Archive for the ‘Health’ Category

Sorry, I can’t tell you

31/07/2014

Sorry to be annoying but there are a few things I can’t tell you in this post – such as who, where and when. And I can’t show you any pictures. But I can tell you what.

Last week, having done a respectable few road miles including a surprising 20% climb, I caught the train.

Opposite me was a guy who looked about the same age and he had a well-appointed 29er. He told me where he’d ridden from that day and I suggested it was about 80 miles away.

He looked blank and said he hadn’t done the sums but yes, it had been off-road all the way. He was training.

He was a little disappointed with his training ride because he’d been trying to keep his average speed down to 7.3 mph but hadn’t got it below 7.8 mph.

Most of us train to cycle faster so what kind of training, I asked, involves trying to keep your average speed down?

Long distance, he said.

How long is long distance?  I asked.

400 miles, he said.

Off road, he said.

Non-stop, he mumbled.

Right, I said.

“Are you insane?” I thought, but didn’t utter.

Some time soon he’s going to spend 52 hours pedalling, while eating, drinking and sleeping, his way across 400 miles of rough tracks, up thousands of feet of ascents and down thousands of feet of descents. He’s going to do it because it’s not been done before and he likes a challenge. He might not succeed.

Either way, at some point soon, I’ll be able to tell you more, about who he is, where he was riding, when and how he got along.

Until then, I’m going to respect his modesty and his own, mistaken, belief that nobody would be interested in him.

But please, even though you don’t know much at all about his inhuman escapade, do wish him luck. That’s the least he deserves.

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The Lessons of 2013

28/12/2013

Every week I scan the abstracts of about 25 new papers published in peer reviewed journals and by universities. Sometimes I have access to complete papers.

They are all relevant to cycling and I try to stick to the one that have some basis in, or relevance to, science. Considering I read only those written in English, ones that cross my radar and ones that I have any hope of understanding, clearly there’s a lot out there that I miss. Nevertheless, the pickings are rich and diverse.

While I tweet nearly everything I find (@cyclingscience1), here’s a summary of  a little of what I’ve learned this year from those thousands of diligent researchers who continue to add to our understanding of cycling.

I don’t necessarily agree with any of them.

• Yoga stresses the heart and respiratory system less than cycling
• The weaves of skinsuit materials affect your aerodynamics
• Bike reviews criticising comfort are largely untrustworthy
• Regenerative braking for e-bikes is going to blossom
• Cycling in London is either more dangerous or the safety models were wrong
• The Mayor of London is more worried about commerce than road safety
• Mountain bikers suffer the worst injuries in the first third of an endurance race
• French riders in the Tour de France live longer than mere French mortals
• Traffic calming and separate cycle paths make cycling safer in Netherlands
• Medics worldwide believe that bicycle helmets are fantastic
• The health benefits to US society of cycling outweigh the costs
• Caffeine definitely helps if you drink it, but not as a mouth rinse
• Cars don’t pass helmeted cyclists any closer than they pass bare-headed riders
• Steer by wire is on its way for e-bikes
• Support for, and research into, safety in numbers is growing
• Male cyclists have bigger thighs than triathletes
• The secrets of bicycle stability and steering remain enigmatic
• The best time to ride along Oxford Street in London is 10:07 on 25th DecemberOxford St cycling 25 Dec

To stay ahead of the bunch in 2014, buy a copy of Cycling Science and follow the tweets @cyclingscience1

Strava users help sports science – unwittingly

20/11/2013

Do you use Strava? If so, you may have contributed unwittingly to pioneering research that could help all cyclists.

Three Italian researchers accessed the data of almost 30,000 Strava-using cyclists. (Put simply, Strava is the social fitness app that tracks your ride and creates a leaderboard for all rides on the same route) The users were anonymous to the researchers so it could be anyone’s data – including your’s.

SocialBlog_In-Situ-1024x592Then the researchers mined this mountain of data. They wanted to see what kind of exercise leads to better performances.

Sports scientists, doctors, physiologists and others have been doing the same kind of research for decades. They’ve come up with a lot of credible theories – but they’ve been based on the results from a few dozen professional or, occasionally, a few hundred experienced participants.

Those old studies look tiny compared to the cohort used by Paolo Cintia, Luca Pappalardo and Dino Pedreschi of the Dept. of Informatics at the University of Pisa, Italy. Thanks to the Strava data, they had an enormous sample size of 29,284 cyclists to study. The vast majority of them would have been amateur (that’s you and me) and their fitness levels would have ranged from the near-elite to the pathetic (me).

In the old days the quantity of data would’ve been too much information to handle easily but, with every second of those riders’ activities in stored in digital form, the researchers were able to drill down relatively quickly.

Fortunately for all sports scientists and coaches, the findings from the huge sample corroborate what’s suspected already from the old, small studies. Exercise on its own doesn’t make you perform better; it’s down to training.

“Athletes that better improve their performance follow precise training patterns usually referred as overcompensation theory, with alternation of stress peaks and rest periods,” say Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi.

“To the best of our knowledge, our study is the first corroboration on large scale of this theory, mainly confirming that “engine matters”, but tuning is fundamental,” they say.

Sadly the potential for data from Strava and other social fitness platforms to help scientists get new insights is now restricted. Paul Mach, an engineer at Strava and creator of Raceshape, implied by tweet that the researchers had only acquired the data because they had “hammered the v1/v2 API before it got shutdown. We blocked an Italian univ[ersity] IP a while back. Probably them.”

Screen shot 2013-11-20 at 15.55.01

This approach by Strava gives the company more control over who can access the anonymised data of its users. “Data acquiring has been a fundamental part of our work,” the Italian researchers say, “We did it through Strava’s API (version 2.0)*. Unfortunately, Strava changed his [sic] API policies in June 2013, so it is not possible to download data anymore.

“At that time, we asked Strava and they were still developing the new version of API. Now it seems that such new version is finally available but you need to request the access to Strava developers.”

Neveindexrtheless, expect more results soon from the Strava data that Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi harvested before the tap was turned off. “Currently we are investigating other fascinating aspects emerging from Strava data, we hope to get new results for helping cyclists in their training life. Specially because we are cyclists, too,” they say.

And if Strava relents and let’s scientists get fresh data, it’s likely to be just one source of information that could benefit all of us, including the most pathetic riders (me) in unexpected ways. “We are sure that the increasing diffusion of training devices (powermeters, heart rate monitor etc) and social fitness applications will give us the possibility of a deep and new study of training science,” say Cintia, Pappalardo and Pedreschi.

Their research paper is available here and they were scheduled to present it in December 2013 at a workshop of the IEEE International Conference on Data Mining in Dallas, Texas

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*Update at 16:56 GMT 20/11/13: From Paolo Cintia – “The data acquisiton was done after a request to Strava developer, explicitly highlighting the scientific and anonymous use. Furtherrmore the access to the API was public.”

Update at 09:00 GMT 5/3/14: From the researchers: “We are currently working on some improvements and extension of the cyclists’ study. Our purpose is to create a model able to detect if a person trains in the right way or not. In the meanwhile, we opened a blog where we tell in a divulgative way our scientific works. You can find a post about the cyclists’ study here

Ouch! How to hurt good on a mountain bike

03/09/2013

MTB injuries

Listen up!

31/07/2013

traffic bicycleSshhh! Cycling’s way down the list of noise polluters. A well-maintained bike on a smooth surface can be near-silent (assuming the rider isn’t wearing chain mail, playing a bugle or both). The peacefulness is one of its pleasures.

So that makes a bicycle a relatively good platform for collecting other sounds on the move. What you do with those noises is up to you and different scientists are doing surprising things.

There’s a team in Austria that’s been eavesdropping on a rider as she pedals around the town of Graz. She knew about it. Before she started she phoned the lab and kept the call connected. The researchers were able to hear all the sounds around her wherever she cycled.

Then they analysed the audible clues and, like sound detectives with their ears to the ground, they succeeded in working out her route just from the noises they heard through her phone. It’s an impressive result.

It’s not clear from this experiment who had the most fun but it does show that even if you doubt the existance of Big Brother (he does exist), it seems that he doesn’t need to watch you to find out where you are. All he has to do is listen and he’s got you located.

The research paper will download when you click here.

Elsewhere, three unfamous (as yet) Belgians have been cycling round cities capturing the traffic noise as they ride. At the same time they’ve been sampling the air, not just through their own mouths and noses but also through chemical sensors.

They made 200 trips and then calculated that there is a relationship between traffic noise and the level of carbon particles that pollute the air. This shouldn’t be very surprising because it stands to reason that the more traffic there is, the noiser it is and the greater the quantity of pollutants they are pumping into the atmosphere.

Here’s the clever thing about the research. Lots of people want to know how dirty the air is in our city streets at different times of day and in different weather conditions. The general aim is to keep the air cleaner somehow or other and thus improve everybody’s health. The problem, though, is that air quality monitoring equipment isn’t cheap.

By showing that noise levels are a reliable indicator of air pollution levels, the Belgian team says that audio recordings captured by street-level microphones can reveal the truth just as effectvely as air quality sensors. And microphones are much, much cheaper.

How ironic that the toxic emissions from motor vehicles will be more easily monitored because of an experiment by cyclists.

The abstract of the research can be seen here.

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…