Bontrager Circuit WaveCel Helmet: Quick Review – by Guitar Ted & Grannygear
Introduction: Bontrager WaveCel helmets have made quite a splash since their introduction a few years ago. The honeycomb-like WaveCel structure is the reason why. While other cycling helmet designs utilize sliding/rotating elements, the WaveCel technology approaches impact absorption from a different angle. The characteristic ‘cell-like’ structure of WaveCel is designed to collapse in such a manner that energy is dissipated from different and/or multiple impacts, and is claimed to be a better way to protect a cyclist’s head.
As experienced cyclists ourselves, we were not looking to test the merits of WaveCel’s protective claims. We’ll defer to the white coated lab techs on those points. However; we were able to discern a few other salient points in regard to how the Bontrager helmets fit and function during a ride. Following is a quick bullet-point list from Bontrager on the features of the Circuit WaveCel helmet.
- WaveCel advanced helmet technology
- BOA® Fit System lets you easily secure and adjust your fit with one hand
- Blendr magnetic mount system easily integrates a GoPro camera and Bontrager lights
- Made of 50% post-consumer recycled polystyrene
- FlatStrap semi-fixed strap dividers lay flush and move fore and aft for a perfect fit
- Soft, comfortable, moisture-wicking, and washable helmet pads
- Crash Replacement Guarantee provides free replacement if your helmet is impacted in the first year of ownership
- Complies with U.S. CPSC safety standards for bicycle helmets for persons age 1 and over
Grannygear: This is my second Wavecell helmet and this one is a bit more full featured than the previous one, the Starvos. The $159.99 Circuit is 50 dollars more than the Starvos and for that extra money you get a more refined Boa tensioning system, sleeker straps, and the Blendr mount system that allows for integrated light mounting and Go Pro type attachments. Guitar Ted: This is my second WaveCel helmet as well. I, like Grannygear, had a Starvos model which I reviewed here. I was most excited by the fact that Bontrager had made their XL size bigger than most company’s XL, so the Starvos actually fit me really well. It’s amazing what ‘right-sized’ apparel can do for a rider.
Ride Performance, Fit, and Feel: You might hear a lot about concerns over heat, and how many see the WaveCel feature and dismiss it out of hand as being ‘obviously too hot to wear“. Well, we’ve not really had that experience. Grannygear: So far I have yet to find Wavecel hot or uncomfortable just due to the construction. Looking at the helmet, one would think that it would be awful on hot days, but it does not seem to be. Guitar Ted: Yeah, I’ll second that. Certainly, there are cooler helmets out there in terms of airflow over a rider’s head, but the WaveCel design is actually cooler than many aero design helmets, and it isn’t anywhere near ‘too hot to ride in‘. If it were as bad as some are thinking, I certainly wouldn’t have used it on a day where I rode over a century on gravel with temperatures well over 90°F.
Guitar Ted: In terms of fit, I can find no fault at all with the Bontrager helmets. I typically look for anything close to a helmet which will accommodate a 63cm head circumference. Generally, I have to compromise and I have had to modify helmets to fit me more often than not. Not so with the Bontrager helmets! I actually now have a helmet like many folks do- one that I can wear cycling caps underneath comfortably without inducing raw spots on my scalp or inducing a headache due to tightness. Grannygear: That said, both of the Bontrager helmets are not a perfect fit for me…I would say 90% right. I think it has to do with the shape of the head they were designed around, a shape that seems to be more round then oval.
I say that because I have more pressure on the front and back of the head then on the sides and that means I need to run a bit more tension in them to keep them in place. I stopped by my local bike shop and tried several brands of similar helmets and all of them had a slightly different fit. The one that fit me best was a Specialized helmet(s) and that agrees with my past history of helmet fit. Now I mention that, not as a criticism, but because all heads are not the same. If you are more of a cue ball and less of an egg, this might be bliss. I still wear the Bonty Wavecells with good results, however. Guitar Ted: So I find that interesting since I do have an egg-shaped, oval head and the XL Circuit WaveCel fits like a dream. Try before you buy, if you can- That’s always the best policy here.
Features: The Boa system on the Circuit allows for a fine ratcheting control of tension and the straps are comfy. Nothing groundbreaking here, but it works. The structure of the cradle is pretty thin but it seems to be robust. There is room for pony-tails, by the way, not that either of us have a need for that feature!
Grannygear: Now the Blendr is what makes this helmet unique for me. Magnetic light mounts on removable helmet sections are pretty cool. They are unobtrusive and add only a bit of weight. They are a natural for the cube lights Bontrager makes. Those Ion 200 RT/Flare RT series daytime lights are my absolute favorite and I own several sets between Mrs. Grannygear and I.
But I wanted to see how the Circuit did with a real, ‘see at night’ kind of light on top of it, so I mounted up a Bontrager Ion Elite R to the front mount to see how the helmet handled the weight. I found that the fastening screw on the Go Pro interface could not tension the mount well enough to hold the light from tipping. It just seems to be a mount tolerance issue as I grabbed a new light I bought for MTB riding and used it’s Go Pro mount and that one tensioned perfectly.
However, on trail the helmet was not very balanced with the weight of the helmet light on it and would slide down in front as I rode. If I tightened the helmet up, this got better, but then it bothered me to ride that way. It makes me think that the system is better suited to a smaller, lighter type of light, like the Ion 200RT. Or maybe it’s because of my oval head shape. I’m unsure on that point.
Also the front mount is pretty solid, but not REALLY solid as I was able to get the light mount to release if I held the helmet in my hand and whacked it semi-gently. Now that impact level is more like what would happen in a crash or it you hit a tree branch with your head, etc. Still, there is a limit to how much weight I think that front mount can handle.
However….the flip side to that is in the case of an impact, a light or camera mount that cannot release is adding stress to your head and neck if it catches on something, so that is something to think about. I think if I were using this with a light as heavy as the Ion Elite R I would tether it to the helmet so that if it jumped ship, it would just dangle there till I could stop and reset it.
Now then…that rear Blendr mount on the helmet….I thought I broke it when I got the helmet. I wanted to remove it because…well, because it says it can be removed, I guess…and I really struggled to get it off of there….like really worked at it. then it went ‘POP!!!!” and released with a lot of energy. Broken. Must be, because I could not put it back on no matter what I did.
Turns out that I did not break it, but it takes a certain way of persuading the mount to release and reattach that is quite finicky and frankly, rather difficult. I can do it now, but if you had hand strength issues or arthritis, etc…I don’t think you could do it. However, the rear mount is small and light and for the rest of the testing, I just left it on the helmet and put a rear light on it as needed. The front mount is easy to remove and I left that off till I needed it.
Guitar Ted: I don’t have a Bontrager front light, so the top-mount Blendr was a bit of a non-mover for me. However; I do have a Bontrager Flare R rear tail light, so the rear mount was of greater interest to me. Before I heard about Grannygear’s issues with the rear mount, I actually broke mine. Same deal- it just snapped when I tried to remove it.
Bontrager looked into our issues and apparently it was a rare instance in some of the very first production models of the Circuit WaveCel helmets. Apparently subsequent runs of the helmet are not affected by the overly-stiff mount release issue. (Editor’s note: Bontrager has said that the statements which have been struck through concerning the rear light mount being an odd outlier with our test samples were erroneous. The reality is that the rear light mount is currently the same as our test samples. Bontrager tells us that they have attempted to rectify this problem we experienced with “better instructions”. Somehow we had the impression that this was an early production issue, but apparently this is not the case. In our opinion the design should be revisited and made to work as easily as the top magnetic mount. We apologize if we have misled anyone with our original take on the rear mount.) That said, I was disappointed that I could not make use of that feature as a high mounted rear light is always a better way to go than mounting a light down lower where vehicle operators may have a harder time seeing the beacon.
At The Finish: The Bontrager Circuit WaveCel helmet is a lighter, sleeker offering with the added protection that the WaveCel liner affords a rider. We liked the Starvos which we used before, but the Circuit is ‘next level’ in terms of looks, weight, and features. The Blendr is really a smart idea. However; issues we had with the rear mount, and the fact that only Bontrager lights work with the helmet gave us pause. Other features of this helmet were nice, but nothing really a whole lot different than any other premium brand helmet. It’s good stuff, mind you, just not amazing.
When it comes to the WaveCel protection element of the Circuit, you can either buy in to that technology or not. If Bontrager’s take on how to protect a rider’s noggin makes sense to you, then it has value. What we can say is that WaveCel doesn’t make this helmet any hotter to wear on very warm days than other helmets we own or have tried. (And yes- We were a bit surprised to find that to be the case.)
So, if it fits you well, and if you have, or would like to get Bontrager lights, and WaveCel makes sense to you, well then this is great value. On the other hand, if most cycling helmets are juuusst a bit too small for you, and you’ve always wanted a premium, fairly lightweight and modern helmet, the XL sizing of this helmet range may just be the ticket for you. For that reason alone Guitar Ted would give this helmet high marks.
For more information on the Circuit WaveCel helmet see the webpage for the Circuit WaveCel helmets here.
Note: Bontrager sent over the Circuit WaveCel Helmets at no charge to Riding Gravel for test and review. We were not paid, nor bribed for this review and we always strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.