Archive for April, 2013

How to Acquire a Third Testicle

30/04/2013

The public has spoken so don’t blame me. And it’s nothing to do with Flann O’Brien.

A few days ago I listed three topics I might cover in this post. One was on electromechanical systems for bicycle control. Another was about the dynamics of a peloton. However, both were outvoted by the third option – the medical phenomenon known, loosely, as the cyclist’s third testicle.

Of course, the phenomenon can only manifest itself among half of the world’s population (at most). Nevertheless, the other half, women, may have a vicarious interest and there’s no doubt that some men reading this are driven by similar prurience.

But how many men reading this actually possess the hat-trick of spheres? The chances are higher if you’re a full time, elite professional cyclist than if you’re an occasional leisure rider. It seems that the longer you’re in the saddle, the more likely you’ll develop the titular extra ball.

A cyclist's third testicleTo be absolutely honest, it’s not actually a testicle. Not having seen one in the flesh myself, and with no great urge so to do, I’d wager that it doesn’t even look much like a testicle. Yet medics, members of a profession to which we entrust our lives, have branded it a “testicle” so that’s how it shall be known.

In reality, it’s a perineal nodular induration. Before you go scrimmaging in your scrotum to see if that’s what you’ve got, you should know that it is a soft mass. It doesn’t hurt. It doesn’t transmit pain unless maltreated – and who’d want to maltreat such an innocent growth anyway?

It sits just beneath the scrotum. Sometimes it develops as two nodules (as nobody has yet applied the name “fourth testicle” I’ll claim that great privilege right now) but when it is undivided it’s called the third testicle.

The tenth anniversary of its recognition by doctors falls next month, when three (of course) researchers from Belgium published their seminal paper “Perineal Nodular Induration: The Third Testicle of the Cyclist: An Under-Recognized Pseudotumour”.

If you want a third testicle, get a road bike with a very stiff frame, pump the tyres so they are very hard, fit an extremely unforgiving saddle and cycle along a bumpy road for several years. The fatty or collageneous tissue of your perineum will eventually degenerate and form the pseudocyst that you are seeking.

It’s benign, even when it’s the size of an orange, like the one in the photo. Yet if, after you’ve gone to all the trouble of developing it, you find it’s not living up to your expectations, it can be removed. By a surgeon. With a sharp knife. And a steady hand.

*A full year after the above was posted, medics working in the UK have published a paper describing a similar case, in a 57 year old “avid” cyclist, in which they use a term I’d not seen before, “Biker’s Nodule”. You can read the abstract of “An avid cyclist presenting with a ‘third testicle'” here. I hope, for all cyclists’ sake, this isn’t the start of a trend…

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Wake up and smell the coffee

06/04/2013
The strongest is at the top, the weakest at the bottom. Cycle fastest with an espresso - hence its name.

The strongest is at the top, the weakest at the bottom. Cycle fastest with an espresso – hence its name.

AG2RThanks to a timely tweet by Asker Jeukendrup (@Jeukendrup), I got to read about new research that shows coffee can improve performance as effectively as caffeine on its own.

The paper, one of whose authors is Asker, can be read here.

What caught my eye in subsequent tweets was that different coffees contain different caffeine levels.

This is somethng I learned nine years ago during one of my more bizarre commissions.

I had to drive the length of England to collect 25 coffee samples, mostly from motorway service stations. It wasn’t the most pleasant way to spend two days.

The Centre for Mass Spectrometry at the University of Sussex generously agreed to measure the samples. It’s the lab where Professor Sir Harry Kroto first identified the form of carbon now known as buckyballs and for which he received a Nobel Prize.

The results were more stimulating than a treble espresso/Red Bull cocktail.

They showed that the strongest coffee contained more than 25 times as much caffeine as the weakest.

So, if you’re gong to drink coffee to ride faster for longer, don’t drink a Nescafé Latté from the Sutton Scotney service station on the A34.

Better to start your ride in Cheshire, at the Sandbach servces on the M6,with an Espresso double from Costa Coffee. Vrooooom!

Mind the gap – how close do cars come?

02/04/2013

How much room does a driver give a cyclist when overtaking? What do you do as a cyclist when a car is passing you? How straight is the line you ride as vehicles pass you by? A group of scientists in Taiwan built a special bike to answer these questions and more.

Bicycle instrumented for rider/driver behaviour

All the on-board kit

It was instrumented to record lateral distance from the passing motorists, wheel angle and speed control. That’s a lot of special kit to add to a bicycle on city streets. It includes an ultrasonic sensor, camera, a variable resistor in the headset and a solid state compass, gyroscope and accelerometer. OK, it costs less than a CF disc wheel but it’s a lot of value to expose to potentially hazardous situations.

Well, as with the vast majority of urban rides, nothing went wrong and the data were analysed. Thirty-four riders were overtaken a total of 1,380 times. The equipment revealed that

• motorbikes passed more closely to the bicycle than cars and trucks did.

• cyclists couldn’t keep such a straight line when buses overtook

• vehicles passing slowly led to more cautious but less stable riding

• a solid white line, like for a bike lane, increases the distance between passing vehicles and bicycles
• motorists pass closer to men than women.
This last point confirms the 2007 findings of Dr Ian Walker of Bath University and some subsequent US research.
However, what’s not clear from the latest research is how much the beaviour of the riders and the drivers was influenced by the test itself. The riders would’ve at least been aware of the equipment of the bike and so may have ridden differently from normal.
Likewise the motorists could’ve seen the oddly-equipped bicycle and so changed from their normal steering pattern.
Nevertheless, I like this kind of research because it attempts to quantify experiences familiar to every cyclist and so it helps by converting anecdotes into evidence that may be used to improve road safety.

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The use of a quasi-naturalistic riding method to investigate bicyclists’ behaviors when motorists pass, published in  Accident Analysis & Prevention, available online 29 March 2013, by Kai-Hsiang Chuang, Chun-Chia Hsu, Ching-Huei Lai, Ji-Liang Doon and Ming-Chang Jeng