With the introduction of Wavecel, Bontrager made some very bold claims — the most impressive of which stated it was 48x safer than traditional EPS foam helmets. The Bontrager Specter Wavecel helmet has been on test this spring as their most affordable option for road and gravel riding. Comfortable and stylish, the Specter Wavecel also has all the protection needed should your day turn bad in a microsecond.
Bontrager Specter Wavecel Helmet Features:
- Built with Wavecel liner and a thin EPS outer layer
- Boa® retention system allows quick micro-adjustments
- Fidlock magnetic buckle
- Ample ventilation to keep you comfortable
- Soft, comfortable, moisture-wicking, and washable helmet pads
- Subtle reflective elements
- 1-year Crash Replacement Guarantee
- Weight: 355 grams (actual, medium)
- MSRP: $149.99
Ride the Wave(cel)
A few years ago, I was attending the launch event of Koroyd, which is used in Smith, Endura and Alpina cycling helmets, getting the rundown of their technology. Subsequently, we’ve tested it in a few Smith helmets (Smith Overtake and Smith Rover). During that time, MIPS has become the industry-standard for mitigating rotational impacts on the brain — I’ve even had a first-hand experience with MIPS and tested several great options from Bontrager, including the Circuit MIPS.
Now, for 2019, Bontrager is going away from MIPS in their high-end helmets and using their latest safety tech called Wavecel. Instead of EPS foam throughout the entire helmet, Wavecel is integrated into the helmet’s construction, in place of the innermost foam and providing shape and structure. Wavecel material is built to flex, crumple and glide throughout the impact and is said to absorb rotational and blunt impacts by better dispersing the energy throughout the material instead of your brain. As a unified mesh system, energy can be absorbed uninterrupted throughout the Wavecel layer, as opposed to typical helmet construction that has foam gaps between each vent hole. To dig into all the nitty gritty details, you can read the white paper for yourself.
Outside of a test lab, the safety claims of the various helmets are difficult to test — not just Wavecel. That said, I have no doubt that Bontrager has backed Wavecel with legitimate, thorough testing and solid engineering. One does not simply develop a new technology these days — especially something like helmets — and conjure up their research and data. I’m going to trust that Wavecel helmets, like the Specter, are safer overall and more protective. But, I’m not going to go into how much safer it is than MIPS, SPIN or other technologies. It’s certainly safer than most helmets on the market and I applaud anyone aiming to make cycling safer and protect our brains from traumatic injury.
Certainly, Wavecel helmets do stand out as being different. Those giant vent holes are filled with Wavecel material that both showcases the technology and provides built-in sun and bug protection. It would take a skilled pilot for a bug to penetrate the helmet’s interior without paying the ultimate price. Bug protection is there, but certainly ancillary to the safety story. Along those lines, sun protection is also improved over wide-open vents.
One of Bontrager’s claims is that Wavecel still breathes as well as other helmets. As someone who shaves their head, I can feel airflow and that claim isn’t all true, in my experience. Wide-open helmet vents breathe significantly better than the Specter Wavecel does. Does it turn my head into a pressure cooker? No, it certainly does not, but don’t expect the breathability of something like the POC Ventral Air SPIN. I rode the Specter and the Ventral Air back-to-back and while the Specter does breathe, the Vectral Air fits its name.
I love a quality helmet and the overall feel of the $149 Specter just feels far and away much more than its price tag. Putting it on, dialing in the fit with the Boa retention system and heading out for a ride, just exudes confidence. With Wavecel construction, the helmet feels solid and secure. No doubt, it’s one of the most comfortable helmets I’ve worn and still has a relatively small profile. The Fidloc magnetic clip is cool and works well, but I’d take a regular buckle any day. The magnet does have a mind of its own sometimes — attaching to metallic objects.
I’ll add that my wife prefers the Fidloc clip and raves about it on every ride. I guess some will love it and others will wish for a regular clip.
On warmer rides, when the sweat really starts flowing in earnest, the brow pads of the Specter Wavecel come into play. With a unified pad all the way across the forehead, sweat rarely drips downward and not once did I get any big drips into the backside of the Smith Attack Max sunglasses I’ve used with the Specter. And, when you’re stopped, sunglasses storage is the best you’ll find. Just stash them upside-down on the front and they’ll stay put.
- It just feels secure — like a tank for your head
- Built-in bug and sun protection
- Boa retention system delivers a customized fit
- Straps sit flat on my face
- Excellent price point
- Easy sunglass storage
- Unified brow pad keeps sweat from dripping inside sunglasses
- Breathability leaves a little to be desired
- A regular clip would do just fine
The Bottom Line: Bontrager Specter Wavecel
With bold claims and much fanfare, Bontrager introduced Wavecel. I’m all for anything that provides additional safety and protection against severe head injuries. The Specter Wavecel is an affordable, nice-looking road helmet that fits like a glove and has all the features you’d expect with a helmet costing much more. Breathability does take a hit, but it doesn’t distract from the overall performance of this lid.
The Bontrager Specter Wavecel helmet is one of the most confidence-inspiring helmets I've ever worn. With the unified Wavecel construction and Boa retention system, it fits like a glove and feels like a tank. This represents a lot of helmet for the money and looks great on the road.