MIPS CEO Johan Thiel says 19 cycling brands use (or will soon be using) his company's safety technology.

MIPS CEO Johan Thiel says 19 cycling brands use (or will soon be using) his company's safety technology (click to enlarge).​

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.)

[vimeo width="610" height="343"]https://vimeo.com/137267018[/vimeo]

[vimeo width="610" height="343"]https://vimeo.com/137264262[/vimeo]

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.

MIPS has even found its way into kid's helmets.

MIPS has even found its way into kid's helmets (click to enlarge).​

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.

[/B]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.

Continue to page 2 for more from MIPS CEO Johan Thiel »

Cycling helmet makers Bell and Giro are among the sport's most ardent MIPS adapters.

Cycling helmet makers Bell and Giro are among the sport's most ardent MIPS adapters (click to enlarge).​

RBR: How many brands are using MIPS and who have been your biggest partners thus far?
JT: Right now we have 44 brands signed up across all our segments, though not all of them are in the market just yet. You will see some new companies offering MIPS next year. Next year, we will also have new technology coming out that will go beyond what you've seen thus far. Volume wise, Bell and Giro are our biggest partners. POC and Lazer are also up there. All told there are 19 brands at Interbike that we have partnerships with.

RBR: How big is MIPS and how many units do you currently have out in the real world?
JT: We currently have 14 people at our headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden, with another four in China. We are also recruiting more people this fall, so by next year we'll be up to at least 16 in Sweden. As for units in the market, we are at about 400,000 right now. But that number is headed higher all the time.

RBR: What regions of the world have shown the greatest interest in MIPS and which sports are you primary outlets?
JT: When we first launched interest was greatest in Europe, but we are now seeing rapid growth in the U.S., which is catching up quickly. Volume wise cycling is No. 1 at about 70 percent. That's a big change from when we first started and it was 70 percent snow, but it makes sense as the overall bike market is so much larger.

Bell's line of aggressive MTB helmets seem a perfect application for the safety enhancing device.

Bell's line of aggressive MTB helmets seem a perfect application for the safety enhancing device (click to enlarge).​

RBR: How does a company get access to use of MIPS product?
JT: It obviously starts with reaching some basic business agreements. Then we connect with the design and development department. Usually when we start working with a new client, we start out with retrofitting so they can get existing product out to market. The next step is to integrate the design process with MIPS from the beginning. By interacting with the design and development people we can help them think about integrating MIPS from the beginning. That is something we'll see a lot more of next year where MIPS is part of design from the beginning.

RBR: So how do you see this integration changing the finished product?
JT: We are still figuring that out, but you'll certainly see more integration and better function.

What do you think? Are MIPS-equipped helmets worth the extra expense, or is this just a shrewd marketing scheme?

To learn more, visit www.mipshelmet.com