The Helmet Blahg, with other stuff, too. Last Blahg of '23

The Helmet Blahg, with other stuff, too. Last Blahg of '23

I write the blahgs hastily, don't assume typos and grammar problems mean I have no respect for the craft, etc. 


Salmon are my favorite nature, or however you want to put it.




My wife is in a book club, going on 25 years, so little bits of personal info tend to surface, and one of those things is that my wife works for and is married to a guy with a bike company and a bike company called Rivendell. (My wife deals with ugly stuff like year-end taxes, paying the bills, wire transfers, legal things, and getting all the stuff to our CPA.)

One of my wife's book club friends was at a party talking to somebody and the guy mentioned that he rides a bicycle, and then she (wife's friend) mentioned that she knows a Rivendell person, and then he mentioned that "Rivendell hates toe clips." :)))). I don't know what that would have even meant to somebody in a dinner party conversation, but I don't make the news, I just report it.

An exaggeration, but like all exaggerations, there's some truth in that. Toe clips were developed in the earliest 1900s when bicycles had fixed gears, no coasting, no brakes, and shoes had ungrippy leather soles, a combo that made it easy to lose control of your bicycle if your feet came off and the pedals whirred around faster than you could catch them.  Good luck, sucker. Soon, slotted cleats nailed to the sole helped, and toe clips, and then with toe straps, helped even more.

Then in 1917 or so, too late to help the war effort but the same year the U.S. got involved in it, Goodyear I think it was, invented rubber and immediately started making sneakers with rubber soles. Imagine the freedom kids had.; the  advantage in games and pranks and competitions such as tag,  The Ghost Comes Out Tonite, Doorbell Ditch, and the 50-yard Dash.

There weren't tons of recreational bicycle riding back then. The Ford Model T was selling for a few hundred dollars, and the last thing on anybody's mind was pedaling for the heck of it.

So except for poor people who couldn't afford cars or trains or carriages.  FOR THE MOST PART, OF COURSE THERE WERE RARE EXCEPTIONS, bicycle riding in America meant track racing. There was road racing in Europe, but little and maybe none of it here. All racers used toe-clips and rode fixed gear bicycles, and none rode in the new rubber-soled shoes. Freewheels and stuff made rubber-soled shoes practical, but serious riders then like now, copied the pros, and rode with leather, cleated shoes, and this continued until 1984, when Look, the ski-binding maker, branched out into bicycles and got Greg Lemond to ride with its shoes and new ski-binding-like pedals. This was the start of a whole movement, where bicycles began adopting outside technology--sometimes for the better, often for the weirder.

Anyway, I wish the book club person could have told the fellow this, when he said I hated toe clips. "He hated toe clips," would be a fun thing to put on my headstone, but I'm going to be cremated, and not in the near future.



Many of you may have read this but more may have missed it. It's like..a 20 minute read, but pretty good. About Flo, the Progressive Lady. A holiday break from "deep bicycle frustration and complaining." It'll take you half an hour, so don't feel illiterate if you don't open it. But it is kind of a feel-good story.


Another prototype OM-1 Derailer:

Below: Closer of the der. It won't be like this, but for the record, it seems to shift as well as a Shimano.


We're going to start an international club with no meetings and one agenda. We're going to absorb the initial costs of making the requisite hats, t-shirts, Hats, Ts. All profits to charity.


Bstone Reunion

There's going to be a get-together of the Bridgestone-USA people on April 12-14, but mostly the 13th. It'll be fun to see a bunch of those boys and girls.  It's nice to have the freedom I have here. 



production plan 2024

We have to plan our frames and biycles ahead about 8 months. All of 2024 is set. At Bridgesone, production planning took place a year in advance, and several Japanese guys worked on nothing but the planning the American bikes, and about three Japanese guys in our office and maybe five of us Americans had our input. (XO-1 story)


Special Bikes for Blue Lug 

Some of you know that BLUE LUG is a Japanese bicycle company and retailer that, in some ways, is a better rivendell than we are. Unbounded admiration for Blue Lug, can't rave enough, and so on.

For the past three years there has been, let's say, a long and drawn-out expedition to make ten or twelve made-in-America by Mark Nobillette special Rivendell bicycles. Our choice of design, sized small-to-med, and med-to-large.

We had new lugs made for them. We made a new decal, and got a new batch of head badges. Joe Bell helped us pick the paint, and he's painting them unassisted with some special, no-longer-available paint--keeping it out of the landfill.

We'll have some of them here by late December MAYBE.  I bet it's late January. This whole process has been a days become weeks become months thing, always for good reasons, but extremely frustrating. We will de-fo-nate-ly keep these offa Instagram. 




They look like goody-two-shoesers, don't they? Maybe not the guy at the bottom—he looks slightly scary in an odd-duck sort of way, but basically even he's super mild by modern standards. The other two look as harmless as ducklings.  The middle one's hairdo looks mom-pleasin'. Oh, how looks can decieve.

Read a short thing about them here.



 Barbie . . . bigger than ever, and is diversifying, and here's a mixed-bag story about an imperfect but still ultimately satisfactory diversification try in the world of BigToy. 



Here's  thing on how equipment technology changes sport or whatever. It's pretty good, and not long, and it relates to everything that's happening with bikes.

When it's an equipment-dependent sport that has seen radical changes in gear, it's hard to compare athletes from the past with the current crop-o'. Bamboo pole-vaulting poles to fiberglass to carbon, huge-sweet spotted big-headed tennis rackets with the little woodies John McEnroe still prefers, and then golf clubs. Boats, archery gear, and on and on. 

It's no less exciting to see a 270-yard drive than a 300-yarder. Who can even tell? I can't imagine, if I watched golf,  that an extra 30 yards would make my experience better. Golf is more driving-and-putting than it's ever been, less iron/approach shots or whatever. It all happens this way because no golf club maker wants its customers to have the same bag of clubs for 20 years, and when your competition ups the game or downs the game, you have to match their move so you don't come off as backward.

I golfed a fair amount when I was 8-9-10, on a 9-hole, par 27 course. I know the game, I understand the terminology, I can relate to good and bad shots, but I've played twice in the last 30 years.

Obviously, bicycle are getting like golf gear. No news there, just rambling. Here's my favorite group of all time singing a golf song.

And HERE's an interview.


Styrofoam: Superb for landfill-bound beer coolers, widely overestimated for brain protection.

I am not against crash helmets, just against exaggerating their effectiveness, and I don’t think the crash helmets we have now are good enough. They’re supposed to protect your brain, but the expanded polystyrene (EPS, Styrofoam) that’s supposed to absorb shock is a lousy shock absorber, and the hard shell over it just makes makes it even worse.

Styrofoam was invented during World War II, not to absorb shocks, but to insulate, which is why it makes cheap, effective beer coolers that hold their shape until they crack. Good shock absorbing materials don’t hold their shape and don’t crack. Besides insulation, EPS—and this is according to EPS makers and high-volume sellers—is also good at impact resistance. In other words, it holds its shape, which is why stereo equipment often comes packed in a customized molded Styrofoam form inside the corrugated box. Impact resistance is kind of the opposite of impact absorption. Helmet foam with a cushiness between EPS and a kitchen sponge would be better. A firm softness that allowed your head to slow down more before smacking the shell.

 The helmet’s shell is protects against abrasions and punctures, but makes the stops shorter and faster by making it even harder for the ill-suited Styrofoam to crush and protect your brain.

 Compressing/crushing is what you want. Shocks are best absorbed by slowing the stop over a long distance—like Airbags in cars, landing nets for trapeze artists, and foam pads and pits for gymnasts and pole vaulters. Imagine the lack of shock absorption if any of those were replaced with styrofoam blocks covered with a thin hard shell.

 The gap between your brain and skull varies rider-to-rider, and also depends on what part of the skull we’re talking about—top or sides, front or back, but the range is ¼-inch to 3/8-inch. It. You use the left side of your brain more, so it bulges out more. In between your brain and skull there’s a slosh zone of fluid that cushions the brain from the mild bumps a caveman might suffer if he entered his cave and didn’t duck low enough.

A more protective helmet liner would be thicker and cushier. But it would make a bigger helmet, and . . . would you pick a helmet that stuck out another inch front and back, left and right? Helmet sellers guess No.

In any case, brittle Styrofoam is more likely to crack than compress. Riders who survive a crash often point out the cracked brittle Styrofoam and say, “That could have been my head!” Maybe and maybe not, but skullbones aren’t that brittle.

 The poor shock-absorption of EPS explains why bicycle helmets save some, but not all heads. Thousands of helmeted riders have died of head injuries or been permanently changed by them—a friend of mine included, on a 7mph crash, another, on a 20mph crash, no cars involved. And yet, their helmet passed the gold-standard impact tests.

 The main impact test loads the helmet with a weight simulating the shape and weight of your head—roundish and about 11 pounds. Then it’s dropped onto a metal plate from a height that generates an impact speed of about 14mph, and an instrument measures the force absorbed.

Can you see the flaws in those tests?

 One is the impact speed. Fourteen miles per hour may be a good guess of the impact speed of a head hitting the ground from a typical rider’s height head falling downward, but what if the crash involves a car or truck?

The other is that they assume your head is disembodied. Your child’s body might be 20lbs. Yours is probably 5x to 20x times that. Whatever the test flaws are, they have to be there, because certified helmets rely on styrofoam.

 Bicycle helmet retention straps ought to be rethought, too—if for no other reason than why should they get a free pass when the same helmet team picked Styrofoam as a shock absorber. Most straps have a tensile strength approaching half a ton, and a half-inch side release buckle that releases at a pull of about 44 pounds. A strong retention sounds better than it is. It’s hard to envision a crash that would deliver repeated large blows to your head. A more realistic scenario is one hard hit (from head height while riding), followed skidding or rolling, which is when you might catch the lip of your helmet on a root or, I don’t know, a tree branch on your way down the cliff. If you’re going to improve the main helmet with a cushier shock-absorber, you might as well re-address the retention rig as well.

 You probably know that not a helmet designer or a testing , but did you also know that I'm not a brain expert?  I have a degree in General Studies from Diablo Valley Junior College. but I think there’s room to improve helmets. I wonder what we'd get if objective shock-absorption experts and brain surgeons, free from commercial interests and fashion considerations, were told to design a bicycle helmet. It’s hard to imagine they’d make the same kind of helmets you pay up to $300 for. (Is the Styrofoam in a $19 Target helmet any worse than the Styrofoam in an expensive one? If it compresses more, it's better.)


I. Is “risk compensation” real?

Risk compensation is the idea that you take more risk when you feel protected; like when you wear a gas mask in a riot or a metal helmet in a foxhole. The point is to let you do things you wouldn’t do without it. But in the past few years some academics and professionals have gone on record saying risk compensation isn’t real. There are cyclists, maybe even most cyclists, who’ll say they’d never ride without a helmet. That’s the definition of risk compensation. Bare-headed rugby and soccer players still get head injuries, but not at nearly the same rate as football players, maybe because there’s less risk-compensation on the fields and pitch.

• Decades ago, Giro introduced a Styrofoam helmet with a light fabric cover. It lasted (in the market) a few years, and the reputation on the street was that is was pushing the limits of safety—so maybe it didn’t sell well. Again, no insider information on it, but lacking a hard shell might have made it slightly better at absorbing shocks. And along the same lines, why not just pick out a suitable foam?

III: Alt shock absorber from the land of Volvo, Saab, Mora, and Hassleblad

• Several years ago, around 2013 or so, some Swedes developed a lightweight shirt-jacket with an air bag-like inflatable collar that sensed when you were tumbling through the air and inflated around your head. It cost a bit over $700 USD, and failed to take off; but the shock-absorbing mechanism was the right idea: Stop the head in several inches, not a fraction of an inch, to keep the brain from banging.

IV. Motorcycle helmets are thicker and cushier. Rock climbing helmets are smaller, but instead of Styrofoam, they typically have an adjustable suspension rig that allows your head and the helmet to move independently, slowing the head-stop. Football helmets keep getting better, and are still used as risk-compensating battering rams, despite new rules for tackling. I think risk compensation is real. Any risk-compensating denier bicycle rider (there are many) who says, “I won’t even ride down to the store without my helmet” — and that is most helmet-wearing riders— is admitting to risk compensating.

V. In the 1970s there was a helmet, the Skid Lid, which was widely trounced in the media (which had been sold on EPS) as insufficient, and yet…in retrospect, it’s looking like it was way ahead of its time. It had flexible cushy foam fingers as the crown. The fingers were some kind of plastic, and flexed (absorbing some shock) before the foam kicked in to absorb the rest. Advertisements for the Skid Lid included some painfully diplomatic language that suggests the writer wasn’t an employee of an ad agency, but the manufacturer itself… and was tired of the bullshit being propagated by Bell and the media, but was too polite to spout off.


"We will leave the use of invalid tests in defense of traditional {styrofoam} designs to others."

Whoa...but yeah. I was among the bamboozled multitudes back then. We all thought Skid Lids were goofy. Chinstrap, really? So much for chewing gum. But the overall design seems right on.

Modern motorcycle and football helmets aren't all that safe, either, but they're better than bicycle helmets. Neither uses EPS as its primary shock absorber. Why would they? It's impact-resistant. When they use it, it's as a lightweight space filler that can be molded as a base for actual shock absorbers, which are foam, and some kinds of corrugated synthetics that crush like corrugated boxes upon impact. And unlike corrugated boxes, they open up again after impact. 

At least the NFL is working on its helmets. They've changed more since 1974 than bicycle helmets have.

There are lots of lower-tech ways to improve on a styro-helmet. Did you ever to those experiments in science class, where you had to drop an egg from the roof and not break it? The standard winning stubstance was loose popped popcorn in a box. You put it on top of about a foot of popcorn, and let 'er rip, and the egg didn't break, because it slowed down over a long distance before it stopped. Loose popcorn contained in a shell would protect your head better than styrofoam would, but is impractical for other reasons...AND your head isn't as fragile as an egg. When I was 17 I was on my bicycle and got hit smack dab by a car going 35mph. My helmetless head shattered the windshield (I was told), but between the rollover onto the hood and then hitting the windshield, the only thing that hurt was my ankle and a gouge out of my back. Obviously the forces are unpredictable, but my head slowed down over about 3 to 4 feet before hitting...and with a sloped windshield and all, it was a glancing blow. 


Then this:

This is all about that.

 With corrugated..the angle of stress can be varied, to make the compression easier or harder...and there could be foam plugs or balls  inserted in each or every other cell. The foam plugs could be open-cell or closed cell or both, whatever...and the helmets wouldn't have to be ultra-fat that way.  Lots of possibilities, but what a marketing battle. Imagine the accusations the mfrs would suffer for putting out such a helmet. I'm not angling for a seat on the advisory board of any company bold or dumb or qualified enough to step out of the styrofoam program, but this is the kind of helmet "we need."

Every Sunday I ride my 1.1-year old granddaughter on a bicycle for an hour or more. She has a cute helmet and I'm careful, but I think a child's bicycle helmet should be huge and foamy. They aren't fashion-conscious yet, and a two-to-three  inch cushion of open-cell (softer) foam, maybe with a closed-cel foam "shell" would be less impactful than her current styrofoam and plastic helmet. 

In the Pure Homemade department, it might be hardISH to incorporate the corrugated board, but the foam part would be easy. A thin sell over the foam would be harder. Papier Mache? 

Well, the point is that a mfr committed to it could make a more protective helmet than what we have now. What we have now is a lowish bar.

Here's another thing about it:

I dunno whether ABUS ever pursued it. The internet is, what's the word? -- unclear on that. The one cardboard helmet the inventor shows has the cardboard sandwiched between hard plastic and styrofoam, which--he may be 10 times smarter than I am, but it seems that prevents the cardboard from crushing, wich is how it saves your brain. The emphasis on longterm durability--what's that about? All it needs to do is save your head once, not kill your brain and be ready for the next rider.

Maybe Abus bought the guy out so they could bury it, but that's not especially German-like. Still, I wonder. I'd like to get ahold of Anirudha Surabhi. Lot of things on the ol' plate here, tho. Dang. I suspect he got really frustrated, maybe got a good selling price from Abus, and is now onto less frustrating pursuits.


I mentioned somewhere above, the Kucharik "hairnet" helmet, pre-hardshell, foam covered with leather. The Kucharik harinet was much fatter than standard hairnets of the day, and they were regarded as the helmets for old men racers and scaredy cats. I'm just telling you the rep they had in 1970 to 1976. I found one on eBay and ordered it today. See where it says SOLD   ?? I'm the guy they're talking. I'll try the egg test on it. Does the egg test prove anything? If one says No, because and egg is too light and the shell's too fragile, a head is heavier. Well, this is where "acid test" and "canaries in the coal mine" come ito mind. 


Here's a groovy looking helmet, but kinda pricey. I like the green one. 

I've been wound up about helmets for years now. They don't absorb shocks all that well, but all the better-absorbing contenders get pummeled before they can get out there. Here's a chart from a recent study. I read this in early November, and I forgot who did the study, but it's still interesting. I looked up apical, parietal, and occipital (I kind of knew that one), and the online dictionary wasn't helpful. It defined them in ways that didn't seem relevant or applicable here, but I'll trust that whoever did the study was just smarter than I am.

Here are some tests or experiments comparing styrofoam and foam-foam and a raw, pastured egg.




Scoff to your heart's content about the non-laboratory qualities of these tests, but as the old saying goes, raw eggs don't lie. I dropped the egg several times in the foam-lined helmet and six times in the hairnet, and no crackage. I think the current official helmet tests with their disembodied human head simulators are wackadoodle. If they were good, head injuries would be extremely rare. But press your thumb hard into the styrofoam in your helmet, and feel the "impact resistance." Impact resistance and impact protection are opposites. 

I wish somebody would fix helmets, not just copy what all the other makers do, with a minor cosmetic twist here or there. The foundation of EPS and a hardshell over this the best way we can do? Styrofoam makes a bicycle helmet worse..than many known and available alternatives.

What are today's Cooper Union and RISD and other industrial design students working on? Or industrial design pros? Why don't cycling organizations pool their money and fund some studies that will lead to shock-absorbing helmets? Do bike helmet makers care about something other than sales? Probably of course. But why no push for better helmets? No more lying!

I've contacted one helmet maker to see about any interest in making a non-compliant but probably more protective foam helmet, and no response. I understand that. I'm contacting one other--OGK in Japan, who I know has its own testing, and they'll either be more conservative or more free-swinging--I can see it going either way. There are ways to put bumpers in helmets, vary the thickness and density and size and spacing to get good cush and ventilation.  

I'm giving a stock Pro-Tec helmet a makeover. I used a big flatbladed screwdriver from the '50s to pry-and-chunk the styrofoam out of it. Some slicker helmets make this "nigh-on" impossible, but this one, easy. After getting a dozen or so chunks out, the leverage found the squirm of glue, pried the remaining styro off of it, and the rest slid out like butter on a baby's bottom.

 That's the starting point. I shot this on the lunch table, and somebody left some pralines or whatever around, and I was too focused on the helmet to notice.

Below: First try at foaming it:

Velcro or hotglue or double-stick needed to keep them in place, long as you aren't on-and-offing the helmet many times during the ride, it might not be a huge benefit to lock 'em down. This way, for now, allows experimenting.

 Here's a hammer test. Antonio did this before I asked him to repeat for the video. I did it to myself, too. No problem, no shock, just noise and cush:





John Stetson was a lonely cowboy staring into his campfire hour after hour, week after week, figetting with sheeps wool, when at some point he found himself with a hunk of felt. That led to Stetson hats, tons of copies, and every felted-wool coaster, tree ornament, jacket, and insole you've eve seen. Heat, moisture, and agitation (think, washing it in warm or hot water, on heavy duty cycle) make the invisible-to-eyes scales on the wool fibers catch on one another in a kind of ratcheting process that produces more and ever-tightening coils of wool. 

I've intentionally shrunk and semi-felted my share of wool sweaters over the years, and aside from the garments not fitting me after shrinking, it's really, really fun, altho it's kind of a laundry version of pica. Thickened wool is as soft to the hand as normal wool, but is less breathable and more windproof, which makes it better in really cold, windy, wetter weather. But the arms and body shrink to too much, unless you're either going for that look, or just don't care. The thing is, if you wash on hot for long, our current 2xl rolly neck sweaters shrink to an xs. The same amount of fabric crammed into a smaller garment. I was hoping to shrink it to a Large. You can control the shrinking and thickening by reducing heat and time. Five people wanted to by my shrunk sweater, but I thought the fit would be too weird, and I don't know where between $0 and $120 to fit an iffy sweater. I shrunk another XL to a S and my oldest daughter loves it, and she's thinks my clothing tastes are .. well, they're not hers. But she wears our beanies and sox. She buys thrift-store cashmere.

Here's a related sadnews story, but kind of good to know. It's not long.





 We donate $50 from every direct (not dealer) Appaloosa sale to the Oglala Lakota Children's Justice Center in Pine Ridge, SD. They work on child abuse, which is common there and on other reservations. The Appaloosa breed is more closely related to Native Americans than any other horse breed. It's ancestral range was in around the Palouse River in Washinton and Idaho, and "Appaloosa" derives from "a Palouse horse," according to my sources. FYI. I am aware that I've said this before.



Here's a closeup of that second prototype of the OM-1 derailer we're working on. The spring in the cage doesn't allow enugh travel to tension the chain in the smallxsmall, But that doesn't affect how it shifts in my riding. I'm riding it every day, shifting it more than I'd ordinarily shift, and it's working perfectly.

 BELOW:  A quite rare shorter-cage Shimano Nexave. Antonio butchered it up and grafted a Shimano T400 body to the cage, and the result is, my opinion only, the neatest derailer of all time. Not the lightest, but light enough (272g), and I just like how it looks:

See, that looks fine, right?


 OK. Thank your for reading this and general support. I am so thankful for our crew here. Be nice to them always, since they are the best. G



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