It’s a foregone conclusion that riding with a helmet is a good idea. True, falling off a bike can result in injuries to many more parts than just your head, and no helmet can ever stop that collarbone from snapping. However, concussions are serious business. When I was an alpine ski coach, part of my annual training was an online concussion training course. The course was relatively short, with lots of examples of dazed children trying to return to competition, and the dangers thereof.
After getting my annual certificate of concussive know-how, I was always afraid to partake in my morning constitutional without a helmet.
Recent research into concussions seems to indicate that shearing (rotational) forces create more damage than direct impacts, so MIPS has become more common in cycling helmets. The idea is that a halo inside the helmet allows the helmet shell to rotate on impact and reduce the shearing forces on the brain.
Poc offered MIPS helmets for a couple of years, and I used the road version for 3 seasons. I loved the helmet, with its huge venting, light weight, and comfortable fit. In theory, all MIPS helmets should fit similarly, as they all cinch the halo around your head, but as each manufacturer uses their own attachment system, there are variations in fit. I had a Lazer MIPS helmet, and the Poc simply fit better.
I’m also a fan of Poc’s bright colors. My preference is orange, partly because I don’t like the nuclear yellow-green common in high-viz clothing, and also because I like to ride in the forest in Colorado. Hunting season in the high Rockies is long, starting with archery in late summer and carrying through early winter. Bright orange is an important color and can help prevent being mistaken for a deer, because many of them also are cyclists.
Some years ago, while riding a heavily used singletrack, Uncle Krusty and I heard gunfire as we reached the end of the trail. It very nearly was the proverbial End of the Trail for us, as there were three guys shooting at trees. The trees they were shooting at were right where the trail emerged from the forest, and they seemed genuinely surprised that people were using a well-marked trail, complete with full parking lot. We asked why they were shooting at the trail, and they told us that they got kicked out of the shooting range because the range didn’t allow drinking beer and shooting.
Hence my affinity for orange- hopefully it screams DON’T SHOOT ME.
Poc has updated its rotational-impact system to SPIN, which is different yet similar to MIPS. I really can’t say that one is superior to another, but I can say that I think it’s important to use a rotational system in a helmet. In my new Ventral Air SPIN, I can’t feel a difference in fit, and I am entirely unwilling to test the two helmets in real-world shearing impact situations if at all possible. So, I’ll go along with Poc’s designers and their experience, and put my faith in their new system.
The Vental Air SPIN is slightly smaller in form than the Octal, resulting in less of a mushroom-like profile on my statuesque head. The vents appear to be larger, and as the Octal had amazing venting, the newer version offers even more airflow. Like many MAMILs, my scalp follicles are racing one another in a 3-way competition to see what happens first: turn gray, move southwards, or just completely abandon ship. I prefer to wear a cycling cap under my helmet, partly to absorb and redirect my prodigious sweat, and partly to shield my scalp from the sun. The Poc helmets, with their excellent venting, make wearing a cap quite comfortable.
The Ventral Air SPIN weighs in at 300g, which is not the lightest helmet on the market, but it doesn’t feel heavy on your head. Some people have commented that the Y-straps under the ears are not adjustable, but actually, you can move the buckle around and get it centered under your earlobes pretty easily if you fuss with it a bit.
Fit is very similar to the Octal, with a dial at the back for adjustment. The halo snugs up evenly around your head, without pressure points. I had to adjust the position of my cap slightly, but once everything was settled, the helmet was comfortable and didn’t bind or squish my head.
The helmet has two patches of grippy tape in the front vents that are designed to grab your sunglasses. The Octal had rubbery patches there, but they never gripped my glasses very well (I assumed it was due to the fact I wear Smiths). The Ventral’s patches, however, are non-denominational, and held my glasses firmly in place on several chunky gravel descents. This is an added safely feature, because I know my glasses will stay put, and I can keep both hands on the bars instead of reaching up constantly to puch my glasses back into place. Riding one-handed may be a contributor to concussions, but further studies are probably required.
The Ventral is an aero helmet, so that means it’s extra fast. I suppose. I tested it on a long gravel ride, and am not sure the aero design added efficiency to my naturally aero form. I rely on naturally rounded shapes to cut through the wind, and on my test ride I nearly achieved double-digit speeds on several occasions, so it may be that the combination of helmet and physique, not to mention sheer mass, allowed me to reach such velocities on descents.
Climbs were a different story. Aero performance is not critical when you risk being passed by a sleepy porcupine. Airflow through the helmet is important, however, and like its predecessor, the Ventral lets through enough air even at speeds that test one’s balance skills. It’s simply not as hot as other helmets.
Although I like the Poc helmets better than my Lazer, I did keep that helmet for winter fatbiking as its venting isn’t nearly as efficient. The Pocs are so well vented that they can actually be too cool when riding across the frozen wastes of Colorado. It has been pointed out that while fatbiking, my speeds are slow enough and the snow is soft enough that the risk of injury is quite low. That theory, while plausible, is quickly dispelled by a simple review of the online concussion protocols, and suddenly I’m back to wearing helmets in the bathtub.
The upshot is that the Poc Ventral Air SPIN is reasonably light, super-comfortable, and really well-vented. I’m happy enough with my Poc helmets that as the SKiL (Skinny Kid in Lycra) outgrew his Mavic helmet, I replaced it with a Poc, and one is on order for Mrs. MAMIL. As I ride, I appreciate how comfortable the helmet is, and as a parent, I really appreciate the extra concussion protection offered by SPIN, as well as the bright colors for increased visibility.
Poc slides into the category of the best products for cycling by simply becoming a non-issue. While riding, I am unaware of the helmet’s presence, which is ideal. It removes an item off my list of annoyances, allowing me to listen to the creaking and popping sounds that accompany my rides, not to mention the noises made by my bike (I’m pretty sure my mechanic drinks too much). There are enough piddly annoyances that can arise during a ride, so anything that slides into the background of consciousness is considered a success. Poc is continuing its tradition of making high-quality products that simply work, and work well.