POC's Trabec is at the high end of the MTB helmet price range. But the distinctive looks, outstanding quality, and comprehensive package combine with levels of protection that may well convince you it's worth the cost.
No one likes brain damage. But head injuries have gone hand in glove with cycling since the velocipede was the hot new ride, and helmets followed swiftly afterwards. At first cyclists sported the ‘It Ain't Half Hot Mum’ pith helmet, and later, the leather ‘bunch of bananas’ style that persisted until the 1980s.
Mountain biking (and the associated logs and rocks) placed new demands on helmet manufacturers, and they responded with helmets that had a hard plastic shell over an expanded polystyrene inner.
The basic design settled down in the 1990s to the current thin-shell construction and since then helmet development has been mostly incremental tinkering with changes to closure systems, padding, size adjustment straps and overall shape.
Swedish company POC claims to take a revolutionary rather than evolutionary approach to helmet design. And when the nation that brought us Abba delivers a piece of safety equipment, it pays to take notice. Sorry, did I say Abba? I meant Volvo! There was nothing safe about Abba's brand of sonic mayhem. Sorry, did I say Abba? I meant Paganizer.
The first thing you notice about the POC Trabec is that it does't look like most other mountain bike helmets. Its shell wraps all the way around the back of the head, and its vents are fewer, and more spaced than on most current helmets.
Out of the box, the Trabec is clearly a quality piece of kit. It comes with its own draw-string storage bag, like a quality motorcycle helmet.
The Race model is hella shiny, and looks slightly like a prop from a sci-fi movie; something future riot police might wear. The image on POC's website, which looks suspiciously like a 3D render, is far less specular than the real thing.
I'd prefer the helmet to have a more matt finish, but it drew admiring glances, and generally positive comments, from the guys I ride with as soon as I put it on.
The Race MIPS version that we are testing here is the top of a three model range. The base model and the Race model are essentially identical, with the Race having more aramid reinforcement to make it more robust.
The Race MIPS is then fitted with the innovative Multi-directional Impact Protection System. This allows the outer shell of the helmet to rotate a little in the event of a crash, and reduces abrupt rotation of the skull during an oblique impact, which can cause brain damage.
All three models feature the Polygiene odour control treatment designed to prevent sweat induced smells. None of the helmets are cheap, but at £200, the Race MIPS is the most expensive open-face mountain bike helmet on the market.
What's surprising at the price is how ordinary the rear size adjuster and the chin strap closure are. They are clearly well-made, but their design is traditional, and the chin strap is actually extremely fiddly to adjust. Once adjusted though, it holds the helmet extremely firmly to the head - due in part to the lower rear profile. In fact the suspension system holds it fairly securely before the chin-strap is even fastened.
Adjustment seemed lacking to me. I often find that a helmet that feels comfortable when I set out needs some tweaking after a little riding. With my current everyday Uvex lid, that is easily managed via a push-button ratchet chin-strap adjuster. With the POC it requires the lid and gloves off, and some tedious and frustrating strap wrangling.
Once on it's not the lightest helmet on the market, but it's not conspicuous by its weight either. What it is though, is noticeably comfortable.
I have a slightly pointy head. Not so much so that I'll be invited to star in the remake of Coneheads, but enough that no helmet I have owned has ever felt perfectly comfortable. Until now.
It's also warm. The large open vents do let air circulate, but not with the same free-flowing feel of a more conventional helmet design. As a result, on a cool November night ride, I was never cold of head. But I suspect that in July, or if you find yourself riding in Moab, this would be warmer than a conventional helmet. But given its halfway between traditional and full-face feel, that’s expectable, and acceptable.
This is a trail or all-mountain helmet to be sure. It will probably be most popular with people who want increased protection without stepping up to a full face.
I'm one of those people, and the only thing that would put me off the POC is the price. I sprang for their excellent body armour because sit was lighter and more comfortable than any other I tried. The Trabec is better than the competition too - but I'd struggle with the £200 price tag of the Race MIPS. As my friend TIm said when I told him the price: "Your brain isn't worth £200!" And he may be right.
It's not traditional when reviewing a helmet to intentionally stack in order to test its protective performance. But one of my frequent local rides has a tricky descent, a steep off camber slope. Nature has seen fit to place an almost horizontal tree trunk across the trail at the steepest point, positioned well-below head height.
On a warm summer's day, it's a tricky spot, requiring a shimmy, and a dropping of neck to just above the stem in order to pass cleanly. On a muddy night ride, on a 29er without a dropper seatpost, it required dexterity beyond me, and with both wheels sliding, my head and the tree tried momentarily to occupy the same co-ordinates in 3D space.
The helmet took what many Yorkshiremen (but never previously this one) would call a 'reet clout': exactly the kind of glancing blow that MIPS was designed for. And the Trabec performed admirably. In another helmet, I believe I'd have been off, or at least had to dab. But the POC protected me and I rode on rather stylishly.
The Trabec does not feel as innovative as POC may wish you to believe. While the Aramid (kevlar) reinforcement adds to the durability, and the Polygiene odour control treatment helps it stay fresher for longer, other aspects like adjustment and closure, are traditional and not even at the leading edge when compared to other helmets.
But where it counts, in terms of quality and performance, it's right up there with the very best.
All-in-all, the Trabec is an extremely compelling package. If I were spending my own money though, I'd have to look pretty hard at the Fox Flux, Giro Xar or 661 Recon all of which cost less than half of the Trabec’s, and can often be picked up for a third the price. But none of those lids sport MIPS.
If MIPS floats your boat (and why would something scientifically proven to reduce brain injury not?), The Scott Taal and Lin offer MIPS for less than half the price of the POC, albeit in a more traditional helmet design. If you want the whole package: the rear-wrap shape and the MIPS technology, the Trabec is the (only) helmet for you.
Criticising the Trabec for its price is ultimately futile. If you need to worry about such mundanities, this clearly isn't the helmet for you. But if, like the Porsche driver, having the ultimate product is more important to you than the price tag, this is probably it. It's an emotive decision, predicated on intangibles… but for once this is a decision you can make with the heart that will be good for your head.
If money was no object, this is the helmet I'd buy
Provides excellent protection
Aramid reinforced durability
That price tag
Fiddly chin-strap adjustment
Slightly compromised ventilation
More info: POC Trabec Race MIPS Helmet
UK supplier: 2Pure
What POC says about the Trabec Race MIPS helmet
The Trabec Race MIPS in-mold helmet combines functionality and performance for single track and enduro riders who are in need of the highest degree of protection. The construction is similar to how a skeleton is build for both resistance and durability.
The inner Aramid filament reinforced EPS core is tough and resilient while the outer PC shell is constructed with the seems located in the areas of least exposure. The helmet is equipped with the patented MIPS system to reduce the rotational forces to the brain in the event of an oblique impact.
An aerodynamic channel system and 16 vent slots provides great ventilation while the fit is designed to be around the head versus on top, which promises superior protection.
Polygiene anti-odor treatment included.
Sizes: XS–S, M–L & XL–XXl.