Bontrager Starvos WaveCel Cycling Helmet First Impression.


Who gets excited by helmets? Probably not most cyclists, unless they happen to find something matchy matchy to their bike or kit.

When full face helmets became standard issue riding the North Shore in the ‘90’s it was nice to move from a full moto helmet to a bike specific helmet to reduce weight. But since that time I’ve never had a sore neck from keeping my head up on any ride of any length. I have been fortunate enough over my lifetime to have not sustained any major long-lasting head injury due to cycling (either road or MTB biking). But I have hit my head numerous times in 25 plus years and have replaced helmets due to impacts. When MIPS was first introduced, I had my doubts. I concluded marketing hype. As a trained biomechanist and sports medicine researcher, I did not believe the impact forces could be significantly altered to reduce concussions. I’ll admit I was probably wrong here. The technology appears sound, with the primary intention to increase the time of transfer of load (primarily rotation) to the head. So now all of my helmets are MIPS.

Along comes Trek Bontrager’s WaveCel technology. If you believe the hype, it’s the biggest thing in cycling in 30 years. It appears similar to Smith’s Koroyd product as it effectively provides a ‘crumple zone’ that is said to be better than traditional foam helmets. What differentiates WaveCel is that the directionality of the crumple zone works in shear loads similar to strategy of MIPS. This is all great, and this reviewer implores you to do some research on concussion-reducing technologies in helmet. There is a tremendous focus currently on mTBI (mild traumatic brain injury). Safety in sport and recreation is paramount. However, the remainder of this review will not focus on these technologies. I do not work in a lab where testing can be done. And I am not keen to slam myself into rocks and trees to subjectively test claims on injury reduction.

So where does this leave us? Let’s talk about fit and function for everyday riding. I picked up the Starvos as a ‘gravel’ helmet. So this is really a road helmet that will double duty on gravel paths and light off-road riding. I have ridden with the Starvos a couple of times now. Here are my thoughts.

The helmet is big. This was my first thought picking it up, and then comparing to my everyday road helmet. The size difference is really noticeable. This is going to be a non-starter for many fashion-conscious riders.

Bontrager Stravos Helmet

Nobody wants to looks like a big mushroom head. I fight this battle on a good day, as I am a large or extra large helmet anyways. The Starvos is designed with a layered make up. There is regular padding on the inside. Then the WaveCel layer. Some spacing. Then another layer of more traditional foam padding and shell. This all adds up to a higher volume helmet. And I dare say more volume than many riders will want.

The weather recently here in Whistler British Columbia has been typically spring conditions. It’s cool and rains a lot! I have already mentioned my head size, but now I’ll share that I am also a sweater. I perspire pretty much from the time I start riding till I’m done. So I am always looking for a helmet with plenty of vents and good air flow. This is where I was let down with the Starvos. As I suspected with designs of this type (including the Koroyd Smith models), air cannot flow past your head. The WaveCel creates ‘vent holes’ perpendicular to your head. Even on a cool wet day, I found the helmet quite stuffy. I think this is a problem for riders who sweat more, so if you’re not a sweater then probably this is less of an issue.

In conclusion, this helmet won’t stay in my rotation (of road, XC, enduro, full face helmets). I am not stoked on drawing more attention to my big head. But really the lack of good air flow would be the deciding factor. Maybe I could see bringing the Starvos out again for fall or winter riding, where you are actively trying to keep head heat in. Kudos to Bontrager for innovating in helmet design with the intent to less concussion injuries. Now that I just wrote this paragraph, I feel a bit ashamed my vanity and sweating would keep me from using a safer product. But that’s the truth.