Bike Helmets, functionality, history and myths (Part 1)

Bike helmets, most of us agree they add to our safety. But does this mean everything manufacturers tell us is true? Do we really have to change helmet every 3 to 5 years and what is this MIPS all about?

A quick history of bike helmets

The bike helmet came a long way, from leather “hairnets” that did nothing more than protect your ears from being grinded of by the pavement to high-tech helmets that go as far as call the ambulance if you are unresponsive after a fall.

Bike helmets are around for more than a century now, but they’ve gone to a lot of changes over time. The first helmets where nothing more than a leather and wool ring around the head. Later styles changed and they started wearing the so-called hairnet designs. These had extra longitudinally arranged leather strips, filled with foam. But the protection rate staid the same, that is, next to nonexistent.

The first protective bike helmets

We had to wait until 1974 for the first real bike-specific helmet that was really protective, when Bell produced the first helmets with an EPS-foam inner shell and a hard outer shell. Later they produced versions without the outer shell for toddlers. These were based on helmets used for protection after head-surgery.

Giro helmet with lycra outer shell

In 1986 the newly formed company Giro Adapted the idea and created a adult helmet with no outer shell apart from a cover made from lycra. These helmets where a great success because of the light weight. These helmets broke apart at first impact, making them useless in crashes where motor vehicles are involved.

Today’s helmets

Both the helmets with PET outer shell as helmets where the EPS was molded into a more heat resistant plastic outer shell came on the marked around ’90. The later being the technique still used today. Around the same time many manufacturers also introduced a strap or other system in the back of the helmet to adjust the size and fit of the helmet to the head.

There are more evolutions in bike helmets. But these are the most important steps to the helmet we wear today. For the complete history I would recommend you to read further on

To MIPS or not to MIPS

These days you find many helmets with the MIPS logo on them. MIPS is a patented technology, created by the like-named company. But what is it? And do you really have to upgrade your helmet if it doesn’t have MIPS already?

Basically, MIPS is nothing more than a extra plastic liner inside the inner shell of the helmet. This Liner is connected to the helmet with flexible straps that make it possible to move it some milimeters seperate from the helmet. Thanks to this, the head will not be twisted on impact, protecting the brain more from damage.

Scalp damage by MIPS liner

This however, is a theory with no real-live proof whatsoever. Because of hair, sweat, movable head-skin and soft fabric liners the human head has this freedom of movement already in a conventional helmet. The only claims the system really gives extra protection is made by MIPS itself. But there is at least one case of head damage due to MIPS, with pictures as proof. Also there are claims of hear-loss by people with longer hear that gets stuck between the MIPS liner.

MIPS alternatives

Because of manufacturers awareness of these problems, some of them started looking for alternative solutions. Not because of proof, but because of the resent consumer-awareness about concussion protection – what MIPS claims to provide – they feel obligated to offer this option. Non other than POC, the original adopter of MIPS, came with an alternative, named ‘SPIN Pads”. MIPS sued POC for patent-infringement in 2017 but lawsuit has been settled in 2018. Following this debacle, the two companies started working together again.

There are other companies that came with alternatives. But since they are all responses to the market and not to proof, I will not discus them and just threat them as equal. This statement is also without proof of my behalf of course.

MIPS lab-tests

To be complete, here you can read how MIPS is tested, by MIPS itself. They claim other helmets do not get tested on a sloping surface. This claim can be true for manufacturers, but the tests have been done by independent researchers, which gives more reliable, less biased, results. This will be discussed in the next part of this blog.


In this post I discussed the history and the most important new technology in the realm of bike helmets. I could discus ANGI, but is is more of a tracking system than really an new evolution of how helmets are build. Since I will have a helmet with it I will probably make a short article about it. But hopefully not to soon about how it works if it is needed.

In the next part I will be talking about research that has been done on helmets and the effect they have on our safety. An other thing I will discus is when your helmet should or should not be replaced. So stay tuned for Part 2!

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