Archive for the ‘Helmets’ Category

The Lessons of 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

Ouch! How to hurt good on a mountain bike


MTB injuries

Falling over themselves


ImageThere’s a fair amount of cycling science research that seems, on the face of it, quite silly. And there’s been a little clutch of such projects published in the last month. Here’s one.

You know when you’ve fallen off your bike, don’t you? Several of your senses tell you irrefutably that you are no longer pedaling upright but are, instead, upside down with your head in a termite nest and your feet in a giraffe’s mouth.

Nevertheless, five Korean engineers, who may be among the small minority of Koreans who have yet to buy the Korean edition of my book, think the human body needs help in identifying when cycling’s gone wrong.

They’ve put a tilt switch and an accelerometer inside their helmets. Whenever they fall off their bikes, the sensors emit a signal. Uncertain as to the significance of these signals, the engineers perfected algorthms to fuse and analyse the data.

Now they are utterly confident that this marvellous technology tells them they have fallen over.  “The algorithm of the third method we developed achieved 100% accuracy in fall direction,” they crow.

Well done, chaps, at last there’s technology to rival the top-tube gadget of the 1980s that told you when you were cycling up hill.

More contenders for 2012 Cycling Science awards


Here’s a couple of new nominations for the 2012 Cycling Science award. If you would like to suggest others, please use the reply form at the bottom of this page.

Out for the count

City planners need the right information to make the best decisions for encouraging cycling. Unfortunately the best information isn’t always available so they compromise and try to extract it from other sources.

For example, they should use accurate traffic counts when assesing the need for road design changes and the construction of better facilities for cycling, either cycle lanes or separated cycle paths.

The trouble is, they sometimes rely on those induction loops embedded in the asphalt and that are often there as part of the traffic signal system. They believe they detect every wheel that crosses them. They are so, so wrong.

While it’s common for the loops to ignore cyclists altogether, it seems from research at Ohio State University that they can’t always detect the lumps of metal that are cars and trucks.

Some of the induction loop counters were wrong by a massive 52%. Such inaccurate data must never be used in designing cycling facilities on or adjacent to the highway.

Head case

There are three things that careful researchers avoid:

1. Entering the febrile arena of discussion about bicycle helmets

2. Questioning head on accepted wisdom, such as that which evolves from Cochrane reviews

3. Taking the time to correct the mistakes made by others.

So three cheers to Rune Elvik at the Institute of Transport Economics in Norway and editor of Accident Analysis and Prevention.

He’s done all three in a dense little paper, which will infurate the pro-helmet lobby because one of its conclusions is that “no overall effect of bicycle helmets could be found when injuries to head, face or neck are considered as a whole.

The lure of the future


There’s been a flurry of news about genuinely new technologies for bikes, mostly involving digital electronics. These stories are seductive because they fulfil our desire for an exciting, better future. I know this all too well – I earned a living from writing such stuff for more than a decade.

One downer is that most of them are chimeras. They never materialise. In Britain it’s known as the Tomorrow’s World effect, after a TV programme that, each week, highlighted innovations but which were never seen again.

Of course, that’s a little unfair. While the novel devices and gadgets don’t themselves become commercial products, some of the underlying technologies are picked up and find their way into successful, popular designs.

So that’s my excuse for showcasing a few of the innovations for cyclists that have floated across the internet recently. They may disappear, they may become mainstream or the ideas embedded within them may surface in a completely different manifestation. Whatever – they’re fun.

A head case from MIT

Wired has featured a helmet that, allegedly, can detect brainwaves. It’s a student project at MIT and it has been suggested that it could be used to detect the intentions of cyclists and trigger the operation of digitally controllable electronic components. So it could, with a single thought, illuminate a left-turn light.

Meanwhile, Cambridge Consultants have turned a smartphone into a virtual gearlever and so do away with human thought altogether, according to my old editor Paul Marks at New Scientist. With its internal accelerometer, a prototype app and a Bluetooth connection to the electronic gear mech, the mobile phone makes the chain shift between cogs automatically and maintains a steady cadence for the rider.

Stop me and buy one

If the Bluetooth connectivity tech from Cambridge Consultants is allied with MIT’s helmet they could be harnessed by Saarland University’s digital braking system. Then all a rider would need to do would be to think about slowing and, hey presto, the brakes would be applied, the tyres would never skid because the wheels would have a digital anti-lock function and the gearing would change down automatically and make it easier to start pedalling.

Full of holes

Battery-powered enhancements are not for everyone so how about a puncture-proof tyre? Britek Tire and Rubber came up with an air-less car tyre almost a decade ago but have not yet succeeded in going mainstream with it. Now they hope that mountain bikers might adopt it. I’d love to hear from anyone who has ridden these tyres.

Full of good in tensions

Finally, something that genuinely deserves to be supported by the cycle industry – an independent lab for assessing the friction of all bicycle components. Friction pales in comparison to drag in terms of wasting a cyclist’s energy but, with aerodynamics becoming reasonably well understood, this new facility should become very busy as riders want to shave even more seconds off their competition times.

That’s the future. Maybe. Waddyou reckon?

Zombie stats and ghost papers


It seems fitting to tell a little scary story as Halloween approaches.

They’re called zombie statistics – figures that should be dead and buried because they have no substance but they keep coming back to life.

Most of them don’t matter and are merely symptoms of everyone’s desire to believe in powerful myths.

But every so often there are zombie stats that are used to endorse serious messages and that’s just not right.

I came across one when trawling for data about helmets. The statistics page of the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute cited figures published in a Children’s Safety Network pamphlet along with a link to download it.

One stood out. It said that “Head injuries accounted for 62.6 percent of bicycle fatalities” among children and youth age 0 to 19 in 2000 in the US.Zombie statistic in Children's Safety Network leaflet of 2008

It was clear, unequivocal and shocking.

I downloaded the pamphlet but was frustrated because it showed the statistic came from an unpublished paper.

Is this a real paper or a ghost?

So I contacted the author of the “unpublished paper”, Eduard Zaloshnja.

Eduard replied promptly and disarmingly honestly – sayng that no such paper existed, only a set of data he’d produced for the Children’s Safety Network.

So I asked for a copy of the data set but Eduard had lost it some years before when his hard drive crashed. Hmm, the origins of the startling figure showing the awful truth about head injuries killing a nation’s young cyclists was proving elusive.

Of course, it was reasonable to assume that the Children’s Safety Network, whch had commssioned Eduard’s research, would have a back-up of his data so I asked for a copy.

Two weeks passed.

Then the Library Assistant in the Network’s Education Development Center wrote to say they didn’t have a copy “since the paper is not yet published” and she apologised for the inconvenience.

Within two more weeks the Children’s Safety Network published a new, expanded, brochure and you can still download it here if you’re quick. The zombie statistic seemed to have been vanquished – at least, it doesn’t make an appearance.

Yet, eerily, the new pamphlet still contains a reference to Eduard’s unpublished paper, even though he says he never wrote such a paper and created only data which, unfortunately, disappeared several years ago when his computer crashed. How strange.

I guess the repeated reference to Eduard’s ghost paper might simply be a proof-reader’s error. More worrying, though, is the continued publishing of the zombie statistic on the Bicycle Helmet Safety Institute’s page.

They were told more than a year ago that, as neither Eduard nor the Children’s Safety Network could confirm the frightening data, it would be sensible to remove it from their Statistics page.

Spookily, it’s still there and it’s still a little scary – not because it’s true but because it can’t be substantiated. I hope it goes away soon.