The common line is that helmets haven’t evolved much since the ‘60s. However, with materials science breakthroughs, aerodynamic research, optically clear shields, and multi-density EPS foam liners (EPS = Expanded PolyStyrene), modern helmets have advanced by leaps and bounds beyond their forbearers.
However, what the customer wants is a quantum leap. That noticeable, revolutionary advance over today’s tech. Enter MIPS.
What is MIPS?
MIPS is a polycarbonate layer held in place with a small elastic retainer that sits between the helmet padding and the EPS layer. When there is an impact that tends to suddenly rotate the helmet, the MIPS layer provides your head with some isolation from rotational impact.
Put simply, MIPS is a slip plane operating in a manner similar to that of your scalp, which by sliding along your skull can slow down and soften sudden rotational impact. But that scalp/skull system needs help at speeds faster than you can run.
MIPS stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System, and was developed over 30 years by scientists at the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm, who would form the private company MIPS AB in 2001.
In 2014, BRG Sports, Bell Powersport’s Holding Company, purchased a minority stake in MIPS AB.
Two Kinds of Impact and Your Head
Physical penetration of a helmet isn’t what kills and concusses: it’s the force of your brain slamming into your skull on impact. A standard EPS layer transforms what would otherwise be a narrow impact spike of possibly lethal amplitude into a more gradual and therefore more survivable deceleration. Multi-density EPSs do this even more effectively by providing different densities that can crush progressively.
Straight-line impact is only one part of the protection problem. As a crash occurs and your helmet hits the pavement, the friction of impact imparts a sudden rotation to the helmet, just as the wheels of a landing airplane are suddenly rotated by contact with the runway. That’s rotational violence. MIPS is designed to do for sudden rotation what EPS does for impact – to slow down the forces acting on the human head, making them more survivable.
MIPS and other systems such as that of 6D aim to take helmet protection one step further. By giving our heads more time to dissipate sudden rotational forces we can significantly decrease the severity of injuries sustained.
At least in theory. The science is mixed in terms of how much added safety these features add, and whether they reduce concussions. As in all sports with the possibility of impact, only recently have these technologies hit the consumer market, and only after decades of accumulated data can we be sure of their impact (no pun intended) and even more so whether they reduce concussions over time.
Bell is showing significant safety leadership with this added technology.
I Thought This Was A Helmet Review?
MIPS is what makes the Qualifier DLX MIPS such an impressive piece of equipment. Not because it’s integrated, but because of the price point. The basic Qualifier is a pretty basic entry level helmet at $109.95. It has category-competitive venting (Two top vents, four exhaust, one chin, and a brow), a polycarbonate shell, and a microfiber liner. However, it does have three shell sizes, which at the entry level price point is a standout feature.
The Qualifier DLX MIPS-Equipped costs over twice as much, but offers about four times the features at $269.95. For one, a Transitions photochromatic shield is standard, then an external communicator cutout for a SENA is added (With plates to use with other communicators), and finally that MIPS layer.
At $269.95, it’s the only helmet with an advanced safety touch.
The Transitions photochromatic shield is a godsend. Although slow to transition in cloudy or foggy conditions, it quickly goes from light to dark as the sun sets or rises. It’s also fully clear when it’s dark, and fully tinted in bright light, no brown spots or light tinting at all.
Under those premium features, the Qualifier’s budget roots lurk. The liner is scratchy, the vents aren’t as large or as effective in moving air as on other helmets in this category (such as the ICON Airmada), and the flat black finish is easily scratched.
It’s not the most aerodynamic helmet, either. In a medium, the shell is substantial, and there is a fair amount of buffeting and head shake from cross winds because of it. It’s also a little heavy at 3.6lbs. Finally, although having three shell sizes is class-leading on the entry level, it’s about mid pack in the $250 - $350 range.
The fitment, an intermediate oval, is consistent with other Bells, and fits the crown of your head well.
Despite these negatives, the Qualifier DLX MIPS-Equipped is a huge step in mass market helmet development. Any time a helmet manufacturer puts any form of safety-enhancing tech in a helmet, it opens up a can of legal worms and invites lawyer-swarming that kill most ideas before they hit the shelves. It takes serious muscle to achieve technological advancement in helmets for that reason.
Because this product is at an aggressive, mid-market price point, it’s more accessible for more riders, not just for those shopping for helmets at $500 and up. Bell has those too, in the Race Star and Pro Star with their Flex liner.
But only the Qualifier DLX MIPS-Equipped does in the mid-market, equipped with the Transitions photochromic shield (once you try it you may never go back).
That’s why this helmet is much more groundbreaking than another lighter, more spoilered race helmet at $800+. It brings more safety, to more riders at a price they can afford.