Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Balance

It takes balance to ride a bike.  We strive to have balance in our lives generally, talking about balancing work and family.  We have to balance our personal needs with our societal needs.  We have to balance tasks in our work life, balancing the need to finish a task versus the desire to make it perfect.

Similarly, in creating a product, there are multiple things to be balanced.  The cost of the end product versus the durability or cost vs. styling and features.  As consumers, we balance the cost of an item versus the different models or options.

In cycling, we undertake the same analysis as we make decisions about the various pieces and parts we buy.  If we want the lightest wheelset made, we know it is going to be expensive.  We also know that it will not be as durable as a heavier wheelset.  Sometimes the tradeoffs are worth it, but when that whiz bang wheelset gives way on a pothole, well then, maybe that easy spin-up may not seem worth it.

I have a personal suspicion, one that is not backed up by any science or actual facts, but a suspicion nonetheless, that the latest helmets on offer may have just stretched past the balance point where the degree to which helmets are light is outweighed, figuratively of course, by the safety offered.  The surprising number of concussions this year suggests it.

If the helmets of just a few years ago, at say 400 grams, were safe, it is certainly logical that you can cut a single gram out of that and make a safe 399 gram helmet.  If we keep being smart and clever about it, we can cut another single gram and get to a safe 398 gram helmet.  But if we take this example to the extreme, you have to agree that it is not possible to make a safe 1 gram helmet, or even a 10 gram helmet.  So somewhere in the process you get to the lowest "safe" helmet and then cross over into an "unsafe" helmet.  It is not that it is not a helmet, but it doesn't protect as well or at least as well as the helmet with more material to absorb energy, which of course is the way a helmet protects your head.

So then, the question is, where is the tipping point between a helmet that would stop the average Tour de France rider in the average Tour de France crash from getting a concussion?  I don't know, but after following the Tour for 25 years, I don't ever remember another year when the number of concussions occurred that have occurred so far in this year's Tour.  My recollection may not be correct, but in a year with an alarming number of concussions which just so happens to be the same year when helmet manufacturers are going full "weight weenie" on us, we may have crossed the line between our competing needs and ended up losing our balance.

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