It’s been said that the mind is a terrible thing to waste, and it’s hard to think of a faster way to lose your mind than a swift strike to the noggin from the cold, unforgiving ground. Thankfully, the good people at POC have used their minds to create a full line of some of the industry’s finest helmets to keep your gray matter intact. I opted to play crash test dummy for their Octal X, a decidedly cross country-styled helmet that promised to keep me from becoming too much of a dummy should I find myself off the bike and headed toward a rough landing.
Fit and Finish
I’ll admit that I can be a bit of a snob when it comes time to fork out my hard-earned cash (let’s be real, I buy on credit) for any sort of outdoor gear, and brand perception can go a long way toward helping pull out my card. In my humble opinion, POC absolutely nails the aesthetics with their gear, from the oh-so-chic European design to the impeccable finish on the products. The Octal X impressed immediately with a paint job easily besting that of any car I’ve owned. The Reson Blue of my tester helmet was particularly appealing, with its subdued hue offering a nice deviation from the ho-hum whites and hi-vis yellows that crowd the marketplace.
Some of my roadie friends have derided the Octal X and its squared-off design as the “Parachute On Cranium,” and while it might not cut through the air as efficiently as their silly-looking teardrop skid lids, the Octal X works great out on the singletrack, where cyclists actually enjoy themselves. However, if you’re a bit more style conscious, this helmet is definitely more Nino Schurter and less Aaron Gwin. This works for a cross country guy like myself, but you may catch some sideways glances going down A-line at Whistler. Thankfully, all those vents made it so I never felt that I was at risk of heat stroke, even when temperatures inched closer to the unreasonable end of the thermometer.
Similar to its road-going cousin, the Octal X has no provisions for a visor, something commonly found on most helmets designed for long rides out in the woods. Personally, I didn’t mind the lack of visor all too much, as I almost always found myself wearing some form of eye protection on sunnier days (gotta protect my baby blues) to keep the light out. Speaking to the use of sunglasses, when the sun dips over the horizon and you need a quick place to store your eyewear, the Octal X does have provisions to store your lenses in the top of the helmet, just like the roadies do.
When I get a piece of gear from the Singletracks HQ, I make sure to give it a fair and thorough evaluation so that when the final article is posted, I feel confident that I did my due diligence for our readers. When testing helmets, I prefer to take the manufacturer’s word regarding durability and trust that they took care of impact testing during the design and manufacture of their gear. The fact that I found myself face-first in the dirt wasn’t meant as a slight to POC; I absolutely believed in their testing regimen before I even put the Octal X on my head. I ended up being an unwilling test subject because I was feeling particularly overzealous one day and had forgotten how different bikes handle in dusty conditions versus the famously-grippy PNW loam that I had grown accustomed to.
After rolling out of my easily-avoidable yet completely-surprising tumble, I thought it prudent to check the helmet for signs of damage. Thankfully, the Octal X looked no worse for wear, and the quick trip into the sandy berm only left some minor scuffing on the surface of the helmet. Granted, had this been a real headbanger of a crash, the helmet would’ve found its way to the recyclers. But in this case, the POC had only a minor event to deal with, and it did quite well. Best of all, after the crash, my devilish good looks, clever wit, impressive intelligence, and modesty all remained intact and unaffected. I’d say that the Octal X did a fine job of protecting me, and I’m certainly thankful that POC did their homework when designing the helmet.
Said homework involved creating their Aramid Bridge concept and applying it to the shell of the helmet. POC claims that combining a structural support made of aramid fibers to the expanded polystyrene liner increases the stiffness of the helmet while dispersing impact forces over a wider area, all without much of a weight penalty. For those wondering what an aramid fiber is, the most well-known aramid (or aromatic polyamide, if you’re a materials science enthusiast) is kevlar, which is used in bulletproof vests for its incredibly-high impact resistance. Essentially, POC thought that if the material was robust enough to stop a bullet, that it’d be well-suited to protect your brain during a particularly gnarly crash.
Interestingly enough, the Octal X forgoes the use of a MIPS (Multiple Impact Protection System) liner and opts for a more traditional in-mold EPS construction in order to keep weight as low as possible. In fact, there are only three cycling helmets offered by POC with a MIPS variant. POC’s reversal on MIPS may seem interesting, as the company was one of the first to use the technology, but they have recently announced their own take on oblique impact protection, named SPIN. SPIN promises to be a lighter weight solution to current MIPS offerings. While the SPIN technology wasn’t on my test helmet, future revisions of the Octal X will offer the added cranial protection.
After field testing, the POC Octal X has proven itself to be a fantastic way to protect the cranium while on the trails. Its light weight and highly-ventilated design made long summer days spent on the bike much more enjoyable, and I’ve happily replaced my previous selection of single-purpose helmets with the POC for all conditions. In addition to the great performance of the helmet, the subtle Swedish style makes for a welcome addition to any rider’s gear closet. If you’re looking to replace your tired, old skid lid, give the POC line a look — your brain will thank you.
Thanks to POC for providing the Octal X for review.