Another salvo in the helmet wars

December 11, 2018 § Leave a comment

It would be so nice if we could say that wearing helmets is always better than not wearing them, and the great news is that if you live in the South Bay, where people love to shout “WHERE’S YOUR HELMET???”, you can certainly live out your cycling live believing that the little styrofoam and plastic doohickey atop your skull is making you live longer, safer, healthier, more happily, and without having to consider facts, science, competing ideas, or, dog forbid, studies.

Two doozies recently popped up on my radar screen thanks to friends who like me wear helmets, just not all the time, and who like me find it amusing that so many cyclists screech and wail about helmets as if they were the panacea to everything from head injuries to herpes.

The first study was a confirmation of an earlier study which found that cagers are more likely to subject riders to dangerous punishment passes when the riders are helmeted. This means that in many situations wearing a helmet actually encourages motorists to endanger you, and of course some of those punishment passes result in collisions.

To repeat: In some instances, helmets INCREASE your risk of injury or death. Here’s the study, so fascinating as it shows how a dedicated researcher spent five years validating his results after they were attacked by helmet nazis, and it shows how truly disturbed and careless many motorists really are. Passing someone closer because they wear a helmet?

FML.

Hold on there just one darn minute!

Before the anti-helmet forces burn down all helmet factories and declare victory, another study popped up that sort of debunks the risk compensation hypothesis, which states that cyclists with helmets engage in riskier behavior than those without.

Anyone accustomed to wearing a helmet knows that when you take off your lid you feel more exposed and try to be more careful, at least for the first few minutes until you are overwhelmed with the joyful free feeling of the wind in your hair, but this doesn’t necessarily mean that once you strap on the helmet you become a kamikaze.

You can read the abstract here; it’s kind of a plus for helmets unless you are unlucky to run the thing by America’s best bike analyst, John Forester. John basically says all of the studies are crap because of one tiny little detail: None of the studies can define risky behavior; safe cycling isn’t as cut/dry as safe sex. Here’s his analysis:

I have read the summaries presented in the article listed below. The question is whether or not the wearing of a cycling helmet induces more risky behavior. It is believed that this is a question that is worthy of consideration. In some kind of theoretical consideration of the science of psychology this issue may be worthy of consideration, but in this specific and practical case consideration is completely worthless. Why? Because nobody knows which cycling behaviors are safe and which are risky. Consider whether obeying the traffic laws is, or is not, risky. There is plenty of evidence that many Americans believe that cyclists obeying the traffic laws are riding in a very dangerous manner, whereas obeying the traffic laws is the key to safe operation.But which traffic laws? Those which make vehicle operation safe, or those intended to restrict cyclists for the convenience of motorists under the excuse of cyclist safety? The article repeatedly referenced the relationship between fear of danger and risk aversion. However, it is well known that those who most fear traffic dangers are also those who ride in the most dangerous style, curb hugging. Dutch-style slow and helmetless cycling seems to be safe, while faster cyclists seem more likely to use helmets. Does that mean that fast cycling is a risky behavior? To some extent it does. The faster the cyclist in a crash, the more likely is he to be carried forward (by his own momentum) and therefore the more likely he is to land on or near his head. So it is reasonable that faster cyclists tend to wear helmets. But does that mean that fast cycling is risky behavior? Or only that slow cycling is inconveniently slow? As long as opinions about cycling risk are in such contradictory confusions, any attempt to analyze cyclists’ habits in terms of risk homeostasis is bound to fail.

John Forester, 2018

Of course anyone who can use the words “risk homeostasis” in a sentence wins the Internet for the day, so those who would force everyone everywhere to always helmet up … try again.

END

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Safety is key. But in modern ‘Merica, the biggest piece of the safety puzzle is the person behind the wheel of the car. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

The importance of book slimming

December 10, 2018 § Leave a comment

When I was a kid, I learned that you don’t ever travel without books. We didn’t have computer games or phones of course, and about the only good entertainment was getting into knock-down, drag-out brawls with my brother in the back seat. Those never ended well, first because he would beat the shit out of me, and second because my dad would invariably pull over to the side of the road and beat the shit out of both of us.

You don’t see a lot of kids getting the shit beaten out of them on the side of the road anymore, which is a good thing.

Anyway, in addition to the beatings we learned to travel with books. Our dad always traveled with books, plural, and the older we got and the more independent we became, the more books we took with us when we traveled.

My dad was famous for taking a small library on a two-day trip. In between the beatings and the sleeping and the drinking he never finished even one, but he always had plenty just in case there was a nuclear war and we were stuck in Uvalde for a million years, which is about how long it was gonna take him to read Marx’s Capital.

As a grown man I can’t tell you how many times I’ve traveled with books, plural, and returned home having read only a little bit of one of them. The reason is that you think you’re gonna plow through a dozen books in between here and Augsburg, but in reality you sleep the entire time on the plane or you are drunk or both. Then all that dead time in the airport? You know, the time you were gonna use to chew through those books? Trust me, two chapters and you are asleep, getting neckbone disease from hanging your head on the back of those rubber seats with the steel neck-backs.

Of course you’re not deterred; when you get to the luxury resort in Hohenkirchen-Siegertsbrunn you will flop down beside the pool and read all day. Except you don’t. You tour the town, sleep by the pool, eat way too much, sleep some more, then go to your room and sleep some more again.

On the way home you know you’ll finish at least one book but it’s not possible. The first meal knocks you out, then you watch four movies, then dinner comes, then you’re asleep again, then you wake up and thumb through the in-flight rag for an hour, then you thumb through the in-flight store mag for an hour, then it’s 45 minutes to landing and you’re home.

So a few trips ago, and it was damned hard, I decided to do two things:

  1. Take one book.
  2. Throw it away on the plane if I wasn’t finished with it by the time we landed.

And it worked! I was so afraid of having to throw away an unread book, which is like putting a bunch of kittens in a bag and drowning them, I read the lone book before I even reached my destination. And I found it didn’t matter which book I took, so I’ve learned that the key is to take a really dreadful one that’s been staring at you from under the table for a couple of years, daring you to read it.

Here’s my next victim. He doesn’t stand a chance.

END

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There’s more than one way to skin a cat, read a book, etc. Click here and select the “subscribe” link in the upper right-hand corner. Thank you!

Non-nutritive nutrition

December 9, 2018 § Leave a comment

Of all the changes I’ve seen in cycling, none is bigger than the stuff we stick in our mouths and call nutrition.

I hate that word, nutrition. It sounds so important and sciency, elevating yet another aspect of pedaling a toy in a clown suit into something that deserves much attention and reflection.

When I was a young man we called it something else. We called it “food.”

Used to be, when you got hungry, you ate food. If you didn’t have any food you were fucked. If you did have food and you were hungry it didn’t matter what it was. One reason it didn’t matter is because there were only four options and you like them all.

  1. Something with peanut butter.
  2. Banana.
  3. Fig Newtons.
  4. Snickers.

Snickers were the best but they melted in the 102-degree heat so you had to pour them out of the wrapper which was always, literally, a hot mess.

With regard to things that you drank, there was no such thing as recovery drinks, electrolytes, and I don’t know what else. You had water and you had coke, and “coke” meant “Dr. Pepper.” Also, you drank coke midway through the ride, you drank it by the liter, you bought it from 7-11, you paid 99 cents, and it came in a Big Gulp.

No one pretended that it was healthy or good for you. It was a fuggin’ coke and the purpose was to overwhelm your system with a sugar shock to get you home.

For over a year now I’ve been getting back to the basics, that is, something with peanut butter on it, that is, bread. Baking my own bread has been the single best food step I’ve ever taken. Not because it’s healthy or skinnifying, but because it’s something I made, warts and all, and like your own children, there’s nothing you love more than the things you make.

Slather a little PB on a dense rind of sourdough break, jam a ‘nanner in your back pocket and top off the water bottle with WATER.

Dude.

You are good to go.

In more ways than one.

END

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Burns like plutonium. Add PB for paradise.

Choose your notebook well

December 8, 2018 § Leave a comment

I know that no one reads anymore even though more books get published now than at any time in human history. Clearly, my two subscribers aren’t reading this either, and for sure Mom isn’t.

The way that you document things in the cycling world is with your phone, I mean, with your personal movement/thought/purchasing tracker. When things happen on the bike that are noteworthy, you whip out your 
personal movement/thought/purchasing tracker, take a photo, and upload it to your favorite voluntary monitoring and personal data donation service, be it Facegag, Instagratifcation, or The Stravver. (FYI: There are no others).

Here are the crucial cycling moments you will need to record on your 
personal movement/thought/purchasing tracker:

  1. Cool pose leaning next to your expensive bike.
  2. Cool pose in your expensive outfit.
  3. Cool angle on your expensive bike.
  4. Cool angle on your expensive outfit.
  5. PR on that driveway-to-bush segment behind the security gates.
  6. Selfie atop a tall mountai.
  7. Selfie of some uber-cool socks.
  8. Selfie chillin’ by the pool.
  9. Selfie enjoying the good life in [Cancun/Bahamas/Omaha].
  10. Cat photo.

Sometimes though, when I want to really disturb people I show up without a helmet. And then when I want to drive them over the edge, instead of pulling out my personal movement/thought/purchasing tracker, I pull out my notebook which is equipped with a pen.

[Note to potential notebook/pen purchasers: My notebook has never crashed, been hacked, phished, or accidentally deleted, although one time I did drop it by mistake into a port-o-potty.]

A good notebook should be durable, small enough to stow but big enough to write on, it should have good paper that doesn’t bleed easily, a hardy outside cover to protect it from blood, sweat, gunfire, and tears, and it should look #superpro, as if you’re jotting down notes for your upcoming tome on the history of ceramic bearings. Pro Tip: Leave it on the window sill for a couple of months in bright sunlight to give it that weathered, been-round-the-world look that will totally intimidate everyone at the airport as they furtively glance up from their Black Friday wish list and note with horror that you are, like, writing.

Best of all if you can pull it off is to finish a hard climb, take out your notebook, jot down your data, tear out the page, put it in a stamped envelope, and drop it in the next mailbox you pass, addressed of course to Strava.

END

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Deep thoughts profoundly recorded in your notebook. Forever.

End of an Error

December 7, 2018 § Leave a comment

Continuing my tradition of a blogging holiday, it did occur to me that a serious wrinkle in the Force has bubbled up. It’s the formal notification I received last week announcing the end of the FTR.

Dave Jaeger’s French Toast Ride has been going on so long that no one remembers when it started That’s partially because it was a long time ago but mostly because those involved are suffering severe memory deficits. DJ pegs it at about twenty years ago; I have only been doing it for ten years or so. It’s an invitation ride that was originated as a tune-up for the road racing season. Historically, as if anything related to FTR deserves the word, it came the weekend before Boulevard Road Race.

That epic battle was scrapped from the race calendar a couple of years ago. SoCal now has no legitimate road races, and only a couple that even pretend. Likewise, the formerly fit and hungry riders who queued up in Ventura County for the FTR’s 117-mile romp up hill and down dale are now a bunch of soggy, saggy, worn-out old shoes.

And that’s the fit ones.

The roll call of riders now is so decrepit that it resembles a funeral procession more than a bike ride. Flatback Harry hasn’t drilled it on the 101 in so many years that no one can even remember what it felt like, and it doesn’t help that his spine is about a flat now as bristlecone pine. DJ himself putters around the neighborhood streets in Manhattan Beach on his bike, putters in his garden, putters in his garage, and, rumor has it, even put-ters on the golf course.

Whatever he does, the days of yore when he could be counted on to slay all but Konsmo and G$ on the slopes of Balcom Canyon are long gone. He now hires a daycare assistant to bundle him into the handi-care van and lug him to the top. Sad days, indeed. The only truly reliable FTR old shoes are Shon Holdthetree, who still regularly runs into the taco cart in Santa Maria, and Bull, who prepares for FTR with by cleaning out the Mexican food buffet with the vigor that he always has.

This last edition of the FTR, already tinged with the saccharine nostalgia of old people reminiscing fondly about how good they never were, promises to be so far from epic that even the long-extinct dinosaurs such as Tumbleweed have thrown their hats in the ring. We can expect regularly spaced defibrillators, crash carts, and matronly nurses to gently tie down the gurney straps as each worn out old shoe muddles his way back to the post-ride feast.

The FTR is dead, long live the FTR.

END

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The art of non-blogging

December 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

I’ve been on a non-blogging vacation now for several days. Every day I insist that I’m not going to blog, so I don’t. But then, a little bit later in the day, it seems like it would be pretty easy to knock one out.

So although technically it’s not blogging, I do blog just a little bit.

A “technical blog” is one that involves extensive research, planning, focus groups, long bike rides in bad weather, and an analysis of cycling trade magazines. Technical blogs require verified sources, reliable information, and important new insights to the world of cycling in general and in specific the galaxy of cycling in the South Bay.

In other words, I’ve never written one.

The word “blogger” is kind of interesting. It derives from the Greek word “Blogae,” which means “huge waster of time and general numbskull.” It is very different from the words “journalist” and “writer,” which connote thoughtfulness, talent, skill, and professionalism. When you say that someone is a blogger you really mean that they aren’t good enough to get paid to write, or that no one except Mom reads what they write, which is mostly the same thing. When you say someone has a blog it’s kind of like saying they have an (unwashed) armpit. Everyone, with no practice at all, can have one and at some point in their lives invariably does.

I don’t know if the pejorative connotations come from the sound of the word, that is, “blogger” sounds vaguely like “booger” or “blooper.” Maybe the connotation comes from the fact that of all the media invented since the beginning of time, none is as vacuous as the blog.

Upon reflection it really makes sense to knock off blogging for a bit, so this is absolutely, positively the last one I’m doing until the end of my blogging vacation. Really. I’m not kidding around.

END

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Don’t Do-It-Yourself

December 5, 2018 Comments Off on Don’t Do-It-Yourself

Lots of things have changed since I first got a sporty bike. One of them was that back in those old days I couldn’t work on my bike because I was an idiot. When anything broke or got out of adjustment I would hurry down to Freewheeling and Uncle Phil would fix it while Uncle Jack looked on and commented on the state of the union, the state of the pro cycling scene, and the state of the bike shop.

Nobody ever made me feel like an idiot; it was self-understood that anyone who couldn’t adjust a derailleur or brakes or swap out a crank or brake cables or a chain was a congenital idiot.

Plus no one wanted to offend you directly because if you stood around long enough you would eventually buy stuff. The bike shop used to be a place where people hung out because they didn’t have phones or Internets or any information other than what they could glean out of Uncles Jack & Phil. That’s another reason we respected our elders. They had info and they weren’t sharing unless you sucked up to ’em just right.

No one ever offered how to show you how to fix or repair anything because you were an idiot, a customer, and likely to ruin it and blame it on them.

The only exception was truing stands. “Love to sell truing stands,” Uncle Phil always said.

“How come? Is wheelbuilding easy?”

“Fiendishly difficult; takes years.”

“Then why do you like to sell them?”

“Cause the idiots always fuck up the wheels and then bring them to us to fix. Best way to sell new wheelsets is to sell truing stands.”

New levels of incompetence

Nowadays I am still a first-rate Not Do-It-Yourself dude; I cannot fix anything that doesn’t require Old No. 72. But unlike then, when I could only not fix a few things, all of which were mission critical, today I can’t fix about a thousand things. Then, I knew what was mission critical, i.e. everything. Now I’m not so sure so I assume it’s everything

And what’s worse, I’m not the only Not-Do-It-Yourselfer. A whole bunch of other people, people who used to be able to fix bikes pretty good, are similarly stymied when it comes to bike repair.

Built-in idiocy is a key point to new bike stuff. Used to, you could straighten a frame by tying it to a tree, hooking it to your bumper, and peeling out. At least I think that’s how they did it, which doesn’t work so hot anymore with carbon. The only way you can fix carbon nowadays is to have the last name Lonergan.

I suppose it’s all for the best, though. By not knowing how to fix anything I can spend more time on the things that matter, like not wearing a helmet in the shower. Now that is mission critical.

END

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Old No. 72, for when the going gets tough.