By now you’ve almost certainly heard about MIPS — aka multi-directional impact protection system. The Stockholm, Sweden-based company with the same name was founded in 2001 and has one product: the MIPS Brain Protection System, which separates a helmet’s shell and liner with a low friction layer that’s designed to reduce rotational forces on the brain caused by angled impacts to the head during a crash.
When a MIPS-equipped helmet is subjected to an angled impact, the theory goes, that low friction layer (which to the laymen appears to be a thin sheet of yellow plastic) allows the helmet to slide relative to the head. And that, claims MIPS, can make a huge difference in the level of injury resulting from the impact. (For more on the basic gist, check out the pair of videos below.)
Since launch, MIPS has become ubiquitous in the cycling industry. At September’s Interbike cycling industry trade show in Las Vegas, MIPS CEO Johan Thiel claimed that 19 attending companies had (or would soon have) MIPS equipped products on the market. Overall, Thiel estimates that roughly 400,000 MIPS units have already made it onto consumer heads worldwide, and that number is increasing quickly. The total number of brands from all sports segments is 44 and climbing.
Helmet makers such as Bell and Giro have been some of the most eager adapters, a fact reflected in the sheer number of MIPS equipped helmet models each company has, and that parent company BRG Sports has invested in MIPS the company. Generally speaking a MIPS-equipped helmet costs $20-$25 more than its non-MIPS equivalent.
With that kind of mark-up, it’s not surprising some view MIPS as more salesmanship than science. The non-profit Washington, D.C.-based Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute published this paper, which in part states that “Almost all of the [MIPS] liners we have seen leave a large void in the back for the rear stabilizer, with a quarter or more of the helmet unlined and no MIPS effect if you hit at the rear. Although front and sides are more frequent impact sites, many impacts occur in the rear. We regard that as poor engineering, or hasty marketing at best.”
Thiel is undeterred by such skepticism, as we found out during a lunchtime interview with the MIPS CEO during Interbike. Here are some highlights from that conversation.
RoadBikeReview: How often do you hear from people who feel like MIPS changed the outcome of an accident for them?
Johan Thiel: Quite often actually. Just in the last three weeks I have heard from people who had sever crashes who were grateful for having the product. No we can not prove that absolutely it was MIPS that made the difference. But we know our technology works based on the tests that we have done. So it feels good to know that consumers are grateful for what we are doing. It makes a difference having a helmet and it makes a difference having a helmet with MIPS.
RBR: You have strong adoption in the bike helmet world, so what is next for MIPS?
JT: Our objective remains the same. We are looking from a science point of view on how we can save lives, specifically by protecting the head and brain. That is where we came from and that is our knowledge base. We also have other computer models such as the human neck that we are looking at. But right now our focus remains on the brain.
We are an ingredient safety company so we are always looking into other products that could help save lives. That could be indication that EPS part of a helmet is too worn out by way of installed sensors. That’s probably not something you will see in the next few years. But maybe in five years. We also are looking at what we can do in other segments besides sports. That could mean things such as police, fire, and military. Electric bikes is another interesting segment. We need to look at what special needs will be there. But sports remains our mainstay right now.
RBR: What have you learned about the cycling helmet industry in general since starting your company?
JT: I think the No. 1 thing is with how the helmets are built and tested. We have found that the testing is not enough. The companies are not testing what happens in real life. You have an angle to the ground and that angle causes rotational forces and that is something that has been left out. Yes, the helmets are great and are saving people’s lives, but I think the industry doesn’t really know what happens when you fall. That’s why we are still very much in the education process with what MIPS can do for people.