Bontrager Starvos WaveCel Helmet: Quick Review

Bontrager Starvos WaveCel Helmet: Quick Review – by Guitar Ted

Wearing a bicycle helmet seems like a pretty good idea for the adventurous cyclist. Things can happen pretty quickly and most all of us have experienced that biff, crash, or accident that happened so quickly we cannot remember what happened for sure. You know…the WHAM! and then, “What the…..?” Then you see you whacked your head, and well, you are thankful you listened and wore that brain bucket after all. I know I’ve whacked my noggin more than a few times while riding bicycles.

Bontrager Starvos WaveCel helmet
The Bontrager Starvos WaveCel helmet in XL.

Now days we are also well aware of concussions and the serious nature of their effects upon our central nervous system. From football players to NASCAR stars, concussions have been front and center in the sporting world news for the last several years. Cycling is not exempt, and helmet makers are still bringing cutting edge technologies to fight the battle against head injuries caused by concussions. Bontrager made some inroads in this field lately with what they call “WaveCel” technology. They just introduced a new model featuring this technology at a lower price point and this Quick Review is about this new helmet, the Starvos.

Cut-away of a Starvos WaveCel helmet
Cutaway showing the WaveCel liner. Image courtesy of Trek Bicycles

What It Is: The Starvos is a helmet featuring the independently tested, highly regarded WaveCel collapsible cellular structure which lines the inside of the Starvos helmet. It is more effective than traditional foam helmets at protecting your head from certain types of impacts. Here’s what Trek/Bontrager says about it:

Starvos WaveCel is a versatile, high value cycling helmet for new-to-seasoned riders who want the added protection of WaveCel, a leading technology in the protections against cycling related head injuries.”

  • $99.99 MSRP
  • 3 Colorways
  • Comes in a new XL sizing
  • WaveCel Advanced Helmet Technology
  • Virginia Tech 5-Star Rating
  • Intuitive, one-handed Headmaster fit system
  • Lockdown strap dividers
  • Soft, comfortable, moisture-wicking, and washable helmet pads.
  • Available in XL sizing to accommodate larger head shapes
  • Crash Replacement Guarantee

The Starvos comes in White (tested), Black, and Radioactive Yellow. The XL is available in all three colors, by the way, and fits from 60cm-66cm head circumferences. I mention this because as a rider who has a 63cm head circumference, this is a ‘big-deal’ for me and riders like me with bigger head ‘shapes‘, as Bontrager puts it. (Please excuse the pun) There is the one-handed adjustment dial and the cradle is height adjustable also.

First Impressions: The fancy names/acronyms aside, this helmet has a nice, easy to use dial to snug up the helmet to your head, and the cradle is adjustable for height on the back end of your head, which I found useful here as well, having such a big noggin. It isn’t light, nor particularly feature laden, but getting WaveCel into a sub $100.00 helmet that is as nice as the Starvos is, in my opinion, pretty remarkable. Especially when you consider the floor for technology like this from Bontrager, or other helmet manufacturers cost $50.00 more and up. So, I can get this cutting edge protection, and a helmet that actually fits me, at a pretty reasonable price. I like that already.

The author with the Starvos WaveCel helmet on
A happy Guitar Ted wearing a helmet that actually fits his head.

And speaking of fit, I opened this helmet up to maximum settings, and plopped it onto my head, expecting what I normally find: Parts of the helmet hanging up on certain sections of my head, not sitting all the way down, and generally somewhat painful as well. Now I need to give you some background here…….

I have never had a helmet fit me correctly. Never. My head is narrow-ish, long, and the closest thing I’ve ever had to a helmet fitting me was an old, early 90’s Shoei MTB helmet that I took a Dremel grinder to and shaved the foam down to custom fit my large, strangely shaped head. Since then, I have had had to pretty much gut every pad, doodad, and sometimes bits of structure out of cycling helmets just to get them to ‘kind-of-fit’. Now back to the story where I was plopping that Starvos on my head for the first time.

What?!!“, I thought out loud, “It’s too big!“. I actually had to turn the adjustment dial in quite a bit to get the helmet to fit, and it fit perfectly. Pads in there and all! Hallelujah! So, first off, I am a bit biased just because this darn thing actually fits me. Thanks Bontrager! But…..what about that weird WaveCel stuff? Does it feel odd on your head? Does your hair get caught in it? It’s a fairly inexpensive helmet, so what about its looks? Is it too hot with that stuff in there? All fair questions.

Firstly, this helmet doesn’t feel odd, or different from others I have had, (other than that it fits so well), so I don’t notice anything concerning the WaveCel layer there at all. (Other than weight, which I will address in a bit) The ‘Headmaster’ dial is really easy to adjust with one hand, even while wearing the helmet. So, little micro-adjustments are simple. While the WaveCel layer maybe makes this helmet a bit larger in size overall, I didn’t feel any oddness or negatives concerning its mass while riding. (391 grams in XL, by the way) I’ve read some about other types of energy dissipating technologies for helmets being hot, noisy, or feeling odd, but WaveCel has none of these issues as far as I can tell. So, no- it isn’t too hot. I’d even go so far as to say that it flows air pretty well, actually, with its eleven large vents.

A diagram explaining how WaveCel dissipates energy.
The WavCel in action. I hope to never have to test this part out. Image courtesy of Trek Bicycles

As for its looks, I think it looks fine. Normal. Not like an alien’s brain, or an insect’s exoskeleton. If anything, the Starvos is boring in its design, being fairly plain and much like Trek/Bontrager’s Mid-West heritage, ‘very nice’. That is to say, unremarkable. Unless you told anyone there was some cutting edge technology lurking below the surface, I doubt most people would notice this helmet. It looks up-to-date, design-wise, but not outstanding in any way compared to other helmets available now.

Detail shot of the Headmaster fit dial
The Headmaster fit dial is effective and easy to use one-handed

So, about fit and comfort here- Well, I have worn this helmet without a cap, with a cap, with a ‘buff’, and even more riding with just a bare head in there, and the WaveCel stuff just doesn’t get in my way at all. Also, the straps and buckles here are easily adjustable, even when the helmet is on, and stay put afterward. As for any snagging of the hair worries, I have very fine hair, so if it was going to snag, or get caught in the cellular structure of the inner liner, well I would think my hair would be a perfect candidate for that. Especially at my current, COVID-19 enforced longer hair length. I found no issues. Could it happen? Well, I suppose, but I am not worried about this at all.

At The Finish: Obviously, I’m excited and happy to have found a helmet that is so comfortable for me because it comes in a size that actually accommodates my big head size. So, besides that, I can say that having a helmet come in at under a hundred bucks with a technology that promises me better head protection without compromising too much in terms of weight, air flow, and looks, is really amazing.

An interior view of the Starvos WaveCel helmet
An interior view of the Starvos WaveCel helmet. Image courtesy of Trek Bicycles

With that said, I wish the helmet was a bit lighter, for sure. To help by way of comparison, I have a Bell Z20 Aero Mips helmet which, (gutted of pads to help it fit me better) weighs 321 grams. The placement of that mass in the Starvos makes it a bit more noticeable on the head than the slightly lighter Bell helmet. It would be great if somehow that weight in the Starvos could be trimmed back a hair. But to be completely fair, the Bell Z20 costs about $75 bucks more too. That’s something to keep in mind here.

Otherwise, when you look at value, cost, and performance, weigh all of that together, and look at the results, it is hard to fault this new Starvos model. It is the only WaveCel helmet that comes in an XL size, (note that the new Rally WaveCel MTB helmet cost more and also does not come in an XL), and is the least expensive way to get into this cutting edge technology. That it also is a really great helmet, besides the WaveCel, is making this choice in helmets for cycling hard to ignore. If you have a larger head size, as I do, now you have something that will not only fit better, but takes no prisoners in terms of protection, which previous “big-headed’ helmet options often did compromise on. Plus, it doesn’t cost a small fortune to buy into WaveCel with the Starvos. Well done, Bontrager! Thanks for the new option for the big noggin crowd!

Learn more about the Bontrager Starvos WaveCel helmet, and other Bontrager helmets at their site here:

Note: Bontrager sent over the Starvos WaveCel Helmet 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.


Author: Guitar Ted

Guitar Ted hails from Iowa. Home of over 70,000 miles of gravel and back roads. An inaugural member of the Gravel Cycling Hall of Fame and Co-creator of Trans Iowa in late 2004- Guitar Ted has been at the forefront of the growth of gravel events and riding since then. Creator of Gravel Grinder News in 2008, he produced the premier calendar of gravel and back road events. GT joined forces with Riding Gravel in late 2014.

Related Articles

4 thoughts on “Bontrager Starvos WaveCel Helmet: Quick Review

  1. I own the Specter version of this helmet and also noticed it fits really well. The only picky comment is the when in the drops, the front rim can obstruct your view a little. Would be interested if this model has a similar issue.

    1. @ Dennis Keane – I noticed that the front came down a hair more with this helmet than others, but chalked that up to it actually fitting my head. Perhaps that issue you had does exist for you with the Starvos.

  2. Its got to be the best helmet I have owned! I had a run in with a bamboo stick and had an awful spill. Other than a chipped tooth, a lulu of a bruise on my face and a little neck pain, the helmet took thr brunt of the fall.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.