The Bontrager Circuit MIPS incorporates a number of clever ideas into a neat and convenient package. The whole system is made up of the Circuit helmet which features the Blendr magnetic mounts on the front and back of the Circuit helmet to fix Bontrager’s Ion or Flare lights (and even a GoPro camera).
Bontrager Circuit MIPS
Our test model arrived in the "visibility yellow and black" colourway. For those that don’t enjoy the utilitarian high viz colour, don’t despair there is also the classic black and white colour options as well as a bright pink.
The shape is similar to the new Velocis that we tested late last year but with added foam bridges to enable the mounts on the front and the back and some variations to the vent shapes to accommodate them. The front of the Circuit is smooth with clear aerodynamic inspiration and flows to the back where the six rows of foam meet to form sharp angles around the exhaust vents. With the mounts removed, there is very little to hint at the helmets added benefits. Granted that I ride on the road with hairy legs, therefore my fashion advice is up for debate, I think it is a good modern look while remaining understated (aside from the obvious colour choice on our test helmet).
Comfort and Fit
The helmet retention system is adjustable using a Boa dial that is easy to fine tune with sufficient control in each turn get a tight fit. The closure system wraps around either side of the head, anchoring close to the temple of the head. The rear piece has three height settings to enable you to choose the best spot for it to hug the back of your head.
Much like the Velocis, the Circuit was a good fit for my head shape. It was a snug fit with slight movement over rough sections or bumps on the road with the weight of the lights attached on top. The antibacterial padding on the inside of the helmet does well to protect from pressure points.
Having used the Circuit mostly during early morning pre-work road rides and being the change of season, the Circuit has seen little action in the blasting midday sun. That said, the vents worked well to channel air through and over my head with a noticeable feel of airflow (especially head down into the Cape's South Easter).
The straps (on our test helmet) matched the high viz yellow of the helmet's shell. Bontrager's uses what it calls Lockdown adjustors at the y-junction which do well to keep the straps neat and away from the ears. The straps are secured in place using a familiar plastic buckle under the chin.
The Circuit MIPS is crafted with foam using an in-mold composite skeleton which is said to improve the helmets structural integrity. The helmet also features the MIPS system (it’s in the name after all) that works to reduce dangerous twisting, rotational forces experienced in an impact.
Like the Velocis, the Circuit also adds a touch more foam on the rear to increase the area covered at the back which goes a long way to add to the perception of safety.
On top of impact safety, Bontrager has done a lot to try to prevent collisions with other road users on the Circuit MIPS. The hi-viz colour of our test helmet is designed to draw the attention of other road users. If that is too subtle, there is the built-in Blendr system that allows for convenient mounting of bike lights (read more about this under the Mounting heading below). And for even further visibility, Bontrager has also placed two reflective strips on the rear of the helmet, either side of the rear light mount.
Bontrager’s Crash Replacement Guarantee provides a free helmet replacement should you damage the Circuit MIPS (or any of their other helmets) in a collision for the first year of ownership.
Simply put, the Blendr system uses magnets to hold the mounts in place on the top and back of the Circuit helmet. At first, I was sceptical that the lights would hold fast, but with almost two months of riding I’ve had no cause for concern. The mounts have proven to be more than up to the task of holding the lights securely. I even briefly tested the front with a GoPro Hero including some head banging which failed to detach the mount.
The front and back mounts use different systems. The front mount is elongated with a hook in front that goes under a foam bridge while the magnet holds the back of the mount in place. The back mount is attracted to a flat triangular surface with the lip at the bottom to assist in keeping it in place. The Blendr system is simple to use and with some concentration, you can mount and unmount the lights whilst riding.
Yes, simply strapping your existing lights to your helmet can achieve much the same thing. The Blender integrated solution, however, is far more convenient which resulted in me riding on the road with additional lights where previously I could not be bothered.
The lights do add some extra weight atop of the helmet. Not the best place for it but while it is noticeable, it’s not enough to distract from the ride and it soon becomes a new norm.
The bike lights
Bontrager says that the Circuit MIPS and Blendr mounts will work with any lights from their Ion and Flare range as well as cameras such as the trusty GoPro. We tested the Circuit MIPS using Bontrager's Ion 100 R front light and Flare R City backlight.
The lights fit into a tiny, neat package, especially considering the built-in batteries and the level of light they emit. Perfect for mounting on top of a helmet. These lights are not specifically designed for use on the Circuit helmet and are sold with rubber mounts for handlebar or seat post mounting, should you want to purchase them separately.
Ion 100 R front light
The Ion 100 R is a white front light with a Cree LED that can produce up to 100 lumens. It has a built-in light sensor that differentiates between night and day, adjusting the intensity accordingly. The Ion 100 R has been designed with consideration for other road users in mind, unlike the powerful MTB lights I often strap onto my road bike handlebars.
The battery is built into the unit and is charged via USB cables. Considering the compact size I was fairly impressed with the battery life, with a claimed 90 minutes in the brightest mode to 16 hours at the lowest 5 lumen setting. I tested the light on the brightest 100 lumen setting and achieved the 90-minute claim before it automatically switched to a flashing mode which lasted until I got home 30 minutes later.
With only 100 lumens, don’t expect to use the light for vision on anything but the road and even then, I’d stick to areas with urban ambient lighting but it just about works as an only light at maximum brightness. I viewed it more as an additional warning to other road users and continued to use a more powerful handlebar light to illuminate the road ahead in the dark.
Flare R City Rear
The Flare R is a 35 lumen red rear light that promises visibility in both day and night conditions. Like the Ion 100 R, it also has a light sensor that adjusts the intensity of the light between day and night. The claimed battery life is 8 hours for daytime flash while night time is double that. The steady mode will get three hours in the day and 20 hours at night.
The light is intended to be used in cities and like the Ion light takes other road users into consideration trying not to blind or annoy them while still providing a wide angle for the rider to be seen.
Being on the back of my head, it was hard to assess but my riding buddies assured me that it worked a treat.
So what does this whole system cost?
The Circuit MIPS arrives with the Blendr mounts included in the box. The lights need to purchased separately.
The Circuit MIPS helmet retails for R2,599 which all considered is in the ballpark for helmets with this level of features. The Ion 100 R and Flare R City retail for R599 each.
You probably did the math already but the whole package (as reviewed) will set you back R3,797. Yes, that is a rather significant number to invest in a helmet and two lights but if you want a system that offers a simple, neat, and practical integration for added safety, then this system might make a lot of sense for you.
In the end
The Circuit MIPS is a compelling helmet. The refined looks, colour options for varying tastes, safety features, and excellent comfort make it an easy recommendation. That’s even before considering the benefit of the super convenient Blendr system. With lights atop the helmet, road users have even fewer excuses for not spotting you during your training rides or daily commutes.