That thing bobbling around on top of our necks is apparently pretty important. It houses a nice set of eyes, ears, a mouth and something called a brain. A squidgy lump of matter that many of us take for granted in our day-to-day lives. Thanks to our brains, we can come up with ingenious ways of warranting the purchase of yet another bicycle and better yet, ingenious ways of finding time to ride it!
Like most things in life, we only really miss something when it’s gone. In the case of the brain, when it’s gone, it’s very likely forever. It’s not a very pleasant thought or subject to discuss but one that is extremely important to consider given the dangers of mountain biking. Most times out of ten a ride or even a crash will end with a laugh and high fives. But it can take only one innocuous bump to the head to change a life.
Brain injuries are thankfully being given the time of day they deserve lately with many companies and institutions developing strategies to either cope with or better prevent complications arising from brain trauma. Many riders in mountain biking and athletes in other sports are also standing up and spreading the word regarding the dangers of brain injuries. Before we go on, have a read through this awesome article on brain injuries in mountain biking over on Pink Bike. It offers a huge amount of great information on the subject and is well worth your time.
While brain injuries in mountain biking are usually attributed to downhill and therefore gnarlier terrain and high speeds, the effects can be just as high on the XC track. Today, the jumps, drops and rock gardens are bigger and there is a lot more emphasis on gaining time on the descents just as much as the climbs. For me personally, I have seen riders I grew up racing have to end their careers due to the effects of brain trauma as well as seeing my best friend in school suffer major brain trauma in an accident when we were out riding that could have been greatly reduced with a better fitting helmet. Given this, it is no wonder I take what helmet I wear seriously.
For 2017, I was able to choose my own helmet and I went straight for the Swedish company POC. Initially this choice was driven purely by the way the POC Octal model sat on my head when I tried one on in a shop. My head has an ‘interesting’ shape that has made choosing a helmet in the past extremely difficult. Most helmets had pressure points in certain areas and some just didn’t sit on my head like they should. The Octal was a welcome change as it sat comfortably on my head and has the added bonus of offering the most extensive coverage of any helmet I have owned.
To satisfy the captain safety in me, I chose the AVIP model of the Octal with the added MIPS. The AVIP is POC’s Attention Visibility Interaction Protection and is designed to enhance the rider’s visibility on the road by using bright contrasting colours. On my model, this comes in the form of the bright orange shell and contrasting white internals, which is certainly a very noticeable combo.
The MIPS is the Multi-directional Impact Protection System and is the yellow insert that rests against the head. While not a POC invention, POC have certainly embraced the technology in an effort to decrease the effects of a head impact. The MIPS layer allows the helmet to rotate over the head in the result of an impact, which reduces the effects of rotational forces and dissipates the energy as opposed to a normal helmet just absorbing the load. Put more simply, if you fall and land on an angle, the helmet will move with the ground instead of coming to a sudden stop.
With about one month of use, the Octal has certainly made me glad I chose it. It’s pretty light considering the MIPS insert and the large air vents push a lot of air across the top of the head. The position has matched the feeling I first got in the shop and sits very comfortably on the head. It feels like it encases the head, as opposed to some helmets that feel like they sit ‘on’ the head. This no doubt is due to the extensive coverage that aids in the protection.
Hopefully I won’t have to test the effectiveness of the MIPS, but it is certainly good to know that it’s there just in case. The AVIP system is also a great feature to have in a helmet. As I spend a fair amount of time training on the road, it’s a lot better to know I’m being noticed by other road users, even if the visibility is low due to fog or low light. I think these two systems are an important part of helmet technology. I would encourage all riders to consider the benefits of firstly wearing a helmet and then choosing a helmet that has safety at the forefront of its design. For me, the POC Octal ticks all the boxes and then some!