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.
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.
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.
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.
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.