I’ve always been a fan of POC products since they first burst onto the ski racing scene a few years back. Sleek, simple, design focused and colorful, POC has had a great reputation in the snow sports world.
There was that gruesome Scott Macartney crash in 2008, when the helmet came apart…but apparently it’s supposed to do that, saved his life.
Anyways POC has been promoting their first road bike helmet this spring sending it to all the usual suspects including Bike Rumor, Garmin-Sharp and the Ritte team. Long overdue for a helmet upgrade, I was already eying up the Octal when particularly squirrely rider went down in front of me at 30 MPH in a circuit race…. Attempting to bunny hop him, I was only successful in crushing his chain stays and tossing myself in the air like a rag doll. Somehow while flying through the air I was able to unclip, tumble to the ground and roll back onto my feet to stand, bewildered as the last of the peloton whizzed to the left and right of me. Besides the bruises and road rash I was fine and riding a few days later. My helmet was trashed, so I ordered a white Octal from Arts Cyclery.
I waited… and waited. Two months went by as I waited for my Octal, they were just hitting the market and apparently nobody had gotten them yet. Meanwhile I made due with a cheap helmet from the LBS from he who shall not be named (specialized).
So on to the helmet….
A helmet is a helmet, you put it on and it protects you. They are all ugly and you look like you’re wearing a mushroom on your head. If you think differently your in denial. Getting that off my chest, I have to say I like the look of the the Octal. Upon opening the box there is something striking about the helmet. It exudes a precision and quality I haven’t seen before in road helmets. All the vents are logically placed and line up one to another. If the Bauhaus did a helmet it would look like this. Most helmets aren’t very precise where the shell meets the core, yet the Octal has awesome fit and finish in these areas. With a contrasting colors like black and white it’s super important to have a precise edge, and POC nailed it. Also included in the box are some spare pads, helmet bag and cycling cap. Nice touch, for the price I definitely expect a few extras like that.
After tossing it on your head it adjusts like most helmets, a strap with buckle and ratchet dial in the back. It fits true to size and I didn’t have any hotspots. One of the first things I noticed is the very petite padding inside, I assume in an effort to keep the helmet light. And light it is, weighing in at less that 200 grams. Despite the lack of padding I never found it uncomfortable, and like any good helmet it tends to disappear after a few moments and forget I’m wearing it. Letting massive amounts of air through vents it kept me cool, even in hottest days Georgia had to offer. The side straps have a buckle-less design that I really like and required no adjustment, I had never realized how much I hated having those large buckles hanging below my ears. Some people may have to fiddle with the side strap adjustment, it certainly isn’t as intuitive as the buckles. But in reality you should only have to do it once and forget it. Unless you share your sweaty helmet with others regularly, I don’t see why this should be an issue.
It’s easy to make a good first impression with a helmet, as long as it isn’t too fugly and comfortable. Living with products day in and day out tells a different story. That’s where well designed products stand out(and while I’m such a fan of more expensive/well designed products from Rapha,Patagonia etc.) As time progressed I started noticing details. The padding is small yet voluminous, it does a great job of absorbing sweat even the hottest of Savannah’s days. Yet, when I put it back on after a mid-ride break it doesn’t have that nasty feeling a putting on a wet diaper on my head. Even in white it’s easy to keep clean and it’s supplied with extra pads and a helmet bag to help keep things organized.
It does get attention and most people seem really curious about the helmet and the brand. Roadies are a fickle bunch not really used to change, the issue of disc brakes in the peloton proves that. However most riders seem to like the looks of the Octal and want to know more about the brand…and how to pronounce POC. I think after this years tour we’ll be seeing more on Saturday rides.
I like to ride with a cycling cap, however many helmets are uncomfortable and awkward with a cap underneath. The Octal does a great job of providing room for a cycling cap, in fact it seems they actually designed a little cutout for it. Flipped up or down most my cycling caps fit seamlessly. The “eye garage” sunglasses holder seems to work with certain glasses and not others. My Oakleys don’t fit very well, but my performance brand glasses do. It’s a nice detail with hydrophilic pads to hold the glasses in place, but with so many glasses out there you can’t expect POC to design for all of them. Perhaps it’s a good excuse to pick up a pair of POC shades…
Another great detail is all the reflective bits on the helmet. I really appreciate it, having spent many hours touring and slogging through late night training rides after work. In typical POC fashion they didn’t just slap fredish reflectors on the helmet. Instead they designed an extremely reflective material into all the logos and rear facing foam. It’s actually shocking how reflective they are.
While the vents provide enormous airflow moving through the helmet you must be mindful of sun exposure, don’t forget to toss some sunscreen on the forehead, or bust out that Pantani bandana. Another drawback is that bugs seem to get sucked into the massive front vent now and then. Any more than other helmets I’ve owned? Not really, but I fear the day a raging bee get sucked in that massive front vent.
Most reviews of helmets say something like “While I wasn’t able to test the crash worthiness it seems pretty safe”. I happen to be one of the lucky few who has actually crashed in the Octal, and it did it’s job. Like most crashes it was a stupid and unnecessary. 5k into a road race a junior decided he was Contador on the first roller and stood up throwing his bike into mine. In a flash I was down, and other riders were running me over. While the speed at which I was traveling was low, the force that fell downward and hit my head was quite hard. In fact it might have been the most violent head to ground contact I’ve had on a bike, I think this is because of the speed at which I fell downward. Most crashes I’ve had have been tumbling or sliding affairs, never really hitting my head like this. Seeing stars I staggered to my feet as the rest of peloton whizzed by. Grabbing my sunglasses that had been thrown from my face I quickly mounted my bike and got a push from the guy in the chase car. My heart sank as I realized that my bars had turned 30 degrees off center in the crash and I had to stop and waste more valuable time. I spent the next 6 miles in TT mode trying to catch back on. Eventually I did and while I was wasted from the chase I was able to help my teammate get the win.
The whole race I thought for sure the Octal was trashed, in pieces, just barely hanging on my head. The wise thing to do would be to pull it off and check it, but in the heat of the moment I was too focused. After the race I was surprised to see the Octal had sustained almost no damage, in fact it looks brand new! It took me some time to find the impact area, only noticeable when looking at certain angles. The outer shell was slightly buckled in the rear, and a tiny, hairline crack had appeared in one of the foam connecter pieces. A terrible feeling overcame me as I eyed the hairline crack….Should I ride with it still? Did I just waste $270 on a helmet I used for 2 weeks? The damage looked so minor, I mean it should be fine right? I know I am supposed to replace a crashed helmet immediately, but I can’t be replacing a helmet like that every couple weeks. Do I risk endangering myself to save a few bucks? No. I’ve always been one to take massive risks, but I try to protect myself in the best way possible when I do. I don’t want the fear a riding with a damaged on my shoulders when I toss myself into a corner shoulder to shoulder with 40 other racers. So I called POC fully aware they don’t advertise a crash replacement policy. The first woman I spoke to said they could replace it for $120, but it would be months until a replacement came in. Then Max from POC emailed me back and got me a new helmet in just couple days. Gotta love good customer service.
So is the Octal safer than other helmets out there? I can’t answer that. I can tell you it’s held up admirably in my experience. It has more coverage that traditional helmets, with more volume on the sides of the helmet, better temple protection and significantly more rear coverage. It doesn’t have a MIPS version nor does it have some revolutionary construction method. But I feel comfortable riding on the the edge with it, and in the end that’s all I can say. In an extreme situation a helmet won’t save my life, my actions, situational awareness and lots of luck will. Lets face it, we’re a bunch of nut jobs descending mountain roads at 50 mph, wearing next to nothing, riding plastic bikes on tires with a contact patch of a few millimeters. Helmets are an afterthought.
Some people will balk at the $270 dollar price tag. Value is subjective, and for some the Octal is clearly not worth it. You certainly can buy a helmet for half, maybe quarter of the price and be safe and comfortable enough. But as with most products, you get what you pay for. I spend 10+ hours a week on a bike, besides sleeping and sitting at my desk at work it’s what I do. It’s important to me to buy high quality products that last a long time, I trust, and keep me comfortable. I’m satisfied.
It’s hard to find anything to fault POC over the Octal, I really like this helmet and still enjoy using it a month later. Best helmet I’ve owned and look forward to riding many more miles with it.
+Quality & Construction
+True to size
+Superb ventilation & cooling
+Easy to clean
+Excellent fit with cycling caps
+Reflective bits are a nice touch
+Crash replacement policy
-Large vents allow sun & insects in