Hands-on Gear Review

POC Octal Review

One of the lightest, priciest, well-ventilated contenders in our fleet.
POC Octal in Garmin Blue
By: Luke Lydiard ⋅ Review Editor  ⋅  Feb 17, 2017
Price:  $270 List  |  $199.95 at MooseJaw - 26% Off
Pros:  Very well ventilated, lightweight, stands out in the peloton
Cons:  Flimsy retention band, expensive, only available in three colors, sticks out in the crowd, thin interior padding
Manufacturer:   POC
73
OVERALL
SCORE


RANKED
#8 of 13
  • Comfort - 20% 6
  • Adjustability - 15% 4
  • Weight - 20% 9
  • looks and design - 10% 6
  • Ventilation - 25% 9
  • Durability - 10% 8
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Our Verdict

The POC Octal is the Swedish company's first offering to the road bike market. This helmet was designed around the qualities which the road market finds most important in a helmet: low weight and ventilation. The Octal is both very light and extremely well ventilated. It is also a relatively durable helmet compared with other road lids. If nothing is more important to you than ventilation, then the Octal is a helmet you should put on your short list. It was a top scorer in our ventilation test, and even outscored our Editors' Choice winner, the Giro Synthe, by a small margin. Both helmets offer excellent ventilation, though we think that the Synthe is a better helmet overall.

The Octal is the second lightest helmet in our test. The Giro Aeon was the lightest by less than an ounce. When on the head, our testers could not detect the difference in weight between the two. Like pretty much everything POC makes, the bulbous shape and solid color make it an eye-catching helmet. It's easy to either love or hate POC products based on looks alone. The biggest downside of the Octal is the price. At $270, it's one of the more expensive helmets we tested. But the Lazer Z-1, at $310, retails for more.


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Our Analysis and Test Results

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The POC Octal is a lightweight and very well-ventilated polystyrene helmet aimed at road cycling.

Performance Comparison


Luke Lydiard speeds through the flats in the POC Octal.
Luke Lydiard speeds through the flats in the POC Octal.

Comfort


This contender ties a number of other helmets we tested with the lowest score in the comfort test. While none of the road helmets we tested were uncomfortable, we found that there are a number of helmets which are more comfortable than the Octal. The Octal Aero is identical to the Octal, with the exception of a smooth polystyrene shell glued to the outside of the helmet. The Octal's interior padding is the thinnest we've ever seen. Interior foam padding serves as a cushion between the stiff polystyrene and the head. With the Octal, you can feel all of the foam ribs by lightly pressing down on the helmet. Since the helmet is so lightweight, this isn't a huge deal.

There are three small gaps behind the Octal's brow padding  which allow for airflow and make this airy helmet even better ventilated.
There are three small gaps behind the Octal's brow padding, which allow for airflow and make this airy helmet even better ventilated.

If comfort for long days in the saddle is your top priority, you should consider the Giro Synthe, which won our Editors' Choice award for being the most comfortable half-shell cycling helmet we've ever worn. The Synthe doesn't come cheap either, but at $270 it is the same price as the Octal.

Adjustments


This bike helmet took the lowest score in our adjustment test because of its rear retention band. This is the first POC helmet we've seen that actually uses a click wheel to adjust the band. In general, we prefer click wheels to other mechanisms, but the Octal's wheel is hard to grip.

Like all of the road helmets we reviewed  the Octal uses a click wheel to adjust the rear retention band. Both the band and the click wheel are very flimsy compared to all of the other helmets we tested.
Like all of the road helmets we reviewed, the Octal uses a click wheel to adjust the rear retention band. Both the band and the click wheel are very flimsy compared to all of the other helmets we tested.

The rear retention band is the flimsiest we've ever seen. Though we didn't experience a failure, we found that the band was prone to kinking because of its very thin design. The band does hold the helmet in place, but we found that the RocLoc 5 system found on many Giro helmets is just a better system overall. The Octal's retention band can be adjusted vertically in five roughly half-centimeter increments via a slider mechanism inside the helmet. The two plastic spars which position the band vertically are extremely flimsy and we were worried that they would break every time we adjusted the band.

The height of the Octal's rear retention band is adjusted with flimsy plastic sliders which our testers found hard to operate.
The height of the Octal's rear retention band is adjusted with flimsy plastic sliders which our testers found hard to operate.

Weight


The Octal is lightweight. The only helmet to weigh less on our digital scale was the Giro Aeon, which weighs just 225g. None of our testers could perceive the 15g that separates these two helmets on their heads.

Looks and Design


As we mentioned above, POC is not shooting for understated looks with the Octal. Both the Octal and the Octal Aero have a very bulbous appearance and stand out from other helmets - you either love it or hate it. We appreciate the lightweight design of the Octal, but wish that it did not come at the expense of poor padding and a fragile retention system. We do like the rubber eyeglass grippers in the vents and wish that every helmet had them.

The POC Octal with a pair of Smith PivLoc V2 sunglasses stowed on the front.
The POC Octal with a pair of Smith PivLoc V2 sunglasses stowed on the front.

Ventilation


Ventilation is where this bike helmet shines the most. It is one of the best-ventilated helmets in our test and we awarded it a 9/10. In fact, we think that it's one of the best-ventilated cycling helmet we've ever worn. There are plenty of studies which link staying cool with increased performance. Look closely at pre-race coverage of any of the grand tours, and you will see riders wearing ice vests while warming up on the trainer. Does this helmet make you faster on the bike by keeping you cool? Probably a little bit, in the right conditions.

On paper, the Octal's vent count of 21 may not seem like a lot compared to rest. POC went for bigger rather than more. Its vents are enormous compared to the other helmets. We didn't bust out the ruler and calculator, but we hypothesize that the Octal has the largest percentage of open space in its shell for air to flow through.

As we mentioned above, the interior padding is very minimal and we aren't impressed with the comfort it provides. What padding there is certainly doesn't restrict airflow at all. POC covered the skinny padding in their Coolbest material, which is supposed to help with temperature regulation. Our testers felt that it didn't matter much what the padding was covered with since there is so little of it in contact with the head. Riders who pedal through the fall and winter months may actually want a less ventilated helmet to keep a bit of warmth in. For that, we recommend the Giro Air Attack Shield, which scored low in our ventilation test, but allowed some of our test riders to skip a hat underneath the helmet and stay warm in cooler temps.

It's not hard to see why the POC Octal (left) scored the highest in our ventilation test while the Giro Air Attack (right) scored the lowest.
It's not hard to see why the POC Octal (left) scored the highest in our ventilation test while the Giro Air Attack (right) scored the lowest.

Durability


The Octal scored near the top in our durability test largely due to its polycarbonate shell which covers the lower edge of the vulnerable polystyrene foam. We always prefer cycling helmets which have full wrap shells because we've found that the increase in resistance to day to day abuse is worth the minimal weight penalty of adding a small bit of shell material.

Similar to the POC Trabec, which we tested in our Mountain Bike Helmet Review, the Octal's strap anchors are protected by the shell material. This also increases resistance to daily abuse, in our opinion. The downside to this is that the straps don't lay flush on your head and sunglass arms must be worn beneath them rather than over them. In the high fashion world of road cycling, many consider wearing sunglasses beneath straps to be a fashion faux pas. We don't think that any rider willing to rock this lid should worry much about that. The highest scoring helmet in our durability test is the Smith Overtake, which has a much burlier harness and retention band than the Octal, as well as a full wrap shell to protect the foam.

Best Application


This helmet excels at road cycling, road racing, and riding in very hot weather due to its excellent ventilation.

Value


The Octal retails for $270, which makes it one of the more expensive helmets in our test. We feel that this is a little too much to spend, especially when there are better helmets on the market for the same price such as the Giro Synthe.

Conclusion


The Octal is one of the lightest and most ventilated helmets we've ever worn. It is also decently durable compared with other road cycling lids. Its harness system lacks in user friendliness and its interior padding is extremely minimal, making it less comfortable than it could be. The biggest downside, however, is the price.

Other Versions


Octal Aero
POC Octal Aero Helmet
  • A semi-aero helmet
  • Claimed Weight - S 8.82 oz, M 9.52 oz, L 10.8 oz
  • Click-wheel size adjustment system
  • $300

Luke Lydiard

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Most recent review: February 17, 2017
Summary of All Ratings

OutdoorGearLab Editors' Rating:  
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 (3.0)
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