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by Iain Treloar
April 7, 2020
Photography by Dave Rome and Virginia Tech
In these trying times, it’s good to know that there are things you can count on. One of those things, naturally, is Virginia Tech’s independent helmet testing, which has rolled onward with its newest batch of destroyed foam.
The latest results have installed a new model at the top of the table – Lazer’s lightweight G1 MIPS – giving Lazer the top three rated road helmets on the market. Virginia Tech’s latest update also reinforces the importance of energy-absorbing materials like Koroyd and WaveCel and slip-plane devices like MIPS in reducing the likelihood of concussion.
Virginia Tech’s testing of helmets is unique in that it provides an objective, independent measure of helmet safety. Since 2018, when the testing began, 99 models of helmets from across the spectrum of the sport of cycling – from ‘multi-sport’, to road, to mountain and urban styles – have been tested.
The Virginia Tech test methodology determines the effectiveness of a helmet in reducing concussion risk as a result of linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head. The tests spit out a STAR score, which represent the likelihood of receiving a concussion.
Crucially, that figure allows Virginia Tech to rank the tested helmets, and assign to them star-ratings to inform consumers about the models that may offer the greatest protection.
That consumer-focused point is what’s most significant here. The standards to which helmets are currently tested determine whether a helmet clears a minimum bar; they do not provide a tangible measure of any safety benefit of one helmet over another.
That meant that, until Virginia Tech came along, helmet manufacturers were the ones measuring and providing that data, with all the variation in testing methodology and risk of bias – whether deliberate or inadvertent – that may involve.
Virginia Tech’s last couple of updates have thrown up some surprises. It’s not necessarily the helmets that claim to offer a revolution in helmet safety – Bontrager’s WaveCel technology was hailed (by Bontrager) as “cycling’s most important change in 30 years”, but the brand’s Specter helmet currently sits in fifth spot on Virginia Tech’s chart. It’s also not always the flashiest helmets that offer the greatest protection – in May last year, a now-discontinued $75 Lazer came out on top.
In November, another Lazer helmet was found to be the leading model. And now, this latest batch of testing has lobbed another Lazer to the top of the road tree (only bested by the Fox Dropframe Pro MIPS in the mountain bike category), with the MIPS version of the G1 – known in some markets as the Genesis 2.0 – taking the honours.
A podium of objectively safer helmets is doubtless cause for celebration for the Belgian brand, but Virginia Tech’s table suggests that there are plenty of options to consider beyond Lazer.
There are now 21 road helmets that have received the highest possible score of five stars – ‘best available’. Nineteen of those feature MIPS, with two featuring Bontrager’s WaveCel technology. And it’s not just the top-of-the-line helmets that do well – consumers are able to get five-star protection from as little as US$75 (the Specialized Chamonix MIPS).
Helmet designers are faced with a number of competing demands – aesthetic, weight, comfort and cost included. But as Virginia Tech’s independent testing rolls on, it provides a reassuring sign that concussion reduction is an increasingly considered goal of the helmet design process, too.
Here are the top five safest road-oriented helmets according to Virginia Tech’s latest round of testing. The lower the STAR score the better.