POC Octal with MIPS

POC Octal with MIPS

I have this dream of being on Jeopardy in full kit and it’s my turn at the board. Simply Sweden for $200 Alex. Answer: The chain furniture store that sells $.50 hot dogs. What is Ikea? Correct and you have control of the board. Sweden for $400. Answer: Automaker that manufactured a 5 cylinder engine and mounted it backwards. What is SAAB? Correct, go again. Sweden for $600. Answer: The Company that makes head protection for skiers and cyclists. What is POC? Good question.

POC is that helmet we have been seeing on the road for a couple year now, mostly notably on the domes of the Garmin-Sharp team (now Cannondale-Garmin). The company has a longer track record with mountain bikers and even longer with skiers and snow boarders. And to say they are the Volvo of helmet manufacturers would not be too much of a stretch. POC plays it safe, as in safety. The Octal road model for 2015 comes with MIPS, Multi-directional Impact Protection System (more on MIPS a little later). They also have AVIP, Attention Visibility Interaction Protection. POC’s shape, colors and protection features for road products were created under the concept it calls AVIP. Also this year, POC and Swede telecommer Ericsson announced a project partnership that aims to let motorists and cyclists know, using a two way communication system, when they are too close to each other.

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For consumers though, it’s kinds of difficult to get excited about safety. When airbags first started showing up, I don’t recall a lot of drivers saying “I gotta have those.” Us cyclists, we like fast, light, stiff and admittedly something that looks cool. Safety is important as long as it doesn’t get in the way of speed and style. Put it another way, next time you are at a bike race or event, count how many Volvos you see in the parking lot. See what I mean? But POC, they use safety as a selling point and back it up with design and technology.

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I have been wearing the Octal since early 2014, the first year it was introduced. It’s my team helmet. It took some doing to get the Octal to fit my skull. I added a number of stick on pads from another helmet maker to get the thing just right. I had seen MIPS in POC’s Trabec model so I was eager to check it out in the company’s road worthy head shell.

MIPS is in POC but not owned by the helmet maker. Like POC, MIPS is a Swedish company. MIPS is also used by Scott, Lazer and Fox. Recently, BRG Sports, owners of Giro and Bell, made a minority investment in MIPS. BRG says MIPS will continue to hold licensing rights and supply other brands with their impact protection system.

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The thin plastic liner, the heart of the Multi-directional Impact Protection System, is held in place by four small bands that are hooked onto anchor points on the vents. The idea is that on impact the main body of the helmet can move independent of the liner. POC and MIPS claim this is especially helpful on side blows as it can reduce some of the twisting action. POC calls that an oblique impact and that it’s the kind of trauma the brain is more sensitive to. They have no data to back up their claim as all the protocols only test for direct impacts. And while I am dedicated to bringing RKP readers the best review possible, I took a pass on conducting my own impact test. I’ve been called a dummy but never a crash test dummy. What I did instead was put on the helmet, grabbed the shell and twist. I also gave it a couple smacks with and open hand. The helmet itself does move about and inch before the force is reaches they the head. Whether this is enough give to prevent more a more severe injury is for now just a theory.

An unexpected benefit of MIPS is I found it made the Octal fit better. My original Octal needed an array of supplemental pads to achieve a comfortable fit. Not so with the MIPS version. The liner adds more uniformity to where it comes in contact. I wore a cycling cap on a couple of rides. Things got a little crowded with head wear in place but it wasn’t a game changer. POC says the MIPS liner does create a slightly lower volume  fit wise.  I wore a medium just like I do in Giro or Specialized and see no reason to suggest sizing up or down when protecting a head with a POC.

Climate Control for $1200 Alex. Answer: In your car, they direct air to your feet, body or windshield. What are vents? POC’s system takes the opposite approach to more is better or cooler in our case. I counted 19 vents on the Octal. POC goes with fewer but larger vents to create more air flow through the helmet and better aerodynamics. The MIPS equipped Octal cut a little bit of airflow compared to my standard Octal but not enough to cause overheating. In the front vents there are two rubber grippers, POC’s eye garage. The idea is the grippers create a more secure place to store your shades. Initially it’s a little difficult to get the arms parked in the garage but with use this task becomes familiar. Off-road I thrashed over bumpy, shaded terrain without worry that my Spys would might come flying out.

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The retention system appears to be delicate but the thin plastic strips and smallish ratcheting dial hold the helmet in place well and with no discomfort. Like a lot of helmets I have worn, mid-ride tightening is required. One gripe I have is that I wish POC would add a little more retention extension down the back of the head. I’d like that adjustment knob to reach lower to provide a more secure fit.

Hairstyles for $400 Alex. Answer: Commonly used by women and sometimes by men to tie longer locks behind the head. What is a pony tail? My wife, a brunette, has to pull her hair back every time she rides. With a pony tail in place, her hair is threaded through the gap between the back of the shell and the retention system. Her helmet choices have been based on that gap alone. The POC would not make the cut based on the pony tail test. POC’s quest for lower protection on the backside of the head has inadvertently made it difficult for a pony tail to find its way out from under the helmet.

Fashion statement for $600 Alex. Answer: Word for self-admiration, no wonder it is also a type of mirror. What is vanity? When it comes to gear, looks can be subjective. With the POC Octal there seems to be two camps, those who like the look and those who avoid looking at it. I’d be lying if I said the Octal’s appearance was not a concern. Yeah, I’ve caught myself glimpsing at my reflection in a window as a ride by a storefront. Just want to make sure I don’t look like a total dork. I think the good news here is that the POC look is becoming less of an issue. POC may or may not like to hear that because one of their goals with AVIP is for riders to be seen, to stand out especially as they interact with street traffic.  The MIPS version of the Octal comes in Hydrogen White and Zinc Orange. The vent holes are white on both.

It’s not Brain Surgery for $1000 Alex. Answer: Temporary unconsciousness caused by a blow to the head. What is a concussion? Here’s my only issue with MIPS, it seems to be addressing a problem that doesn’t really exist. Ours is not the type of sport where we fall, bang our head, get up, pedal and crash again. Repeated head blows is more of an issue for the Sunday warriors of the grid iron. If we hit our heads in a crash and the end result is some dizziness, it seems the helmet did its main job which is to keep skull matter off the street. Do we get concussions? Absolutely. The American Association of Neurological Surgeons recently reported that the number of cycling related concussions outnumbered football concussions. But there are a lot more cyclists than football players and a cyclist’s response to a blow to the head is much different. We hit our heads, we give it a rest. The NFL is being sued because it stood by as woozy players continued to run into each other head first. I bring this up because POC, while their intentions are good, is charging a premium for a MIPS equipped helmet. It’s $320.00 for an Octal with the liner, $50 to $80 more than one without. MIPS also ads 15 grams.

I have not crashed in a POC and have no plans on doing so. Sorry, but I have other goals. I may have the next best thing though and that’s the fact that a valued friend and teammate of mine is here today and he credits his POC. Jay LaPlante was wearing an Octal during a mountain bike race in Colorado. It wasn’t the MIPS version but it makes no difference. During a descent he went flying over the bars and landed head first into a rock bed. A pointed stone and his Octal met at a speed above 30 mph. Jay has told me more than once that his helmet saved his life. He says the thickness of the shell prevented the rock from reaching his forehead. Would other brands have done the same? Maybe. I’m just glad Jay is here. And despite what I now realize is a review that is nitpicky at times, I am glad he was wearing a POC, MIPS or not.

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13 comments

  1. Michael

    But as I understand it, the big deal about MIPS is not for repeated hits, as you describe, but for single hits at an angle. It is brain rotation within the skull that they are worried about. This leads to lesions, bleeding and concussion, and the idea of MIPS (whether it works or not is another question, one to which I do not know the answer) is that the rotation, or at least the most forceful part of it, is taken up by the rotation of the MIPS liner and the shell, so your brain does not rotate so much inside your skull.

  2. Tom in Albany

    I’ll take Sweden for $800, Michael. C’mon, you’re killing me! Finish the category!!!

    Thanks for the write-up. Been looking for a ‘safer’ helmet for a while now.

  3. Pat O'Brien

    Thanks for the good review. I have been wearing POC Trabec helmets since they were introduced for both road and mountain riding. I like the fit, coverage, and venting. I think I will stay with the Trabec for now, but I will examine and try on an Octal next time I see one at the shop where I get my Trabecs.

  4. Waldo

    Hairstyles for $800: Michael, let’s see a picture of your hair when you’ve taken off your helmet after a sweaty ride.

  5. Robo

    I rode all last season with a Scott Lin, a mips helmet. Looks more “conventional”, so sort of stealth mips. Fits well, got it because I was looking for mips, and this didn’t fit a pal. I have to say I have been pleased with it. The thing about mips, as I consider all the reading I’ve done, is that it can reduce the severity of a particular impact, but diminishing the rotational force transfer to the brain. Any reduction is valuable cognitively. I’m glad this has become a consideration for the helmet industry.
    Thanks for the article.

  6. Girl

    Wow, that’s a lot of money for a helmet! I bought the Scott Arx Plus (or the similar model with MIPS that came out few years ago) for only $75. I haven’t tested out the MIPS system, personally, but it is what sold me on the helmet. Theoretically, all non-MIPS helmets are about the same. That is, some foam and a hard shell. The price goes up with “cool” features, but the $200 helmet offers the same protection as the $35 one. Extrapolating to MIPS helmets, if it’s MIPS you want, I would look for cheaper.

    My Scott is a little bigger-looking than a regular road helmet (I think because originally it was intended for mountain bike use, and hence offers a different look/coverage. But since I don’t have to look at myself, who really cares? My ponytail fits out the back just fine, and the ratcheting system means I can fit anything from my bare head to a super-warm hat underneath, without issue.

    Thanks for your product review! Alex would be pleased.

  7. PedalRon

    Hey wait, your shoulder says Spy but you’re in Jawbones! You risk a DQ from Alex…

    Helmets are a strange one. Some people look good in certain models, but they’ll look awful on other folks. I think most of the Cannondale PRO dudes look pretty bad because they’re so skinny and have small-ish heads. These helmets tend to look best of bigger folks, I think.

    Nice review!

  8. Michael Hotten

    Thank you all for the nice comments and for reading.

    Michael-
    You are correct, MIPS is for oblique hits. I guess what I am asking is, when it comes to blows to the head, what is our level of expectation. My hope is to come out of it like my friend Jay did, walking and talking. But maybe it is time to raise the bar and POC/MIPS certainly are trying to do that.

    Waldo-
    I owe you one sweaty-headed photo. But trust me, it will not be a pretty picture.

    PedalRon-
    What is a mixed message?

  9. John Ward Smith

    I am purchasing the POC MIPS helmet this week. I had a crash 3 weeks ago and sustained a mild/moderate TBI. I crashed on the pavement and apparently wasn’t able to put my arm out before hitting the ground. In addition to an injured shoulder and broken ribs, I was unconscious for between 4-10 minutes (depending on who you ask), and incoherent once I regained consciousness. I have no memory of the event, nor anything for 24 hours after. My helmet was an aero helmet that was in the $250 range. It preformed as designed and was deformed/crushed on the right side forward of my ear. I loved the look of my old helmet, and I don’t like the looks of the POC helmet, but I no longer care about appearances. I still have dizziness/vertigo, headaches, sensitivity to noises, short term memory problems, and slower cognitive functioning. Things are slowly getting better, and when the dizziness stops I will start riding on the road again (trainer until then). I don’t know if the POC MIPS would have made a difference, but I have made a decision to go with what I believe to be the safest helmet regardless of the aero qualities and regardless of the look. Hopefully I will never personally test the POC helmet.

    1. Gwen

      I’m with John. I just had a concussion three weeks ago. I had loss of consciousness and amnesia. My head felt funny and I went home without realizing I’d had an accident. I have no memory of the event. I had to figure it out from my wounds. I didn’t realize I’d hit my head until I saw my Giro Sutton MIPS helmet. My concussion hasn’t been as bad as John’s but I really don’t want another one and I will pay large sums of money to avoid having another one. Folksam.se just did a study where the Octal AVIP MIPS did much better than my Giro Sutton MIPS. The Hövding 2.0 did best of all and I’m frankly considering that.

    2. bluegirl

      I crashed on my bike 4 months ago. I don’t know what happened – I woke up in the ambulance. All I know is that I was biking downhill on a bike-only bridge and most likely was going quite fast. I hit the ground hard enough that I broke my collarbone in 4 places and required surgery to have a metal plate put in. My helmet was cracked in several places, the foam was crushed and there were large scrapes on the surface. According to the CAT scan, I didn’t have a concussion this time, but I’ve had 2 previous concussions.
      I had plenty of time to research helmets and the winner was the POC AVIP MIPS. I rode my bike for the 1st time today since my crash. I didn’t even notice I had a helmet on. I could adjust the fit perfectly, and the vents work great. I thought my Specialized helmet was expensive – this one cost twice as much. But I know I made a good investment. You only have one brain.
      To John & Gwen – good luck on your recovery. It took me at least 3 months till the headaches and dizziness subsided. It took at least a year till I felt I wasn’t cognitively impaired. Rest your brain for as long as you feel you need.

  10. Kelly

    Thanks for the thorough review, Michael. My attitude towards helmets, the more robust the better, comes from a lifetime of smacking my head on hard objects while engaged in a variety of sports: white water kayaking, motorcycling, football, and bicycling. Concussions can occur without knocking you out and the damage can be cumulative over time. In every sport, I had collisions that, but for the helmet, I’d not now be writing this note. My most serious bicycling incident occurred at 1mph when my front wheel got caught in a streetcar track just as I was taking off from a traffic light. I landed hard on my left hip and shoulder, as my head whiplashed off of the metal track. It was like getting slammed with a 2×4 in the temple. Because of the helmet, which was crushed by the impact, I was able to ride away 5 minutes later. Without the helmet, I’d have been lucky to merely be brain damaged.

    All this to say: I bough the POC Octal w/MIPS, despite it’s slightly goofy looking, chunky style, because I believe that it offers superior protection against concussions. It fits better than any of my many previous helmets, it’s bright orange color really helps me to be seen by drivers (it really got my attention while driving when a rider approached in the helmet!), the MIPS system will likely reduce rotational impact, and the thicker, better coverage provides much better protection to the temple, brow, and lower back of the head. Our skull is designed to survive impacts up to about 12mph, more or less the speed that an average human can run; far below the speed that we ride our bikes. I bought the helmet, online, for $240, incld shipping, from Allspeed Cyclery & Snow : http://store.allspeed.com/poc/ The same helmet, without MIPS, is $175, but I’d advise springing for the MIPS – it’s your noggin.

    One last observation – The large vents work well to keep you cool but they also allow more sun to shine on your forehead and scalp. Wear sunblock – particularly good advice for those of us with less hair up top.

  11. b

    Great review. I’ve been going between getting another Lazer or the POC. I guess it’ll come down to fit. One correction. SAAB never made a 5 cylinder engine.

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