Archive for December, 2012

Cycling Science Awards 2012 – early nominations


Thanks to all who are looking through the science papers and stories they’ve enjoyed in the last year to find the best.

Nominations for the Cycling Science award 2012 are open and the first suggestions are interesting and varied, covering a wide range of topics. Nominations are still open so please do submit them via the reply box below or by tweeting @cyclingscience1

Among them is a very recent paper by a group of Scandinavian researchers and published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance, a journal focusing on how elite athletes can be become, well, even more elite.

The paper is called Cyclists’ Improvement of Pedaling Efficacy and Performance After Heavy Strength Training and it concludes that “adding heavy strength training to usual endurance training in well-trained cyclists improves pedaling efficacy during 5-min all-out cycling performed after 185 min of cycling.”

Theoretical model of the potential implications of using vs. not using a helmet on speed and risk perception according to the risk compensation theory (left panel) and population shift theory (right panel).

The next award nomination involves a switch from body to mind. It’s a fascinating investigation into whether cyclsts who wear helmets compensate for the enhanced safety by taking greater risks.

Apart from this novel approach to studying the effectiveness of laws that make wearing helmets compulsory, the paper is accompanied by some attrractive and informatve graphics.

Indeed, the enduring cycle campaign group Spokes, in Edinburgh and Lothian, Scotland, used the conclusions from the paper in its submission to the inquiry of the All Party Parliamentary Cycling Group in Westminster UK earlier this year.

The conclusions will delight those who object to making helmets mandatory: “…part of the reason why helmet laws do not appear to be beneficial is that they disproportionately discourage the safest cyclists.”

The final of our early nominations indicates the breadth of reading of cycling science readers. “The Bar Sinister: Does Handlebar Level Damage the Pelvic Floor in Female Cyclists?” is a paper that went viral after it was published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine in March 2012.

No doubt it gained such popular interest because it analyses a problem that is relevant to at least half of the world’s population that has ever sat on a bicycle saddle. And it pulls no punches.

Everybody knows that bicycle saddles are uncomfortable but this team was able, though intriguing methods, to confirm that “Handlebars positioned lower than the saddle were significantly associated with increased perineum saddle pressures and decreased genital sensation in female cyclists.”

That’s the lot for this posting. There’ll be more soon.

If you have come across science research this year that is relevant to cycling and want to nominate it for an award, please send us the details by commenting below or by tweeting @cyclingscience1

Cycling Science Awards 2012 – nominations open

Albert Einstein on a bicycle

A young hopeful delivers his nomination for the Cycling Science Awards 2012

By my usncientific estimate, there are several thousand people around the world who are engaged in scientific research that is relevant to cycling.

I’m including physics, physiology, psychology, sociology, engineering, aerodynamics, materials science, nutrition and statistics. That doesn’t mean I’m excluding other sciences – but those are the only ones that spring to mind right now.

From all those researchers, a few hundred publish papers each year in peer-reviewed journals. I’m trying to keep an eye on them but it’s not something I can hope to do on my own without letting some slip through the net.

Those that I do spot end up being mentioned in my tweets (@cyclingscience1). Of those that I miss, well, sometimes other people alert me to their existance.

Now I’m trying to identify, with your help, the most interesting scientific papers which have some relevance to cycling and that have been published in 2012.

It could be something that’s amused, shocked or merely informed you. You may even be the author of the paper.

Whatever the reason, please let me know the title of the paper and link to it. I’ll regard it as a nomination for the Cycling Science Awards.

It’ll get more publicity and the findings will get more widely known – which can only be a good thing, for both cycling and science.

So use the Comments box below to nominate the best scientific research related to cycling from 2012.

Making cycling events greener


When we organised the first commercial mountain bike event in the UK there was just a small nod towards sustainability. It was, to be frank, pathetic – all we did was include directions to the venue from the nearest railway station.

Of course, most of the 700 spectators arrived in mortorised vehicles. Many of them did the 120 mile round trip from London, in cars that didn’t have catalytic converters, they drank fuel at 25 mpg and used leaded petrol. It was 1984.

We’d kidded ourselves that ours was an Earth-friendly event simply because it involved cycling. Thirty years on, we know better (see the previous post).

So, how best to organise an event that has no impact on the environment?

We’re not talking about carbon offsetting, the cop out that’s used by the motor racing circus called Formula One. We’re interested in genune zero-impact events – and there’s nothing to stop you from still paying an offsetting outfit to plant some trees, to boot.

One of the biggest contributors to an event’s carbon footprint would be travel. So, in a perfect world, events should be restricted to entrants who live within a short distance. How short is short? Ideally it could be reached by bike easily in an hour or less.

That gives a radius of maybe 12 miles and an area of 450 square miles. If you can’t attract enough participants from that area within Western Europe or the eastern seaboard of the USA then maybe you shouldn’t run it.

For some, in the more remote places, the next best option would be to restrict entry to those who travel by public transport – and I don’t include flying. In fact, rail travel is the only credible method for many because buses and coaches tend to reject bicycles as luggage.

If even that is tricky, event organisers could hire coaches that will carry bikes, and include the fares in the entry fees, along with a supplement large enough to offset the carbon several times over.

Granted, these may seem extreme and naive. For something a little more considered, see what the Council for Responsible Sport has done.

They’ve devised a sophisticated method for encouraging organisers to reduce their events’ impacts on the planet.

But precious few cycling events have ever applied for certification.

Executive director Kevin Peters tells me it may be because “cycling events take sustainability for granted”.

That’s sad. It’s pretty much where we were in 1984.

How green are cycling events?


Riding a bike, in itself, has the lowest impact on our planet of any form of transport except walking (see Cycling Science pages 24 & 25).

But what about cycling en masse, such as sportives or charity rides? Participants often drive many miles to take part.

And what about the biggest of them all – the Tour de France? The publicity caravan, team buses, police, press and organiser’s motorbikes, TV helicopters and air transfers between stages all belch carbon.

Then, of course, there’s us. The fans. How much of the Earth’s resources do we convert into greenhouse gases just to catch a glimpse of our heroes?

One answer was given last month in a summary report on the envronmental impact of the 2007 Grand Depart from London. It was published by BRASS (the Centre for Business Relationsips, Responsibility, Accountability and Sustainability & Society at Cardiff University).

In keeping with the current backlash against the relentless rise of cycling, the summary was interpreted by some as an exposé and that Le Tour deserves no green jersey.

The CO2 emissions generated by the crowds it attracted to London from across the UK, Europe and the rest of the world were 2.2 times higher than if they had stayed at home and watched it on TV.

But that’s as far as it went.

It didn’t take into account that some or all of those attending may not have stayed at home even if Le Tour hadn’t happened. It was, after all, a lovely summer day, just right for a day out.

And the summary didn’t take into account the reduction in vehicle emissions in central London, caused not only by closing the roads to traffic but also by the disruption,

And it certainly didn’t compare the environmental impact of the stage to any other large sporting event.

This is unfair. Unintentionally, it blackened cycling.

The authors might, at least, have drawn comparisons with the impacts of other sports events of global interest.

Fortunately, it is possible to straighten the record a little.

In 2006 I wrote a piece, for IPC’s guide to Le Tour, discussing the green credentials of the event. By happy coincidence I spoke with a BRASS researcher.

He told me that, compared to other large sporting events, such as the Olympics, Formula One or the FIFA World Cup, the Tour is green, “Particularly when you consider how many spectators there are,” he said.

The key is that the Tour is a road race.

“It uses the existing road network and doesn’t need any new infrastructure such as stadiums which require large amounts of natural resources.”

And he pointed out that the Tour may actually boost sustainability. “It may even inspire people to cycle,” he said.