This review will be the first in a series of reviews on the latest aero helmets. The aerodynamics of these helmets will be, at most, a tertiary focus. I'm picking these helmets because I believe their aerodynamic credibility has been established, by the testing of others, by the company's own commitment to a thoughtful and intelligent design process, and - in some cases - by my own experience. Aero helmets are one of those things where the best aero helmet for any individual person is a matter of precise testing, most often done in a wind tunnel. And yet wind tunnel testing often falls short, giving you only numbers for ideal scenarios; wind tunnel tests often don't tell you which helmet is fastest when you are sitting up, looking around, taking a drink, or any of the other things that may happen more or less regularly during a race.
A prime example of this was Swedish company POC's first aero helmet, the Tempor. Based on some independent testing by Bike Radar and just a sense of what was almost certainly "obvious" (though I use that term cautiously), the Tempor was extremely aerodynamic when down in the bars, with the head tucked, hammering away. This is something that, especially for age-group athletes and for any athlete on a multi-loop course, often comprises a dramatically lower percentage of a triathlon race than a 20km or 40km cycling time trial. The Tempor was a prime example of what happens when you have too few inputs as design parameters. It was a helmet designed for a single scenario, and which fell short in many of the other areas where a helmet needs to perform. POC managed to dramatically change course and their Cerebel helmet, the subject of this review, is a win across the board. It's the helmet that I've chosen to race in for the past year. (I have no affiliation with POC, though they did provide me with the helmet free of charge.) It was, in fact, this about face on the design side that led me to want to try the helmet in the first place and to structure these reviews in the way that I have.
I first started thinking about helmets in this way after writing an article for LAVA magazine on the advent of so-called "short-tail" aero helmets - like the Cerebel - in response to the overwhelming success of Giro's Air Attack. Giro took the stance that, roughly, the Air Attack wasn't the most aerodynamic helmet out there in any one position, but that it was aero in a wide range of positions and that it also succeeded in working remarkably well as a "regular" helmet. It wasn't hot, it was light, it wasn't claustrophobic, it had a clever integrated visor that popped on or out of the way with magnets, and it fit well. It was remarkably successful as a "jack of all trades; master of none" that made it an ideal match for the jack-of-all-trades sport of triathlon.
My own personal interest in experimenting with different helmets came as a result of, starting in late 2012, wearing Specialized's McLaren (now S-Works TT) aero helmet. That helmet tested fast - very fast - for me in the wind tunnel. So I wore it. But I only had one really good race in the helmet (Leadman 250 Bend 2012), and eventually I came to think of the helmet as "cursed." At the very least, instead of feeling faster when I put it on, I started to feel slower. I started to be aggravated by a lot of things about the helmet - many of which have been tweaked or modified in the TT04 - that made me realize that helmets are a lot like saddles and shoes and aerobar pads and all the other "contact" points where comfort is the primary measure of success. The McLaren fit way too tight on the ears (Specialized has addressed this) and became even more tight when you put your glasses on; it was too heavy (this is still a problem). It just wasn't comfortable (for me).
My first ride in the Cerebel was a revelation in this regard. My only goal after riding in it was that I needed to at least make sure it wasn't "slow." A few simple benchmarking tests convinced me that it was "aero enough," and I've been happily racing in it ever since. Is it as aero as the S-Works TT? I don't know. And honestly I don't care. Because, overall, I think that for me it's clearly a better helmet. Subsequent reviews won't have this long preamble, so thank you in advance for sticking with me. Now onto what I like - and don't like - about the POC Cerebel.
The Cerebel is advertised as a "Medium" but really it would seem to be "One Size Fits Most," as I've not seen any sizes except the medium available anywhere, and POC does not list any other size on their site. I typically where a M or a M/S, and the helmet fits me well and still has plenty of room. That said, my large-craniumed friend Andi Böcherer tried my helmet on in Kona last year, and it didn't even come close to fitting him (he now races in the Uvex TT helmet). So if you have a big noggin, definitely try it on first. The bottom half of the Cerebel's short tail is made of a stiff fabric that, compared to hard plastic, offers some flexibility if you keep your head low and bring the tail into contact with your back. This is not a tail that is going to dig into your back or neck, regardless of how much you "turtle." The inside of the fabric is a soft touch felt; again it seems designed to keep chafing issues at bay. I've never had any issues with chafing in this helmet, but it wasn't a problem for me with other helmets either. But if you do find your helmet rubs your neck raw, this might be the helmet for you.
The visor on the Cerebel is both a strength and a weakness. The magnetic attachment system is phenomenal. It is super secure with four strong magnets, and yet you can easily pop the visor on and off wile riding. Popping it back on, you simply need to get it close, and the magnets snap it back into place. Unfortunately, the reason that you need to snap it off is that it is, in humid conditions, quite prone to fogging. It has four small slit vents at the top, but both this year and last year at Mont-Tremblant, I regularly had to remove it to wipe the fog off. In Kona, I had no issues with it fogging up, so it's not excessively problematic. I tried anti-fog spray this year in Tremblant, but unfortunately the rain kept that from being effective for the whole ride.
The optics by Carl Zeiss are typically fantastic. The lenses have zero distortion and are incredibly clear and durable. The Cerebel comes with both very light yellow (low light) and dark rose (bright light) lenses. The dark rose lens works well even in moderately low light, though that comes at the cost of not being particularly dark if it's really bright. There are no mirrored options available. These are the only two lenses you can get, which I find a bit disappointing. I am very light sensitive (more so in my left eye after my 2010 bike wreck), and I would gladly take a darker and mirrored lens for Kona if they made one.
If you choose not to wear the visor, the helmet looks a bit odd with the indentations for the visor, but it fits a wide range of glasses and even accommodates the bulk of the Recon JET cleanly. I don't know if this helmet tests faster with or without a visor, and I'd say don't over think that. For me, I prefer the wide field of vision a visor offers and would gladly pay an aerodynamic penalty to enjoy that.
The visor's notch for your nose is a bit tight and, if you don't have the helmet tightened appropriately, I find it can pinch your nostrils if you tuck your head and the helmet gets pushed forward. I think they could widen this section up a bit so that it doesn't push on your nose.
The dial retention system works typically well, except that it is virtually impossible to access it without taking the helmet off. This is a bit of a problem if you find that you've tightened it a bit snug on race day. As with anything, stuff - both helmet parts and body parts - expands/contracts with weather, so make sure you spend some time dialing this in before your race, as there's nothing worse than wasting time pulling over just to adjust the fit of your helmet on race day. But please don't try to adjust it on the fly. The retention system sits relatively high up, and the covered underside of the helmet makes it nearly impossible to reach with the helmet on.
At first glance, this helmet seems like a nightmare for hot weather. It has four thin slits in the visor, and those are the sole exposed inlets on the helmet. It has a open hole at the back of the tail and reverse "gills" (like the Specialized) on the side. But out on the road, the helmet does a marvelous job of sucking air in and venting it through. As I mentioned in the section on the visor, it is prone to fogging so not much air seems to flow through that part of the helmet, but airflow over your ears/neck/side of your head is outstanding. I've found the helmet to be much cooler than other helmets that would appear to be better ventilated. As with much of aerodynamics, looks can be deceiving, and it's clear from use that POC figured out how to get air to flow through this helmet. The all white option is also a nice choice for keeping the helmet marginally cooler. Interestingly, airflow does not seem noticeably changed with the visor or without, and my sense is that the gill-design is really responsible for pulling a lot of the air into the helmet.
POC offers all of its helmets in extremely bright colors as part of its AVIP (Attention, Visibility, Interaction and Protection) program, something I support. With more races taking place on roads not closed to cars, a little extra visibility never hurts. The AVIP model comes in a neon orange that POC calls "Zink Orange." But the helmet is also available in more traditional white, Garmin (Cervelo) team blue, Garmin (Cannondale) team green, and navy black (a sort of dark indigo). The styling is relatively understated with a large block-print POC on the right side and smaller POC on the left front over the visor. Both logos are stickered on and can be removed.
The Cerebel is both EN 1078 and CPSC 12.03 certified, meaning you can use it without issue at any race.
As with other short-tail helmets, the Cerebel is designed to be forgiving of all those times your head isn't buried in the aero position. Whether sitting up to drink, to look around, or to otherwise be aware of other athletes and your surroundings, these helmets are designed to minimize the penalty for not being in your "best possible position." At the same time, the helmet is low profile and matches up well with my back and seems to virtually disappear under my shoulders when I do tuck. After a year of racing in this helmet, it will take something special to unseat it. I do wish that POC would release some additional visors for the helmet, perhaps with better venting to address fogging, but overall, this is a helmet I'm very happy with.
POC Cerebel Raceday (white/navy/blue/green) and AVIP (orange)
Weight: 380g (manufacturer). 402g (measured - with added stickers). Visor included