Wednesday, March 12, 2014

POC bait and switch: Octal comes in 55 grams heavy

Since it debuted last year on selected Garmin riders and on Lance Armstrong, among others, the POC Octave road helmet looked to be a game changer.

POC Octal

Combining features which appear to provide a competitive advantage in safety with weights as light as anything else in the market, the POC looked to be the best of all worlds, especially considering the relatively round shape looked to be a good match to my relatively round head. I'm a good match for the Specialized helmets, for example the Prevail which I now wear. But the Prevail is going to need replacing, and the POC was a leading candidate. Just wait to March....

"190 grams in a size medium... certified worldwide". Amazing. Consider me in. The video was posted September 2013, 6 months ago.

Then there were the reviews. From BikeRumor:.

Tested against the two top selling high performance helmets, the Octal has 20, and 27% better ventilation, though POC isn’t leaning on that for a selling point. The Octal is rather a complete package with better protection, fit, safety and performance. All of this, and the helmet is still one of the lightest on the market. At a claimed 193 grams, the Octal is well within the ultra light crowd with the lightest samples at 188g and the heaviest of 100+ samples so far at 195g. POC isn’t necessarily going after the lightweight crown, but if the helmet is already one of the safest around and it’s one of the lightest – why not?

From VeloNews:

The weight is impressive, just under 200 grams (194g to be precise, for our large).

From BikeRadar/CyclingNews:

If there's one thing we wouldn't have guessed from looking at the lid it would be the weight – our pre-production sample tipped the scales at just 193g for a size medium.


And, to seal the deal, on the POC Octal web page:

SIZES: Small (50-56 cm), Medium (54-60 cm), Large (56-62 cm)
WEIGHT: 190 g (S), 195 g (M), 205 g (L)
CERTIFICATIONS: EN 1078, CPSC 12.03, AS/NZS2063-2008

In store March 2014

In January I posted this to the blog. I was obviously very interested.

Well, it's March now and I popped into Palo Alto Bicycles and there they were: freshly in stock. I'd ridden to Palo Alto from work in Mountain View, taking advantage of the 15 km distance to spin my legs out, still slightly tweaked from running downhill on Empire Grade on Sunday. A Caltrain delay due to a stalled engine blocking the tracks gave me some time to try the helmet on.

And, as anticipated, it fit great. The retention system was nicely adjustable. And it didn't look as bulky as it does in photos. It seems like an excellent helmet. The price was marked $270. I get a Silicon Valley Bicycle Coalition member discount, 10%, which covers the regional sales tax of 8.25%. That's a lot. But a helmet's important. You need to carry it on your head for thousands of miles. And the weight's important: it's weight saved over all of your bikes, on all of your important rides. And weight savings, as everyone knows, comes at a premium price. In Palo Alto Bikes customers are regularly spending $5/gram or more to buy lighter components or frames versus cheaper, heavier ones which would otherwise serve them just as well.

So when I looked at the box and saw "small: 230 g; medium: 250 g; large: 285 g" I was naturally disappointed. What?

I interrupted the sales woman who was telling me how the helmet had all these nice features and was "incredibly light". I pointed to the numbers on the box. "That's not particularly light." She seamlessly switched to damage control. To her credit, she didn't argue with the facts, but instead ran into the back of the store and fetched the owner's pre-production sample, the same one seen in the reviews.

Here's a photo from BikeRumor:


See that huge vent running down the center? It's gone. Instead there's now two vents with a new cross-bar. She explained this to me. It was necessary to pass US standards, to stop the helmet from breaking after hit by the falling mass used in the test. Instead it looks more like this:


So much for "worldwide certification". That's a 55 gram mass increase, assuming the claimed mass is representative.

Honestly, I think the original POC is a fine, safe helmet, safer than most of the US-certified helmets on the market. This is because it was designed not to the distorted certification test, but to real-world considerations. The added temple coverage, for example, does nothing to improve a score in the CPSC certification test, nor does the advantage of a smoother surface versus one with potentially neck-twisting points. And lighter is safer, as every additional gram provides a more fatiguing load to the neck and shoulders, and adds to the load which must be absorbed during a violent crash. "50 grams isn't much", you might say, but it's a straw-that-broke-the-camel's back scenario. At some point 50 grams does matter for safety. And, as the market has spoken, it matters on value.

So I'm disappointed with the bait-and-switch.

Some photos I took the next day:





specialist said...

It seems strange that that 1 bit is 55g?

djconnel said...

I completely agree. And with large, it's more like 80 grams. I wonder if they also had to beef up the strap to meet the CPSC strap retention test, which is what Specialized failed with the 2D helmet. I sent POC an email to ask what the story is. Hopefully they respond.

The original story was that by using an exoskeleton for stability, they could fill the interior with low-density foam for shock absorption. If they also had to increase the density of the foam that might explain the big mass increase if it wasn't the straps. I almost photoed the straps in the store and I regret that I didn't now.

I wonder if the 2 meter CPSC drop height does more harm than good, versus the Euro 1.5 meter drop height. By placing so much emphasis on that one spec, they leave little or no room for innovation in protecting against more realistic impacts. POC tries to innovate by protecting the back and sides of the head on the road helmet, but then they need to compromise their design because of CPSC's over-engineered vertical drop test. I wonder how many bike crashes have the rider absorbing impact on the crown of the skull.

ccramer said...

The pocsports website has photos with the heavier version you saw but still lists the lighter weight.

djconnel said...

It is strange. It is possible the label is in error. Possible. I should take my scale to Palo Alto Bicycles.

ccramer said...

Maybe pose the question to @pocsports. They seem responsive to customer questions via twitter.

ccramer said...

Looks like your questions called Poc out. Website updated with US and Euro weights.

djconnel said...

Thanks! And thanks for the reference to twitter. They eventually responded, confirming the numbers printed on the box for the CPSC version, but the Euro version will remain 190-195-205. That makes the delta 40g-50g-80g, which suggests to me the most likely explanation is making the foam denser, since that would have the strongest size dependence. If this is the case, then is denser foam safer? I don't think so: it's optimizing for a 2-meter vertical drop perhaps at the expense of smaller, more common, yet still damaging impacts.

ccramer said...

Thanks to you for snuffing this out. I'm due for a new helmet and was eager to check out the Octal, as it seemed to offer better protection. I'd probably still go ahead, but may try to find one from a Euro web dealer.

David Eastburn said...

I have been waiting for POC's move into road helmets as their engineering of ski helmets has changed the game. Thanks for the informative blog. I am riding in France this coming Fall and will def wait to buy my POC helmet over there. Or look at Scott which has the MIPS technology.

ccramer said...

I was also disappointed with the increase weight of the US version of the Octal. I considered buying a Euro version from an online dealer. But because of the exchange rate it's $100 more. $270 is worth it to protect my head. $370 isn't. So I bought the US version. I've had it for 2 weeks and love it. Still light weight. Great ventilation. The hi vis orange is noticeable, in a good, safe enhancing way.

ccramer said...

I was also disappointed that the US version of the Octal is heavier. I considered buying the Euro version online, but it is $100 more expensive because of the exchange rate. So, I bought the US version. I've had it for two weeks and love it. Still lighter than my previous helmets. Great ventilation and fit. The hi-vis orange in noticeable, which enhances safety.

djconnel said...

Thanks! Yes, $100 is a lot. But consider that going to top end components, or higher end frames, is typically at least $4/gram saved. By that metric saving 55 grams off your head, assuming it's a helmet you wear when you care about mass, is worth $220 (excepting issues of longevity). $1.80/gram saved is a bargain compared to other things, like cranks, forks, frames, pedals, cassettes...

ccramer said...

Bike equipment for me is a never ending battle between being a cheapskate and a weight weenie.