MIPS Is Making Motorcycling Safer One Crash At A Time

Multi-directional Impact Protection System for helmets.

The MIPS team held an event in Orange County, California, to share its expertise with a discussion on addressing brain protection and testing standards as it pertains to rotational motion within the motorcycle community.
The MIPS team held an event in Orange County, California, to share its expertise with a discussion on addressing brain protection and testing standards as it pertains to rotational motion within the motorcycle community.Courtesy of MIPS

Lucky for us dirt bike riders, there are some smart people out there with an interest in making something we do safer. Dr. Hans von Holst, a Swedish neurosurgeon and professor emeritus, is one of those people and has dedicated much of his professional life to studying head injuries. Nearly 30 years ago, von Holst began to recognize that protection against brain injuries was inadequate. Among motorcyclists, he noticed that riders who crashed while wearing a helmet had minimal damage to the skull, but suffered severe trauma to the brain tissue. Von Holst set out to discover why this was happening and to try to improve the safety of the helmet.

Where MIPS Started And Where It’s At Today

In 1996, von Holst started working with Peter Halldin, a researcher at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, and the two embarked on developing the ground-breaking technology that would become the Multi-directional Impact Protection System (MIPS).

Several top riders’ MIPS-equipped helmets were on display at the MIPS Safety Symposium, including Brandon Hartranft’s Evel Knievel-inspired Troy Lee Designs helmet he wore at the 2019 Red Bull Straight Rhythm.
Several top riders’ MIPS-equipped helmets were on display at the MIPS Safety Symposium, including Brandon Hartranft’s Evel Knievel-inspired Troy Lee Designs helmet he wore at the 2019 Red Bull Straight Rhythm.Courtesy of MIPS

Von Holst and Halldin learned that while helmets were doing a good job of protecting the skull from linear or straight impacts, they offered little to no protection from a rotational impact. At a recent event in Southern California, Halldin described this scenario as, “A boxer can take numerous hits directly to the face from a straight punch, which does not cause the head to turn. However, should a boxer get hit with one punch on the side of the face or under the jaw, causing the head to spin or rotate, then it’s lights out.” Dr. von Holst’s patients were suffering from concussions and subdural hematomas, and he suspected this was the result of the rotational impact sustained during a motorcycle crash. Together, von Holst and Halldin set out to find a way to reduce this type of injury.

Our brain floats in cerebrospinal fluid. It is our natural protection system that allows the brain to move relative to the skull. It was their goal to design some kind of layer inside the helmet that would mimic the same protective properties as the cerebrospinal fluid. What they concluded was that they needed some kind of slip-plane inside the helmet that would aid in absorbing and diffusing that initial angled impact.

The cutaway of this TLD lid provides an outside-looking-in perspective of a MIPS system inside a helmet.
The cutaway of this TLD lid provides an outside-looking-in perspective of a MIPS system inside a helmet.Allan Brown

They began their initial testing in 1996. Halldin built a testing sled that was designed to drop a helmet onto an anvil that was placed at a 45-degree angle in an effort to more accurately replicate the rotational forces of a crash. During this same time, a PhD student at the Royal Institute of Technology, Svein Kleiven, began developing what has become one of the finest Finite Element (FE) models in the world of the human brain. This was created to help measure the forces inside the brain. With these tools, they were able to begin testing to see how much force would be transmitted to the brain from a crash, with or without their new design innovations.

By 1998, the team obtained its first patent. In 2000, the first prototype of a MIPS Brain Protection System (BPS)-equipped helmet was tested at the University of Birmingham. MIPS AB was founded in 2001 and commercial strategies were formed.

The team continued their research and development for several years. They began meeting with helmet manufacturers when no one else was talking about rotational forces. Several manufacturers showed some interest, but most were concerned about the added cost. The team decided to produce an equestrian helmet in 2005. In 2007, the first MIPS BPS equestrian helmet, the EQ1, was launched. This marked the first helmet that featured the MIPS BPS 1.0 low-friction layer designed for hard shell helmets.

Bell helmets on display at the MIPS Safety Symposium.
Bell helmets on display at the MIPS Safety Symposium.Courtesy of MIPS

They soon realized that developing MIPS technology and trying to produce their own line of helmets was too much to handle for the small company. It was at that time that they decided to change their business model to become an “Ingredient Brand,” meaning they would provide helmet manufacturers with the MIPS BPS solutions to integrate into their helmets. Shortly thereafter, in 2009, the first third-party helmet with MIPS BPS was launched.

The team continued testing and in 2010, they came up with a technology breakthrough—the MIPS BPS 2.0 solution. This new design was produced for in-mold helmets for bicycling and snow. They slowly gained commercial traction as rotational forces and concussions in sports became a hot topic.

As the importance of reducing rotational force became better understood, MIPS entered the moto segment in 2013. Over the next few years, the total number of brands using MIPS doubled annually along with the total number of MIPS-equipped helmets offered to consumers. A major milestone was reached in 2015 as more than one million MIPS layers were sold. Currently, eight different MIPS slip layer designs are being sold and, as of 2019, the company reported selling more than 9.2 million MIPS BPS units worldwide.

What Is A MIPS BPS Slip Layer?

Both of Alpinestars’ motocross/off-road helmets, the Supertech M8 and Supertech M10, are equipped with MIPS. Here, Aaron Plessinger shows off his Supertech M10 at the MIPS Safety Symposium.
Both of Alpinestars’ motocross/off-road helmets, the Supertech M8 and Supertech M10, are equipped with MIPS. Here, Aaron Plessinger shows off his Supertech M10 at the MIPS Safety Symposium.Courtesy of MIPS

In most helmets, you will find this low-friction slip layer between the often removable and washable comfort padding and the harder EPS foam that protects your skull from the impact. For the most part, it is yellow and simply looks like a thin plastic layer that is clipped into the helmet. Some helmets, such as the Alpinestars Supertech M8 and Supertech M10, have the MIPS system sewn inside and have an additional black layer to keep it in place because of the helmets’ patented “A-Head” fitment system. On most helmets with MIPS you can remove the liner and the MIPS BPS is clearly visible.

The MIPS BPS layer is designed to allow the head to move inside the helmet. This reduces the harmful rotational forces otherwise transferred to the brain. Reducing this rotational force decreases the severity of potential concussions, subdural hematomas, and possible permanent brain damage. It works by allowing the helmet to move or rotate 10–15mm during the critical 5–10 milliseconds of an impact. This rotation absorbs some of the rotational forces that are normally transmitted into the head. For reference, a blink of an eye lasts 100 milliseconds.

MIPS uses data gathered by using a Hybrid III test dummy head that is equipped with nine accelerometers and analyzed using a computer model known as the Finite Element (FE) model. With more than 27,000 tests performed at their global test center in Stockholm, they have been able to show during an impact at a speed of 7 meters per second, that this redirection of the energy can significantly reduce, in some cases up to 40 percent, the forces transmitted into the brain.

Independent tests have also been performed. Recently, in a bicycle helmet test performed by Virginia Tech, MIPS-equipped helmets scored no less than four out of five stars.

MIPS technology is still in its infancy, but it is rapidly gaining customer awareness and demand. Currently, there are no requirements by legislative safety organizations that require helmet manufacturers to test for rotational direction impact forces. Several helmet brands that have not adopted the MIPS BPS are developing and currently offer helmets equipped with their own designs to help protect the user against these types of forces.

In addition to wanting to produce safer helmets for everyone, MIPS welcomes a vigorous scientific debate on rotational motion. They hope it becomes an industry standard and a requirement instituted to protect the consumer.

I would say that in my experience, dirt bike helmets have not made any significant technological advancements in the last few decades. The last notable change was roughly 30 years ago when most people switched from an open-face to a full-face design. From that point on, helmets have improved, but they remain to be a basic three-piece design—a shell, EPS foam, and comfort padding system. We do have quick removal cheek pads and eject systems for post-crash helmet removal, but these do nothing to help us during the actual crash.

MIPS might already be in a helmet you own. If it is, there will be a yellow dot on the back of the helmet displaying the MIPS logo.
MIPS might already be in a helmet you own. If it is, there will be a yellow dot on the back of the helmet displaying the MIPS logo.Courtesy of MIPS and Allan Brown

A universal MIPS-type system and some kind of standardized testing requirement could certainly benefit all of us. While you can still sustain a head injury any time you hit your head, I welcome this technology and see no disadvantages to implementing it in the helmets we all wear. Currently, I have both helmets with MIPS and helmets without. My opinion is that there is no difference whatsoever in the comfort, feel, weight, or function while riding with a MIPS BPS-equipped helmet or one without.

As a rider, I don’t think you need to toss out your current helmet just because it doesn’t have a rotational impact protection system. However, when it comes time to replace that old, roost-chipped, tree-branch-scratched helmet with a broken visor and purchase a new one, you should certainly spend some time looking into and considering purchasing a MIPS BPS-equipped helmet.