS
To support their claims, Bontrager references a study published in March 2019 involving Madey and Bottlang, et al., which compared “standard foam helmets and the same helmets with WaveCel inserts in a simulation of a typical bike crash.”
Specifically, the team subjected a total of 60 helmets to vertical impacts from an anvil at 30°, 45°, and 60° angles, at a speed of 4.8 m/s. They also tested helmet performance at a faster rate of 6.2 m/s using the 45° anvil.
The result? The team found that WaveCel (labeled “CELL”) helmets reduced rotational acceleration—the force created when your head hits the ground at an angle—by 73%. It also decreased the risk of an AIS 2 brain injury down to 1.2%.
Comparatively, they found that helmets equipped with a Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS)—technology that allows them to “slide” relative to the skull upon impact—only reduced rotational acceleration by 22%. It also only decreased the AIS 2 brain injury risk to 34.2%.
With these details in mind, WaveCel helmets do not implement MIPS technology, although many other helmets in the Bontrager lineup do.
Bontrager WaveCel vs. Koroyd®
If you’re familiar with Smith’s bike helmet lineup, WaveCel’s cellular structure and bright green color might evoke images of Koroyd®, which also advertises efficient and consistent energy absorption properties, along with cores that crush to reduce the energy that reaches the head.
Compared to WaveCel’s vaguely V-shaped structures, though, Koroyd uses thousands of co-polymer extruded tubes, which are thermally welded “to precise durometer, size, and thickness specifications.” This structure makes it especially effective against linear impacts, whereas WaveCel advertises effectiveness against both linear and angular impacts.
This, they say, is why Koroyd-based bike helmets also include MIPS technology.
Finally, WaveCel is owned by Bontrager/Trek, whereas Koroyd is a product in its own right and owned by a third-party company.
Bontrager WaveCel Models & Pricing
Bontrager advertises that they offer a WaveCel option for every rider, which currently includes four different models. Sizing is as follows across the lineup:
- Small: 51–57 cm
- Medium: 54–60 cm
- Large: 58–63 cm
All WaveCel helmets come with a travel bag, as well as a one-year Crash Replacement Guarantee from Bontrager that “provides a free helmet replacement if involved in a crash.”
XXX WaveCel Road – $299.99
Bontrager indicates their XXX WaveCel road model offers light weight and an aerodynamic shape that helps minimize wind impact and maximize your performance.
It uses adjustable strap dividers and a Boa® System for a one-handed fine-tuned fit, antimicrobial AgION pads that wick away moisture and eliminate odors, and NoSweat padding with silicone channel to help keep sweat out of your eyes
Depending on size, Bontrager’s XXX WaveCel road helmet weighs 325 – 390 g. Colors available include Black matte, Azure/Black matte, Red gloss, White gloss, and Radioactive Yellow/Black matte.
The XXX Road is also available in an LTD version that comes in a run of limited edition colorways, which currently entails a Purple Phaze/Black gloss/matte finish.
Specter WaveCel Road – $149.99
Bontrager’s Specter WaveCel helmet features the same one-handed adjustable Boa System as the XXX Road, but it’s better suited to all types of riding, including roads, trails, and gravel, and at all speeds.
The Specter also boasts a Fidlock magnetic buckle, moisture-wicking and washable pads, and reflective elements on the back for enhanced visibility. Despite these features, Bontrager advertises it comes with a lightweight, breathable designed that helps keep you cool.
The Specter WaveCel lineup weighs between 322 and 380 grams and is available in Black gloss, Vice Pink gloss, Viper Red gloss, White gloss, and Radioactive Yellow gloss colors.
Blaze WaveCel MTB – $299.99
The Blaze WaveCel model is designed for serious trail riding, whether flowy singletrack or gnarly downhills and combines many of the features found on Bontrager’s XXX and Specter helmets. These include the Boa system, Fidlock buckle, AgION antimicrobial pads, as well as a NoSweat temple pad with a silicone channel.
However, it adds drop-in coverage at the back for extended off-road protection. It also comes with a Blendr magnetic mounting system on top that allows you to easily integrate GoPro cameras and Bontrager light accessories.
The Blaze MTB helmet weighs between 380 and 448 grams and is available in Black, Slate, Roarange, Miami Green color schemes.
Similar to the XXX, Bontrager offers the Blaze MTB in a limited edition Purple Phaze/Black gloss/matte finish.
Charge WaveCel Commuter – $149.99
The Charge Commuter WaveCel model is geared toward everyday users, as well as the potentially higher speeds that e-bike riders are exposed to.
Bontrager advertises that the Charge helmet also boasts a fashion-forward design “so you don’t have to choose between fashion and function.”
Like many of the other WaveCel models, the Charge Commuter features a Boa System, Fidlock magnetic buckle, moisture-wicking and washable helmet pads, and reflective elements on back.
Instead of a top-mounted version, though, the Commuter comes with a rear Blendr system for easy integration with Bontrager light accessories. It also features a built-in visor that can help accommodate the more upright riding position associated with many commuter bikes by providing constant coverage against sun and rain.
The Charge Commuter weighs between 392 and 498 grams, with Black matte, Battleship Blue matte, Era White/Black matte, and Radioactive Yellow/Black matte colors currently available.
Ready to pick one up? Bontrager’s WaveCel helmet lineup is currently available directly via TrekBikes.com, as well as REI, Scheels.com, and Sunrise Cyclery.