POC Octal Review: Rethinking Safety
Photos: Ian Matteson
Maybe you’re getting used to unusual gear being strapped, stretched, and ratcheted to the bodies of pro cyclists as they roll out for battle each year. Or maybe you aren’t. Regardless of the camp that you fall into, once you actually heft and test some of these space-exploration-looking items (e.g., current road helmets), you’ll begin to see exactly what lies beyond the veil.
Such is the case with the POC Octal, or “POCtal” as I like to call it, which is the inaugural road release from the Swedish brand. Those in the snowsports arenas have long been in the know of POC’s candy-colored protective lids, and, more recently, the dirt crowd has started to adopt the same exceptional fit, comfort, protection, and clean aesthetics, too. Well, now the road side gets its turn, complete with a full apparel and helmet line. Dubbed AVIP (Attention Visibility Interaction Protection), the collection places its primary focus on promoting rider safety by incorporating loud colors and attention-pulling reflective details into its technical designs. In other words, the bright colorways are more than just a fluo fashion statement. Here’s the lowdown on the much-hyped Octal.
First seen by many atop the Garmin boys’ domes, the Octal has generated quite the buzz among industry nerds, Internet fact-checkers, and the general cycling public, too. This is all for good reason — its appearance intrigues, as do the eyebrow-raising, pre-sale specs that were released.
I received a pre-production sample and, as with many of today’s lids, was pretty impressed with the helmet’s lack of weight. Substance might be the better word, as the Octal seemed more vent and less helmet. Before I go further, I need to address the issue of weight. If you’re hip to the “POCtal,” you’ve undoubtedly heard that the early claimed weights apply only toward the non-CPSC-certified versions. In other words, the helmets delivered here in the States will be roughly 55 grams heavier than first listed (size Medium). To make a longish story brief, several tweaks were made to the CPSC-certified helmets, namely an added crossbar through the helmet’s top vent. My sample was the 190ish gram version, though. Regardless, I’ll make the argument that the fit, details, and overall function of this model are, nonetheless, still on par with the stateside-safe lid.
Both versions wear POC’s unmistakable “deep” shape, in that, compared with most brands’ top-shelf road helmets, there is more substantial coverage at the occipital and temporal zones. The shell itself is made as a uni-body, or monocoque construction, which means that this outer “exoskeleton” is actually integral to contributing to overall protection. In turn, the EPS employed underneath is able to be much lighter and lower in density than helmets relying primarily on this material for impact protection. Also contributing to the feathery weight are the 20 massive, somewhat utilitarian-looking vents.
Thankfully, I didn’t test the helmet’s functionality in relation to impacts. Regarding fit and comfort, however, the Octal felt dialed. It’s obvious that the extensive R&D was worth the effort, as this helmet, when worn both with and without a cap underneath, provided a better “wrap” on my dome than many helmets that sort of just rest atop the head. No doubt that this is due to the added coverage design, but I’d also attribute this enveloped feel to an uncomplicated click-wheel retention system that just plain ol’ works. Supplementing this are the soft Coolbest pads on the interior and the ultra-thin in-molded straps.
And while I didn’t employ this feature, it’s worth noting the Octal was designed to integrate with the ICEdot (In Case of Emergency) Crash Sensor, which reacts to major impacts and alerts your emergency contacts (via mobile phone). This sensor cleanly mounts in the recessed rear vent channel. POC’s attention to the road rider’s needs is also evident in the “Eye Garage,” which is a system of two non-slip pads mounted in the helmet’s frontal vents. These tacky tabs securely grip the arms of sunglasses, providing a clever storage solution for your pricey shades.
The only issue I had with the Octal, which might also serve as an attracter, is its quirky love-it-or-hate-it design. Once you get past that, the Octal is solid. If I were to get super picky, though, I’d also have to say that the Eye Garage tabs should be placed a little lower on the sides of the vents, as the natural tendency when stashing glasses in a helmet is to rest them down on the base of the vent holes, rather than awkwardly floating them up where the tabs are affixed.
In Zink Orange (it also comes in Hydrogen White and Garmin Blue), combined with reflective logos on all sides, the Octal is quite loud. But any apprehensions to the aesthetics were pushed aside once I put the thing on and wore it for a few weeks of riding. As cliché as it sounds, the Octal is a set-it-and-forget-it’s-there helmet, and sometimes that extra bit of attention I received from its bold appearance can be viewed as a good thing. More than a coffee shop conversation starter, the Octal might mean that drivers on the road notice both it and you — we can only hope.