Bontrager Blaze WaveCel Review
Cons: Expensive, moderately heavy, somewhat bulky and bulbous appearance
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Our Analysis and Test Results
Bontrager is a components and accessories brand that is owned by Trek bicycles. They make everything from clothing to wheels and tires and they unveiled their new line of helmets featuring WaveCel technology in the spring of 2019. The release of these helmets and the new technology came with grand safety claims and lots of marketing hype. We're always interested in the latest and greatest in mountain bike helmet technology, so we got our hands on the new Blaze helmet to see if it's worth the high asking price and how it compares to our competitive field of mountain bike helmets.
It seems like it was Bontrager's intention to make the Blaze as protective as possible and we feel that protection is one of this helmet's strongest suits. It offers ample coverage, a sturdy feeling construction, and comes equipped with Bontrager's new WaveCel technology. Coverage is quite good for a half-shell helmet and the shell comes down quite low on the temples and sides of the head with a relatively deep fit that also sits lower on the forehead than most helmets we've tested. The shell doesn't drop quite as low on the occipital lobe at the back of the head as the models with the most coverage, but it comes down low enough to feel protective enough. The chinstrap and Boa fit adjustment also do a great job of securing the helmet on your head.
Bontrager claims their WaveCel technology is up to 48x more effective than traditional foam in terms of impact protection. WaveCel equipped helmets also received a 5-star rating in Virginia Tech's safety rating system. There is a fair amount of speculation and information available online about the function of the WaveCel system, so we recommend doing a little research before blindly trusting the marketers pushing to sell products. One thing we can say for sure is that we like to see companies pushing innovation in safety and we feel that WaveCel is a good example of that.
So how does it work? Without doing any crash testing or impact testing of our own, it's hard for us to judge how well this system works in the real world. We understand the idea behind it, so we'll do our best to explain. WaveCel is a layer of a unique cellular structure that sits within an outer shell of traditional EPS foam. At first glance, it is very reminiscent of the Koroyd that you see inside of some Smith helmets. As the name suggests, however, WaveCel is made in the shape of waves and has larger gaps in the structure. Bontrager claims that this layer performs three functions in the event of an impact, flex, crumple, and glide. According to them, WaveCel works as both an impact absorber and a slip-plane to reduce the rotational forces on the brain in the event of an oblique impact. Based on simple observation and feel, it seems like it would take a pretty significant impact to make the WaveCel act like a slip plane compared to a MIPS liner that moves more freely.
The Blaze offers a very high degree of comfort. One of our testers put it on at the office and was so comfortable that he drove himself all the way home before realizing it was still on his head. We found it to have a relatively crowd-pleasing fit that works with a variety of head shapes, with ample adjustability to dial it in to your preferences. While it is quite comfortable, the overall fit seems a little less refined than the most comfortable models we tested.
The fit of the Blaze helmet can be adjusted using the Boa dial at the back of the helmet. The Boa dial sits in the center of a wide plastic cradle and provides a huge range of adjustment. The dial is large and easy to turn, even with gloves on, and pulls tension evenly from both sides. The plastic cradle can be adjusted up and down on a five-position ladder inside the helmet so that you can optimize its position on your occipital lobe. The chinstrap system works just fine, but we feel it isn't quite as dialed as some of the competition. The straps are attached securely on the inside of the helmet and drop down in front and behind the ear on each side to a basic locking V strap splitter. While this system works and offers plenty of adjustment, it can't compare to the comfort of the more refined strap splitters found on helmets like the POC Tectal, 100% Altec, or Specialized Ambush. The webbing that runs below the chin to the Fidlock buckle never seems to want to lay down perfectly flat.
The Blaze comes with two sets of pads. The pads appear to be roughly the same thickness and density, but one of them has a bead of silicone across the brow that is intended to manage sweat and prevent it from dripping down your face. We tested both pads and found them to provide similar levels of comfort, and the "no sweat" pad did seriously reduce the amount of sweat running down the face and dripping onto sunglass lenses.
The Blaze falls around the middle of the pack in terms of its ventilation. We will admit that it has more airflow than we expected considering the fact that none of the vents are completely open. Much like the Koroyd in a Smith helmet, WaveCel is designed to absorb impact and also allow for airflow, though both technologies do have the unfortunate side effect of reducing overall ventilation. Fortunately, the WaveCel design is a bit more open than that of the Koroyd and the result is slightly better airflow when compared to the Forefront 2, for example.
The Blaze has a total of 13 vents that do a pretty good job of catching air as you roll down the trail. There are also some air channels in between the EPS foam shell and the WaveCel layer that help to draw air from front to back. The gaps in the WaveCel structure do allow a reasonable level of air to pass through, although it absolutely inhibits airflow compared to helmets with open vent holes. Its ventilation isn't terrible, but it can't even come close to the supreme ventilation of the 100% Altec, Specialized Ambush, Troy Lee A2 or the POC Tectal.
Bontrager packed the Blaze helmet full of mostly useful features. First and foremost is the namesake WaveCel technology. Again, we didn't test this to find out how well this works compared to other rotational impact protection systems, but we like the concept. As mentioned above, the Blaze comes with two sets of pads, and the no sweat pad actually does work to help manage sweat. The Boa brand fit adjustment is a nice touch and really helps to secure the helmet for a comfortable fit. We did find, however, that plastic arms of the fit adjustment system that attach by the temples conflicted somewhat with our sunglass arms.
Bontrager has chosen to employ magnets in a couple of ways on the Blaze helmet. First, they have a Fidlock magnetic buckle to secure the chinstrap. The Fidlock system has been around for a few years now and can be found on a number of other helmets. This buckle has proven to be secure, and it can be used one-handed. Bontrager also includes a magnetic accessory mount that they call the Blendr that can be used with a light or POV camera. This magnetic mount is very quickly and easily mounted or removed from its home in the top center vent of the helmet. The Blaze also has an adjustable visor that clicks into three positions and flips up high enough to accommodate goggles when not in use. The visor is an appropriate length and width and does a fine job of blocking the sun from your eyes while riding.
Tipping the scales at 465 grams or 16.4 ounces, the Blaze isn't a lightweight helmet. It feels noticeably heavier in hand and on your head than the majority of the other helmets we've tested. This is due in large part to the use of WaveCel in the design, which appears to have added some girth to the entire helmet all the way around. Bontrager claims it adds an average of 53g to the weight of their helmets, and that seems like a reasonable estimate to us.
Most people who are more concerned with safety than weight will probably be fine with the added weight of the WaveCel in the Blaze. Those concerned with every gram might scoff at a bike helmet that weighs this much and will be better off looking into other options.
Throughout our testing, the Blaze helmet has given us no reason to question its durability. The outer shell is well connected to the EPS foam and the WaveCel layer appears to securely connected inside of that. The straps, Boa fit adjustment, padding, and visor are in good condition and function as they should. Bontrager also includes a one-year crash replacement guarantee and will replace your Blaze free of charge should you impact it in a crash within the first year of ownership.
The Blaze is undoubtedly an expensive piece of protective equipment. It is the most expensive half-shell helmet we've ever tested by a fair margin, but if you believe all of the claims being made about the WaveCel technology then perhaps it is worth the price to you. When the price of this helmet comes down or they make a less expensive mountain biking model we'll be more inclined to call it a good value. For now, we leave that judgment up to you.
The Bontrager Blaze is a very expensive new helmet model that comes equipped with the innovative new WaveCel impact protection technology. We feel this is a great helmet for the consumer interested in having the latest and greatest in protective features and technology and believes the claims that Bontrager makes about the effectiveness of this new system. Overall, we feel that the Blaze offers a high degree of protection and comfort, reasonable ventilation, and is packed with features that most riders will appreciate. Whether or not it's worth the asking price is a decision we'll leave up to you.
Other Versions and Accessories
Bontrager makes a variety of helmets for all types of riding including 3 other WaveCel equipped models. They make 2 models for road cycling, the XXX ($300) and the Specter ($150), as well as a Commuter model called the Charge ($150).
— Jeremy Benson