POC Ventral helmet review: Breezy and comfortable, but is it aero?
POC’s previous aero road helmet, the Octal Aero, was a curious little thing, essentially consisting of a standard Octal model but with almost all of the vents completely covered. It was reasonably aerodynamic and surprisingly well-ventilated at faster speeds, but a veritable sweatbox on the climbs.
POC has now replaced that stopgap with a new model that was designed from the start to be an aero road helmet. POC says the Ventral produces less drag than the old mushroom hat that was the Octal Aero, and its vastly improved airflow makes it a more appealing day-to-day option, too. It’s a better helmet in nearly every way, in fact, but yet there are still a couple of unfortunate missteps that keep it from being truly excellent. There are also lingering questions on whether the Ventral really is as aerodynamically efficient as POC says it is.
Airing out the Ventral
The old Octal Aero earned its keep in the wind tunnel by virtue of its almost completely closed-off shape. Rather than have air tumble haphazardly through the interior, it instead funneled almost all of it around the outer shell.
With the Ventral, POC took almost the exact opposite approach.
Five huge vents are positioned right up front, the six exhaust ports at the rear are even bigger, and there are two more vents on the top of the shell to help hot air escape more passively on climbs. Yet despite all of those openings, POC says that careful shaping and placement of the external vents make for a smooth, low-drag flow through the helmet’s interior.
According to POC, air exiting out the back of the helmet can then smoothly recombine with whatever air passes around the outside of the Ventral thanks to the sharp edge along the upper rear of the helmet.
“Residual air flowing over and around the helmet is managed by an aerodynamically optimized trailing edge,” says POC’s official marketing materials, “which reduces turbulence and maintains a linear airflow off the helmet and rider, improving the helmet and rider’s aerodynamic performance.”
Other features include a height-adjustable cradle, gripper pads on the edges of the outboard forward vents for stashing sunglasses, lightweight webbing with fixed splitters around the ears, and a newly trim profile that keeps you from looking like a mushroom.
On the scale, the Ventral is reasonably light, but not especially so, with an actual weight of 264g for a CPSC-approved size small. Weight weenies will be disappointed at that figure, but one distinct upside is the full-coverage polycarbonate shell, which completely envelopes the lower edge of the Ventral for better long-term durability — grams well spent, in my opinion.
POC offers the new Ventral in nine colors, including two high-visibility hues. Retail price is US$290 / AU$430 / €300.
MIPS is out; SPIN is in
POC was one of the first companies to incorporate MIPS (Multi-direction Impact Protection System) low-friction liners into its bicycle helmets, which have been claimed to reduce the incidence of closed-head injuries. According to MIPS, the plastic liner acts as a shear layer during a crash, thus minimizing how violently your brain rotates inside your skull during a crash.
POC still finds value in that rotational insulation, but has now replaced MIPS with its own in-house concept called SPIN (Shearing Pad INside). Instead of a separate plastic liner, SPIN incorporates the shear action directly into the pads themselves. The pads look normal from the outside, but inside each one is a gel insert that allows the inner and outer layers of fabric to slide against each other — almost like two pieces of bread with liberal helpings of peanut butter and jelly between them.
Does SPIN work as well as MIPS? And how well does MIPS really work, anyway? I unfortunately can’t answer either of those questions, but the MIPS folks apparently feel that SPIN is close enough to its own technology that the company filed a lawsuit against POC late last year. Time will tell how that pans out.
On the road
Legal wrangling aside, the Ventral isn’t just a big step forward from the Octal Aero; it’s quite a nice road helmet on its own, period.
As promised, ventilation on the Ventral is truly outstanding, which perhaps shouldn’t be all that surprising given appearances. The enormous ports and generous internal channeling make for fantastic airflow across your head at even moderate speeds, but yet with so much open space toward the back and upper rear section of the Ventral, it’s also pleasantly cool on slower climbs as well. Airflow at lower speeds is usually the primary weakness of most aero road helmets, in fact, so I was particularly impressed with how well the Ventral performed in that situation.
Airflow around the browpad area — which I often find lacking in road helmets, period, not just aero-minded ones — is very good on the Ventral, too, with lots of space in between the pad and helmet liner to help keep that area dry. It doesn’t completely prevent sweat from saturating the pad and eventually dripping down into your glasses, but it at least takes longer than usual to get to that point.
Speaking of sunglasses, POC’s solution for eyewear storage actually works. The outboard forward vents are well positioned for the purpose, and the two large gripper pads do a better-than-expected job of keeping glasses from flopping about (provided you’re careful to push them into the helmet with a firm shove). Ironically, I found that while the grippers worked well with various sunglass models from Oakley, Smith Optics, Shimano, Adidas, and a few others, they didn’t work nearly as well with POC’s own Do Half Blade; the pads never came into contact with the sunglass arms.
Comfort-wise, the Ventral was mostly very good. Those squishy SPIN pads cover a lot of the Ventral’s interior, and the height-adjustable cradle provides a firm, yet gentle, hold on the back of the skull. Long-time POC users will want to note, however, that the Ventral has moved to a more ovoid headform shape instead of the rounder one typically found from this company in the past. It worked better for me personally, and also contributed to the Ventral’s refreshingly trim profile. But if you’ve relied on that round fit in the past, you’ll likely be disappointed with the change.
As happy as I was with the Ventral’s fit overall, one area that I found very disappointing was the strap design.
POC has used fixed strap splitters in the past, and the practice is hardly novel (Specialized has been doing this for years, for example). But on the Ventral, I found that there just wasn’t enough space around the ears, and my earlobes ended up awkwardly constricted. In fairness, I mostly forgot about it once I got underway, but it’s an oversight on POC’s part nonetheless.
I have no issue with the concept of fixed strap splitters, especially since well-executed examples I’ve used in the past have been easy to use and comfortable. But if you’re going to eliminate the ability to make adjustments in this area, you at least have to ensure that the design works for everyone, and that isn’t the case here.
Thankfully, POC has recognized that there’s an issue here, and is making a running change to fix it.
“On the straps, I can confirm that this change is being made, for small and medium helmets,” said POC’s US PR agent, Patrick King. “Unfortunately, it’s not going to happen overnight. It will be a running change in production, but consumers likely won’t see the updates until later in the season.”
Last, but certainly not least, there is the issue of aerodynamic performance. POC says the Ventral is the “fastest and most aerodynamic” helmet the company has ever created, but is it really? I didn’t take the Ventral into the wind tunnel for independent testing, so I can’t say for sure. But it’s worth noting that neither did POC; that claim is based solely on computer simulations, and the only numerical data provided compares the Ventral against the standard Octal, not the Octal Aero (and even then, it’s just a 2.1% improvement). There are also no claims made against aero road helmets from other manufacturers.
So at least for now, you unfortunately have to take POC’s blanket claims at face value — and perhaps with a healthy side of salt.