In spring of 2019, Bontrager launched a “Bontrager-exclusive helmet technology” called WaveCel. The WaveCel technology was developed by Legacy Biomechanics Laboratory in Portland, Oregon and received considerable attention due to its safety claims.
According to Trekbikes.com, “WaveCel is a revolutionary, Bontrager-exclusive helmet technology that has been shown in a recent study to be up to 48x more effective than traditional foam helmets in protecting your head from injuries caused by certain cycling accidents.”
This statement caused quite a stir in the cycling community, and spurred the MIPS folks to immediately respond and say that they were unable to replicate these results.
Despite this controversy, I’ve been pleased with both the Bontrager Specter and XXX helmets. I had a pretty nasty fall in the Specter where I whacked my head on the pavement and was rewarded with a fancy ambulance ride. I then chose to upgrade to the XXX, which I currently use.
I find them to both be solid choices, and would absolutely recommend them to the Femme Cyclist Community.
Review in a Nutshell
- Both the Specter and the XXX are very comfortable.
- Virginia tech rates the Specter and XXX with 5 stars for safety.
- Amazing ventilation with both the Specter and XXX.
- Easy to get a ponytail through above the boa closure.
- All Bontrager helmets have a 1 year crash replacement guarantee. https://www.trekbikes.com/us/en_US/bontrager/guarantee/
- The MSRP for the XXX is $300.
- Nowhere to really rest sunglasses on the Specter (XXX has ridges to rest them on but they do fall off easily).
- Neither boast a particularly “streamlined” appearance.
- Weight: both are slightly heavier than a lot of top performing helmets.
Price & Where to Buy:
- Specter: $149.99
- XXX $299.99
More on WaveCel Technology and Safety
One of the most appealing aspects of the WaveCel Specter/XXX is how it measures up in terms of safety. All other things aside, the most important thing your helmet does is protect your head, and as they state on the Trek website, “You Only Have One Brain.”
I unfortunately tested this out last year while wearing the Specter. Despite the fact that I crashed, hit my head on the pavement, and ended up with several stitches above my eye, I luckily did not have a concussion. You also may be able to see from the photos that the Specter held up well, and only had some surface scratches on the side.
Visually, WaveCel looks a little like the Koroyd technology used by Smith. It is a honeycomb style sheet that is inserted into the helmet and according to Trekbikes.com “works like a crumple zone that absorbs the force of an impact before it reaches your head.”
It is important to mention that MIPS disputes Bontrager’s claims that WaveCel is exponentially safer than all other helmets on the road. Tests done by Virginia Tech certainly seem to agree with MIPS.
Though Specter and XXX both have a very high safety rating of 5 stars, there are many other helmets that do as well. The Specter and XXX are not even the highest rated of the 5 star helmets either, though they are both currently in the top 10. Also, interestingly enough, the Specter is slightly safer according to the study than the XXX, despite being about $150 cheaper.
The WaveCel is Cool
And I mean cool. It has fantastic ventilation due to the “honeycomb-like” structure of the WaveCel technology. This is the part that mainly sits against your head (other than the very light foam that keeps it from slipping about), so there is really great air circulation in there.
I still sweat like crazy, but my hair wasn’t quite as drenched and matted as it was with previous helmets. I found there to be no noticeable difference between the XXX and the Specter in terms of ventilation.
The WaveCel is Incredibly Comfortable
Both the Specter and the XXX are very comfortable. There is no tightness or irritation, and the straps fit nicely under the chin. They are well suited for a slightly higher ponytail above the BOA closure and below the base of the helmet which ladies who don’t love to have ponytails sitting on the back of their neck will really appreciate.
A seasoned cycling friend claims that it is the most comfortable helmet she has ever owned, and this is saying something since she has owned many more than I have! Also, the BOA dial in the back really helps with getting the comfort and fit just right.
WaveCel Helmets ARE Heavier
The safety technology does come at a price. Trek claims that the WaveCel technology adds about 53g to the weight of the helmet, making it slightly heavier than other helmets in its class.
I really don’t notice the difference, but one who is really looking for the lightest helmet out there may. I honestly think that the increased ventilation makes up for any shortcomings in the weight of the helmet.
Bottom-Line: Specter vs. XXX
You may be wondering of the two, which to purchase. Is the XXX really worth the extra $150? If your primary concern is safety, then it’s really not worth it.
The Specter is actually rated higher for safety in the Virginia Tech safety ratings than the XXX. The Specter also has a pretty cool magnetic closure under the chin that I really enjoy and is for some reason missing from the XXX.
However, it is the XXX that is used by team Trek-Segrafado and Trek claims it’s more aero if that is something that’s important to you. Other than that the only real difference I see is that it has a somewhat more polished appearance and a fancy little silver Bontrager logo on the front.
Not to mention I also really like the look/contrast of the green colored WaveCel material in the XXX. Whether or not this is reason enough to spend the extra cash is certainly a personal decision. I will say though, that I went for it and have no regrets.
I would not hesitate to purchase either the WaveCel Specter or the XXX again. Though I honestly think there are nicer looking helmets out there, these are certainly pleasant looking enough. More importantly, seeing as I crashed and didn’t get a concussion I find that to be reason enough to stick with the WaveCel.
More Women’s Helmet Options
Find other options and a comparison chart, check out our list of the Best Road Bike Helmets For Women.
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome lady cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.
3 thoughts on “Bontrager WaveCel Helmet Review (Specter and XXX Road Helmets)”
Thanks for your thorough review:)
I leave in Arizona and I using the wavecell specter small size for few months now… still struggle with fitting it with a headband (a must have while riding in 90-100 temp) and my ponytail.
Is it possible that the helmet is just too small for you? If it seems to fit well without the headband, maybe try a different headband. I use the Pearl Izumi Lite headband and it’s really thin. Worth a try! Also, a really low pony obviously works better than a higher pony.
Thanks for your thorough, thoughtful review. I just bought a Specter on sale for $85, and I feel confident that it will be a great helmet.