Posts Tagged ‘Lifestyle’

The lure of the future

15/11/2012

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?

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School journeys and child fitness

15/10/2012

There were quite a few interesting replies to my tweets (@cyclingscience1) about recent papers that had been published in science journals and they have  prompted me to contact a scientist involved in the original research.

The paper that had got the most interest was about the fitness benefits for children who cycle to school. The original research was done by a team from the University of Granada, Spain and published in Preventive Medicine, August 2012.

In summary, it said that children who cycled to school in Sweden over a six year period were improved their fitness 20% more than those who walked. That’s understandable, particularly if they had hills on their routes.

The strangest fact, though, was that the cyclists were found to improve their fitness by only 13% more than children who went to school by “passive” modes (car, train, tram or bus) over six years.

So it would suggest that children who go to school in a car or other vehicle get 7% fitter than walkers.

Surely that can’t be right? Why should active walkers be less fit than the apparently inactive “passive” pupils?

A few ideas about this were mooted via tweets. Maybe children who travelled by car came from wealthier homes and so had healthier diets than the walkers? Maybe the walkers started out fitter at the beginning of the six year period and so couldn’t improve as much as “passive” children?

The best way to sort it out was to ask the paper’s lead author, Professor Palma Chillón Garzón at the unversity’s Department of Physical Education and Sport. Here’s his reply:

“It is correct that fitness increased lightly more among those who used passive modes than those who walked, but these differences are very small (fitness increased 1,289 in passive and 1,235 in walkers, and 1,488 in bikers).” [We assume a baseline fitness index of 1000 at the start of the six year period.]

So how does he explain the apparent fitness advantages of passive travel relative to walking?

“… there other variables that affect fitness like genetics, physical activity in the leisure time…etc.  For this reason, maybe young people who use passive modes to school might practice more physical activity in the leisure time than those who walked to school.”

The upshot is that the research set out to quantify the fitness improvements, not to explain the reasons. That’s another task. Who’s going to do it?

In the meantime, the more children who cycle to school, the better. Unfortunately, parents from different parts of the UK tweeted that their children’s schools didn’t allow them to cycle, even when staff are themselves cyclists.

Among the replies to the original tweet, one question remains unanswered: what proportion of children live within cycling distance of schools in southwest Pittsburgh? Any answers? Has that figure been worked out for any school? Cycle campaigners would find it very useful.