8 Sep 2014

8th September 2014 "Shall we have a pink washing up bowl, Carl?"

Monday 8th 51-65F, 11-18C, increasingly windy and cloudy after a clear, still start. Enjoyed a walk up to the woods and back by another way. Saw at least a dozen large birds of prey within a quarter of a mile of each other.

I see lots of classic American cars on my rides. Thanks to a lack of clutter in the background these two were deserving of a snap. The magic goes of out of picture when a classic car must share a normal street scene. It is rather like having garish wallpaper behind a model railway layout. One can't use one's imagination to make it seem like a scene plucked straight from the item's own history.

The ride went quickly for the first half hour. Then it started raining from a darkening sky. Becoming steadily worse until it was falling like stinging stair rods. I sheltered for five minutes in a dry spot under a big beech tree but became bored and pressed on. My clothes and shoes were rather soggy by the time I reached home. Just on the margin of evaporative cooling making it uncomfortable on my wet hands in fingerless mitts. 19 miles.

Tuesday 9th 61F, 16C, windy, rather overcast with occasional sunny periods. I was leaning against the wind on the return leg of my 4 mile walk. Though the promised showers have yet to arrive. It has been mostly sunny all morning but I have been too busy for a ride. Time to put that right. It was much more threatening and very windy after lunch so I kept my ride short. As it began to spit with rain as I headed home it felt as as if I was fighting a 30mph headwind. My speed dropped from 18 to 8mph as I escaped from the woods and an ugly plate of black cloud rolled over. It must have dumped its load of rain further on because I stayed completely dry. Only 10 miles.

Gulp! My helmet will save me! Will save me not. Will save me! Will save me not? Oh, bugger!!

There is discussion in the Danish media on whether cycle helmets should be made compulsory. Two thirds of those who responded said no and complained about the already high number of rules covering cycling. Don't even get me started on the ridiculous fines! Many respondents suggested that making helmets compulsory would put lots of people off cycling altogether. This at a time of falling numbers of cyclists in Denmark. Though I blame the appalling standards of most cycle paths and lanes for the reduction. Many councils are obviously falling back on their dusty laurels and saving money on the cycle network. While simultaneously planning ever more places to form traffic jams in town and country.

I should admit here that I never wore a cycle helmet for nearly 60 years before I finally tried one. Now I am not allowed to leave the house without one! I am, of course, referring only to time spent out on my trike. Or "running away" as my wife likes to call it.

Present helmets are not nearly as efficient as they could be and many fail to reduce severe head injury. Being made of a highly insulating material with a decorative skin they are also very hot to wear in warm weather. Meanwhile, cars and lorries are made of steel and travel much faster than most bikes. It's a very one sided battle for survival of the fit against the unfit for purpose.

I cannot understand why helmets aren't spun like a nest or a web. Formed in a female mould from a nozzle of continuous strands of some suitably sticky material. It would set to provide a rigid but open and breathable structure. There would be overall covering of the skull without large, open slots almost demanding penetrative injury. Being non-absorbent the non-woven fibrous material could be simply dunked in a bowl of detergent and rinsed off to clean it.  Some domestic cleaning and abrasive pads are already made of a likely material. The stiff web of fibers would crumple far more efficiently and reliably under an impact from any direction. Yet still keep the rider cool by allowing overall ventilation. Given the very low cost of fibrous cleaning pads helmet prices could come down considerably. [But wont!]  To take a cycle is to be robbed. I think Pepys said that. 

A quick snap of an unused pan scourer for inspiration. 

The present crop of helmets seem to present the triumph of appearance over intelligent design. One can only imagine that the escalating retail price does not remotely present greater safety. In fact recent tests proved that the cheapest helmets were far safer than some much more expensive ones. Moreover, some expensive helmets failed to meet even the present, doubtful standards. Which vary widely around the world. Suggesting that nobody important has a clue how to test cycle helmets properly. The ubiquitous, rigid polystyrene foam design offers very little reduction in impact loading and may even contribute to serious brain injury.

My own helmet has convex corrugations over the temple which leave large dents in my forehead when I take it off. One can only imagine that these same bumps would lead to highly localised impact loads on the skull in any accident. The flimsy foam spacers stuck onto the inside were so decorative [and thin] that they simply fell off in use. What intended purpose they might have served is rather open to question. I seriously doubt the designer gave a second thought to this pathetic padding. Otherwise the skimpy pads would not have fallen off on the first wearing!

In the absence of any other helmet offering greatly increased safety or even a better, alternative design, I shall just have to continue wearing mine. Given that rain runs straight through the ventilation slots one can only imagine that cycle helmet manufacturers laugh all the way to the bank. The method of manufacture and obvious lack of serious safety research strongly suggests the material costs are absolutely trifling.

Styling and restyling no doubt take up the vast majority of any casual thought which might go into the actual helmet design. One can just imagine an annual meeting of the design team. Probably arranged in some trendy bar to allow a free flow of new and original ideas. The meeting probably went like this:

Shall we have a pink washing up bowl, Carl?
[With apologies to Victoria Wood]

Click on any image for an enlargement.

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