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It weighs less than a box of paper clips, can be seen from almost a kilometer away, will phone home if you get in trouble and looks like nothing else on the road. The Octal is what happens when the Swedish helmet manufacturer, POC, decides to enter the road game.
Instead of a conservative, derivative road offering POC has thrown down a design, safety, aesthetic and technological gauntlet. It all starts with a philosophy that is less about passing a standardized impact test and more about an all encompassing investigation of what a helmet can do to keep you safe and healthy. This led POC to the AVIP philosophy – Attention, Visibility, Interaction, Protection.
The attention and visibility part of this encompasses POC’s first goal, which is to avoid accidents completely and that means high-vis colors. They aren’t the only brand doing this, but they have done the math. Their neon orange color is recognizable from 670meters away, versus 120m for standard colors. How committed to this concept is POC? They don’t offer the number one selling helmet color in the world – black.
The interaction part of the equation comes thanks to a partnership with ICE. The optional ICEdot, mounted to the rear of the helmet, senses a severe impact and tells your smartphone to call emergency contacts, providing them with your exact location assuming you are in cell range and an included ICE sticker affixed to the helmet leads first responders directly to all your vital data stored at ICEdot.org with a simple text. A built in, customizable delay gives you time to intercept the call for help if the impact hasn’t rung your bell too badly.
Protection is POC’s bread and butter and where they are setting a new standard. The Octal weights only 195grams and thanks to an elegant solution requires no internal skeleton to pass safety standards and POC’s even more lofty internal standards. Where other helmets use a combination of low and high-density foam with an internal structure to hold it together for multiple impacts the Octal relies on a uni-body shell. This shell provides all the structure the helmet needs, letting low density foam do what it does best – dampen impact. Because of this the shell wraps all the way around the edge of the helmet’s interior. An added bonus to this is the Octal, despite the incredibly low weight, is very sturdy. Our test helmet survived two plane flights and a week of bouncing around in the back of a car with no protection and still looks brand new.
As important as passing government standards, and the Octal passes every standard – US, European, Australian – with the same helmet at less than 200grams, POC has given themselves a mandate to ensure riders don’t just survive an accident, they want quality of life to continue after. With less than one percent of impacts occurring to the top of the head, POC focused on the temples and the rear. The helmet is noticeably thicker at the temple and at the rear it drops down over a centimeter lower than most road helmets, giving it a bit of a mountain bike look.
Two other aspects are key to compete in the saturated road helmet market, ventilation and comfort. Comfort was relatively simple. POC looked at the two of the best selling helmets on the market, Specialized and Giro, and based their head form on that shape. Then they provided oodles of adjustment from a minimalist cradle, spec’d some fairly dense Coolbest pads and called it good, and it is. Our test helmet had fixed ear straps, which we liked, but POC has decided the production model will have adjustable straps.
Like the rest of the helmet, POC attacks ventilation differently. Instead of fighting to add more vents, POC focused on realestate. Thanks again to the uni-body construction POC could create extremely wide vents and leave them unobstructed by an internal skeleton. The vents are also deep thanks to all that low-density foam, which is almost as important for airflow as vent width. According to POC the Octal exposes more of your head to more airflow than any other helmet.
While we are usually not on the gram shaving bandwagon (what does saving 10 grams on your frame really matter?) with a helmet, even 10 grams is critical when your neck, arms and shoulders are asked to support it all day long. The Octal’s 195grams (215 with an ICEdot) will put a grin on your face when you pick it up and that grin will become a huge smile when you put it on. The venting is also spectacular. At speed, even small vents are great at driving air over your head, but at slow climbing speeds, where you really need cooling, the Octal’s wide vent make it the coolest way to climb.
As a new product it does have some small teething pains. The ICEdot mounts with zip ties and feels like an after thought, blocking a major exit vent. The helmet may have low-density foam, but looks very high volume and that is multiplied by the orange color. The straps exit through the uni-body instead of against the interior, which can interfere with some sunglasses earpieces. These are quibbles, none of which have stopped us from wearing the Octal in favor of every other helmet in our arsenal.
So much of what the Octal achieves stems from a safety innovation – the uni-body shell, and as impressive as this road debut is, POC isn’t done. An aero version will follow, inventive additions to their ‘Attention’ category are planned and we hope true ICEdot integration is on the way. While orange has been the Octal’s true statement, blue and white are also available.