What is Mips & How Does It Work? (The Ultimate Cyclist Guide)

What is Mips & How Does It Work? (The Ultimate Cyclist Guide)

Mips and its round yellow logo have become an icon of cycling helmet safety. This yellow badge of protection signifies that your most critical piece of cycling armor is as effective as it can be. Other than a thin yellow plastic lining, there doesn’t appear to be much different about a Mips helmet. But there is more to Mips than meets the eye. Mips is the brainchild of a Swedish neurosurgeon and a young PhD student determined to reduce traumatic head injuries in cyclists who crashed wearing helmets. Decades later, the technology has been tested around 30,000 times for its effectiveness as a brain protection system in cycling helmets. How a Mips helmet works and whether or not it’s worth wearing are complicated questions, so we’ll explain everything you need to know to decide whether or not you need a helmet with Mips protection.

What is a Mips helmet?

A helmet with Mips (Multidirectional Impact Protection System), includes an EPS foam layer that absorbs impact and a thin plastic slip-plane liner that reduces strain on the brain resulting from impact. All helmets have an EPS foam layer, but only Mips helmets have a liner that decreases rotational motion and redirects energy that can cause the brain to shear and lead to life-threatening injuries.

As the helmet hits a surface, the head glides with the low-friction slip-plane liner 10–15 mm in any direction, independently from the helmet. It’s important for the Mips liner to move in any direction because most impacts from falls or collisions hit the head at an angle rather than straight-on. Impact at an angle (rotational impact) occurs more often in a head injury from a fall or collision than linear impact. But before Mips, helmets were only tested for linear impact.

All helmets in the U.S. must pass a series of safety tests by Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) before entering the market, so all helmets on the market are deemed “safe” by the CPSC. Mips protection is an addition to these standards, not an exception. However, the CPSC tests do not account for rotational impact, even though it causes more and different cycling head injuries than linear impact. Currently, no industry standard for rotational impact exists in any country, but Mips is determined to change this.

Where did Mips originate?

All Mips helmet concepts originate in the laboratory near Stockholm, Sweden that has produced Mips technology for over 20 years. But the idea that became Mips began in 1995 in the mind of Hans von Holst, a Swedish neurosurgeon who was curious about the connection between helmets and head injuries of people wearing them. Hans joined forces with Peter Halldin, a research student at the Royal Institute of Technology, to create technology to protect the brain against the rotational impact that helmet designs failed to address. Hans, Peter, and a couple of fellow researchers founded Mips and developed the lab that tests and developed Mips technology for common accident scenarios in cycling, horseback riding, motorcycling, snowboarding, skiing, construction, and other sports and industries where head injuries are common.

How does Mips work?

Mips works much like your brain’s own protection system. Mips mimics the cerebrospinal fluid that lines your skull and absorbs the shock on impact and serves as a slip-liner for the brain. If you were to crash and fall from your bike, your helmet would roll as soon as it hit the ground. Your head, gripped by the helmet, would roll with it. The impact would pull the brain and cause shearing (or tearing). But with the intervention of the Mips low-friction slip-plane layer, that rotational energy would be redirected into linear energy. Your head would move independently from your helmet for 10–15 mm–enough space in just enough time to potentially save your life.

The Mips layer is low-friction, meaning that it slides easily and reduces the resistance or friction that would result from your head against the helmet. The higher the friction, the harder it is for something to move. Imagine sliding down a tall water slide in a plastic inner tube with water and then without water. You would slide much faster with water because the water reduces the friction from your innertube against the slide. Not to mention, there would be less likelihood of damage to your tube. Similarly, Mips claims to reduce the friction of your head against the helmet when it hits the ground so the brain experiences less shearing, which results in fewer injuries.

Why is rotational motion important for helmet safety?

All helmets must meet safety standards with or without Mips, but helmets are not held to an industry standard for rotational motion. So, naturally, you might wonder if rotational motion really matters for helmet safety. But evidence suggests that rotational impact is far more common than linear impact, and according to Mips, most other helmets don’t consider it.

Cyclists are far more worried about crashing or falling off the bike than the risk of something hazardous falling on their heads while riding. And even if something were to fall, falling objects rarely fall straight down. The likelihood of injury from rotational impact makes rotational motion important to helmet safety. Rotational impact can lead to serious brain injuries like swelling and bleeding from the brain shearing. The purpose of the Mips is to reduce these head injuries by transferring energy from the head to the helmet.

Does Mips work?

Mips doesn’t claim to make anyone safer because that’s never a guarantee. All they can claim to provide is additional protection, just as a bulletproof vest would protect you but could never promise safety. No two crashes are alike and there’s no one-size fits all Mips solution, so it’s difficult to know for certain if Mips is effective outside of the lab. What Mips can guarantee is that Mips helmets are, at minimum, 10% better at reducing strain than the same models without Mips. When helmets are sent from manufacturers to Mips for a custom protection liner, they are already tested and approved by the CPSC. Mips then tests the helmets before and after fitting them with Mips. However, Mips helmets’ effectiveness can’t be tested on a real person. For this reason, Mips technology is dismissed by people who say that a real head in a real accident would not move the same in the helmet as the dummy head used in testing does.

Are Mips helmets worth it?

Mips is not necessary or required, but taking additional safety measures is never a bad idea. Mips does raise the cost of helmets slightly, but at some point, you may be thankful you took the extra precaution. Unlike most helmets without Mips, Mips helmets have been tested for rotational forces and met the Mips minimum of 10% strain reduction. Mips continues researching, testing, and revising to improve its design to increase its effectiveness and provide greater airflow and comfort.

We may not be able to say with 100% certainty how effective Mips is in real accident scenarios, but we know for sure that rotational impact is a real problem in cycling accidents. We also know that Mips is a data-driven solution for redirecting energy from rotational impact. We’re certain Mips helmets meet their own strict protection standards and undergo testing by the manufacturer, the CPSC, and third-party testers. Not to mention, Mips believes in its product so much that they’re willing to fight for third-party tests and a rotational motion standard for helmet safety.

Alternatives to Mips

Many leading helmet brands use Mips, but there are exceptions, like Kask, POC, and Bontrager. POC and Bontrager use Mips for some but not all helmet models, but Kask chooses not to use Mips at all. While all other brands have been eager to integrate Mips in their helmet designs, Kask has resolutely resisted joining the crowd. Not because they don’t care about providing the best brain protection, but because they’re uncertain enough in Mips’ effectiveness that they’ve withheld, despite the risk of losing longtime or prospective customers. Kask’s main drawback is whether or not Mips makes helmets safer on human heads in real-life scenarios can’t be proven.

The evidence that rotational impact is a greater risk than linear impact can’t be disputed. But Kask disputes Mips technology rather than the science. Kask recently revealed their own protocol for testing rotational impacts–the Kask Rotational Impact WG11 Test. The main difference between Kask and Mips testing is the headform used. Kask uses the EN960 instead of the standard Hybrid III used by Mips in order to better represent the human scalp. The company points out that most other helmets are tested on headforms that generate greater friction against the helmet than a human head. Most headforms don’t have skin or hair and grip the helmet differently than a real head, so Kask has set a new standard that accounts for these differences that all Kask helmets must pass to ensure protection.

5 top-rated Mips bike helmets

Virginia Tech Helmet Ratings provide an independent and objective ranking of cycling helmets based on their performance in 24 impact tests. A helmet given 5 stars, according to Virginia Tech’s STAR system, is better at reducing the risk of concussion than helmets with fewer stars. Helmet rating is determined by multiplying risk by weighting factor on all 24 tests and then taking the sum of all 24. A lower score means better performance in testing. Most of the top-ranking helmets have Mips. We’ve chosen 5 top-rated Mips helmets from this list that are great for comfort and ventilation, as well as safety.

1. Specialized Tactic 4

A Mips helmet for mountain and trail riding with a personalized fit and maximum ventilation

Specialized Tactic 4 Mips
Specialized Tactic 4 Mips // used with permission.
  • Rating: 8.55
  • Ranking: #1
  • Cost: $120

2. Specialized Prevail 3

Specialized Prevail 3 Mips
Specialized Prevail 3 Mips // used with permission.

A Mips helmet for hot days and long rides and wide-open ‘Air Cage’ vents to keep you cool

  • Rating: 8.63
  • Ranking: #2
  • Cost: $300

3. Sweet Protection Trailblazer

Sweet Protection Trailblazer Mips
Sweet Protection Trailblazer Mips // used with permission.

A Mips enduro and trail helmet made for roughing it with a 4-piece, extra protective shell

  • Rating: 8.69
  • Ranking: #3
  • Cost: $179.95

4. Giant Rev Comp Mips

A Mips helmet that keeps your head protected from impact and your helmet bacteria-free with its anti-microbial pad

  • Rating: 9.13
  • Ranking: #6
  • Cost: $181.75

5. Lazer G1 Mips

Lazer G1 Mips
Lazer G1 Mips // used with permission.

A super light and comfortable Mips helmet with an aerodynamic edge

  • Rating: 9.23
  • Ranking #7
  • Cost: $249.99

Mips or no Mips, it’s crucial to ensure that your helmet fits properly for your safety. Even with the best safety features, a helmet that doesn’t fit won’t protect you in an accident. Use our Ultimate Bike Helmet Size, Fit, and Style Guide to make sure your helmet size and style are right for you. If you’re looking for more great helmet options, choose from our list of 10 Best Road Bike Helmets.