Monthly Archives: August 2018

The big debate: to hell in a helmet, or to hell with the helmet?

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Setting a good example – helmets are compulsory in UCI events (but, I think, only since 2003)

Geraint Thomas has recently been reported as saying that he thinks helmets should be compulsory for cyclists.

He is said to argue that the development of helmet design in recent years now means there is “no reason not to” wear one, that he “always” wears a helmet – and feels that others should do the same.

It’s important to note that this is a news report and that the quotes attributed directly to him are also entirely compatible with him merely making a recommendation that helmets should be worn.

Since the article appeared he’s tweeted:

Wow! This was one question in an hour interview. It’s nothing I’ve ever thought about. So when asked I thought… I always wear one and I’d advise all children to wear them. Didn’t realise people felt so passionately about helmets!!

So, let’s be kind and say he was just unprepared and naive … however, whatever he said and whatever he thinks, it has reignited the helmet-wearing debate in the UK.

To put my cards on the table, I don’t pretend that I have understood (or even read) all the research on the topic – but I always wear a helmet when riding a bike (other than on the turbo!).

As far as I am concerned, I hope I won’t fall off, I try very hard not to fall off but if I do fall off I’m keen to have sensible protection to my brain, my most valuable and vulnerable organ. I also always wear a helmet for skiing.

Most members of my cycling group wear helmets – but a few very intelligent and rational riders do not. The non helmet wearers either simply do not like helmets, or have reasons for believing that they are not the answer to preventing injuries from falls.

One argument is that wearing a helmet gives a false sense of security such that it can promote less careful riding.

I don’t go along with that – I know that if I fall off my helmet won’t save me from road rash, bruises and other injuries to arms and legs, broken collar-bones or hips. I certainly hope that my helmet will offer some protection to me head, but with everything else remaining so vulnerable, the helmet in no way makes me less careful.

Other arguments are that helmets can actually cause some twisting neck injuries, that research has suggested that drivers may give less room to helmet wearers than they give to riders without helmets – and that helmets do not offer significant protection in many cases.

It is also said that we should be promoting healthy lifestyles so that anything that might put people off cycling – like compulsory helmet-wearing – should be avoided. It was reported that Western Australia’s helmet law reduced cycling in Perth by 30-40% and that in Melbourne, cycling levels reduced by 36% in children and 44% amongst teenagers as a result of helmet compulsion – I do not know if participant numbers later recovered.

I know we have compulsory seatbelt wearing in cars and compulsory crash helmets for motorcyclists in the UK, but is the legislative programme so empty that cycle helmets get national scrutiny?

If you’ll forgive the ‘reductio ad absurdum’, I believe that there are significant numbers of people who damage their health by being inadequately dressed in cold weather or by over-exposing themselves to the sun. Anyone for compulsory coat wearing if it’s below 10℃, or compulsory long sleeves, hats and sun cream when it goes over 25℃?

It’s complicated but although I choose to wear a helmet I am not in favour of legislating on this.

I know the BMA (the British Medical Association) advocates compulsory helmet-wearing, and you can call me a wishy washy liberal but I prefer to give people freedom of choice on issues that affect their own well-being and safety – all the more so when the case for legislation does not seem to have been made beyond reasonable doubt.

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“I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it” – Evelyn Beatrice Hall, 1906.

“I recommend helmet-wearing, but although I may not fight to the death over the matter, I am in favour of the rights of others not to wear one” – The Omil, 2018.

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Vuelta starts, Transcontinental Race finishes, I run and wonder what next

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OK – this is the TdF but you get my point?

The start of La Vuelta has been steady if not explosive but it’s always a great race so I have high expectations.

This year, it’s a high quality field with some big names (like Quintana, Pinot, Nibali, Porte and Aru) looking to rescue – for a variety of reasons – slightly disappointing years. The absence of Froome and Thomas is a shame (but understandable) but I suppose the highlight so far was the second stage win by home favourite, Alejandro Valverde, at the age of 38.

At the time of writing, there is only one of the 254 Transcontinental Race starters out on the course (except that there is no set course). Neil Matthews is a Brit and is over 560km (c.350 miles) from the final checkpoint – which itself is probably 500km (c.310 miles) from the finish. He’s been going for over 4 weeks now – an effort of legendary proportions.

Related to the Transcontinental Race, I’ve been reading a bit about post challenge blues. It seems that it’s a common thing to feel listless, directionless and even depressed after major challenges. I guess it’s to do with the fact that the preparation is pretty all-consuming and the event itself is full-on and both mentally and physically demanding – and then when it finishes there is a big gap where all that was.

My ride to the alps was only 84 hours of elapsed time and my training was not exactly all-consuming (I realised that my longest training ride was 121km – 76 miles – and I then did three days with an average of more than twice that). However, I certainly spent a lot of time thinking about it and have noticed that there’s been something missing since I got back from France.

I’m wondering if I’m actually more of a challenge junkie that I’d realised.

Having promised Mrs O that there will be no silly solo challenges in 2019, the most likely event to focus on seems to be the Rotterdam Marathon in April next year, with the aim of running it with our younger son (and with our older son also showing interest).

A marathon is never easy but it’s not quite at the very extreme end of the challenge spectrum partly, I guess, because it’s just a one day event and is only going to last for around 4 hours (all being well).

This week I’ve been out running 5 of the last 6 days for about 32km (c. 20 miles) and done a gym session. I’m not yet quite running at 4 hour marathon pace but it’s early days.

More running and back on the turbo trainer this week – enough of moping around!

What, no cleats?

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A short run with Mrs O on Tuesday perked me up so I went out again on Wednesday (probably a bad idea) and ran for 10km (certainly a bad idea). It felt hard but I did it in 58 minutes – 4 hour 7minute marathon pace.

So, If I’m going to try to get into the Rotterdam Marathon and run sub 4 hours, I’ll need to be doing just over 4 times that distance and each of the 10kms will have to be 2 minutes faster.

That sounds tough but it’s early days. I’ll have to get the running shoes on more frequently to know for sure whether it’s a possibility before the applications open in late September. If I’m going to run, I want to run well – my ‘good for age’ time to get entry into the London Marathon would be 3hours 45minutes. That’s a little faster than I ran in my 40s – is that remotely possible?

The comforting thing is that (in November 1997) my first training run for my first marathon was about a mile and a half – and I thought I was going to die. I’m lighter and fitter (cycling fit, at least) than I was then but somehow I do appear to be over 20 years older. I demand a recount.

We went down Bournemouth on Thursday and were joined by friends for a really excellent long weekend. On Saturday we took a trip to Brownsea Island (an island in Poole Harbour which is a nature reserve owned by the National Trust). We walked for over 3 miles but didn’t see any of the red squirrels for which it’s famous (there are very few places in the UK where they haven’t been driven out by grey ones).

On Sunday 4 of us cycled to Burley in the New Forest (sadly, David, who rode L’Eroica and the Cinglé du Mont-Ventoux with me in 2015 is still using a crutch after his broken hip from a fall on a descent in the Pyrenees last month). It was a very gentle 20 miles round trip (I took my mountain bike) with a circular walk around the village for 4.5 miles when we got there.

So, two runs, two long walks and a cycle – back to a bit of exercise, and not a cleat in sight.

As I write, the Transcontinental Race is into its 23rd day. I think there have been 155 finishers, 97 retirements and two riders are still on the road battling illness, mechanical problems, terrible roads and ridiculous extremes of weather.

All credit and the very best of luck to Lionel Bobb (over 500km – 310 miles – to the finish) and Neil Matthews (possibly closer to 2000km to the finish!). Truly epic performances.

Post big ride blues?

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The bike has had a couple of short rides out but has a horrible ‘clunk’ so will not be undertaking any challenges for a while

The very hot dry spell has ended – it’s still fairly warm but wet and cold compared to the previous 80+℉. I’m taking the true British approach and have started to complain about the bad weather.

I’m not sure if there is anything such as ‘post big ride blues’ but since I’ve got back from the alps I’ve certainly lacked motivation and enthusiasm.

Last week I ran with Mrs O and had a couple of social rides with friends to a total of under 50 miles – but I missed the club ride on Saturday and have simply backed out of a couple of times when I thought I might have gone for a longer run. I’ve got to start increasing the running soon, if I’m going to know if I have another marathon in me by the time entry for the Rotterdam marathon opens.

The bike is making a loud ‘clunking’ noise at the moment – but I can’t work out what it is. Nothing seems to be loose but I’ll work through it step by step and am sure it will be something obvious.

I’ve been watching the Transcontinental Race on the laptop (‘dot watching’ on the tracking screen is strangely compulsive) but that is drawing towards an end. James Hayden won for the second successive year in under 9 days – for 3,790km with 50,396m of climbing (2,354 miles and 165,338 feet). That’s a totally solo and unsupported ride through, I think, 12 countries. He rode for 606km (377 miles) in the first 24 hours of the race – and at that stage he was not in the lead. Incredible!

At present, 65 riders have finished and 83 have scratched out of 254 starters. The rest are scattered over at least 8 different countries. What an event – and yes, I would be tempted if I thought I could make a reasonable fist of it. It’s so far beyond anything I’ve ever attempted …. but there again ‘everesting’ and riding out to the alps were too before I did them.

Back to ‘normal’

In spite of my very best efforts, it’s been a pretty constructive week, coming down from the ride out to the alps and a week of riding up mountains.

We were in London last weekend where I watched a couple of games in the Women’s Hockey World Cup with our younger son (who plays club hockey) and it was excellent. As a state school boy, I’ve never played hockey and the first time I’d seen top class hockey was the men’s tournament at the London Olympics in 2012. I loved it then and I loved the women’s games too – fast, athletic, skillful and hard fought, what more could anyone want from a team sport.

I’ve run twice with Mrs O and once with a friend – 15 minutes to the gym for half an hour’s weights, and a run back.

Ah yes, I went for a ride on the bike too. I’m currently doing a stint as route setter for the club (happily, they seem to have forgotten about my routing  problems on the ride to the alps) so I went on Saturday clocking up 50 miles (80km)and had a good time.

I was happy to sit at the back with the sweep, helping to look after a rider who was struggling a bit. I did a fair bit of towing on and off including a long homeward stint of about 20 minutes at 28.8kph (17.9mph) on the flat but into a bit of a headwind. So, the legs seem to be returning, with the benefit of the French ride in them.