For most of us this abbreviation will ring no other other bell than the usual tinnitus sound in our ears.
It stands for ‘Multi-directional Impact Protection System’.
Even though not many may have heard about this, it is not exactly a new invention. Let us rewind back to the future and start our journey in Stockholm in 1995. In this year Swedish neurosurgeon Hans von Holst contacts the Royal Institute of Technology (KTH) in Stockholm to discuss solutions for all the brain injuries he has been seeing in his operation rooms over the years.
People falling of horses, having skiing accidents or losing the battle with gravity while riding pedal bikes or motorbikes. In a lot of cases the victims were wearing head protection, but still serious brain injuries were the result of their contact with the surface.
After a year of research a team led by von Holst initial testing of their solution is started, seed funding is created to allow patent filing costs. In 2001 the first scientific publication is released presenting MIPS. A couple of years later, 2007, the first MIPS equipped helmet is launched.
Fast forward to 2009
Our Scandinavian inventers found out that launching their own helmet was not an easy task, so they switched to a business model switching to the MIPS brain protection system being implemented in third party helmets instead. That proved to be more successful.
Still, it would take until 2016 (!) until the first motorcycle helmet was equipped with the MIPS system. The brand made faster headway into the sports arenas than on the road in a way. Equestrian, snow, cycling adapted to the system much faster than the motorcycle world.
“What does all this have to do with me?” Many of you will probably think. “I have spent a lot of good money on a helmet from a well-known brand. Surely my head is well protected?”
Well yes, up to a certain level it is. Most major (and even some boutique) brands produce excellent helmets that look good and offer great protection. Don’t get us wrong, we are not trying to convince you to hang your helmet on a special, well spotlighted place in your shed.
After spending two and a half hours on a virtual tour via video in the Stockholm laboratory the BikeBrewers team were left scratching their heads and realizing that looking good on a vintage or retro styled bike with a ditto helmet is one thing, but surviving a crash after the hormones take the upper hand on an exhilarating curvy road, is a totally different matter.
Enter the laboratory
Let us dig a bit deeper into the human brain and see what happens when we overestimate our skills (which of course never happens) or when we are faced with idiots on four wheels updating their virtual friends with all those exciting things going on in their lives (which happens all the time).
This is how the MIPS team describe what goes on inside our head during a crash situation: “The human brain is amazing – but fragile. During an angled impact, rotational motion can cause strain to the brain tissue, which may lead to severe brain injuries. When you have suffered a concussion or even more serious damage to the brain, rotational motion to the brain is the most likely cause.”
In short, even though a lot of motorcycle shots we share on our social channels picture us in great looking badass positions, the real fun start when a motorcycle is in a forward motion. The faster, the bigger the fun.
Now that’s exactly where things can get tricky.
What happens in the brain must stay in the brain
99.99% of the time a crash happens during a forward motion. Unless you ride one of those big Honda touring monsters and you have trouble manoeuvring while in reverse. All kidding aside, injury statistics show that when you fall and hit your head, it’s most common to fall at an angle, compared to a linear fall.
Our human brain is an amazing piece of work. However, we all realise this is a very delicate instrument, to be handled with great care. Falling at an angle creates rotational motion and science has shown that our brains are very sensitive to rotational forces. In an angled impact, these forces may transfer to your brain, which can cause severe injuries.
Most helmet manufacturers make their helmets go through rigorous testing before going to market. However, most of the impact testing is done in a linear way. Helmets are made to resist the impact following a straight line. Which makes sense, but does not represent the actual situation in an accident.
As we have established above, 99,99% of accidents occur while moving. Softening not only the blow, but also assisting the brain tissue to keep up with the sudden change in movement.
This is exactly what MIPS does.
The low friction layer allows a sliding movement of 10–15mm, in all directions, reducing rotational motion to the brain during impact.
Adding 25 new brands and 135 new helmet models in 2019, making it a total of 103 brands and 583 helmet models, must be seen as a good sign that MIPS is becoming more and more of a standard in most types of helmets today. Still with the valuable market shares MIPS has managed to achieve in sports such as snow, equestrian (EQ – horse riding), hockey and mountaineering you would expect and hope for a bigger impact in the motorcycle world.
Over 22 big motorcycle sports brands such as Alpinestars Thor, KTM and Bell among them, have recognized to added safety value of MIPS.
But out of the big road helmet brands only Bell has four of their helmets equipped with the MIPS protection system. You can find the system in their ‘Star DLX MIPS, Star MIPS, Qualifier DLX MIPS and MX-9 ADVENTURE DLX MIPS helmets.
Ringing the Bell
In search of more background to the what and why BikeBrewers spoke to Chris Killen, Global Marketing, Bell Helmets at Vista Outdoor.
“So Chris, what do you think is the most important reason for such a lukewarm response of the motorcycle helmet industry worldwide with regards to equipping their road helmets with the MIPS system?”
“The answer is quite simple actually.” Chris responds. “It is largely a matter of lack of demand from the market. Unfortunately many motorcyclists are not fully informed when it comes to helmet safety. It is only natural people rely on the information on helmet safety from the bigger brands.
As you have stated correctly, most helmet tests are based on testing linear impact. It goes without saying that this is of paramount importance and the protection a modern helmet gives are light years ahead of the lids people wore in the 20th century.” he laughs.
“But seriously, I believe it is time for a next step and educating motorcyclists about the existence of MIPS is something we should all embark on. I applaud the MIPS team for their continuous zest to create a wider acceptance of their system. Bell was one of the motorcycle brands that adopted their view early and we still support it.
With the new ECE 22.06 standard which is now in place, I am sure things will move forward. With the FIM (Fédération Internationale de Motocyclisme) setting the pace by implementing the new and stricter safety regulations for helmets in the racing world, you will see the big names in racing starting to wear MIPS equipped helmets. This will hopefully have a trickle-down effect into the consumer market.”
What is the ECE 22.06?
ECE 22.06 is the new standard replacing ECE 22.05. The new standard has taken its predecessor’s weak points and addressed them to offer much more stringent testing. Helmets tested will be subject to a wider range of impact tests, test including added accessories and last but certainly not least, rotational tests.
The real major change in ECE 22.06 is the requirement for rotational tests. Finally the mandatory rotational impact tests will give a better idea of how helmets perform when hit at an angle. This test entails a normal impact test setup but with an angled anvil to help measure rotational forces on the head.
Just like the MIPS team have been doing for 25 years.
In the ongoing pursuit to make helmets safer, MIPS unveiled its innovative Finite Element Analysis (FEA) tool. With this tool, MIPS use state-of-the-art computer science to replicate and predict the response in helmet testing as well as in real-life impacts, more quickly and efficiently.
Using the MIPS’ FEA method, brands are now able to expedite both the development and testing process, while also reducing costs and cutting the length of time to bring a safer helmet to market.
MIPS now offers brands its virtual testing service where helmets can be compared and tested in accordance with a wide range of standards. The first testing standard to utilize the FEA testing method will be the aforementioned ECE 22.06, which includes testing for rotational motion – the foundation of MIPS’ existence.
Brake hard again!
At press time BMW helmets also announced they are now also offering MIPS systems in their GS Carbon Evo helmets.
They don’t come cheap but having MIPS installed in combination with the new Rescue Pull System, the GS Carbon Evo helmets offer maximum safety. In the event of an accident, rescue personnel can remove the cheek pads from the outside in just one motion and remove the helmet quickly and easily.
As with majority of the other manufacturers, this again is not a straightforward street helmet, but it is a start. At least it offers those who ride scramblers a chance to look the part.
And they rode happily ever after
At BikeBrewers we focus on just a small niche in the motorcycle industry, custom motorcycles. It is all about creating gems that please the eye. When riding those special bikes, you should do so in style.
Open face helmets are what we use mostly. They often look better and more ‘period correct’ on our bikes than their full face brothers do. It is a shame MIPS systems are not available in jet helmets. This has nothing to do with technical impossibilities. It is just a question of lack of demand. Which in its turn is caused by the absence of decent publicity around the subject. Not that the inventors are to blame. It is something the motorcycle media deem ‘not very sexy’.
After immersing ourselves in the world of head protection and brain damage, we felt the need to write an extensive piece on this matter.
Yes, we will continue to ‘always ride in style’, but on longer hauls or at higher speeds we will seriously consider switching to a better protection including the MIPS system. We can only hope our favourite brands will equip their lids with the system soon.
We wish to thank the MIPS team for their continued fight to protect our heads and Bell helmets for their kind assistance in preparing this article and supplying helmets for test purposes.