Cycling helmets

I have heard all sorts of reasons why cycling helmets are unnecessary, undesirable or counter-productive. This article is a rebuttal of some of these extraordinary views.

Cushioning an impact

RATE of energy transfer is closely related to acceleration (hit by car) or deceleration (as car occupant); a change in velocity over a shorter distance is higher accel/decel. (Measured over time this would equivalently be a change in momentum, and so the impact is IMPULSIVE over time. Impulse analysis tends to be used for things like billiard ball collisions (you can draw the analogies yourself!) because the impact is pretty much instantaneous, at a point on the table, not over a distance. In such impacts, kinetic energy is not transferred perfectly (e.g. heat and sound consume some) but momentum is transferred.)

Grand Prix drivers like to have run off areas, and/or something equivalent to rubber tyres beyond that at the side of the track to increase the distance over which energy is transferred, thus reducing deceleration. But they still wear helmets for all the reasons argued in this article. Yes, the helmets are bigger and more robust, but the speeds are correspondingly much higher, and in general, helmets at the extreme are still designed to act like crumple zones (a painful analogy in this case) to increase that distance over which energy is transferred to the head.

Crumple zones and road rash

No helmet, and the crumple zone is one’s skull, at best, whether more or less than 11mph at impact. If the head hits the road, there is NO vertical distance over which energy is transferred other then the human crumple zone.

In terms of the horizontal “component of impact”, quite apart from all the abrasive “road rash” effects, there may well be rotational effects induced, and for this reason there is research into new helmet designs that are double layered to allow the helmet to rotate without rotating the brain stem, as, to some extent, human skin does!

Helmets for pedestrians?

Pedestrians are supposed to be separated by pavement kerbs and pedestrian crossings, and to a great extent are protected in that way by the law. Erefore to argue that cycling helmet wear is as ridiculous as asking pedestrians to adopt specialist walking wear is fallacious logic. Compare the protected pedestrian situation with the extraordinarily bad design of many bicycle lanes! Bike riders share the road much more intimately with vehicles than pedestrians as a matter of routine, so there is a compelling argument for SOME protection for riders as opposed to walkers.

Helmet wear might deter other improvements?

I of course agree cycling policy is due a major review with regard to making our roads and behaviour bike friendly, but this is not an either-or argument. To say that prudent cyclist behaviour will tend to transfer blame perceptions and reduce the willingness for other policy changes might or might not be the case, but why ask people to take more personal risks – might this be in the expectation that this might help the business case for change through higher cyclist injuries and deaths?!

Do we really need to go through the seat-belt controversy on bike helmets?

On the matter of organs hitting the human shell, skull or ribs or whatever, this is also a feature of seatbelt use, but no-one would argue nowadays we shouldn’t use seatbelts to ameliorate that effect as compared with hitting the interior of the car or its controls.

But a the time seat belts were being introduced, and being made compulsory, there were all sorts of arguments made against wearing em. People even pretended to wear them by draping them across the chest without fastening gem. Incidentally, this is why large cars are safer than small cars, irrespective of make; you are less likely to come into contact with roof or doors or other parts of the adjacent car shell, assuming seatbelt use. I guess airbags help reduce that differential.

Speaking of seatbelts and air bags, there is an argument made by some that safer drivers means less safe pedestrians (and presumably cyclists) because the driver suffers less consequences of an accident and so tends to drive more recklessly. Are we to argue seatbelts and airbags should not have been introduced owing to this psychological effect? I don’t think so. Ditto the argument re helmets and bike lanes etc.

Helmets are a sacrificial protection

A family friend’s child wearing a helmet ran into a tree on his bike and severely damaged his face and base of skull resulting to two consecutive maxilla-facial operations totalling 12 hours (and thankfully he made a good recovery minus an olfactory nerve). The surgeon was relatively elderly, commenting that this was lucky for the boy, because younger surgeons get much less practice at such injuries now that everyone wears seatbelts in cars – less windscreen / face impacts. In that incident, the helmet came off worst, but it was felt that it saved even further damage by absorbing some energy while being destroyed. This was a 12 year-old going downhill – somewhere in the region of 20mph maybe?

Helmets only work below 11 mph, so why bother?

I have heard this argument a few times. An analogy is with car accidents – most happen writhing 10 miles of the driver’s home. Not because the roads are more dangerous there (a logical nonsense to think so, think about it!) but because most drivers spend most time within that distance of their home.

Similarly for helmet use – in towns, and possibly elsewhere, most cyclists spend most of their time below 11 mph. So the argument that it’s not worth wearing helmets because of higher collision speeds is fallacious from that point of view. I would also argue that even if it is tru that helmets are unlikely to save injury above 11 mph, there are many collateral abrasions that can be ameliorated by a helmet. But any reasonable view is that the helmet is always likely to be of some benefit.

Helmets and the law

This article isn’t necessarily to argue for compulsory helmet use, but to argue that helmets (and light coloured visibility wear) should be used by all cyclists as a matter of common sense.

But common sense ain’t so common, and I would argue that if people can’t respond wi reasonable actions to protect themselves,mthe law has to step in. It’s just too disastrous for the individual and too expensive for society for people to cycle unprotected in contradiction to such common sense. So let’s encourage helmets to our friends and avoid the need for legislation.

Corrupted Garmin file and correction

After many rides with both my Garmin and also Strava on my iPhone, I had stopped recording rides on Strava on the phone as it eats the battery.

But I was caught out at the weekend as one of my Garmin files was corrupted, and wouldn’t upload to Garmin’s site or to Strava. Disaster! 😉

I thought I would follow up on my idea that the tcx (xml) file, which I looked at in Dreamweaver (I’m a part-time and very old-age web developer!) was corrupted, but probably very slightly.

The Dreamweaver diagnosis is full of unrecognised tags, but then it would be because it is set up to look for html tags, not exercise application tags. It did throw up some syntax points, but hard to spot the wood for the trees.

So I researched the web for a dedicated xml file validator / editor, and found one which did both (most only validate). The one I used was Altova, on a 30 day free licence.

Unfortunately, most applications are Windows based, and I use a Macbook, but I have a Windows partition on it (Bootcamp) for just this kind of situation, and so sent the corrupt Garmin file to myself to open in email there (for obvious security reasons you can’t write to Bootcamp partition from the OSX partition) and went to work for what I thought might be a lot of wasted time.


There was ONE error in the file, an extra tag between an ending and a beginning tag.

I tried simply deleting the tag thinking it couldn’t be that simple, but IT WAS! The file then saved with no errors (ALTOVA warns you if you try to save an invalid xml file) and I immediately tried and upload to Strava, and that WORKED.

Click here to see that ride. It looks exactly what I was expecting, and completes my Spring Classic challenge (hence my urgency! – how childish…).

Looking back, I think the reason for this has been pausing and un-pausing the Garmin too quickly – when it is off-course, you gat a visual waring of that, but lose the screen space for warnings that you have paused or unpaused it; there is only a slightly different audible tone for pausing vs. unpausing, and I did it a few times at one point on the ride just to make sure it was on. I can’t be certain, but I think something like that must have happened. I guess the Garmin starts a new track every time it pauses or auto-pauses? And it opened a but didn’t have time to close it? Maybe…

Anyway, I attach the corrected text for your delectation!

If I can be of any help to anyone else who gets this issue, let me know (I’m sure an exported .fit file, as a binary file, even if I could have corrected it, would not have responded to such easy treatment. Flat, text-based xml files (tcx in this case) are a lot easier to handle.

I’d be interested in your comments and any further light anyone can throw on it.

PS Here is the offending piece of file, with the orphan tag in bold:

Corrupt Garmin code segment

Corrupt Garmin code segment

Lisa Randall’s Higgs explanation

I posted a tweet some time ago on the subject of the Higgs particle and field, and it proved very popular, getting many retweets and favorites. For those that struggle with the Higgs endowment of mass, this @lirarandall footnote on page 11 of her book “Higgs Discovery” says it all.

Higgs field footnote

Higgs field footnote

The book the footnote is taken from is a slim little volume which explains, in simple but accurate language, from Harvard Physics Professor Lisa Randall, the meaning of the Higgs particle discovery in the light of the Higgs field. The footnote referenced neatly encapsulates that meaning!

Solar Eclipse in Cervinia

An early start today to see the eclipse and take some pictures with the aid of some polarises sunglasses! Click here to see the pictures.

To do this, take any two pairs of sunglasses, duct tape them together at 90 degrees to exclude nearly all light (each lens excludes light in on polarising direction, the two used this way exclude 99% of the light). I first did this 40 years or so ago on the Greek island, Rhodes, for the annular eclipse there. I had to sacrifice a cheap pair of polaroid sunglasses to do the trick, and filmed the whole thing with a Braun Nizo 8mm camera. i still have the film, but today, just pictures. I’ll turn them into a time lapse later.

Be very careful a) of your eyes and b) your camera CCD. The first is far more important!

Garmin VIRB example

I’m going to try out the Garmin VIRB for skiing this year, having had success with the Ion2 last year as a helmet camera.

The VIRB has several big advantages:

1) GPS for route tracking;
2) links to ANT+ devices for my bike;
3) a selectable ski setting so it can stop recording at the bottom of runs and on the way up on the lift, and start again at the start of the next ski run.

My son Tom will be trying out the entry level GoPro 4 – I don’t expect to see much difference in picture quality, but it’s good to have an example of the market leader’s product. Tom will get pictures skiing I won’t want to be trying!

Anyway, here is a sample of the VIRB from my bike last year, on the back road from Torrance to Milngavie.

Note the guy pulling out from Tesco’s who must have crossed a red light! I have his number, and a longer video with more detail, but on my blog I can’t upload too big a file. I kept reasonable resolution on this short clip for readability of the ride data

The mechanical noises are mainly the gear shifting as the camera was bolted to my handlebars, not my helmet, which of course is an option. It picks up less heavy breathing on the handlebars…

You’ll see it can display, user selectably, all kinds of dials and data, plus a little GPS map of the route – it can show much more detail of the mapping in the VIRB application on my Mac, but the in-picture data is fine for getting a sense of the cadence, heart rate, direction, speed, distance etc.

The UCI CIRC report

I had some respect left for the now retired David Millar, after his unusually frank and open statements following his drug ban, but here is his lame excuse for not testifying to the UCI’s CIRC drug commission, while finding the time to write a page long newspaper article in response to it for the Daily Telegraph. Chris Froome seems to have found time to testify, and Froome’s cycling commitments seem to be a little more demanding than Millar’s, even when Millar was active. What a self serving position to take! I’m afraid Millar is not on my reading list any more. I’ll just have to live with not being on his – as usual!

David Millar's CIRC response

David Millar’s CIRC response

While I’m on the topic, I’d say cycling is well rid of the previous hierarchy (pending honorary positions being removed) and well done to Brian Cookson on opening the can of worms, as he put it, while fully expecting worms to be found. Some of those worms must be turning very rapidly just now as they seek to explain away their actions during the years prior to the Cookson leadership. How refreshing that an international sports body chooses to publish a report on its activities, warts and all. Sepp Blatter please note. Hopefully he will go the way of McQuaid and Verbruggen, and the bitter truths of the award of the hosting of the forthcoming World Cups will emerge.

I see a lot of Tyler Hamilton’s “The Secret Race” in the coverage of the report; especially the parts about ineffectual testing protocols that virtually invite athletes to micro-dope overnight. The disappointment to me is the part about lower level youth and amateur drug taking which I saw in the late 50s/60s (little coloured uppers and downers allegedly) but hadn’t considered was still an issue. Trickle down effect I suppose, as with other sports and so-called role models.

On the matter of protocols, even in the case of the Astana team’s (eventually) self-admitted 5 doping instances and the history of their management, the new UCI leadership has to go through the same legal and commercial hoops to get anything done about it (pending review Cookson has demanded of Astana’s permission to race in 2015 in the light of the Italian(!) allegations). Those protocols, like the doping ones, will take some time to batter (Blatter?) into shape. There’s no way anyone can be as bad as McQuaid and Verbruggen, and to that extent I have hopes of Cookson making a difference. The CIRC report is a start, but has its limitations. I repeat my FIFA point in this way – Cookson’s intent is a lot clearer, judging by his actions, than Blatter’s. I’ll be realistic in my expectations, not cynical, if I can!

Cycling Weekly’s report seems be be “an appropriately nuanced” review of the UCI’s CIRC report! Therapeutic Use Exemptions and testing protocols (eg night-time tests) seem feasible targets for improvement. I thought the comment on “frame-motors” was interesting as it came from the interviewees. There has been rumour, speculation and some videos on this topic. Can it really be true?!

Strava and athlete training plans

After my ride yesterday with Gavin Blackburn, and looking at the Strava version of the parameters of that ride:


I noticed a suggestion in my Strava feed to “Mix Up Your Training” and improve segment performance through their training plans.

Clicking on the suggestion leads to this Strava blog page:


Following the further link in that page, I came to this more detailed page, and noticed that the plans seemed to be constructed in conjunction with Carmichael Training Systems.


I recalled the name Carmichael from all that I had read about Lance Armstrong and the various coverage – much by David Walsh in his books, but also in the general press – of the history of Armstrong’s performance, and the various allegations that emerged from team members, support staff and others close to Armstrong stating they has seen him taking drugs.

On Googling the name of the Carmichael company, I found this example of coverage about Chris Carmichael’s response to the Armstrong years, and the allegations of Armstrong’s drug- taking over those years.


Has anyone else any thoughts on being asked by Strava to link their training to resources provided by Carmichael Training Systems?

Popular science isn’t so scientific

There has recently been a lot of speculation and unsupported assertions about gravitational waves, cosmic inflation and multiverses (e.g. Then this book “Farewell to Reality” by Jim Baggott turned up! I guess I’ll read the book before commenting in detail, but this review seems interesting, and would suggest my cynicism about the presentation of science, and its resulting popularity, is shared by the author.

We have seen in the past year publications about faster-than-light neutrinos (from CERN to Gran Sasso) and perturbations in the cosmic microwave background (the BICEP2 experiment) being discredited. The scientists involved seem to have been too keen to enhance their reputations, resulting in quite the reverse. It gets science a bad name generally if the scientific method is poorly executed.

There is also a handful of TV and radio broadcasters who similarly seem more interested in becoming famous rather than explaining the uncertainties in the subject matter. Using twitter, with links to programmes and book publishers, these popularisers of science just seem to me to be self-promoters.

Baggott’s book would seem to be an attempt to bring us back to the reality of science, and reminds us that many aspects and potential behaviours of Black Holes, wormholes, multiverses, string theory and all the rest are just theories, without many falsifiable predictions, at least in the foreseeable future – and by that I think we are talking about a VERY long time.

See more about Baggott’s book at