Oscar Huss, product director for POC, is very Swedish, in that he can casually talk about Bergman films, Acne Studios’ new line, and how Copenhagen residents smoke a lot of dope (Stockholm’s regional competition) all in the same conversation without changing his affectation. He ruminates with a sort of Nordic stoicism that’s belied only by a quiet sense of warmth — he likes you, he just doesn’t want to have to say he does. Huss is likable, too, and I found that with the right topic, it’s possible to get a rise out of him. But that only came around mile 30 of a big day riding a mix of gravel and paved roads up Figueroa Mountain in the Santa Ynez Valley. And that rise only came when he started talking about POC.
POC, for those outside the world of high-end skiing or cycling, is a Swedish company started in 2005 with a declared mission “to do the best we can to possibly save lives and to reduce the consequences of accidents for gravity sports athletes and cyclists.” It has stuck by that in strong ways, too, working with sports medicine labs and car makers (Volvo) to collect data, study injuries and develop solutions to the most common problems — like cyclists getting doored or sideswiped by cars. It was in that spirit that POC launched its first road cycling line, AVIP (Attention, Visibility, Interaction and Protection), with the intention to help bring safety to the two-wheeled road warriors. AVIP hit markets in 2014 and then, in 2015, POC launched its Raceday line, aimed to give competitive cyclists enhanced performance through good kit design. As Huss puts it, those were two of the three P’s — protection (AVIP) and performance (Raceday). The third P, passion, launches now, in 2016, with the Fondo line.
What is necessary (and what appeals to a wider audience) is a jersey that breathes, fits right for an “active” body type, and has an element of restrained cool in the design.
Back on the mountain it’s hot, it’s steep, and Huss is doing the stoic thing, pedaling along like it’s no big deal. So I get him going on the new collection, which we’re wearing, and why they stopped with just what’s on my back. I’d like a full kit — top to bottom in this robust, clean Scandinavian design. So why no shoes? Why no gilet? No jacket? No commuter line? Why the hell is POC taking so long to give its design treatment — those bright colors, those clean lines — to everything I want? Huss remains calm, breathes normally as the incline increases to double digits. The Swedes don’t do anything in a rush, and, he says, until they can offer something that is new and/or better to the market, they don’t need to usurp those that are doing things well right now. Fair enough. But isn’t that what this everyman’s collection is about?
Alongside the Fondo launch, POC also kicked off a new mountain helmet, the Tectal (which takes cues from the Octal road helmet and the mountain-favorite Trabec) and updated its brain-saving full-face helmet, the Coron. It is also rolling out a new line of mountain clothing, the Resistance line (the gloves and socks are already out), designed with kevlar in high-contact areas like elbows and on the legs of the shorts. Lightweight protection is the name of the game, and on a hot day on the back trails of the Alisal Ranch, the setup kept things cool throughout the ride.
Huss remains coy: yes and no. The Fondo line, designed for the casual long-distance cyclist, is POC’s handshake to everyone on a bike. AVIP’s bright oranges can be ostracizing and, in normal light on a normal ride, somewhat unnecessary. What is necessary (and what appeals to a wider audience) is a jersey that breathes well, fits right for an “active” body type, and has an element of restrained cool in the design. Also, this rider is looking for bibs that work in the right places (soft on the shoulder straps, tight around the back, secure in the leg, flexible at the hips) and offer a chamois that’s comfortable for long stretches. POC hasn’t done something entirely new; there are good kits out there. But it is a way for them to push the Swedish mindset across an entire sartorial cycling endeavor. If you take the Fondo jersey and bibs, you can also match them with an Octal helmet and glasses (the DO Half Blade is a strong choice) and then add a Fondo cap, booties, arm sleeves, knee warmers, gloves and, naturally, a silk scarf. And, Huss would say with a slight smile, the quality is a notch above the rest.
We complete the climb in style, sweating and parched (it was in the high 80s). The bibs performed in the same elevated range as offerings from Assos, Rapha, Castelli and other high-end manufacturers, and the jersey fit properly on my not-Froome-like frame. The ensemble I wore offered a regional color — gray for NYC; other offerings include green (Napa), pink (Rio de Janeiro) and blue (Havana). I ditched the scarf early on (it was hot), but the gloves performed well as the faucet of sweat let loose on the hands and the Octal let air in and out up top. POC isn’t reinventing the wheel here, but it is making the good work done in the AVIP and Raceday lines available to more and more people. And, at prices comparable with Rapha’s new “Core” line — $140 for the Classic Jersey, $130 for the Light and $150 for the bibs — the Fondo’s positioned to sell.
So, in the Swedish way, they’ve not done anything to totally rock the boat, they’ve simply put their own clean touches on the hull design. And, for anyone looking to head out in comfort and style from head to toe in one company’s kit, POC is making a compelling case for letting the Swedes’ designs take over your cycling drawer.