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Piece of Cake: Sweden’s POC to enter road market in 2014

We test ride the Swedish company's road apparel and helmets, which will debut next month

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STOCKHOLM (VN) — It won’t be for everyone. Not for those who prefer the understated or the minimal. But it will be for those interested in the highest levels of safety. And it will be for those who prefer the color orange.

Sweden’s POC, a thoroughly modern protection company that currently makes ski and mountain bike helmets and spine protectors, in addition to apparel, will enter the road cycling market in February of 2014 with a collection of what it’s calling road essentials for men and women: bibs, jerseys, gloves, jackets, vests and accessories, and a helmet.

What is likely to make the biggest splash is the company’s helmet, which, in prototype stage, tips the scales at less than 200 grams yet offers superior protection to other race-ready helmets, according to the company. The Octal helmet should retail in the neighborhood of $250.

Founder and CEO Stefan Ytterborn noted that the road market is already a busy space, but thought the company could do some good. “And I totally respect all the players in the market. But I definitely think we have something to contribute when it comes to the safety aspect of it,” he said. “Because the game — the most hazardous bit of road biking is getting ran into by a car. And what is there to avoid that, promote the safety aspect of that?”

VeloNews does not have any independent data on the helmet, though POC — it stands for piece of cake — is known for merging of safety and modern aesthetics. Its mountain bike and ski products are bright and burly, and the company’s helmet does appear a bit bigger than its soon-to-be competitors. It does cover more of the head (of particular note is its temporal and octal protection, hence the name). Publicity will be coming, and soon. After signing Gustav Larsson in 2012, POC will sponsor a professional team next year and Garmin-Sharp’s Ryder Hesjedal wore what appeared to be its DID sunglasses throughout the Tour de France. Peter Appleton will head up the road division.

After a test ride in and among the prototypes, VeloNews can say this much: The bibs feel good but need a few tweaks; the helmet is snug and fits remarkably well (our tester tried the medium), though it has some early integration hiccups with Oakley Radars, and pedaling among a mass of the company’s prototype jerseys makes a rider feel very, very safe but possibly very late for work as a highway construction crew. With its bright color scheme, if a motorist hits a POC-clad cyclist, he or she is either drunk or trying.

But for POC, that’s the point: The company’s central focus is safety, so it’s only fitting that it would adhere to the doctrine on the road. Kits combine colors like navy-black and white (and of course orange) to enhance visibility of riders, and put contrasts in key places that rotate (legs, namely, on the warmers) to create even more visibility.

But, to reiterate: it’s not going to be for everyone. And that’s ok.

“POC as a brand has a very strong and very clear heritage and design,” said Marie Paulsson, the company’s apparel designer. “It’s ok that it’s not for everyone, if you’re like a true, retro biker. But I think we have tried to take that into consideration. Like the silk scarf. I hope to make a line that is all navy, and all white, just for those who don’t want to come into an espresso bar looking all fluorescent.”

The prototype jersey, if it goes to market as viewed this month, won’t be a huge hit with the true roadie congregation of shaved and shiny legs and black, black, black, but other pieces are bold and more approachable. The jacket, for instance (orange, bright) is cut very well and upon inspection seems remarkably well crafted. The wind vest and jacket are hyper-thin and mostly clear, and pack into a jersey pocket like a Kleenex. The gloves, socks, and cap are all nice touches in a market that’s becoming increasingly picky.

“I actually think that biking is one of the most beautiful sports, so it’s not hard in that [regard]. We make such good choices in choosing the bike that it’s almost like the clothing has been left behind. And it’s very inspiring looking at the aerodynamics, the technical features. So my head is exploding with ideas,” Paulsson said. “I always look into architecture and nature … the best thing with making bike gear is that you see it from every angle. But you can see the side views as well. So the garments become very three-dimensional. So it becomes a kind of architecture that you don’t see in other sports.”

Editor’s Note: VeloNews attended a two-day meeting in Stockholm with POC and other industry professionals and journalists to review prototypes but the company is holding back its official release of the road line. Expect pictures of the final versions closer to Eurobike in late August.