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Bontrager Circuit WaveCel Helmet review

Are you intrigued by the idea of a helmet that works for both the workday commute and the weekend ride?

Bontrager Circuit WaveCel Helmet
(Image: © Josh Ross)

Our Verdict

Style and function are different for different helmets. The Bontrager Circuit WaveCel uses magnetic mounts so that it transforms depending on need. It’s there with all the safety and utility of a commuter helmet during the week and 30 seconds later, it’s ready for a fast group ride at the weekend.

For

  • WaveCel technology
  • Lots of vertical adjustment in the rear cradle
  • Reflective stickers at the rear
  • Will accommodate a ponytail
  • Very versatile for different uses
  • Completely removable pads
  • Replaceable rear cradle

Against

  • Rear blendr mount is finicky at best
  • No scratching your head through the helmet

There are different types of riding, different types of bikes, and different scenarios that call for different cycling helmets. A common question is something along the lines of "what's the best helmet for commuting to work?" To answer it, you have to understand what the heart of the question is. Any helmet could fill the need but generally people prefer not to wear an aero race helmet paired with a city bike. Alternatively, when it's time to take your fastest aero bike out for a day of pace line riding you don't want to show up in your favourite urban helmet. This is why we've put together lists that cover the best commuter helmets as well as the best road bike helmets but kept them separate. 

Two helmets means double the price and double the storage space though. What if you could have one helmet that fits in both in a paceline and on the way to work? Trek has tried to offer just that with the Bontrager Circuit WaveCel helmet. Mounts and accessories transform it both in function and style for different needs and we spent time trying it out in a variety of situations. Keep reading if you like the sound of one helmet that covers all your riding without looking out of place. 

Bontrager circuit WaveCel without accessories

With the mounts removed the helmet is ready for performance riding. (Image credit: Josh Ross)

Design and aesthetics

The top-of-the-line helmet that Bontrager offers is the XXX WaveCel helmet. Aerodynamics and weight are what set the look of that helmet. Sitting right below that offering are the sister models, the Circuit and the Spectre. They are a bit heavier, not specifically aerodynamic, less expensive, and they each meet a slightly different need. Despite those changes, they share much of the look and style of the XXX helmet. So much so that most people wouldn't immediately spot which helmet they were looking at when worn in a group. 

The point here is that while the Circuit can fill the needs of urban riders, it gets its look and feel directly from the fastest helmet Bontrager offers. You will not feel out of place wearing it on a weeknight road race or in the paceline of a fast weekend group ride. 

That's only half the visual story though. Clip the Blendr mounts onto the top and rear, attach the Flare RT bike lights, position the visor at the front, and you are ready for the week. The Circuit is ready to look just as at home with an upright position on any of the bikes we feature on our list of best commuter bikes.  

Of course, visual style is only part of what makes the design of a helmet successful. At the heart of the Bontrager Circuit helmet is WaveCel technology. There's no doubt that Bontrager would prefer not to get a mention in relation to other common technologies but the reality is that they are less well known. MIPS is the best-known brand when it comes to rotational impact technology and WaveCel is the Bontrager solution to similar problems. There's no definitive way to say if one is better than the other but WaveCel does very well in independent testing from Virginia Tech. It's also an alternative to MIPS for those who don't like the liner that MIPS uses. 

In terms of quality-of-life design features, a big one has to be the design of the rear cradle. There are three vertical positions along with a massive open area above the adjuster. If you are trying to deal with a ponytail this has got to be a helmet worth looking for that big, wide, open area that looks perfect for fitting hair through. Even the adjuster itself is worth a call out for being a Boa branded piece. 

Performance

I've been wearing Bontrager WaveCel helmets for years. I've spent time in the XXX, in the Spectre, and now I've taken my turn in the Circuit. I'm drawn to the technology that WaveCel offers and I like that the XXX is aero optimised but it's the Circuit that seems the most exciting. 

As a reviewer, I get asked all the time what product I suggest and helmet style is a frequent topic. Fast riders who don't ever commute have a lot of choices. There are also lots of people who don't mind having two helmets but there's a big group of people who do both types of riding but only want to own one helmet. They spend far more time riding around town but when it's time to go for a fast ride they don't want a second helmet. The Bontrager Circuit is the answer to this question. 

For commuting duties, you are going to want to add some accessories. The most important is the Ion 200 RT / Flare RT (opens in new tab) bike light set. These lights are lightweight, meant to make you visible, and they pair with the two magnetic Blendr mounts that come in the box. The other piece is the NeoVisor (opens in new tab) which adds a peak via velcro and works well to shield your eyes in the more upright position common to city bikes. 

The first time I took the Circuit helmet out to test I added all the accessories and jumped on my Trek Checkpoint SL6 gravel bike. Right away the NeoVisor was unworkable. The riding position of that bike is too far forward and it inhibits visibility. For that ride, I was able to flip it up but I later removed it. The rest of that ride I spent feeling like the weight of the lights was a bit much with my head so far down. It's worth noting though that even on a rough doubletrack road, the lights were solid on the helmet. 

Next time I took it out I left the performance bike at home and swapped it for my Priority Continuum Onyx city bike. Experiencing the upright position was when I really understood what this helmet was all about. With an upright position, all the accessories were super comfortable. Everything felt just right in that setting. 

It's flexibility that defines the Bontrager Circuit WaveCel though. You could get as much comfort, and more integration, with a helmet like the Giro Escape MIPS but there's a limit to what that helmet can do. If you want to ride a performance bike it wouldn't make much sense to do it with the Giro helmet but the Bontrager takes about 30 seconds to convert. Take the two mounts off, strap your lights to your bike, and you've got a completely different helmet. 

Verdict

The promise of the Bontrager Circuit WaveCel helmet is that it can replace a road bike helmet, a gravel bike helmet, and a commuter bike helmet. Keep in mind though that you are going to need accessories to meet that promise. Still, with the accessories, it does fulfil that promise and it does so with a lot of great little details.

Like any good product, it's the little details that bring it all together. For the Bontrager Circuit WaveCel helmet that means things like the Boa rear cradle. It allows for precise adjustment and there's plenty of room for a ponytail and if you ever have an issue, it’s removable and replaceable. Reflective stickers that help visibility even without a light and WaveCel technology to add a Bontrager take on rotational impact safety. You can also completely remove the internal pads for washing or replacement. 

Despite all the success, I do hope that Bontrager continues to develop this system. Specifically, the rear mount needs some work. The top mount is incredibly slick and easy to use, but the rear is easy to break and tough to get on and off. Once you get the hang of it, it's easy enough but you might want to just leave it alone. Even on fast rides a rear light won't look out of place and you'll never have to worry about replacing the mount. 

Tech Specs: Bontrager Circuit WaveCel Helmet

  • Price: £134.99 / $159.99 / €154.99 / AU$229.99
  • Colours: Black, White, Radioactive Yellow, Viper Red, Mulsanne Blue
  • Rotational Impact System: Yes, WaveCel
  • Weight: 325g size SM without mounts installed, 32g for both mounts
  • Sizes: SM, MD, L, XL

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