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Verdict: 
Comfortable helmet incorporating interesting new tech, although it's heavier than most high-end rivals
Weight: 
361g

Bontrager's XXX WaveCel helmet offers a good fit and a high level of comfort although it's heavier than rivals in its price bracket.

  • Pros: Comfortable, good fit system, durable
  • Cons: Heavier than rivals

The elephant in this particular room, though, is safety... Back in March, Bontrager claimed that WaveCel sets new standards in terms of the protection it offers.

> Find your nearest dealer here

WaveCel is a collapsible cellular material developed by orthopaedic surgeon Dr Steve Madey and biomechanical engineer Dr Michael Bottlang. They have collaborated for 25 years and have worked with Trek and Bontrager's Research and Design teams on the creation of the WaveCel helmets over the past four years.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - front close up.jpg

Most helmets are designed to protect against direct impacts whereas WaveCel is also designed to deal with "twists, turns, and angled impacts", according to Bontrager.

"WaveCel absorbs energy in multiple ways. On impact, the layers of the WaveCel material move independently and flex until the cell walls crumple and then glide, actively absorbing direct and rotational energy and redirecting it away from your head.

"This three-step change in material structure—flex, crumple, glide—is remarkably effective at dispersing the energy from an impact. Nearly 99 times out of 100, WaveCel prevents concussions from common cycling accidents."

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - inside close up.jpg

Bontrager also says that WaveCel is "proven to be up to 48 times more effective than standard EPS (expanded polystyrene) foam at preventing concussions from common cycling accidents".

Those are huge claims!

> Get more details on Bontrager's claims here

Shortly afterwards, Swedish helmet ingredient company MIPS said that WaveCel helmets perform far less impressively in safety tests than Bontrager claims, and suggested that the equipment chosen for lab evaluation could have been responsible for overstated benefits. You can read more on that here.

> Find out all you need to know about MIPS here

Koroyd, the brand behind the co-polymer tube structure you see in helmets from Smith and Endura, also voiced scepticism at Bontrager's safety claims

Then Virginia Tech said in May that several Bontrager WaveCel helmets, including the Bontrager XXX WaveCel, had performed well in its latest safety tests, earning five-star ratings. That said, the Lazer Cyclone MIPS achieved better results than any of them, and Bontrager's own Ballista MIPS got a better score than its XXX WaveCel. 

Virginia Tech says, "Our bicycle helmet impact tests evaluate a helmet's ability to reduce linear acceleration and rotational velocity of the head resulting from a range of impacts a cyclist might experience."

Its ratings are based solely on safety factors, not ventilation, fit, comfort, weight or price. Here's its methodology

Virginia Tech says, "[Our] helmet ratings are the culmination of over 10 years of research on head impacts in sports and identify which helmets best reduce concussion risk. This work is done as part of Virginia Tech's service mission and is 100% independent of any funding or influence from helmet manufacturers."

We don't perform our own helmet safety tests so you can take Virginia Tech's findings or you can leave them.

Moving on from safety, one of the first things you notice about the Bontrager XXX WaveCel is that it's a deep fit, extending low on your brow and temples as well as at the back. I didn't have any issues with this but one tester found that the low front clashed with some high-sitting eyewear. I can certainly see how that could happen because the helmet and certain models of glasses that I used (100% Speedtraps, for example) were almost touching. It's something to check out before handing over your cash.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - side 2.jpg

The Bontrager XXX WaveCel isn't the roundest helmet I've ever used, and it's not the longest either – it sits somewhere in the middle. The flexible fit system connects at the temples and the rear and comes with the choice of five different height settings. You adjust tension via a clicking Boa dial at the back that couldn't be simpler to operate.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - back.jpg

The lightweight webbing straps are similarly easy to adjust and the dividers are sturdy, while a single multi-sectioned pad keeps the WaveCel material off your head. Even if you don't have much hair, you won't feel any sharp edges inside.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - inside.jpg

It all works well to provide a comfortable and secure fit on a wide range of head shapes.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - clip.jpg

One thing that you will notice is that the Bontrager XXX WaveCel is a little heavier than many similarly priced helmets out there. We have the medium sized version on test and it hit the road.cc Scales of Truth at 361g.

To give that some context, the Abus Airbreaker helmet that we reviewed recently was 214g while the Catlike Kilauea was 252g. 

Some people are more sensitive to that than others. I've never found the Bontrager XXX WaveCel uncomfortably heavy but I have certainly been more aware of it in use than of some lighter lids.

I did worry that all of that WaveCel material would make the helmet feel hot, but didn't find that to be the case. That said, I don't tend to suffer with a hot head so I asked off-road.cc's Pat to try it out too, because he does. Pat finds a Smith helmet with Koroyd protection and a MIPS liner to be uncomfortable in warm weather, but he didn't have a similar issue here. Although there are no gaping vents or deep internal channels, several other testers reported that the Bontrager XXX WaveCel is cooler than appearances might suggest. Airflow isn't up there with the very best but none of our users started burning up as soon as the temperature hit the high 20s.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - side.jpg

The internal padding wicks sweat well, the line across your brow doing a good job of stopping sweat dripping down on to your glasses. It'll eventually get overwhelmed on a hot climb but will keep your vision clear in most circumstances.

An issue you could have with the WaveCel structure is that it doesn't allow you to tuck the arms of your eyewear into the vents. You can flip some glasses upside down and use the tension in their arms to hold them in place against the sides of the helmet, but I've tried every orientation possible with other glasses and nothing works.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - side 3.jpg

Four months in and the Bontrager XXX WaveCel is looking almost as good as new. The WaveCel is tough stuff and the EPS around the edge of the helmet is covered in a protective layer of polycarbonate so it's unlikely to get squashed when carried in a bag or the back of a car. This looks like it's going to last well.

Bontrager XXX WaveCel helmet - back close up.jpg

One thing I haven't discussed is aerodynamics. Bontrager says that the XXX WaveCel offers "an aerodynamic shape [that] helps you outsmart the wind and ride faster". However, it doesn't provide any material to support that assertion (we've asked, of course).

> Buyer's Guide: 19 of the best high-performance helmets

In terms of price, the Abus Airbreaker helmet that I mentioned earlier is £229.99, while the Catlike Kilauea is £219.99. The Bontrager XXX WaveCel's £199.99 is in no way unusual for a high-end lid these days.

Conclusion

Bontrager's XXX WaveCel is a highly comfortable helmet with good adjustability. If Virginia Tech's findings are to be believed, the level of protection it offers against concussion resulting from a range of impacts a cyclist might experience is among the best available.

Verdict

Comfortable helmet incorporating interesting new tech, although it's heavier than most high-end rivals

If you're thinking of buying this product using a cashback deal why not use the road.cc Top Cashback page and get some top cashback while helping to support your favourite independent cycling website

road.cc test report

Make and model: Bontrager XXX WaveCel Helmet

Size tested: Medium

Tell us what the product is for and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?

Bontrager says, "Bontrager XXX WaveCel delivers high-performance protection and the best in aerodynamics and comfort. XXX is the WaveCel helmet of choice for the Trek-Segafredo men's and women's teams.

"WaveCel is a collapsible cellular structure that lines the inside of the helmet. This Bontrager-exclusive technology disrupts the safety standards that the industry has accepted for over 30 years."

Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?

Bontrager lists these features:

* WaveCel advanced helmet technology

* The Boa System lets you easily secure and adjust helmet fit with just one hand

* Easy-to-use adjustable strap dividers allow for a fine tune fit

* An aerodynamic shape helps you outsmart the wind and ride faster

* Additional NoSweat pad with silicone channel keeps sweat out of eyes for constant clarity

* Team Trek-Segafredo sticker kit included with Viper Red, White and Radioactive Yellow colourways

* The Crash Replacement Guarantee provides a free helmet replacement if involved in a crash within the first year of ownership

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
9/10
Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10
Rate the product for durability:
 
9/10

The WaveCel structure is surrounded by an EPS rim. The outside of the EPS is covered by a polycarbonate shell that helps protect it.

Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
2/10
Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
8/10
Rate the product for value:
 
6/10

Compared to other high-end helmets, the price isn't at all crazy.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

It feels good in use although a helmet's primary purpose is safety. As far as that is concerned, Virginia Tech's results suggest that the level of protection it offers against concussion resulting from a range of impacts a cyclist might experience is among the best available.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The fit.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

The weight didn't result in discomfort but I was slightly more aware than usual that I was wearing a helmet.

How does the price compare to that of similar products in the market, including ones recently tested on road.cc?

The Abus Airbreaker helmet that we reviewed recently is £229.99, while the Catlike Kilauea is £219.99. The Bontrager XXX WaveCel's £199.99 is in no way unusual for a high-end lid.

Did you enjoy using the product? Yes

Would you consider buying the product? Possibly, although it's a crowded market.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? As above.

Use this box to explain your overall score

It's a good, durable helmet that features interesting new tech. It's a little heavier than rivals but not so much that it's a big issue. That all adds up to a 7 in my book.

Overall rating: 7/10

About the tester

Age: 48  Height: 190cm  Weight: 80kg

I usually ride:   My best bike is:

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Most days  I would class myself as: Expert

I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

4 comments

Avatar
Vovis [26 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Interesting new tech but...

 look how those straps are sitting on face.

Actually they never stay flat on skin with any recent Bontrager hlem.

Reason is old design of Y-joint that never forms proper triangle and, as results, causes wrappage of straps. This makes pretty difficult to fit the helm because strap always touches front or back of ear. Wrappage also causes noise on the road...

Because of that reason I retuned Bontrager Ballista helm that was nice helm otherwise!

https://road.cc/content/forum/259570-bontrager-ballista-mips-aero-helmet...

Bontrager brings high tech and nice ideas into their helms but still continuing to use last sentury Y-joint, what a shame. 

They can learn from Lazer, Giro, Specialized, P.O.C, BELL  and some other systems with much more convenient and cleverer Y-joint solutions ...

 

Avatar
dreamlx10 [312 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

Nice aero nose

Avatar
Paulf992 [4 posts] 2 weeks ago
0 likes

I have been using MIPS helmets for 4 years POC for MTB and the Smith overtake Mipps for Road. I crashed this spring with the Smith helmet and had a moderate concussion. I felt like the helmet likely prevented a worse scenario. After that I decided that I would replace it with the best helmet possible.  I chose the Bontrager Specter over the XXX because it was higher rated by Virginia Tech and is Lighter than the XXX, it also has a comfortable fit for me. I've been using it for about 3 months. It definitely feels heavier and significanly warmer than the Smith Overtake or other high end helmet's I've had. I  noticed this most on a ride up Haleakala in July. I usually do big climbs with my helmet on the bars so it's not a huge disadvantage and I appreciate the extra protection on descents and when riding in a group or traffic.  I plan to use a lighter cooler helmet for hot weather rides. 

 

Avatar
Guyz2010 [309 posts] 1 week ago
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My god that helmet might be "technically" wonderful but what a pudding basin!