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Interview: Chris Smith from Lazer Sport: Part 2

Posted by bikezilla on September 29, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Afterword

This is Part 2 of my interview with Chris Smith from Lazer Sport, and includes comments from MIPS’ Daniel Lanner.

Bz:

I read some of your material and learned that head injuries caused by crashes are more often due to rotational forces, because veins and nerves in the brain get torn by the twisting and rotation.

Then I watched your MIPS (Multi-directional Impact Protection System) video.

Some of Lazer’s helmets for 2012 (P’Nut and Nut’Z) will come with the MIPS option.

It looks to me like MIPS helmets have a liner and in case of impact this liner rotates a little.
CS:

“Yeah, basically, we use a retention system called Rollsys® in our high-end helmets.

And, basically, compared to other manufacturers where all the adjustment is done at the back of the helmet and pulls the front of the helmet against the rider’s head. The Rollss® system is a cable-actuated system that goes all the way around the rider’s head and allows the entire circumference of the retention system to adjust around the rider’s head. It serves as kind of a self-centering mechanism to ensure that the helmet is centered on the rider’s head. It also helps to distribute the load of retention all the way around the rider’s head so they don’t have any kind of hot spots or discomfort. It’s very easy to adjust, there’s a roller on the top of the helmet that controls the cable.

Well, through our collaboration with MIPS, they’ve modified the Rollsys® system so that it’s doing the same thing, where it’s kind of isolating the rider’s head from the shell. The hybrid MIPS/Rollsys® system is attached to one pivot point on the shell.

In the even of an impact that’s severe enough to activate the MIPS system, that one pivot point will break loose, and allow the shell to rotate around the MIPS.”

Bz:

Under normal conditions and prior to any impact, there’s zero rotation in the system, strictly due to MIPS? You can’t just grab your helmet and jiggle it?
CS:

“No, no. You’re not going to be able to pull the helmet/shell off the rider’s head, or pull the shell from the retention system.

There’s an attachment point and in the event of an impact of significance – and that’s engineered, you know it’s got to be a certain amount of energy going into the helmet – this attachment point will break loose and allow the shell to rotate or move, while the MIPS retention system isolates the head from that movement.

The shell of the helmet is rotating instead of the head.

That’s also a great way to identify when a helmet has actually received an impact that is sufficient enough to replace the helmet. Once that MIPS attachment point is broken loose from the shell there’s no way to reattach it. The helmet at that point needs to be replaced.”

Bz:

How much weight does the MIPS liner/system add to a helmet? How does it affect fit and comfort?
CS:

“It doesn’t affect fit and comfort at all, because it’s basically duplicating our current Rollsys® system. Again, we’re talking about children’s helmets, what we’re offering for 2012.

Because of the size of the helmet and the design of the retention system, it doesn’t add any weight and it doesn’t affect the comfort of the helmet at all.”

Bz:

Does it affect airflow?
CS:

“Nope. It’s basically replacing one retention system with another and the MIPS retention system as opposed to being attached the way our traditional Rollsys® system is attached, the MIPS system is attached differently with this one pivot point at the top of the helmet.

But otherwise the size of the belt that goes around the rider’s head, the size of the, we call it the basket, that goes around the back of the rider’s head, it’s basically the same as our current system. It’s just been kind of redesigned and modified by MIPS in order to achieve their goal and pass their test.”

Bz:

MIPS allows the inner portion of the helmet to move within the outer portion. But what about simply designing helmets with safer exteriors? Smoother, more rounded surfaces? Faired and rounded vents and ribs? Fewer vents? No aero-tail? No visor?
CS:

“Well, I would say two things. First off, it kind of goes back to what I was saying about designing the safest helmet in the world, but nobody is going to buy it.

If you go to an Ironman triathlete who is looking for a helmet that offers A, B and C features, and you don’t offer them that helmet, but you say, well I offer you this helmet, it’s a lot safer in case you crash. They say, ‘This helmet from your competitor meets the testing standard, but I also get all this other stuff, why should I buy your helmet?’ ‘Well, our helmet is safer.’ ‘But, I’m not gonna crash.’

At that point you’re trying to sell someone something that they’re not really interested in. That can be applied to whatever segment you’re talking about.

But the other, more specific [point] to this topic is, if you are looking at rotational brain injury and reducing rotational brain injury, then you’re going to design a system to address that specific need. And if you can address that need while still incorporating the features that consumers want, like air vents, or an aerodynamic tail, or whatever else the helmet might have, if you can maintain those features and still address the phenomenon of rotational brain injury, then it’s a win for everybody.

You’ve improved the rider’s ability to get through a catastrophic impact with less chance for rotational brain injury, you’ve improved their ability to survive an impact like that, while you’re still delivering the performance that they are looking for in that helmet.

Now, the downside to that is, it’s more expensive.

Like I said, we’re offering the P’Nut helmet and the Nut’Z helmet in a MIPS version and a non-MIPS version, and at retail the MIPS version is going to be $20 more.

So, the consumer has to make a decision, ‘What’s more important to me – a helmet that has the performance features that I want and is $20 less, or a helmet that has all the performance features that I want and this added safety benefit that’s $20 more?’”

Bz:

Is that going to be standard upgrade price when you take MIPS to other helmets and lines?
CS:

“That hasn’t been decided yet.

The issue with MIPS is that the helmet has to be designed specifically to accept it. The P’Nut helmet and the Nut’Z helmets, we introduced those in 2011 and we worked with MIPS on that helmet in order to come up with a helmet that was specifically designed to accept the MIPS system. Now, we’re introducing that for 2012, because the system is finally dialed, they’re comfortable with their testing and we’re comfortable with integrating into the shell.

So, going forward if we’re going to come out with new helmets that have MIPS, the helmet has to be designed, or redesigned to accept it. We had to make a decision to introduce MIPS at a particular segment of the market. We decided to address the children’s market first, because the two guys that own Lazer over in Belgium, myself, the brand manager here in the United States who has a lot of feedback on product design, we all have families, we all have kids. It’s a huge, huge priority for us.

We all ride, and wear helmets.

So, we kind of needed to update our children’s helmet line. We decided, okay, we’re going to come out with some new children’s helmets, so let’s design the shells to accept this MIPS system and let’s introduce that into our children’s selection first before we bring it out into our other helmets.

But, it’s definitely a feature that we’re going to include in more helmets going forward, because we really believe in it.”

Bz:

I want to keep talking about this, but I need to jump back to the previous question.

The reason that we don’t see what a lot of people might think are common-sense features like faired and rounded vents is, it’s not what consumers are demanding, it’s not what they’re looking for, it’s not going to sell?
CS:

“Yeah. And I would politely take issue with people saying that that’s what they’re looking for, because that’s not what they’re looking for, because that’s not what people are buying.

The market is addressing what the consumers are looking for.”

Bz:

When people contact you they’re not saying, ‘Hey, I wish you’d make a helmet with faired/rounded vents, no aero tail, etc.’
CS:

“Nope. People are telling me they want lighter helmets, they want better air flow, they want a particular style or cosmetic. That is what people are concerned about.

Or, you know the other big issue that we face with our helmets is – you’re probably not going to believe this – our helmets have a reputation for not being sunglasses-friendly. You can’t stick your glasses in the vents. That’s the number one feedback I get on our helmets. People are critical of our helmet design because the vents are not positioned for people to easily stick their sunglasses in their helmets.

Every time I get that comment, while acknowledging that’s what the market is asking for in the high-end helmets, it still blows me away that that is what we’re getting requests for and that is what people are concerned with.”

Bz:

What about after a serious professional crash like Wouter Weylandt’s, or Chris Horner’s crash? Do you suddenly get an influx of people saying, ‘What about these safety features?’
CS:

“During that first week of the Tour, well, not following Weylandt’s crash, really, but during the first week of the Tour and the number of crashes that happened in Brittany, I noticed the buzz on the internet, people asking questions about helmet safety.”

Bz:

But, they didn’t contact Lazer with those concerns?
CS:

“Nope. I received exactly zero questions from consumers.

I can’t say it’s not happening. Maybe people are asking their dealers about it, or asking other people about it. But I fielded no direct questions from consumers or from dealers looking for follow up, or regarding how and when helmets might be improved in order to address their concerns regarding helmet safety.

And, honestly, if I did get those questions, it would have to go back to, well, you know our helmets are designed to meet and exceed the current testing standard. If somebody or an organization decided that they wanted to improve the testing standard and that testing standard was adopted by the government in whatever market that we’re talking about, we would encourage that.

I mean, we are a helmet manufacturing company, and the rider’s safety, at the end of the day, is our number one priority. So, anything that can be done in order to improve the safety performance of the helmet is absolutely something that we want to pursue and take seriously. But, we can’t do it at the expense of the viability of the company.

We still have to meet the needs that consumers are looking for.

Because honestly, the consumers look at the helmet certification, I mean, nobody is selling uncertified helmets anyway, but the consumer goes into a bike shop or they’re shopping on line, and they’re assuming correctly that all the helmets they’re looking at are passing the testing standards. So, the very fact that they’re wearing a helmet at all, they feel, ‘Ok, as far as helmet safety, I’ve done everything I need to do to make sure I’m wearing a safe helmet by just buying a helmet at all. Well now I’m gonna look at weight, I’m gonna look at the air vents, I’m gonna look at how cool this helmet looks on my head. And those are the criteria that I’m going to use to evaluate which helmet to buy.’

You know, what else can the consumer do? There’s no other testing standard out there. There’s no data that anybody could look at. There’s speculation, ‘Well, you know I think a helmet should be this, or it should have this, or it should have that.’

Consumers, there’s really not much that they can do with that information.”

Bz:

Do you think that the more stringent and more realistic MIPS testing standards might eventually be adopted voluntarily industry-wide?
CS:

“I hope so! I hope that, because honestly, [between the] motorcycle industry and bicycle industry, [in] bicycle crash injuries, this rotational brain injury accounts for a real significant portion of brain injury. So, it would be my hope that helmet testing standards, that the current standard is either replaced, or that the ability to test the head’s resistance to rotational injury with a particular helmet is taken into account in helmet testing.”

Bz:

Back to MIPS.

How do you think that will be phased into your overall product line and over what time period? What’s the next place you’ll introduce MIPS?
CS:

“That’s a good question, and that’s going to probably have to be a follow-up question. Because I don’t have the answer to that.

I don’t know what segment we’re going to introduce MIPS into next, whether it’s going to be mountain, full face, road, price-point adult, urban commuter, I don’t know. It could be one or a combination of those different markets, or it could be all of them. I don’t know.

The owners of the company are going to be here in the United States next month for Interbike, and that’s certainly something I can talk to them about and find out what the future plans are for that MIPS system in the rest of our line.”

Bz:

Because each helmet has to be designed individually for or with the MIPS system, it’s not something you can do at the snap of a finger. It takes time to redesign each helmet and each helmet line?
CS:

“Yep. We’re not going to… no, I can’t say that. I can’t say that we’re not going to have MIPS in everyone of our helmets at some point, because we very well may. As a matter of fact, if MIPS or some equivalent becomes part of the testing standard then not only Lazer, but every manufacturer, has some way to address this rotational injury phenomenon.

But, we’re always working on the next-generation helmet that’s going to replace whatever our current model helmet is in whatever helmet segment we’re talking about.

So, I can only assume that as we’re going forward and new helmets are being designed, that MIPS can, and may very well be, incorporated.”

NOTE:

Here’s the official answer:

“While we continue to study the implementation of the MIPS system in our helmet line we are not yet prepared to discuss a timeline for integration into the entire line nor are we able to discuss which helmet might incorporate the MIPS system next.”
Bz:

I have to believe that you’re not the only guy, not just at Lazer but in the industry, who’s not happy with the testing standard. So is the responsible government agency being lobbied to change or upgrade the standard?


CS:

“Not that I’m aware of. I mean, you’re dealing with three entities – Australia/New Zealand (ASI), United States/Canada (CPSE), and every country in Europe (CE). Honestly, I don’t know who is setting the CE testing standard. Well, the CE testing standard is not just bicycle helmets, it’s nearly every helmet sold in Europe. If you look at the back of your motorcycle helmet you’ll see that CE certification. It just means it’s approved for sale in that country.

The bicycle industry, I don’t know if helmet manufacturers have the resources to lobby all the different government entities that may be involved in improving the testing process.”

Bz:

Is there an industry organization?
CS:

“There’s not a helmet manufacturer’s organization. Not that I’m aware of. There’s certainly advocacy groups, in the United States and I can only assume in every country around the world where cycling is a major activity, that advocates on the part of cycling and the cycling industry.

That would be certainly a good project for those advocacy groups to take on, to improve helmet safety, or at least be reviewing current testing standards to be sure that they are matching with real-world circumstances.

I can say on behalf of Lazer, we would have absolutely no objection at all to reviewing or improving testing standards in order to improve helmet safety. We’d have no objection. In fact, we strongly encourage it.”

Bz:

If the industry isn’t going to push for change, how do you think it’s going to come around? Or who’s going to enact that change?
CS:

“That’s a good question. Whether it’s driven at the consumer level, the dealer level, the manufacturer’s level. I don’t know. I think that what, for better or worse, what the likely scenario is, that manufacturer’s like Lazer identify a particular problem, like rotational brain injury, and either take it upon themselves or work with an organization like MIPS, in order to introduce features that address that. Then other manufacturers take that issue seriously and look for features that address that as well. Then at some point all these manufacturers will be addressing a particular problem from so many different directions that somebody finally decides, ‘Well, everybody is trying to solve this problem different ways. Let’s come up with a standard testing procedure and ensure that all helmet manufacturers are meeting that testing standard.’

But, yeah, I don’t know. I don’t know.”

Bz:

When that change finally comes it’ll come from inside the industry, not from the government?
CS:

Absolutely!

I believe, if I know my history, that the automobile industry early on could be an indicator. Because I don’t believe that features like, and maybe I’m wrong, but features like seatbelts and safety glass and airbags and center-mount brake lights, I don’t believe that these innovations were mandated by any testing agency.

I believe it was a concept that was tested, proven to provide a safety benefit, and introduced by manufacturers to gain a competitive advantage that said, ‘Look, our car has this feature and it makes it more safe than another car at that price point and we think you should buy it because of that.’

Then all of a sudden other manufacturers are like, ‘Okay, now we have to have a center-mount brake light because these guys do.’ And then they’re all offering that safety benefit. Then the government may step in and say, ‘Well, everyone is doing this anyway, but they’re all doing it lots of different ways. Now, the center brake light has to be in this position, has to be this width, has to have this kind of illumination power.’ And they codify what everybody is already doing, into a testing standard.

I don’t know if seatbelts, safety glass and airbrakes are the same situation. I could be wrong. It could be a situation where one country mandated airbags and the manufacturers said, ‘Look if we’re building this model car in this country and it’s got an airbag, we may as well just put them in all cars.’

But I think that often you see innovation from manufacturers who are looking to distinguish their products and give them an advantage in the marketplace. Rather than trying to meet the testing standard within their own country.”

Bz:

Is MIPS owned by Lazer? Or will we see this system offered by other manufacturers?
CS:

“Nope. No, Lazer is a Belgian company based in Antwerp. I believe MIPS is a Swedish non-profit research institute, that partners with manufacturers, but is a stand-alone company.”

[Editor’s note: MIPS is indeed a Swedish company, and the MIPS system acronym stands for Multi-directional Impact Protection System. It is not clear from their website statement whether they are non-profit or not.]
Bz:

So we’ll see MIPS offered by other manufacturers?
CS:

“We’re already seeing it. I mean, Lazer is not the first company to incorporate it into bicycle helmets.

POC uses a version of MIPS in, I believe, one of their full-face helmets and perhaps one of their bucket helmets.

o, MIPS actually came to market in bicycle helmets from POC.

Lazer, is the first company that is offering a MIPS helmet in an in-mold manufacturing process. We’re also the first company that is offering MIPS in a children’s helmet.”

Bz:

Initially it’s going to cost $20 for a MIPS-upgraded helmet vs. a non-MIPS helmet of the same model. What’s the actual cost of installing MIPS?
CS:

“I don’t know what our installation cost would be. I mean, it’s a more expensive manufacturing process to incorporate MIPS. So that’s reflected in the cost. We’re not making an additional profit on the MIPS helmet. That increased price just represents the materials and the manufacturing cost to include that.”

Bz:

Do you support MIPS in their research and development?
CS:

“Yeah. Now I don’t know what that looks like as far as a financial component, at all. But we worked very close with them to develop the shell, and they worked with us to develop the interior portion of the helmet. Because we wanted to make sure that the MIPS retention system was going to go into our shell, be compatible, and actually work. So, yeah, we worked very closely with them. It was a totally collaboration.”

Bz:

It wasn’t just a matter of fitting the MIPS, it was a complete helmet redesign. It wasn’t, ‘How can we make MIPS fit in this helmet we already have.’

CS:

“Yeah! They designed a MIPS system specifically for Lazer and specifically for this helmet.”

Bz:

When you say “system” you aren’t just talking about the rotation part and its singular attachment point. The entire helmet is the system?
CS:

“That’s correct. And that’s why this is not something that you can add to a helmet after the fact. It’s not even something that you can redesign an existing helmet to be able to take. The shell has to be designed and the foam had to be molded correctly in order for the MIPS system to mount and function correctly when there’s an impact.

And if you look at it, MIPS designed this ‘insert’ specifically for our helmets. They looked at our existing Rollsys® system that we used on our mid- and high-end adult helmets, and they duplicated the look of that Rollsys® system for the P’Nut and the Nut’Z helmets. Because they felt that the front belt and the rear basket that’s used in our retention system did such a great job, as far as the attachment points on the head, that they kind of duplicated that look when they designed the insert that goes into the shell.

So, the MIPS system, looks like our Rollsys® system, because that was the foundation they used.

But, you can always tell a MIPS helmet, because the retention is this bright yellow. And that’s how you identify the part of the helmet that’s actually going to move vs. the shell. Because everything yellow is what’s moving in the case of an impact.”

Bz:

Since MIPS liked and chose to keep and use your Rollsys® system, will we see a version of your retention system in other manufacturers’ MIPS helmets?
CS:

“No. I can only assume that other manufacturers are going to want to collaborate with MIPS in order to either take their retention system and figure out a way to modify it to do the same job in their helmets, or to come up with a completely new system.

The benefit that our Rollsys® system offers, is it encircles the entire head between the front and rear component of the Rollsys® system. To my knowledge, I don’t know of another helmet manufacturing company that is making a retention system that encircles the entire head. The competitors that I’m aware of, the entire adjustable section of the retention system sits at the back of the head, and as you adjust it tighter it pulls the front of the helmet tighter against the rider’s forehead.

We developed this, again, to go all the way around the circumference of the rider’s head and to offer the adjustabilty and the comfort, and that’s why it was so easy for MIPS to use that same style mechanism. Because it does go all the way around the rider’s head, and that’s what you have to have with this MIPS system. If you’re going to isolate the rider’s head from the shell, it has to hold on to the entire circumference of the rider’s head.”

Bz:

I’ve read a test report that compared the performance of sub-$20 helmets and $150+ helmets. They found virtually no difference in performance, and the cheaper helmets slightly outperformed at low impacts.

For an additional $20, the MIPS helmets are supposed to reduce brain damage, or potential brain damage, by about 33%. Is that a real number?
CS:

“Yeah! And that’s directly from MIPS.

If you want to follow up on that I can put you in contact with those guys. They’d be more than happy to talk to you about their system and that number.

Obviously it’s their number, it’s their testing standard. But, it’s a real number and they’ve duplicated it in the lab time and time again.”

Bz:

A $20 investment can reduce your risk of brain damage by about 1/3?

CS:

“Yes.”

Bz:

But the MIPS system isn’t going to be available in lower-end helmets.
CS:

“Not yet.”

Bz:

I can’t expect to buy a $45 helmet, as opposed to a $25 helmet, and expect to have a MIPS system in it?

CS:

“Not from Lazer. Not from anybody, I believe.

Technology like this can’t be deployed all at once.”

Bz:

What about over the next five to ten years?
CS:

“Oh, absolutely! I think it’ll be a much shorter time frame than that.”

Bz:

Less than five years?
CS:

“Yeah. I don’t know if it will be ubiquitous in the helmet market. But, I am pretty confident to say that within the next five years you will be able to find a MIPS helmet at a number of different price points, for adults. Absolutely.”

[After my interview with Chris, I had the opportunity to talk briefly with Daniel Lanner, a technical engineer from MIPS. – Bz]
Bz:

Would you explain the MIPS testing standard/procedure? Chris referred to is as more “real world.”
Daniel Lanner:

“I take it Chris refers to the fact that today’s helmet tests, no matter helmet category, are only focusing on straight radial impacts (90 degree) whereas in a majority of all hits of the the head to the ground, you fall with an angled impact.

The difference between the two impacts is the type of violence or energy they transmit into the brain. A straight radial hit provides straight radial or translational energy, a type of energy we know is less damaging to the brain. The angled impact, however, gives rise to rotational energy and violence to the brain. So today’s helmets are not tested to withstand the most common and most damaging blows to head – angled. Rotational violence is the cause of the most severe type of brain injuries. These injuries are called Subdural Haematoma and Diffuse Axonal Injury. (Please view our website for more extensive information)”

Bz:

Would you explain the reliability of the claim of reducing potential brain damage by about 33% using a MIPS vs. non-MIPS helmet and how that number was arrived at?
DL:

“It is difficult to set a specific number in percentage that the MIPS system reduces brain damage. The reduction using the MIPS system differs depending on impact site and direction to the helmet. However studies have shown that rotational measurements (rotational acceleration and rotational velocity) correlate well to the risk of brain injuries and that a reduction of these measurements reduces the risk of brain damage. With the MIPS system, we reduce the magnitude of these rotational measurements in the order of 25-55 %.”

Bz:

Chris was aware of three manufacturers using, or soon to be using, MIPS: Lazer, POC and one other. Who is the third manufacturer? Is that number rising? Will MIPS helmets be more broadly or even generally available over the next few years? Do you have a time frame?
DL:

“Except for POC and Lazer, the US brand Burton brings their snow helmet brand RED to market this season. In addition, two different equestrian helmet brands – Back on Track and Felix Bühler – distribute helmets in Europe.  At this weeks’ international bicycle trade show, Eurobike, there will be two additional brands launching helmets with MIPS. I am afraid I can’t reveal their brand name yet.

We are currently working on implementing MIPS in several bike, snow, motorcycle, military and ice hockey helmets. All to be launched during late 2011 and 2012.”

Bz:

Is MIPS working to change the legal standards (CPSE, ASI, CE) officially? Or will the higher, more realistic MIPS standard remain entirely voluntary? If so, do you think that it will eventually spread throughout the industry in all (US/Canada, Australia/New Zealand, Europe) markets?
DL:

We are members of and participating in meetings with the mentioned certifying bodies and yes, we are working towards having the general test standards upgraded with a demand that helmets provide protections against angled impacts and rotational violence. We believe that the consumer demand for optimal protection will create a pressure on helmet manufacturers to include such technologies well ahead of any change of regulations. The official changes tend to take very long.

MIPS are, as mentioned  above, delivering our technology to a fast growing number of leading brands in most helmet categories and we expect that to continue spreading across helmet segments and geographies.”

Bz:

Are you aware of any alternate “real-world” standards either in use or in development by other companies?


DL:

“If you refer to the helmet industry, no. For other industries, a good comparison could be made with the airbag for the car industry. It started out as something very exclusive and to some consumers an obscure safety feature. But as the market got aware of the massive safety impact it has, the airbag has more or less become a “real-world” standard without authorities changing laws and regulations. Would you buy a car without an airbag? We see the same happening in the helmet industry  where consumers will shift from old technology to new technology and include MIPS or future similar solutions.”

—————–

You can also read and discuss Pt 2 of this interview at Cyclismas

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Interview: Chris Smith from Lazer Sport: Part 1

Posted by bikezilla on September 25, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Afterword

An Interview with Chris Smith from Lazer Sport, the bicycle helmet company.

Not that long ago on Twitter I came across @Helmeteer_Chris, who is the PR guy for Lazer Sport, and I had some questions for him. That discussion grew into a full interview, which follows in two parts.

Primary sources of information for this interview:

BHSI

Questions about standards?

Helmet foam materials

Bikezilla:

I’m just curious, when one of your competitors comes out with a new helmet, do you guys go out and buy a dozen, just to see what the other guys might do better?
Chris Smith:

“I can tell you for a fact that we do purchase and test competitor’s helmets. We’re not crashing them! But, we do, and I’m sure other manufacturers do, test helmets to assure that they’re meeting testing standards. But we’re also testing the actual weight vs. advertised weight, we’re testing airflow, we’re testing comfort.

So, yeah, when I go over to Belgium once or twice a year to meet with the guys in the office and when we go for rides, we’re not all wearing Lazer helmets.

 I mean, that’s the only way you know what competitors are doing, as opposed to just getting anecdotal evidence. You gotta spend a significant amount of time riding those helmets in order to really understand what’s going on. And I’m sure similar people at similar levels at our competitors are doing the exact same thing.”

Bz:

Have you ever tried out one of those helmets and come away liking it better than yours? I won’t ask for a brand name.
CS:

“Ahhhhh, I’ve tested other helmets where I’ve appreciated a specific feature, ‘Oh, God, this helmet is so light, or the venting on this particular helmet I really feel an amazing amount of air going over my head.’

 But, I can tell you that at the end of the day there’s always been some kind of knock that would keep me from using a competitor’s helmet versus Lazer.”

Bz:

Not just because you’re paid to say it, you actually do prefer Lazer helmets.
CS:

“I’ve been working for Lazer for three years and I’ve been riding with Lazer helmets for seven years. I started using Lazer helmets as soon as they started being sold in the United States.”

Bz:

Is it true that helmets are intentionally made to just meet or to barely exceed CPSC (Consumer Product Safety Commission) or other standards? Meaning they intentionally do not exceed the standard by much?

Do Lazer Helmets exceed legal testing guidelines? If so, how?
CS:

“I can speak on behalf of Lazer specifically.

There is a minimum testing standard, specifically for CPSC for the United States, but also the CE for the testing standard for Europe and the ASI testing standard for Australia. We exceed that standard by a factor of two.

Helmets we design and manufacture – and I believe this is very common in the bicycle industry – are meeting and exceeding the testing standards by a factor of two. I believe that’s very common if not the norm in the bicycle helmet industry.”

Bz:

Are the CE and ASI standards similar to the U.S. Standard?
CS:

“The CE standard is less stringent than the CPSC standard. The ASI standard is more stringent than the CPSC standard.”

Bz:

So you exceed the most stringent [standard] by a factor of two?
CS:

“Well, we are unique in the bicycle industry, I believe, in that we actually manufacture helmets specifically for the testing standard used in each market.

We exceed each specific market by a factor of two.

What I’m trying to say is, if you look at a particular model helmet, we may make that model helmet different ways depending upon the market that helmet is going to be sold in.

And what that will yield is a helmet that is more competitive in its category in that market.

Like in the CE market, the European market, the Genesis helmet is slightly lighter weight than it is in the CPSC market and the ASI market. And that’s just because in order to meet our internal testing standards and the CE testing standards we can get away with using less material in the European version of that helmet and make it more competitive at its price point and its segment in the market.”

Bz:

It’s not a matter of making it maximally safe, it’s a matter of making it competitive.
CS:

“Yeah. Fundamentally, what you need to understand about helmets is, there’s lots of different helmets for lots of different types of cycling and different price points that consumers are willing to pay for a helmet. In order for a manufacturer to be successful in business, they need to deliver a product that the consumer wants to buy.

So, for a helmet that has a particular weight target it has to cost within a certain range or price. Or, a helmet within a certain price range, it has to have a certain maximum weight for it to be considered a legitimate contender in the marketplace.

So, the European helmets are a little bit more competitive on weight vs. price, because the testing standard is not as stringent.”

Bz:

What about industry standards? Has the helmet industry come up with its own set of testing standards? Or does each manufacturer come up with his own, which may or may not exceed the legal?
CS:

“No. There’s no collaboration in the bicycle industry between manufacturers on helmet testing standards.

It’s a third entity, in the case of the United States it’s the CPSC that sets the testing standard that the manufacturers follow. But there’s no cooperation or work within the industry to develop a new standard, or to develop a standard other than what is currently accepted, which is the CPSC standard in the United States.”

Bz:

Is there much fluctuation, manufacturer to manufacturer, on exceeding the legal standard? Or does everyone exceed it by 2X?
CS:

“I can’t speak for other manufacturers. I don’t know.

I know that a smart company will look to exceed that standard, for two reasons. Number one, to assure that the helmet is providing the maximum amount of safety that it can within that category of helmets. Whether you’re talking about a $300 helmet or whether you’re talking about a $30 helmet, you want it to be the safest helmet you can manufacture at that price point, using whatever technology you’re using and whatever benchmark maximum weight you’re trying to hit, or whatever. You want to deliver the safest helmet you can at that price point, to be competitive in the market.

But you’ve also go to take into account manufacturing process, and that will fluctuate.

If you’re using a mold to build the helmet foam, that mold is gonna start to wear over time. There might be factors in manufacturing that will affect how that single helmet will test out.

So, if you are designing a helmet and testing it out, preproduction samples, testing those out that they exceed the testing standard by, like I said, a factor of two. Because if you’re beating it by a factor of two and you lose one or two points because the mold is starting to wear out, or whatever reason, you can be sure you’re still far exceeding the testing standard.

Whereas, just hypothetically, if the drop test says, we don’t want to see forces any higher than X, and you’re hitting at X + .01, you basically don’t have any margin for error during the manufacturing process [when not aiming to intentionally exceed the minimum standard – Bz].

So, in the case of Lazer, and I believe that this is common in the helmet manufacturing industry, exceeding that standard by a certain factor, and I think two is pretty common, assures the manufacturer that they’re delivering a safe helmet and they’re accounting for any kind of issues during manufacturing that may knock a point or two off of the result during that test.”

Bz:

When should a helmet be replaced?
CS:

“You talk about helmet manufacturers getting together and coming up with a testing standard. What I wish is that manufacturers would come up with a consistent message regarding helmet replacement. Either an amount of time, you know, you’ve had this helmet for two years you should really think about replacing it, and coming out with some hard data that says, okay, you leave this foam exposed to UV light for such and such a time the foam degrades and offers less protection, the plastic degrades and is more likely to crack or shatter or whatever.

I mean, every time you have it outside you’re exposing it to UV light regardless of whether it’s in direct sunlight or the clouds or whatever. And ozone can cause plastic and foam to deteriorate. It happens.

Obviously, there’s sales and marketing. The more people replace their helmets the more helmets we’re going to sell. But, I see people riding all the time with unbelievably old helmets. From the 1980s, you know, the huge Bell V – 1 Pro. Those, you know, look bomb proof, but realistically have been around for so long that the foam is basically just an extension of the plastic on the outside of the helmet. In case of an impact the energy will go right into your skull.

Without testing, I don’t want to say that you’d be better off with no helmet at all, but…”

Bz:

What happens to foam when it gets old?
CS:

“It’s more brittle.”

Bz:

It’s ability to give in an impact is gone?
CS:

“Basically what’s happening is the cells in the foam close up. The amount of air inside the foam is being reduced. As the air in the foam is reduced, the foam is hardening up and the foam is then less able to absorb energy because it’s the air pockets within the foam that are actually absorbing that energy and compressing.”

Bz:

At about what period of time does that occur? Or is it so much that you really should replace your helmet? Two years? Five years? Ten years?
CS:

“I tell people that at a minimum they should be looking at a new helmet every three years. And that’s not just for deterioration of the foam. Because the foam would probably last longer than that. But, the more you use a helmet, the more it gets banged up. If you travel with the helmet, the helmet going to get knocked around. If you have in a suitcase or luggage, unless you take a lot of extraordinary care in order to protect the foam in the helmet, every time you move it around the foam gets dinged, the foam is compressing and compressed foam does not offer protection for the rider’s head. So, especially if you’re using it regularly, I think a new helmet every three years is not unrealistic.

Again, I’m not a scientist or an engineer, so I haven’t seen any empirical evidence.”

Bz:

What’s the difference between a $25 helmet from Walmart or Target or some other big discount store and a $150 helmet? Because, just to look at them they all seem about the same; styrofoam core, plastic shell.
CS:

“Weight, ventilation, airflow, dual-density foam, additional reinforcement, better retention systems for more secure fit/comfort.

Glue-on shell vs. an in-mold manufactured helmet.

A glue-on shell is basically, you mold the foam, then you have the shell that you glue on to the outer surface and you reinforce that with a piece of tape that goes around the shell.

That’s the original manufacturing process, when companies started to get into helmet design.

Then they switch to what’s called an “in-mold” manufacturing process, where you actually have the outer plastic shell, which you put into the mold and then you inject foam and it’s kind of all built as one piece.

Then, beyond that, you can have multiple-piece manufacturing process where you have the shell, you have one part of the foam that is injected at one point, you have another part of the foam that’s injected at another point, you can have multiple pieces of foam that are connected into the helmet during the manufacturing process. That allows us to piece objects inside the foam in order to increase the durability of the helmet in the event of an impact.

It also allows you to use multi-density foam. So if you want to lighten up the overall weight of the helmet, you can research areas of the helmet that are less critical for the protection of the rider’s head and you can use a lighter weight foam in that area in order to reduce the overall weight of the helmet.

But, basically, as you go up in price, you’re using a more sophisticated manufacturing process and trying to achieve the same ultimate testing result, using less materials.

You’re also trying to improve the performance of the helmet at the same time. You’re increasing the size of the vents, you’re putting air channels into the interior of the helmet to draw more air through the helmet, making it more comfortable. All of that stuff goes back to that sophisticated manufacturing process and very easily drives up the overall manufacturing cost of the individual helmet.

Also, the sophistication of the retention system. That has to do with how securely the helmet fits on the rider’s head. It also has to do with how comfortably the helmet fits on the rider’s head.

In a very simple retention system, maybe a recreational rider who isn’t going to be spending a long time on a bike, maybe doesn’t need a helmet that is going to be comfortable after seven or eight or nine hours on the bike. So they can get away with something a little less sophisticated. Whereas somebody who is a granfondo rider or a racer, doing a lot of training, they’re wearing their helmet for an extended amount of time. So they want something that is very comfortable for a long period of time, is very easy to adjust and maybe had multiple pieces that are involved in order to build that retention system.

The development of that retention system, building the helmet around that retention system and the multiple parts that go into it can also drive up the manufacturing cost. The straps themselves, you can use lighter weight strap materials in order to increase the comfort of the helmet, you can use a more sophisticated buckle system in order to lighten up the weight of the helmet. Or, in the case of our magnetic system, just to make it easier for the two pieces to connect. There’s a manufacturing expense to doing that as well.”

Bz:

You mention the two different types of manufacturing, the two-part helmet with a glued on shell, and the one part helmet with the foam poured into the shell. At the high or low end of either, is one type inherently safer than the other?

CS:

“No. No. With current testing standards is one safer than the other? No. Because, they are both able to meet the testing standard and protect the rider’s head in the event of an impact.

I, personally, would have no hesitancy going out and riding with a $25 or $30 helmet. It just would not be as light weight, it wouldn’t offer the amount of airflow through the helmet, it may not be as comfortable, and it certainly wouldn’t look the way that I would want a helmet to look.

But as far as ultimate safety, it’s gonna do the same job as a $300 helmet is gonna do.

It’s just that the more expensive helmet is going to offer some additional features for the rider that somebody who’s going out and riding for 20 to 30 minutes is not going to… they don’t need, they’re not going to appreciate it, they’re not going to want to spend the money on it.”

Bz:

In a multi-density foam helmet, what area or areas will normally contain the lighter-weight foam? How is that determined?
CS:

“We make a determination regarding the areas of the helmet that are less critical for the protection of the head or the integrity of the helmet in the event of an impact, and those are the areas of the helmet that we can replace with the lighter weight foam. The helmet is then tested internally to assure that it passes testing within our margins. If it does not then we change the ratio between standard and lighter-weight foam and retest.”

Bz:

Pat McQuaid recently complained that the frames for $4,000 bikes are made in China at a cost of less than $40.

Manufacturers say he’s off the mark by as much as a factor of 10, but none of them are showing the invoices to prove that.

What is the actual cost of manufacturing a $25 helmet? A $150 helmet?
CS:

“Hmmm, I don’t know.

I can tell you that looking at pure manufacturing costs you’re missing a portion, and a significant portion, of the expense of bringing a product to market. Research, development, engineering, prototyping, pre-production prototyping, testing. There’s a lot more that goes into manufacturing a product, regardless of what a product is, than just the raw materials and time spent in manufacturing it.”

Bz:

Are those costs proportionally multiplied when you’re manufacturing a higher-end helmet?
CS:

“Yeah! You have the in-mold process, where you’re molding the helmet out of different pieces of foam and you’re introducing different material as you’re manufacturing it.

Other than the machines and the shell and the foam in the helmet, there’s a lot of hand labor that does into manufacturing these helmets. It’s actually shocking.

We’re talking about threading the straps. You think about the complexity of these helmet straps, they’re all hand threaded. The more sophistication retention mechanism the more time has to be spent threading the helmet strap through that retention system. The more sophisticated the buckle, there’s got to be a procedure.

Our retention system, again, is pretty sophisticated and it has to be fed through the the exterior of the helmet, the interior of the helmet, during the molding process.

So, yeah, I think for other manufacturing factors… our more expensive helmets require, not a significanct amount of raw materials, in a lot of cases it’s actually less raw materials. But the manufacturing process is more sophisticated and there’s a lot more hand laboring put into the manufacturing.”

Bz:

What percentage of the overall manufacturing cost does R&D make up in a $25 helmet? A $300 helmet?

CS:

Impossible to say because these costs are highest at the first helmet sold and then are amortized over the life of the helmet model. The longer a helmet model stays in our product line or the more successful the helmet is in regard to sales the lower the cost of R&D makes up.”

Bz:

I’ve noticed that lower-end helmets often don’t even come in packages. They’re just hung on a peg.

CS:

“Yeah! In Europe they’re not even hung on a shelf. They’re thrown into a big plastic bin. Just loose helmets thrown into a bin. Consumers just come in, they throw one on their head, ‘Yep, that fits. I’m ready to go.’”

Bz:

If you just pick up a helmet and look at it, it would seem to be made of about the same material as a cheap picnic cooler, except for the density of the foam.

How is helmet foam different from picnic cooler foam?
CS:

That is a good question and one that I don’t have the answer to. Not being a helmet engineer and not being familiar with the different types of expanded styrene foams that are used it would be pure speculation on my part.

I believe the size of the individual cells, the air cells in the foam, the air cells on an EPS cooler may be very large and larger air cells do not offer the same kind of resistance to impact or the durability in a helmet that you’re going to be wearing on a daily basis.

When you talk about a helmet that uses dual-density foam, as I mentioned earlier, you’re IDing parts of the helmet that are less critical for the protection of the rider’s head and you’re using a lighter-weight foam, basically I think what you’re doing is using a foam that has a higher air quantity. The cells in that foam are bigger and they’re trapping more air and that lightens up the overall weight of the foam.

But, at the end of the day I believe, again not being an engineer and not knowing all the details about it, EPS (expanded polystyrene) is EPS.”

NOTE: Chris emailed the official answer the next day (along with a couple others). – Bz
CS:

“The chemical composition of the foam is the same [as in styrofoam coolers], but the quality of the foam in regard to the size/shape/consistency of the foam bubbles at the time of expansion during production is higher in the foam used in helmets.”

Bz:

Of the materials, EPS, SXP, EPP and SEPP, which best protects in case of impact? Which prevents the most energy from reaching the head and brain?
CS:

“I have not been able to get information from our engineers regarding these various types of foam. My limited understanding on this is that SXP foam is a version of EPS foam and is required for use in CPSC-certified helmets and also mandated for use in the state of California. I believe that this is the industry standard for use.”

Bz:

Is one of these materials destined to be the “future” of cycling helmets? Or will EPS remain the standard for the foreseeable future? If it will, will you explain why? Could you (or one of your engineers, perhaps) give me a list of the advantages and disadvantages, the benefits and drawbacks for each material?

[This answer was emailed after the interview. – Bz]
CS:

“Whatever version of EPS foam (SXP) is being used now is going to be the standard in the foreseeable future as this raw material is readily available and currently most economical to use in manufacturing. Should another foam be determined to offer greater protection and the industry or regulative agencies determine that it should be used at that time, a switch will be made. I don’t see this happening in the foreseeable future, however. Keep in mind that EPS foam is not just used in the bicycle industry but other sports industries that require the use of a helmet, as well as the immense motorcycle helmet industry. I would expect the motorcycle helmet market will drive any significant changes to materials used in the bicycle helmet industry.”

Bz:

Manufacturers often have to choose a foam density that will pass impact tests based on the number and size of vents. A helmet with larger vents or more vents, will have thinner vent walls/ribs so it will require a foam that is more dense.

This means that you have a smaller harder surface area smashing into your skull in a crash.

So even though two helmets may have identical numbers in an impact test, are helmets with larger or more vents actually less safe in crashes?
CS:

“Ummmmmmmm… that is a question that is impossible for me to answer without any kind of testing data to prove it one way or the other.

I mean, you can speculate all you want on that theory. Unless you’re going to get helmets and you’re going to go out and going to set up a testing standard, and actually get empirical data that says something one way or the other, then it’s basically just speculation at this point. That’s not something that I’d be able to comment on.

Every manufacturer is in the same boat. What manufacturers are facing is the demand of the market. I may have said to you, I’ve said to other people, you can make the safest helmet in the world. You can manufacture a hundred thousand of them and promptly go out of business because nobody is going to buy them.

People want helmets that, depending on the price point and the level of consumer you’re talking about these are going to be different priorities, but people want a helmet that looks stylish, they want a helmet that is lightweight and comfortable to wear, and they want a helmet that’s going to offer some airflow.

Again, you can make the safest helmet in the world with no air vents, a huge amount of foam, but nobody is going to wear it. Or very, very few people are going to wear it. Certainly not enough to keep your company viable and in business.

You’ve got to match your product to the demands of the consumers and match your product to what competitors are offering. And if you can offer A, B and C features that kind of exceed what the competitors are doing at that price point, and offer increased safety or better performance or whatever, that’s where you can distinguish yourself in the market.

But ultimately, regrettably, if safety is the only goal in helmet manufacturing, then you’re not going to survive as a company. As a consumer, yeah, it can offer benefit, but that’s just not what the marketplace is looking for.”

Bz:

Narrower vent walls also mean more squared edges, which are inherently worse in crashes than rounded edges. They’re more likely to stick or to get snagged and jerk helmet off your head leaving you with no protection, or to jerk your head around violently and increase rotational injuries.

This is also true of the “aero” tail on many helmets.

It seems that things done specifically to increase the value of a helmet too often create a less safe product, but are allowed in the name of higher marketability and profit.
CS:

“What I would say about that is… I have not seen, I mean, I’ve seen anecdotal evidence and people’s comments about this. But, I have not seen any testing data that says that a helmet with edges on it of some kind, or aero helmets, are inherently less safe than a perfectly round helmet or something that exactly matches the curvature of your head.

It may very well be the case. But, again, I’ve seen no data that proves that, and I’m not aware of anybody who’s actually testing that.

Again, I’m not saying that it cannot very well be the case, but what I will say is that based on the overwhelming number of photographs and post-crash stories that I get from our customers – and I can only assume that other manufacturers get them from their customers – this phenomenon of an edge of a helmet or the sharp corner of a helmet or the aero tail of a time trial helmet specifically causing an injury to the rider, I haven’t seen a case of it.

So, what we could be talking about is a very real scenario, but one that is so unlikely in a real-world situation, that it makes it impractical to take into account when designing a helmet.

No helmet can protect a rider in every situation, due to speed, due to the angle of the impact, objects in the road, objects off the side of the road, the surface that the rider is riding on. There are too many variables to take into account to say that this helmet is going to protect the rider the best in every situation.

So, to look at a particular feature of a helmet, regardless of how commonly it’s used and say, ‘this is something that I’m concerned about,’ the chance of that being a problem in a real world situation – while existing – could be so remote that it’s not a concern that a manufacturer can or should consider.

Bz:

Could you address the issue of visors shattering, or the edges slicing riders’ faces, or snagging during a collision and violently jerking the riders’ head around and increasing rotational damage?
CS:

“Again, hypothetical or anecdotal situations are always going to happen. I don’t know. You’ve got a segment of the market that wants a feature. And whether they are aware of the risks of that feature or not, in the case of a visor they want a visor on their helmet.

Obviously, the visors from Lazer, the visors from other manufacturers, are designed to withstand impact without shattering. I know that I’ve got a number of visors from our Oasis helmet, the all-mountain helmet I was telling you about, I can twist that visor 180 degrees and it’s not going to break, it’s not going to shatter. It may deform, but it’s not going to shatter. It’s not that fragile.

If you leave it out in the sun for five years and the UV rays cause the plastic to deteriorate, at that point it might shatter.”

Bz:

Does Lazer, or any manufacturer that you’re aware of, make a helmet that’s… maximally safe? Just, okay, here’s the absolute safest helmet you can buy. It may be ugly. It may not be stylish, but if this is what you want, here it is. Is that helmet out there?

CS:

“Hmmmm. I can tell you on behalf of Lazer that we do not make a helmet that we specifically market like that. I can’t say that Lazer does not make that helmet, because we’re not testing the helmets to any kind of standard that says ‘this is the safest helmet.’ I don’t know what that test would look like.

I can tell you personally that I think the current drop tests are not satisfactory. But, I’m not an engineer, I would not be comfortable being responsible to design what I thought would be the ultimate helmet testing standard.

So, again, without some kind of benchmark to say, ‘Okay, this is the test that will determine what the safest bicycle helmet in the world is, I couldn’t identify which of our helmets, or any other manufacturer’s helmet, might meet that criteria.

Without discounting the fact that this helmet may not already exist and that Lazer may be making that helmet, without some kind of way to verify that in a reliable and clean testing situation, that’s not something I’d be able to determine.”

Bz:

You’ve told me that Lazer Sport manufactures its helmets in China, but some companies manufacture in Europe. Is there a difference in the quality of helmets manufactured in one place vs. the other?
CS:

“My feeling is that the quality of manufacturing between China and Europe is about the same but the production costs in Europe are higher. So you can get the same quality helmet from a Chinese supplier for a more economical price. The quality of products coming from China has improved dramatically in the last ten years and Lazer has a very close relationship with our production facility which allows us to develop and incorporate new concepts and innovation into our helmets very quickly after design.”

Bz:

You’ve mentioned before that you’re not happy with the current testing standard. You mentioned that you aren’t happy with the drop test because it doesn’t match real world situations.

Does Lazer, or anyone, test more “real world?” Different angles? Skid? Just whatever might make the standard better?
CS:

“When we design a helmet we’re designing it for the testing standard of that market [U.S., Australia, Europe – Bz]. We’re partnering with another organization which is using a different testing procedure. I might have alluded to that in the article that I referenced [on his own blog, here – Bz]. The organization is called MIPS. We are, I know that POC and maybe one other company which I’m not sure of [also are]. We are partnering with MIPS using a different testing procedure, in order to address what I feel are more real world conditions.”

Bz:

MIPS is not just a system, they’ve also modified the testing standard?
CS:

“They’ve developed their own testing standard. It’s not a stationary helmet with an object coming into it, it’s not a stationary object with a helmet coming into it. They’re doing a more dynamic test to the helmet.”

Bz:

Is a helmet designed for one function, maybe mountain bike (MTB) riding, less safe if used for maybe road riding than a helmet made specifically for road riding?
CS:

“Well, it depends.

One example is our high end Helium helmet, which we consider a road helmet, vs. our Oasiz MTB helmet or all-mountain helmet.

The Helium helmet, it’s the pinnacle of our line. It’s made using our most sophisticated manufacturing technology in order to make it as lightweight as possible.

Whereas the Oasiz helmet, it uses the same manufacturing process, but it’s a more significant helmet in that it’s meatier and there’s more material that comes down the back of the rider’s head. Because again, the demands of the market. Riders who are doing this all-mountain type of riding, they’re looking for a helmet that offers more protection down the back of the rider’s head and has more material that the helmet is built around.”

Bz:

So there are features that make a helmet an MTB helmet or a road helmet?
CS:

“There are features that we are offering in order to address the needs of the MTB market, or the road bike market.

But, what I’ll tell you is, like in the case of the Luna womens professional MTB team, we equip them all with the Helium helmet, because they want the super-light helmet

So, someone who’s looking for a type of helmet, whether or not at the end of the day it’s for the type of riding they’re doing, the crash that they actually might find themselves involved in, whether or not the Oasiz helmet is going to offer them more protection, there’s too many variables to take into account. But in the case of the all-mountain segment, A, B and C features are what those riders are looking for, so we incorporate those features into the helmet.”

Bz:

Ok, it’s based on rider preferences within a category. What MTB riders want in that line, what road riders want in that line.

How do you gather the information about what various types of riders want in which line or type of helmets?
CS:

“We look at what – if it’s a new segment for us to get into – we look at what consumers are already buying in that segment, as far as the features that they’re looking for. Then we look at, okay, are there ways that we can improve upon those features, is there a way that we can offer the same protection with less material, to lighten up the overall weight of the helmet? Can we integrate our features and technologies that we use on our high-end helmets at a lower-price helmet and set our product apart from what the competition is doing, by a better fit or better airflow, better chin buckle, better visor.”

Bz:

Do you take feedback from the people and teams that you sponsor?
CS:

“Absolutely.”

Bz:

I remember seeing a crash test comparison of a Smart car and a Toyota Corolla, at 70 mph into giant concrete blocks. The cages of both cars held up amazingly well.

But after showing us that, the host mentioned that it doesn’t matter how well the cage protects the body, the person inside the car in a 70-mph crash is still very likely to die from organ damage due to the forces involved in rapid deceleration.

Translating that to helmet design, it seems obvious that there’s only so much protection a helmet can offer. Most of us will never crash at 70 mph, but a combination of forces, especially for racers, could equal that.

What are the limits of helmet protection?

Does that $150 or $300 helmet protect significantly better than the $25 helmet?

I know there’s no standard scenario, so no standard maximum safe speed for helmet effectiveness, but can you give a range?

What is the upper limit of speed for impacts from the side? From the front? From the top? From the rear?
CS:

“No. No. At the end of the day, no. There are too many variables to take into account to even to begin to guess at that.

Again, without any empirical data or any kind of reliable testing it would be irresponsible for anyone to make that kind of recommendation.

I can tell you that in a $25 helmet vs. a $300 helmet, there may some features built into that $300 helmet that might help improve the odds that the rider will escape from a crash unscathed, for instance the RBS, the Rigidity Brace System that we build into our higher-end helmets, and again that’s another component of that higher manufacturing technology. We can introduce more materials into the helmet when we’re building these multiple pieces. But, what the RBS is, it’s a skeleton that’s inside of the foam and in the event of an impact the skeleton helps keep the foam together and around the rider’s head. So if there are additional lower-speed impacts, the rider still has foam around their head and is offered that additional protection.

So, in our higher-end helmets we have that RBS that may offer that protection.

But again, there’s too many variables. Is the rider going to crash and land directly on their head? Are they going to crash and land on another body part that can cause rapid deceleration so that the rider’s head is hitting at a much lower speed? Is there an object in the road or off the side of the road that the rider’s head could hit?

Again, it’s impossible and in my opinion it would be irresponsible without a standard test, to say that ‘you can wear our helmet at speeds up to 50 mph and be assured that in the event of a crash you’re not going to have a problem.’

Because, honestly, you look at Natasha Richardson, the actress who was skiing on a bunny hill. She was standing still and fell over and had a traumatic brain injury and within… six hours? Eight hours? She was dead.

You can trip and land on the floor at almost zero miles an hour and suffer a significant brain injury that can cause death.

Bicycle helmets can help. They can offer considerable help depending upon the circumstances of the crash. But, at the end of the day there’s just too many variables to take into account to say that this helmet will offer protection up to speeds up to this amount.”

Bz:

As in the example they gave with that 70-mph car crash, where it didn’t matter how well the car cage protected the body, the organs inside could not survive, is there a point or a speed where it doesn’t matter how well the helmet protects the skull, the brain inside cannot survive?

At 30 mph? 50 mph? I don’t know…


CS:

“I don’t know either. Because I’m not aware of any test that has defined that. Because ultimately what you’re talking about is the speed… it’s not the speed that your head hits the object, it’s the speed at which your brain hits the inside of the skull. Because that’s where the brain injury happens.

Your head can hit an object at whatever speed. But because your brain is not fixed to the inside of your head, there’s a delayed reaction between when your head hits the ground and when your brain decelerates by smashing into the skull.

You’re talking about survivability? It depends what part of the brain hits the inside of the skull. There’s certain parts of the brain that are more durable than others.”

Bz:

So it’s things like, do you hit directly or is it a glancing blow, is it a front impact, or on the side or back, not just how fast you’re going, that make a big difference?
CS:

“Exactly.

Again, there’s too many variables to take into account. Because of what is happening – not just outside your head, but inside your head – in just fractions of a second, it can make a critical difference whether or not a head impact and injury is survivable or not.

I don’t know what the speed of Wouter Weylandt was in the Giro d’Italia when he crashed. I know that they were descending. From what I saw of that descent it didn’t look to be an extremely high-speed descent. If the speed was over 40 mph [64 kph – Bz] I would have been amazed. But, you hit your head in a particular way, it can be fatal, regardless of what you’ve got on your head.”

The following questions were submitted by @CycleGirl108, a friend on twitter, following several discussions we had concerning Wouter Weylandt’s crash at the Giro and Chris Horner’s and Tom Boonen’s crashes at the Tour. She knew we were doing this interview and has a keen interest in helmet safety and helmet advocacy. She emailed her questions to be posed to Chris Smith during the interview.
CG108:

They’ve used hard styrofoam as the main cushion in helmets for 30 years; why not shift to gel or something with more give?
CS:

“Good question. Why haven’t they?

I’d have to talk to my boss and the engineers.”

OFFICIAL EMAILED ANSWER:

“Two reasons EPS foam is currently being used:

  • It’s currently readily available and mass-produced, so it’s easy for manufacturers to obtain for a reasonable cost while still offering good protection for the rider’s head
  • Gel and similar materials have been tested but the overall helmet weight when used with these materials has yielded unacceptable results.”

CG108:

Is it possible to have a helmet which grips the head directly, and doesn’t need a chin strap?
CS:

“It is possible? Sure.

But that kind of flies in the face the rotational injury phenomenon. You actually need to have some kind of system for the helmet to move independent of the rider’s head.

Maybe you could do it. Maybe you could develop a system that grabs the rider’s head so tightly, but still allows the shell to move independent of that. I don’t know how comfortable that would be.

I think you could do it, but you’d sacrifice everything in the way of helmet comfort to achieve that.”

CG108:

I’ve been told that above a certain speed or impact pressure, the helmet may keep the skull intact, but brains inside will liquefy. True? That is, it will be like shaking a raw egg: Scrambled in the shell. If so, what speed?
CS:

“‘Liquify’ is bit extreme, but it is true. I can’t assign a speed to that. Because it could happen at high speed, it could happen at low speed.

The speed of the rider and the speed of the bike has nothing to do with it. It’s the speed of the head, how and where it impacts whatever surface.

You can come off your bike at 70 mph but you may have decelerated to under 50 by the time your head hits the ground. Who knows, by what part of your body hits first.

But having said that, regardless of speed, yes, you can hit your head hard enough where you brain, because your brain is not fixed to the interior of your skull, you can hit your head hard enough that your brain will impact the inside of your skull and cause intercranial bleeding. That can be fatal, and quickly fatal.”

CG108:

The current standards call for protection when dropped from 2 meters onto an anvil. Isn’t that a lot slower than a typical rider goes? It seems to me that a recreational rider goes about 20 mph, which is quite a bit faster than a dropped helmet, so shouldn’t the standard be made higher?
CS:

“Possibly. But, I can say that in the case of the testing standard, they take into account the fact that another portion of the rider’s body, more often than not, impacts the ground first, which causes rapid deceleration.

It’s very rare that the rider’s head hits first at full speed.

The testing standard was developed to account for, I think, 14 mph. Because that’s what they determined was the average crash speed when the head actually did have impact. So that was, for better or worse, whether you agree with it or not, that was taken into account when they designed the test.”

CG108:

Can helmets be improved to absorb more impact and protect wearers from falls at higher speeds, without making the helmets so cumbersome that bicyclists won’t wear them?
CS:

“Can it be done? Mmmmmmmmm, anything can be done, depending on how much the consumer wants to spend.

If you have enough money to throw at a project, you can do just about anything. But, you’re going to price it out of the competitive market.”

CG108:

I understand that based on skull and brain physiology, it’s hard to protect the brain from sloshing inside the skull during a high-speed impact. Nevertheless, will it someday be possible for a helmet to protect more against concussion?
CS:

“Concussion goes back to that rotational brain injury, which accounts for the overwhelming majority [of head injuries] in cycling and motorcycling. That’s what we’re trying to occomplish with the MIPS system.

One thing I’ll tell you, this is also becoming something that motorcycle helmet companies are taking seriously.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Lazer started out as a motorcycle helmet manufacturing company.

Just about two years ago, based in Brussels, was a motorcycle and bicycle and air-sport [helmet] manufacturing company.

The managers of the bicycle division bought that division out.

Now, Lazer Helmets, based in Brussels, still makes motorcycle helmets. Lazer Sport, based in Antwerp, is the bicycle division.

So there still is a Lazer motorcycle helmet manufacturing company. And they have addressed this rotational brain injury phenomenon by coming up with a helmet with a feature called ‘super skin.’

Basically what this skin is, it’s like a scalp that’s applied to the outer portion of the helmet. If you think about it, your scalp is designed to prevent rotational brain injury.

So, at walking speeds, you trip and you fall, you hit your head. Your scalp, for just a fraction of a second, milliseconds, your scalp will adhere to whatever your head hits, just for that fraction of a second, and allow your skull to travel in it’s original direction. It’s just that few milliseconds of allowing the skull to continue in its original direction that can dramatically reduce rotational brain injury.

That’s the job of the scalp at a walking and running pace. You get on a 50 mph or 70 mph motorcycle, your scalp is obviously not up to that challenge. So what Lazer motorcycle helmets did, working with another independent group, they developed this ‘super skin’ technology which is basically a scalp that is attached, is bonded, to the outer surface of a motorcycle helmet.

If you grab one of these helmets and press your thumb on it, you can actually move the outer surface of the helmet versus the shell underneath it. It’s accomplishing the same goal. So, at 50, 60, 70 mph if you come off the motorcycle and you hit your head, for that millisecond, that super skin/scalp will adhere to the road and allow the rest of the helmet to continue in the original direction of travel.

Just that millisecond of energy absorbtion tested out to a dramatic reduction in the frequency and chance of rotational brain injury.”

Bz:

Is there any chance that we’ll see that on a bicycle helmet?
CS:

“Well, maybe. We were pursuing that at a time when we were all one company.

The problem is, a motorcycle helmet that has that, you can’t have any air vents in it. It’s got to be one solid scalp surface for it to work.

We were looking at maybe offering a full-face DH [downhill – Bz] helmet without any vents that had that technology. But now that we’re different companies, I can’t speak to us using that technology in bicycle helmets.

With what MIPS is doing, it’s accomplishing the same thing, it’s just coming at it from a different direction. Instead of having something on the exterior of the helmet, we’re working with them to have this system on the interior of the helmet to accomplish the same goal”

CG108:

In discussions with friends, they ask why they should they bother with a helmet, if it won’t protect against concussion. I point out that your head is a really bad place on which to get road rash. Therefore it is equally important to have the helmet be sufficiently strong to protect the head when the rider falls. When Jens Voigt fell on live TV during the 2009 Tour de France, his helmet got mashed and mangled and scraped – but saved his head from receiving that damage. He still had a concussion, but he didn’t leave his brains out on the road, which would have happened if he hadn’t had the helmet on.
CS:

“Yeah, absolutely! Again, time and time again, I get email stories and photographs from people who send me pictures of their smashed up helmet, overjoyed that their helmet did its job of protecting their head. Now, honestly, very few if any of these riders suffered a rotational brain injury. Because, that’s a fairly serious issue and they probably would have mentioned intercranial bleeding and having to go through a procedure fairly quickly that involves removing a part of the skull and allowing the brain to expand and swell into that area.

These are people who just hit their head in a straight line incident and didn’t have a brain injury. But, without that helmet, a skull fracture is serious business. Whether you have a brain injury or not, a fractured skull is a very, very significant injury. Bicycle helmets do a very good job preventing that injury.

If you’re only going to use a safety device because it will protect you against the most catastrophic injury that you can imagine, yeah, you may as well not use any safety device at all. But, if you use a safety device knowing that in a great number of situations this safety device is going to prevent injury, who wants to suffer? Who wants a skull fracture, road rash, skull abrasions, or all the different kinds of injuries that you can possibly get. Even facial injuries, a helmet is not going to protect facial injuries. But just the fact that it keeps your forehead elevated can help reduced facial and vision injuries.

So, there’s all kinds of different ways that a helmet can help, help keep the rider’s head safe, not taking into account the effects of rotational brain injury that make it absolutely worthwhile to wear a bike helmet every time you ride.”

You can also read Part 1 and comment on Cyclismas

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Team Type 1 and the Electric Kool-Aid Litmus Test

Posted by bikezilla on August 10, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3 & 4, Postscript, Team Type 1: Opinion

Team Type 1 and the Electric Kool-Aid Litmus Test

an editorial follow-up to my 4-part interview with James Stout

You might think that speaking to James Stout for our interview formed my opinion of Phil Southerland and Team Type 1 management. You’d be incorrect

When I first heard about James, my immediate opinion was, “Disgruntled former employee,” “prima donna,” “crybaby.”

To quote myself:

James is at once, mature and immature; humble and arrogant; naive and wise; grounded and flaky; stoic and a drama queen; tough and a sniveling bitch.”

What James is not, however, is a bitter former employee out to badmouth his ex-boss.

I gave James opportunity after opportunity to talk shit about Phil Southerland and Team Type 1. Not once did he take advantage of that, not even off the record.

When he discussed Phil and the team he seemed frustrated, sad, flabbergasted, regretful, but not angry.

Contrary to what I had expected, James felt and continues to feel a significant debt of gratitude toward Phil and TT1.

In fact, the one and only time that James ever seemed angry, was when he discussed the doctor who mockingly told him to “play chess.”

Almost as soon as I began my research on James Stout, I came across the account of Willem Van den Eynde, whose abuse at the hands of Southerland and Team Type 1 instantly one-upped the Stout story.

To summarize the situation, according to Van den Eynde himself, Willem was denied food and sleep, forced to sleep on the floor of Southerland’s hotel room, screamed at by Southerland for daring to momentarily place his bag on the bed in that room, berated by management for daring to train on his bike, given a diet that neither conformed to his diabetic needs nor to his needs as an athlete (putting him at risk of a hypo), was denied testing supplies by Phil Southerland though they were readily at hand (apparently Southerland laughed at him after the denial of testing supplies), was forced to pay all of his own expenses and never reimbursed.

Then I learned that WHILE James was going through his ordeal there were three other riders (at a minimum) who acknowledged they were going through similar hassles and harassments.

Every one of those other three riders is so intimidated and outright terrified of what Phil Southerland might do to them that they all refuse to discuss their time with Team Type 1.

The topper, however, the detail that pushed things over the edge in my formation of an opinion regarding Phil Southerland and Team Type 1, was hearing the rumors of an insurance fraud investigation that is ongoing in Italy.

The spread of dishonesty and corruption had become too much to overlook, or even to doubt, at least in my own mind.

From those few details that I’ve just shared came another handful of thoughts and opinions:

  • If we know that just during Stout’s time with TT1 there were at least four riders all in similar circumstances, and we know that prior to that time there was at least one other, how can we not assume that there are many, many more such cases?
  • Looking at the bulk of just the known cases; three of the five are so frightened of Southerland that they’ve gone into hiding and cannot bring themselves to speak of their time on TT1. Willem Van den Eynde spoke up very briefly, but has since vanished and gone silent.
  • It seems that Southerland and top management at Team Type 1 are a kind of wolf pack, identifying the weak sheep, culling them from the herd and savaging them without mercy. The difference here, in my opinion, is that unlike wolves, Southerland and his crew seem to inflict their torments purely for sport.
  • Worse, Southerland and his top managers choose young athletes who lack the life experience to even properly recognize what’s being done to them until it is far too late.

The only thing that set James apart from the other victims (those we know of and those we don’t), is that after a series of personal struggles, which saw him very nearly caving in to the same fear and intimidation that has muzzled all the others, he found just enough spine to step up and tell his story.

The interview that I did with James almost didn’t happen. Even after it was completed and written, James wanted it pulled and he see-sawed between hiding it from the world and daring to allow it to see the light of day.

Why? One can only presume that it is out of fear of Phil Southerland.

The day after Part 1 of our interview went up on Cyclismas for the first time (it was taken down for several days due to James’ concerns, then republished), Phil Southerland called James and screamed at him on the phone for 45 minutes.

If you’ve read Part 1, then you know that part of the interview is completely innocuous. There’s not one thing in there that could possibly be taken as negative regarding Phil Southerland or Team Type 1. They’re barely even mentioned.

Considering that Part 1 was completely inoffensive, then Phil could only have been in a panic about what he thought would be coming in future installments of the interview. Since nothing negative was even hinted at in Part 1, Phil must have knowledge of things that he 100% knows that he does not want released to the general public.

Phil Southerland had avoided any personal contact with James for months while James was struggling to learn what was going on and why, while James was losing his apartment, living in his car, unsure of where he would find his next meal, suffering without proper access to diabetes testing supplies and insulin. I’ve concluded that the moment Phil thought that James had found the courage to speak up in his own defense, Phil was instantly in contact in a most personal and threatening manner. To me, that speaks volumes for the character, ethics and morality of Phil Southerland.

Here are a few more details.

Immediately after Part 2 of my interview with James Stout went up, there was this comment posted to the Cyclismas site by an “AJohnson”:

How anybody could take this interview serious is beyond me. This kid has the reputation of a liar and a talentless cyclist. Plus, it sounds as if the interviewer is just trying to start a bunch of rumors about one of the few teams that is actually trying to do something good in cycling.”

First, the assessment that James is a “talentless cyclist” is something you may think is hinted at in our interview, where James tells us that he was at first on the elite team, and then on the developmental team. Except that if he were truly talentless, he would have simply been released. No team keeps on riders that cannot help the team, and no team should have to justify getting rid of a rider like that. That’s just a part of sports; if you aren’t good enough, you go home.

If James had been struggling in his performances, this is the kind of thing that would generally be known by someone who raced against James, but even more so by his coaches and teammates. But no such sentiments have been found online to back it up and no evidence nor even accusations of James presumed lack of talent were given as reasons for his release. To toss that out publicly now seems not only disingenuous, but slanderous.

Second, in my researching James, I did not come across a single reference about any lack of truthfulness or integrity in him. Not one. Even afterward a Google search for “James Stout liar” brings nothing. Nothing.

Instead, what I’ve been sent since the interview started going up has been 100% in praise of James and his character, that he’s pleasant, trusted, that the information he’s shared about diabetes has allowed individuals help themselves and to help others.

Aside from the mysterious and utterly unsupported “AJohnson” comment, not so much as a single comment, tweet or email has even hinted at James Stout lacking integrity or honesty. Not. Even. One.

The statements in the “AJohnson” comment are the types of statements that are made by disgruntled employers trying to cover their asses.

So I speculated that “AJohnson” was actually Phil Southerland himself, or else someone very close to Phil.

I discussed this with William Thacker, the publisher of Cyclismas, who checked the IP address. This is what he told me he found:

“The comment came from an ISP in Georgia, just outside Atlanta.”

The IP address has been saved, just so we can back that claim up.

Where is Team Type 1 headquartered? Atlanta, Georgia.

The day after “AJohnson” left his comment, Chris Baldwin started asking people I know about how to reach Cyclismas. He was given the editor’s email address, but has yet to contact her.

Chris Baldwin, according to the team’s website, is TT1’s PR Director for Europe. Right, he’s not a manager, he’s a PR guy, a spin doctor. That says to me that the team wants to spin the James Stout “problem” and that they feel that the interview contains things that embarrass them.

Then I have to think, “This Southerland guy seems far too much like Lance Armstrong, in all the most negative ways.”

  • As with Lance, everyone who speaks out against him is a liar, bitter and jealous because they have no talent.
  • As with Lance, sure he’s done a few questionable things, but you should just ignore all that because he’s really an unappreciated Man of the People, doing such good that any evil is negligible.

Phil seems to be setting himself up as a messiah figure, the savior of all those with type 1 diabetes. Much like Lance Armstrong has set himself up as the messiah figure to all those with cancer. Much like, in 1978, Jim Jones had set himself up as messiah to his followers in The People’s Temple, leading them to the tragedy in Guyana, and giving us the original reference of “drink the koolaid.”

I ask you now, can it be concluded that much like Lance Armstrong, Phil Southerland is a bully, a sociopath and a coward?

It is my fond hope that other abused riders will take courage from James Stout, and come forward to tell their stories, too.

————–

You can also find this and future interviews, plus a lot more cycling related content, at Cyclismas.

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James Stout Interview: Postscript

Posted by bikezilla on August 6, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3 & 4, Postscript

When William Thacker, the publisher for Cyclismas, first contacted me about the James Stout interview, I hesitated, because who the hell is this Stout kid? Who ever heard of him? What’s he ever done? How much information will I possibly be able to find?

But looking into it a little I found the Stout / TT1 / Phil Southerland story to be intriguing, so I agreed.

I was told that James was ready for this, that he wanted to do it.

Overall, that was true. But James had bouts of uncertainty based on his legal situation.

There have been more gopher holes and protruding roots in the trail of this interview than ever should have been.

James’ issues with Phil Southerland and Team Type 1 first sidetracked and then nearly derailed publication of the interview on Cyclismas.

There were times when I thought very unkind things about James Stout, “flake” and “prima donna” were some of the kinder words that ran through my head when he crossed my mind.

But Thacker, calm, resourceful, peace making genius that he is, kept things running on track each time.

Much of my ill will and negative thoughts resurfaced and then re-submerged several times before everything was sorted out and publication was a go.

When we started talking I discovered that James is an excellent and interesting conversationalist. Talking with him was a truly interesting and rewarding experience.

Before I go on let me describe James to you: James is at once, mature and immature; humble and arrogant; wise and naive; grounded and flaky; stoic and a drama queen; tough and a sniveling bitch.

The interview took place via Skype connected to cell phone, America to Spain. The connection was not ideal. At times it was godawful atrocious.

While transcribing my Vaughters interview I might listen to a passage 2 or 3 times to make sure I understood something. Between the fuzzy connection and James accent I was listening to some snippets a dozen times or more; slowing them down, speeding them up, sometimes having to give up on them entirely and just leave them out.

For instance, during Part 3 James gave me the names of four friends. That snippet of recording took maybe 20 seconds to speak. But it took me nearly 10 minutes to piece together using a combination of what I already knew about James, what it kind of sounded like he said, and web searches, to get it all down correctly.

The digital noise break up was at its worst during the final ten minutes. During that stretch there was about five minutes worth of material that had to be left “on the cutting room floor” because the noise made them completely unintelligible.

That was frustrating, because James was sharing some really interesting personal stuff about school and what’s going on with him currently.

The one thing that made this interview both more difficult and more rewarding, was that when James speaks he is very “stream of consciousness”.

I’d sent James an outline containing the topics for each part of the interview. We’d start talking about one thing and he’d end up covering all or some of another topic. From his rambling I’d have more questions, questions that were not in my script.

So, I ended up with more material than I’d otherwise have gotten, but I also did a lot more editing and reorganizing, so that things would make the most sense and flow better.

For instance, the passage about the doctor who told James to play chess: That was covered early in the interview, then came up again with a lot more passion and at greater length much later. But it was stuck at the end of something it wasn’t really related to.

So, the second reference had to be moved up to beneath the first. I didn’t change any context or meaning, but without that change things would have been more jerky and repetitive.

There were a few things that surprised me.

First, how this behavior by Southerland seems to be a fairly broad problem, to the point that I have to call it a pattern of abuse.

That continues to be a surprise for me, because I really liked the notion of TT1 and I’d read some nice things about Southerland. It made it hard, at first, to take James and Willem Van den Eynde’s claims seriously.

Second, how James really did not at all come across as angry and bitter and trying to cause trouble.

Third, how the others that we know of seem not only reluctant to talk, but outright fearful.

Finally, what a flaming, arrogant, prima donna, pain in the ass James can be at times, but at others seeming so humble, pleasant, and generally calm and together in the face of adversity.

There is another significant difference between this interview and the interviews I did with Bill Strickland and Jonathan Vaughters.

In those previous interviews I went in knowing or at least assuming quite a bit about the subject. I had an idea before things even got rolling about what I wanted to ask and where I wanted things to lead. I had some nugget of “truth” that I wanted to attain.

With the James Stout interview I went in having never heard of James before and even after doing my research I had no idea of what to expect. I didn’t know what the “nugget of truth” was going to be, I had no real aiming point beyond attaining James’ version of the story.

When I finished those previous interviews I had a feeling of accomplishment, of completion, to one degree or another. With this one, not so much. It feels like there’s more out there, more to know, more to learn. Not so much that I missed something or that James withheld something, but just that all the pieces haven’t come together yet.

Will they eventually? Will the story eventually feel like it’s complete? I really don’t know right now.

But, for all his flaws and for all the hassle and high blood pressure James has caused me, I believe that he is truthful and that his account of what’s happened to him is accurate within his understanding of it.

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James Stout Interview: Part 3 and 4

Posted by bikezilla on August 3, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3 & 4, Postscript

Part 3

Bz:

What was your personal performance like while on TT1, not the team’s, but just you? 

JS:

“I was part of the team that won the Race Across America, which is a massive achievement. I won a criterium race, I won a hill climb time trail. I raced Superweek. I raced a ton of races with TT1 in a support capacity and by myself.

“More than that we were able to make a huge impact on people with diabetes.

“I did a ton of athlete days, where I’d go to speak to kids with diabetes. Speak to adults with diabetes.

“I was the only one who was bilingual in Spanish and English, so I did a lot of work in Spanish speaking communities, where obviously income average is a lot lower than in a lot of White communities.

“And that’s as significant achievement for me, seriously, as winning bike races.

“If I can make one kid take a decent approach to their diabetes and not go blind, then that’s waaaaaaaay bigger than putting my wheel across the line in front of another dude.

“So, that was massive for me.”

Bz:

What was your position or role on the team, on and off the bike.

JS:

“I’d say I was more of a kind of . . . rolluer. I can go well in long races, I can go well in stage races.

“Yeah, stage races, longer hillier races. I like it when the weather’s groggy. More of that kind of thing, and certainly the criteriums, I’ve tried some longer time trials. But, longer stuff, rolling terrain, shitty gritty roads.

“I come from the United Kingdom, where our roads are just slow and dead. That’s what I’m used to doing.”

Bz:

Within the structure of the community outreach work, did you have a specific role in that, or did each rider or staff member have similar roles?

JS:

“For the outreach they’d send round the opportunities. We had to do outreach stuff, and we could volunteer.

“I was always really forthcoming in volunteering. Some of the guys saw it as a hassle. But, I loved doing it.

“So I was in the vanguard in that respect. I was able to do a lot of the outreach stuff. I never felt it was a burden. I was lucky enough to be able to do a lot of that.

“And like I said, with my Spanish speaking role, there were some things the other guys just couldn’t do.

“That was a big part of what I did for the team.”

Bz:

After January, when you couldn’t race any more, were you continuing to do outreach work?

JS:

“Yes, I was. Most times at my own expense, to the extent that I didn’t get reimbursed.

“Absolutely I was. I continue to do outreach work with diabetic people, here (in Spain – Bz), when I get a chance, because I care.

“I wasn’t doing it because it was a sponsor obligation. It wasn’t like I was sitting on the Shimano tent talking to people about how great their gears were.

“I was doing this because I don’t want any kid, eighteen years old, to be told, no you can’t, you have to play chess. You know? Bullshit. It’s not true.

“I want everyone to know that they can do what they want. Do to that I have to go out and impact them.

“So I do that here, now. I’m in Spain, I’m on my own, I have nothing to do with TT1. And if there’s a clinic or a doctor or an endocrinologist who will help me, then I’ll go. Because I really care.

“It’s not a sponsor thing, it’s not a professional athlete thing, it’s a James thing.

“I won’t stop doing that.”

Bz:

What was your relationship with your teammates? With staff? With managers?

JS:

“Really good!

“The soignuers were friends of mine, I got along with the guys who do the warehousing and that kind of stuff, with my teammates. We talked often and still do.

“If you look at my Twitter you can see that back and forth between me and a lot of the boys. They still email me to see how I’m doing. I’ve stayed with my teammates and babysat their children.

“Even now they say, “when you come back you’ll visit? You won’t be a stranger?”

“They’re my friends. They’re my good friends.

“I presume Phil terminated my contract. He certainly doesn’t seem to want to be my friend any more. So, I’m not sure I can consider him a close friend anymore.

“Aside from that, everyone I met through TT1 I would consider a friend. If I bumped into them on the street I’d say hello.”

Bz:

Were there any you were particularly close to?

JS:

“Bob Schrank, Dan Schneider, Jeff Bannink, Adam Driscoll.

“Those guys were like . . . I staid with Jeff for two weeks and he left his kids with me. You don’t do that unless you trust someone, right?

“Some of the best friends I have.

“Bob and Dan came and stayed with me this January in San Diego. I stayed with Bob before. Danny just sent me a care package of granola and peanut butter, because you can’t buy it in Spain.

“I’m really close to those guys.”

Bz:

Any you were particular NOT close to?

JS:

“Not really. There was no one I didn’t get on with.

“I’m a really firm believer that you shouldn’t go through life leaving a trail of enemies behind you. So, I try my utmost to . . . if someone isn’t my friend, then they’re just not my friend. They’re not necessarily my enemy.

“There’s no one who I would say I clashed with.”

Bz:

It must bother you on a personal level, the way things have gone bad.

JS:

“Yeah, it bothers me a lot on a personal level. I took a real hit.

“Only through working with Martin and Bruce (James therapist – Bz), he’s been helping with it on a personal level and just coming through it with my head screwed on right.

“On a personal level at first, it kicked me in the balls. I thought all my friends wouldn’t want to know me anymore. I thought someone would tell them something bad, or that I had done something terrible. But, credit to them, they’ve all taken the time to contact me and say, hey man you’re still my friend.

“That means a lot. That means a lot to me.”

Bz:

TT1 did not pay you for five months. Didn’t pay anything at all? Only paid part of what was owed?

JS:

“Nope, nothing. Absolutely zero. When I say not one penny, I mean not a single penny.”

Bz:

What about the insulin? Was that an instant cutoff? Or was it gradual?

JS:

“No, that was, ‘From date X we will no longer be giving free insulin to TT1 members.’”

Bz:

So that wasn’t just you? It was the entire team?

JS:

“It was only the people who weren’t getting paid. Because if you’re getting paid, you have health insurance.

“If you’re not getting paid, you don’t have health insurance.”

Bz:

People who had insurance had to get insulin through their insurance after this?

JS:

“Right. Correct. Which wasn’t a problem.”

Bz:

Which other riders were having problems with their visas? How many of you were there?

JS:

“I shouldn’t comment on other people’s visa situations.

“And I don’t know if they all weren’t getting paid or not. We never discussed that.”

Bz:

When they did finally terminate your contract it wasn’t over performance at all, but because of a tee shirt you wore to a party and a comment you made in your tweets?

JS:

“The reason they fired me was that I wore a tee shirt with the word ‘penis’ on it, and I retweeted something from Al Jazeera.”

Bz:

I think I remember seeing that. In the retweet you commented “no shit” or something like that.

JS:

“Yes, that’s it. That was considered sufficient to terminate my contract.”

Bz:

Had you butted heads with anyone on issues like this previously?

JS:

“I’d never heard of anything like that happening previously, and they’d never spoken to me about anything like that.

“I received a warning when I wore the tee shirt that said “penis”, and then my contract was terminated for twittering Al Jazeera.”

Bz:

It feels like there’s some amount of malice behind a lot of what happened to you and they way the situation was manipulated.

JS:

“It does.

“And it seems like I’m hiding some reason that they would hate me. If I am, then I’m hiding it from myself, because I just don’t know why. I don’t know what I did. I don’t know who I offended. I don’t know what I did wrong.

“That’s what upset me the most. Because no one will tell me.

“I mean wearing a tee shirt that says ‘penis’, it’s bullshit. It’s a drummed up excuse of the worst kind, and insult to my intelligence if they think I’d believe that’s a reason for terminating my contract.

“But I don’t know what else I did.”

Bz:

They claim that the tee shirt incident happened at a company event, but that was actually at a friend’s party and not related to work?

JS:

“That’s correct, it wasn’t at a TT1 function.”

Bz:

Was your health or your life ever in jeopardy due to lack of medication?

JS:

“Well, yeah, as I said, a week without your insulin and, as a diabetic, you’re about to go blind. A month without insulin and you’ll die.

“You can look up the effects of lack of insulin in Type 1 diabetics very easily on line, on Wikipedia or something and get more information

“Yes. If you don’t have insulin you’re life is very much at risk.”

Bz:

Ok, what about team ethics? This is a team that makes a very big deal of helping people with diabetes, of promoting proper care, treatment and testing. How do their actions toward you and toward Willem Van den Eynde mesh with the presumption that their mission is to help diabetics? 

JS:

“I have to say that it’s changed my conception of what their mission is, quite a lot. It doesn’t speak volumes about our mission to help people with diabetes.”

Bz:

How do they outreach to kids in Hispanic neighborhoods, then deny members of their own team medication?

JS:

“I wish I knew what the moral equivalent was, there. I wish I could understand how that tallies. I’m afraid I can’t explain it, because I don’t understand it.”

Bz:

It seems to be the antithesis of what TT1 stands for, but I guess there’s a lot of money to be had from public sympathy.

JS:

“I’m entirely in agreement with you.”

Bz:

At first I thought, well, maybe this is their way of maintaining control of people. But looking at it deeper, they didn’t really seem to be controlling you so much as simply shoving you down in the dirt.

JS:

“Yeah, it wasn’t a control thing, it was just a kind of, ‘we just want you to go away now’. And I don’t know why, like I said.

“I was training my ass off, I was constantly emailing them, here’s what I’m doing, how’s stuff with you, I was very communicative. I tried my best to be the model athlete.”

Bz:

Aside from this specific situation, what is the management system and the broader system of rewards and punishments like on TT1?

JS:

“There wasn’t really a system of rewards and punishments.

“People split prize money if you won races. Sometimes the issue was with organization with getting stuff where it needed to be on time and things were often delayed and such. But, I wouldn’t know how things ran on any other teams. So I wouldn’t know how to compare.”

Bz:

Did UCI have any hand in or knowledge of the situation and the conditions at TT1? Were they aware?

JS:

“They are aware of it, now.”

Part 4: Afterward

Bz:

I read that you’re type of diabetes isn’t “normal”. Sometimes your pancreas produces insulin and sometimes it doesn’t. So proper monitoring is even more critical?

JS:

“That’s correct, yeah. I’m very brittle about that, so I have to do a lot more testing than most diabetics.

“My diabetes came on late and my pancreas still sometimes kicks back with insulin. Which can be really dangerous. In the middle of the night it could kick out a huge insulin bonus and I could die in my sleep.

“I have to make sure that I’m always aware of what my blood-sugar is.”

Bz:

If you can’t monitor correctly and you have a surge of insulin, you could experience what they call a “hypo” (low blood-sugar) severe enough that you could die?

JS:

“That’s a hypo, yup, and that could happen to me, as it could to any diabetic, without monitoring.

“But that’s a side effect of too much insulin without proper monitoring.”

Bz:

Like if you took your insulin, then your pancreas kicked back in, and suddenly you have an unanticipated surge of insulin and an unexpected rapid drop in blood-sugar? Is that how it works?

JS:

“That’s correct, yeah. That’s something that more or less unique to my type of diabetes.

“So I have to make sure I have sugar with me all the time.

“I don’t have the luxury of not planning to always have . . . I always have a bag. Unless I’m riding, then I have gels in my pocket.

“But I can’t think, oh, I’m going to do a ride for five hours, I need 200 calories per hour so I need a thousand calories. I better have 400 extra, just in case something goes wrong.

“If I’m going for a walk, or I’m going to a cafe, I have my bag with two or three Dextrogels. I can never be apart from it.”

Bz:

Are you in school now?

JS:

“No. PhD studies aren’t like undergraduate studies. The credits don’t transfer. So eventually I’d like to get back to the U.S.”

Bz:

Are you riding for a team right now?

JS:

“Yes, I’m riding for Team Traveler right now. They’ve been kind enough to connect me with some kits and a bit of money. But it’s by no means a pro team.

“They’ve been really helpful in helping me get what I need to keep racing while I’m here.

“I’m very grateful to them.”

Bz:

I’ve heard that the UK’s cycling federation is heavily slanted against riders in any disputed matter. Have they been more hindrance than help?

JS:

“The British federation hasn’t been very helpful.”

Bz:

What of UCI’s role? Have they helped you at all?

JS:

“They have not returned any of the emails. So, no, in a word. They’ve chosen not to respond.”

Bz:

Did anyone, other than Martin Hardy, or any group advocate for you? IS there someone or some entity that normally would advocate for a rider under these circumstances or generally when there is difficulty for a rider with a team? Are you doing this all on your own?

JS:

“Apart from Martin and Bruce, and all the people Martin is connected me with, there’s my friends. My friend, Danna, who I spend a lot of time with here in Catalonia, people who give me advice, they’ve been great. But, in an official capacity, just Martin and the JD foundation that he’s a part of.”

Bz:

Now that you’re riding for Team Traveler, have you started racing again?

JS:

“Yeah, but when you haven’t raced and hardly slept for three months you really don’t have much form. But I’m getting back.

“I’ve been racing in France, I’ve been racing in Spain, been racing in Belgium.

“I just want to salvage something out of this season. I like racing my bike. I want to race my bike.”

Afterword

For me, this story began with James Stout. But it clearly extends well beyond James and even beyond Willem Van den Eynde. There are others. We know of some of them, but none except James have been willing to step forward. Fear keeps them silent.

What concerns me is that as with crimes centered on abuse, whatever does get reported, whatever may see the light of day, is almost always just the proverbial tip of the iceberg.

So, I wonder, how many more like this are there? And will any of them take some measure of courage from James and step forward themselves?

Bikezilla

_____________

You can also find this and future interviews, plus a lot more cycling related content, at Cyclismas.

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James Stout Interview: Part 2

Posted by bikezilla on July 29, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3 & 4, Postscript

Part 2

Martin Hardy’s letter to TT1 on behalf of James Stout

James Stout blog entry regarding his issues with Team Type 1

Bz:

Martin Hardy is “A” lawyer, but not your lawyer? He wrote TT1 strictly as a friend and supporter, right?
 
JS:

“Yes, that’s right. Yes.

“Martin isn’t registered as a lawyer in the U.S. and he can’t represent me there. But he’s been a very good friend to me throughout this thing, when I went through some pretty dark times.

“Martin’s always been there for me.”

 
Bz:

Is Martin working with you on the case, now?
 
JS:

“He’s working with me. But, as I said, Martin is not a lawyer in the U.S.

“But I still turn to Martin for a load of advice, with regard to lots of things.

“He advises me in the capacity of someone who I trust.”

 
Bz:

How long were you with TT1, altogether?
 
JS:

“Two years.”

 
Bz:

I remember reading somewhere that the first year was actually pretty good.
 
JS:

“Yeah, it was fantastic! I loved it!

“That’s why this year I was incredibly enthusiastic.

“During any of my interviews from last year you’ll see that I wasn’t just on the team, but I was allllll about the team. It meant a lot to me. The diabetes things meant a lot to me. The team meant a lot to me.

“I was passionate about TT1.”

 
Bz:

Were you performing well, I mean at a high level, at the time?
 
JS:

“Yeah! I mean, we won the Race Across America, I won a criterium last year, I finished a few tough races in Belgium. So, yeah, things were all roses, until January of this year.”

 
Bz:

How did you go from point “A”, happily employed as a professional cyclist, to point “C” unemployed and at odds with your former team? We seem to be missing something important in between.
 
JS:

“I wasn’t really making anything public, because I was told not to by the team. I thought everything would be ok.

“And it turned out that everything wasn’t ok.

“At some point I realized that things weren’t gonna be ok. I had spoken to Martin and Martin gave me advice and we tried our hardest to resolve things amicably and it wasn’t working. So, at some point we had to reveal everything that happened, into the public sphere. We had to, unfortunately publish some things.

“TT1 still means a lot to me. I don’t want to run that name into the ground. But they didn’t act in a manner that was consistent with the image which they portray and at some point you have to be accountable for your actions.

“So, after five months of not receiving a paycheck, when I lived in my car, moved out of my house because I couldn’t pay rent, when for months I didn’t have a visa in the U.S., when I had to return to Europe at my own expense, I realized that the only way I was ever going to salvage anything out of this situation was to publish what I did publish on Martin’s website.”

 
Bz:

At what point, or how, did it begin going from good to bad?
 
JS:

“Well, there was a delay with the visas, a delay with pay. Eventually I never received any pay, from January of 2011.

“From then I tried my best to reach out to the team and I asked what was going on. At first they just told me, it’ll be sorted, it’ll be sorted. And I trusted them because I thought they were my friends . . . well, long story short, I shouldn’t have trusted them, at least in that capacity. Because,  I still haven’t received a penny.

“That got worse and worse. At first it’s one month without pay, then you can’t afford the rent on your house, then you’re sleeping on your friend’s couch, then you’re living in your car, then you’re selling all your shit to buy food.

“Then one day you realize that it’s not happening and you need to go home.”
 

Bz:

In your own writing and even in articles about you, your poltics are front and center. Was that ever a source of conflict between you and the team? Was there a grind between your way of thinking and team owner Phil Southerland’s way of thinking?
 
JS:

“I can’t say that there was, because Phil hasn’t communicated with me for months. And the reason I was dismissed was not officially that.

“But, it’s clear, as you say, that I wear my heart on my sleeve and if I feel something then I say that. Some people might not like that. I don’t know if he’s one of them and I wouldn’t like to presume to speak for him.

“But it’s not beyond the realms of possibility.”

 
Bz:

Whenever you were face to face with Phil, was there any friction? Or did it seem that things were ok?
 
JS:

“No, things seemed ok.

“The day before I left the United States I rode 100 miles with Phil. We chatted. It was ok.

“I mean, Phil was never like my best buddy and I didn’t see him that much. But, yeah, I turned to Phil for advice. I used to turn to Phil for medical advice all the time. There have been times when I’ve rung Phil at two in the morning to ask him what I should do with my insulin.”

 
Bz:

When things started turning, did he confront you? Or did he just kind of disappear out of your life?
 
JS:

“Ummm, he’d occasionally send me a couple of official emails. They were always in official language. And then he just hasn’t really spoken to me.

“When my contract was terminated, etcetera, that never came through Phil.

“So, since things have started really turning, I’ve not heard from Phil.”

 
Bz:

Phil started out as a mentor, almost a friend, and then he just vanished?
 
JS:

“Exactly,  yeah. Yeah. I don’t really hear from him.”

 
Bz:

And you were never really aware of the reasons behind that change?
 
JS:

“No. No, I don’t know what I did to him. I considered him a friend at one point, and I wouldn’t go that far now.

“I don’t know what I did to warrant that.”

 
Bz:

Were you on the team at the same time as Willem Van den Eynde?
 
JS:

“No. No, all I know about Willem is what you’ve read on Cycling News.

“I’m afraid I’ve never even met Willem.

“I’ve raced in Belgium, and I’ve never even seen another diabetic bike racer in Belgium. So, maybe he’s not in the sport any more.

“I’m afraid what I know about Willem is what you know about Willem, or anyone else who’s read the Cycling News.”

 
Bz:

His story is very similar to yours. His medication was withheld, he was forced to sleep on the floor of Southerland’s hotel room. He was denied food, berated by management, and he didn’t really understand what was going on, either.

Were you aware of other similar stories? More than just yours and Willem’s?
 
JS:

“Not of that kind of thing. But obviously when you’re on a team they don’t say, hey, do you know about this guy and this guy and this guy. So, if that had happened I’m sure that I wouldn’t have heard of it.

“But I’m not aware of any other stories in the same light.

“With the delays in our visas, that didn’t only affect me. But I wasn’t aware of anyone in the exact situation.

Willem Van den Eynde’s story, and here’s a discussion at Cycling News forums that contains a better translation of that article

Bz:

Willem Van den Eynde’s case was resolved successfully through the Belgian cycling federation and UCI. Have you attempted to seek a settlement or arbitration through your own national federation? Have you contacted UCI? If so, what were the results? What’s the status of your claims vs TT1?
 
JS:

“Yes. I was licensed through the USA cycling federation. I’ve been in touch with them and received no help and no response.

“Likewise Pat McQuaid (president of UCI – Bz), likewise UCI.

“That disappoints me, I’m not going to lie.

“There is a mountain of organizations who are designed to catch riders cheating, move bikes around, enforce all the rules.

“There should be an organization which supports the riders. There should be a (formalized – Bz) union of professional cyclists, which will step in on riders’ behalf.

“I really strongly feel that.

“I’m now with the Spanish federation (RFEC — Bz). Previously I went through USA Cycling.

“British cycling, in their wisdom, refused to grant me a license when I wasn’t living in the U.K.

“Which is total bullshit. Hundreds of riders which aren’t resident in the U.K. have British licenses; Mark Cavendish, David Millar, Bradley Wiggins, Geraint Thomas. Those guys don’t live in London or Oxford. Everyone lives in Italy or France or Spain.

“For whatever reason an official in the USA decided to kick up a fuss about me being registered in the U.S. from a British license even though I spent half the year in the United Kingdom.

“So I was forced to federate with the USA Cycling federation, who have not been that helpful in this case.”

 
Bz:

Have you tried to get help from the Spanish federation?
 
JS:

“Because I wasn’t licensed by the Spanish federation at the time, I haven’t. But, they have been entirely supportive in all my interactions with them. As far as processing my license,  helping me find teams, helping me get carpooled to races. I can’t fault the Real Federación Española  for anything.

“I think that, whatever you want to say about Contador, they stick up for their riders. Until they’re proved to be guilty.

“There are enough people who exist, as I say, to persecute the riders. I strongly believe that what they (RFEC – Bz) do is right. They stick up for their riders. I can’t speak highly enough of them.”

NOTE:
Since this interview RFEC has agreed to help James with his case – Bz.
 
Bz:

RFEC is an advocate for its riders?
 
JS:

“Specifically my interactions have been with the Catalan federation. Things have been great

“They supported Contador. I know there are cases where they haven’t supported riders. So I don’t know if this is a change of policy. I know the supported Valverde, as well.

“But even down to the fact that they make you take a physical before they give you a license, because it makes sense to check if you’re healthy before they take your money, not just take your money and watch you drop dead in a race.”

Bz:

Who was your DS at TT1?
 
JS:

“Director with the development team was Jack Seehafer. The year before that, with the elite team, it was Bob Schrank, who I cannot speak highly enough of.

“Bob is one of my best friends in the whole world. Bob is someone who I still turn to even though I’m not with TT1. If I have a problem, he’s someone I call.”

 
Bz:

So up to the DS level you felt pretty supported?
 
JS:

“Yeah, highly. They were good people, reeeeally good people.

“My father suffered some mental health issues in the past twelve months. I knew.

“I was 23, 22. You still need a father figure to look up to, and a lot of those guys on TT1 are people who I did look up to. People who I could turn to for help when I didn’t know what to do because I haven’t been alive long enough.

“Those guys who I met through TT1 were people who filled in for my dad, in a way, when my family was so far away.

“They’re good people and they’re people who have done a lot for me.”

 
Bz:

It’s rumored that treatment of riders was tiered, that those riders who won more, were treated better, given more and better food, medical supplies, shelter. Is there any accuracy to that?
 
JS:

“Ummm,  nope.

“I wasn’t living with the team. I was living by myself in California. But until the medication stopped I was receiving the same medication as everyone else. I followed two medications, the best on the market.

“There were issues with getting bikes out on time, with getting kits out on time. I wouldn’t say that was tiered treatment by any means, but I’d say it was just poor organization.”

 
Bz:

Because of your lack of medication did your own performance suffer?
 
JS:

“Oh yeah! I was creeeeping. If you don’t take your insulin for a week you’re about to go blind. You don’t take your insulin your kidneys will shut down.

“It’s not just about your performance, it’s your ability to stay alive. The insulin is absolutely integral to your survival. Without insulin the diabetic cannot survive.”

 
Bz:

How did it work, did your performance drop after they cut off the insulin? Or did they cut off the insulin when your performance dropped off?
 
JS:

“One day I just received an email saying I wasn’t going to get insulin any more.

“Pretty much I continued to use supplies that I had. I started having problems a couple months after that.

“It wasn’t just the lack of insulin it was also the stress that I was dealing with. I mean, I hadn’t been paid, I was living in my car, I didn’t know where my next meal was going to come from, I hadn’t received any race schedules.

“I think lack of insulin combined with just a ton of lifestyle issues.

“I mean, my performance wasn’t great. But, because I wasn’t racing I wasn’t resting enough. I beat shit into myself training, which was my fault.

“My performance may or may not have decreased. They would never have known, because they never took me to any races.”

“They stopped it (taking him to races – Bz) in 2011 because I never got my visa. You can’t be cycling professionally if you don’t have a visa to be a professional cyclist.”

Bz:

At what point did the insulin stop?
 
JS:

“The insulin stopped in March.”

 
Bz:

How did it work with the visa? Or how was it supposed to work? Do they typically help you get your visa?
 
JS:

“That was their obligation. I have a contract that states that they’re the employer and it’s up to them to get a visa.”

 
Bz:

How did that fall apart?
 
JS:

“I don’t know exactly what happened. But, there was a horrendous delay so that the Visa didn’t come till April.

“I was continually being told, it’ll come in five days, it’ll come in five days, it’ll come in five days.

“So, why that happened, I don’t know.”

 
Bz:

In April you finally got the visa?
 
JS:

“I was on a student visa at UCSD and I went to change to a professional athlete visa and that never came. I took a sabbatical to ride full time.

“In April the visa was approved provisionally. I then had to go back to the United Kingdom to conduct an interview and collect the visa.

“Previously TT1 had told me I’d be able to do that in the U.S., but it turned out you can’t do it in the U.S.

“So I returned April 11th, which was the last day I was legally able to remain in the U.S. on my old visa.

“I left the U.S. and came to the UK in order to pick up my visa, thinking I’d be back in a couple of weeks. so I brought one bag of clothes and my bike.

“At that point they terminated my contract.”

 

Bz:

With TT1’s connections to pharmaceutical companies, they would seem to have easier access to doping products through the back door. Were you aware of doping occurring on any level by any rider or with the knowledge or consent of any staff, management or ownership personnel? 
 
JS:

“That’s not something I want to comment on right now. I never saw anyone taking any performance enhancing substances. But I don’t want to talk about doping on TT1 at the moment if that’s ok.”

 
Bz:

I’ve heard that TT1 is being investigated for insurance fraud, were you aware of that? Have you been contacted about it? Do you have any information about it?
 
JS:

“I wasn’t aware that they were being investigated for insurance fraud.

“It upsets me to read shit about TT1, because I get angry so I try not to.

“Because, I’m torn between really resenting what they did to me, and wanting my friends to do well. And it really upsets me.

“There are individuals who I hugely resent the way they treated me. There are other individuals who are some of my best friends.

“It upsets me when I see my friends cooperating with people who I know have done such horrible things to me. So, I try to avoid any type of interactions with TT1. I just try to keep them out of my life as much as I can.”

_________–

You can also find this and future interviews, plus a lot more cycling related content, at Cyclismas.

Cyclismas.

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James Stout Interview: Part 1: School and Motivation

Posted by bikezilla on July 24, 2011


Part 1, Part 2, Parts 3 & 4, Postscript

James Stout was a twenty-something year old PhD student who also happened to be a bike racer struggling with a form of Type 1 diabetes while studying at UC San Diego.

After a chance encounter at the Tour of California where he met some like-minded individuals who shared his perspective and his struggles, James joined his new soulmates on Team Type 1, a professional cycling team comprised of athletes also suffering from Type 1 diabetes.

For a year or more things went beautifully for James and his relationship with the team.

Then, inexplicably, things fell apart.

This is my discussion with James about his ups and downs during and since that time.

Bikezilla:

In an interview with, Ioana Patringenaru, at  This Week @ UCSD, you said:
 
“I used to use diabetes as an excuse for doing badly. Now, it’s a motivation for doing well.”

It sounds like you had some problems before getting into cycling. What kind of problems?
 
James Stout:

“When I got diagnosed, my doctors told me I had to start playing chess.

“I told them I wanted to be a professional cyclist, they told me to give up.

“I used to get wicked low blood-sugars in races. Or I’d go high and my body would fill up with lactic acid. I would eat the wrong stuff, or eat at the wrong time, I wouldn’t know when to take my insulin before a race. Things like that.

“There’s no advice, there’s nothing out there.

“You go to your doctor and you say, I want to ride bikes, I want to race 200 kilometers (km).

“The first time I said that he said, that’s not possible, people don’t do that. I told him they did and he just told me I was lying.

“Then I produced evidence to the contrary and he just said, well that’s not for you, you can’t do that.

“So I fought to overcome that, I guess with trial and error. And I made loads of errors on my way to finding out the right way to do it.

“Definitely turned the page, really. Perhaps more so even now that I’m not with Team Type 1.

“I don’t know how much the diabetes thing really means to anyone anymore. I thought it meant a lot to everyone there. Now I know that it means a lot to me and I had to experience some things, like all of these things just recently, in the U.S. especially with the healthcare system.

“I’m just deeply passionate and really involved in showing diabetics that they can do whatever they want and spreading that message. Being something of an example as best I can.”

Bz:

When they told you you had to go play chess, that really had a big impact on you.

JS:

“It really did, yes.

“I think about that every time I get on my bike. That pissed me off.

“If you want me to do something, the best way is to tell me I can’t. Because I’ll make sure that you get proved wrong. That pissed me off more than I can say.

“I’m prepared to sacrifice an awful lot. I wanted something. I wanted it really badly and someone telling me I couldn’t have it, especially that coldly, then laughing about it and saying, well you can go play chess.

“Yeah, every single day I think about that. Every single day I think that guy should fuck off, he’s wrong. It made a huge impact on me.”

Bz:

The doctor was laughing when he told you to play chess?

JS:

“Yeah, it was like, ha ha ha. It wasn’t like, sorry son. It was like, you’re taking a pinch if you think you’re going to be a bike racer and you’ve got type 1 diabetes.

“It was like I told him, hey, I wanna be a hedgehog.

“My little cousine told me once that when she grew up she wanted to be a hedgehog.

“Yeah, it was like I’d just manifestly told him something clearly impossible.

“So I like to think that I’m doing the impossible and proving it’s possible.”

Bz:

You rode for both TT1, a professional team, and UCSD, a collegiate team, at the same time?

JS:

“Yes, you can ride collegiate in the U.S. So I rode UCSD in a collegiate capacity and TT1 in all the other races.”

Bz:

How did you handle that schedule?

JS:

“There weren’t too many conflicts. The collegiate level was just kind of fun.

“While with TT1 I was studying for my PhD.

“The nice thing about being a history PhD, is you don’t have too much of a schedule. You’re never massively obliged to be in any one place at any one time. Aside from my teaching (JS was a teaching assistant – Bz) I could set my own schedule.

“That meant I could spend most of my time riding and the rest of the time reading.

“It would seem that I’m very organized, but at eye level I’m really atrociously organized. But somehow I made it work.

“And when I do my research on history, it’s on cycling, the history of cycling as national identity here in Catalonia.

“It kind of segued together nicely.

“I had a very supportive set of professors.

“The staff at UCSD, they still check out my Twitter, they look up my race results, they email me when they know I’ve won a race. They’re great.

“I owe them a lot.”

Bz:

You lined up some sponsors for UCSD’s cycling team and became the team’s “Coordinator of Sponsorship”. Was that on your own initiative?

JS:

“The thing about collegiate cycling is that, people aren’t sponsoring you because you’re The Shit.

“If you’re under the impression that they’re sponsoring you because you’re good, then you’re misleading yourself. Because if you’re in collegiate cycling, you’re not that good.

“No one buys a frame because they saw a dude on a collegiate team riding it.

“But what the sponsors do realize is that, everyone started out as a beginner. And they want to help guys who are just starting, especially when they don’t have much money, and if you can support these kids and build a sense of loyalty to your brand, then years to come when they’re doctors, dentists, lawyers, then they’ll keep buying your stuff.

“So a big deal when I did the sponsorship thing wasn’t so much getting a killer deal on 18 mil carbon front wheels. It was getting a killer deal on a $600.00 alloy frame bike that any kid could buy.

“I come from Europe, where I didn’t buy a bike until I as 18. Because, I’d go to the club and people would give me bikes, and give me kits, and give me helmets, and drive me to races.

“In America cycling is such a middle class Bourgeoisie sport. It disgusts me that you can be priced out of it.

“So my big goal was that no one was priced out of the sport.

“There was one guy who came to us. He had seen our race one year and he said, I want to be a bike racer. And he brought this bike he put together from stuff he found in trash.

“Different types of wheels and . . . We managed to cobble him together a proper racing bike somehow.

“And that’s the biggest achievement for me in collegiate cycling, was getting these kids bikes so they could start racing. Giving them access to the sport.

“I strongly believe that’s what it should be about.

“I strongly believe that the U.S. has a really big problem with its cycling culture in that they fundamentally hug the wrong target.

“The target should be people from the age of fifteen to the age of thirty. It should be about getting those people on bikes, getting them racing.

“Not people in the range of thirty-five to fifty, buying bikes that cost more than I earn in a year. Those are people who’ll buy bikes anyway if they want to buy bikes.

“It upsets me that there are five Masters categories and no Juniors categories at some races. That’s not right.”

 
Bz:

Did any of that carry over to your time on TT1?
 
JS:

“Not at all, not as a coordinator. I was able to reach out with a lot of our sponsors and make contact with them directly.

“I would never say I coordinated a sponsorship. But, I was lucky enough that I’d do some product days with our sponsors. I was able to connect with Glacier Gloves, with Hammer Nutrition, with all the guys at training camp, like VSP vision care, like the guys from Shimano. And obviously I did some work with the diabetes industry sponsors.  They gave me some great opportunities.

“I remember doing a crit earlier this year in L.A. somewhere and I’m off the front and one of the dudes from Shimano, he’s standing in the pit. He comes out and he’s holding out his hand like he’s going to give me a feed and he just wanted to give me a high-five because he was so stoked to see someone from this team off the front.

“I built some pretty good relationships with sponsors, but I was never involved directly in coordination of that. That was something that went on in some office somewhere.

“I don’t like racing around with stuff painted all over my body if I don’t know . . . I don’t like representing people if I don’t know who they are or what they produce. It always meant a lot to me to get to know the sponsors.”

 
Bz:

You’re originally from England and you did your undergraduate studies at Oxford?
 
JS:

“Yes. I’m in Spain, now. I studied my undergraduate at Oxford, then went to UC San Diego.”

 
Bz:

You went from Oxford, a very prestigious school, to UCSD, which is anything but prestigious. How did that transition happen?
 
JS:

“UCSD has one of the best Spanish History programs in the English speaking world. I’d go as far as saying the best in the U.S.

“So, in my small field it was probably the best place to go.

“I had offers from Harvard, Princeton, all those places.

“I wanted to ride my bike. I wanted to enjoy my PhD, and I didn’t want to be in an environment that was highly competitive, as I was as a grad student. I worked pretty hard at my undergraduate.

“UCSD has a super supportive, nurturing environment. It’s a wonderful place to live.

“So, that’s how I ended up there, really.

“They had a great faculty and I revere them for the time they spent with me.”

 
Bz:

Prior to your time with TT1, when you were attending UCSD and riding only for them, how did you get your insulin and testing supplies? Who helped you with your treatment?
 
JS:

“That was sketch. My mum shipped me some from home. I saw a doctor who I wasn’t able to get UCSD to pay for all the time and he hooked me up with samples.

“I begged, borrowed and stole. I did what I had to do. My control wasn’t the best.

“I did what I had to, but essentially my health paid the price.”

 
Bz:

The demands on your body and how they stress your diabetes riding at a collegiate level must be somewhat less than riding at a professional level.
 
JS:

“Yes. But cycling or not, if you aren’t getting the correct insulin it’s not good for you. You will go blind, you will lose limbs, you will have kidney failure. Without it you can’t survive.

“I didn’t realize quite the extent of the U.S. health insurance kind of shambles until a bit too late.

“I had to get insulin, where I could get insulin and when I could.”

——-

You can also find this and future interviews, plus a lot more cycling related content, at Cyclismas.

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Bikezilla’s Love and Relationship Advice

Posted by bikezilla on July 8, 2011


Dear Bikezilla,

Recently my BF of a couple months has started sending me emoticons. He sends them in texts, in emails, he even tweets them to me.

I really love his sexy cycling legs, but, emoticons? Gosh! I just don’t know.

Should I be concerned?

Possibly Concerned in Seattle.

Dear Possibly,

Your “man” has gotten in touch with his feminine side.

I’m sure that at first you found this charming, even endearing. But once that five minutes passed you realized that if you wanted to date someone that chickish you could just go lesbo and save yourself a lot of headaches to boot.

At first offense you should have immediately pulled your BF’s Man Card for a period of no less than one week.

If, during this probationary period, he refrained from all use of emoticons and had not participated in any other girly activities or mannerisms, he could then have said Man Card reinstated.

However, repeated offenses, such as you have indicated, should (in fact must) be taken as a very clear “coming out of the closet” statement.

If there is any doubt remaining, look for any of these other signs:

Has he started playing golf?

Does he follow curling, no matter how casual he tries to pretend his interest is?

Has he ever had a manicure or a pedicure? Both?!

Does he drink hazelnut coffee?

Does he wear Lampre kit?

If even a single one of these additional signs is present, you should assume that when he leaves you it will be for another man.

Be smart, leave him first.

Hope this helps.

Bikezilla

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Bikezilla News

Posted by bikezilla on July 7, 2011


I have a couple announcements about Bikezilla that I’d like to share with you.

I’m sure you’ve noticed that my writing production has dropped way off. There are several reasons for that, beyond the fact that I’m stupid and lazy.

First there was a lot of research and writing I had to do for Strickland and Vaughters interviews (and, again, my thanks to both of them for being so cool to the site), then the studying for my state professional license, now there’s more.

— I’ve been preparing to become a part of a new website. It’s a collaborative site, a lot like the original incarnation of The Postgame, which I wrote for as the NFL writer. But this site will be entirely focused on cycling and I’ll be the primary interviewer, which is very exciting for me.

The new site is called Cyclismas and it should be live any day now (I’d hoped even today, but there’s a lot to get ready).

It’s run by . . . well, I’m not sure I’m allowed to give that away just yet, but it’ll feature guys like @UCI_Overlord and Dan Wuori (who it’s just fine to hate for being funnier than you. I do.) and Joshua Hunt (who it’s ok to hate for being more brilliant than you. I do.) and several other most excellent and equally hateable writers.

AND!

— Bikezilla has just (and FINALLY!) started bringing in new writers. I’ve been dying to do this for a long time, but when the pay is zero it’s hard to find good help.

I know, duh, right?

Eric Bowen, who’s worked with the site previously on bike fit related articles, is coming on. He’ll be publishing some of the articles that he writes for his VeloFit news letter and website, here. Yay, here!

If we’re very lucky maybe we’ll get the occasional cycling history article, too, because Eric is a freakin’ encyclopedia of that stuff.

Here’s Eric’s contact info should you require such brilliant, expert service.

Eric Bowen, Owner and Bike Fitting Specialist
VeloFit Revolution
Phone: (858) 414-7093
Web: http://www.velofitter.com
email: velofitter@yahoo.com

Publisher
The Virtual Musette
web: http://www.thevirtualmusette.com

Eric, at least I hope, is not the last of the writers who will come on board here at Bikezilla. Cross your fingers for me as I continue contacting writers who I know can expertly support my mission for Bikezilla to be a prime resource of helpful cycling knowledge, especially for beginner and intermediate riders, and writers who can present some edge-of-the-cliff, intelligent opinion writing.

And my time will again be limited by needing to study for work, this time to add “sections” or “parts” to my license.

Thank you all for coming in like you do, for sticking with me and for supporting Bikezilla. You rock.

Tom / Bikezilla

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2011 Tour de France, the Most Heavily Doped Race in Years

Posted by bikezilla on June 27, 2011


Alberto Contador learned his lesson when he got snagged for doping at the 2010 Tour de France. He learned not to use clenbuterol or other “lesser” performance enhancing drugs in the days leading up to drawing blood for later transfusion.

At the 2011 Giro d’Italia Contador dominated like a machine. He humiliated all comers and hardly broke a sweat doing it, giving away stage wins like a king granting parcels of land to favored vassals.

At the elite level of any sport, the difference between levels of excellence is measured in hair breadths, not light-years. Alberto’s dominance at the Giro would be expected if someone of his talent were racing against ProConti riders. But against a collection of elites?

Alberto’s competitors learned as well, both from Alberto and from UCI.

From Alberto they learned that if they are to stand any chance whatsoever of defeating him in this year’s Tour de France, they must be just as skilled and ruthless at doping as he is.

From UCI they learned that they have nothing to fear, regardless of how obviously they dope.

Because just a few months ago we saw the Index of Suspicion, aka The List.

The List was intended for use in targeting the most suspicious riders, those whose biological passport data indicated the highest likelihood of having doped during that season.

But that targeting of the most highly suspect riders never occurred.

Then, during the build up to the Amgen EPO Tour of California USADA was slotted to take over testing from the UCI and ran a three month program of pre-race blood testing leading. They had used that testing cycle to again identify the riders who were most highly suspect and formed their own Index of Suspcion, which we were told would actually be used for its intended purpose.

But just days before the race, in order to prevent just such targeting, UCI removed USADA from the in race testing program and took over those duties itself, tossing all of USADA’s work and its List out the window.

Riders are faced with a choice, race clean and be humiliated or dope to the gills and be competitive. Knowing that UCI not only expects them to dope, but tacitly condones it and will take drastic steps to protect dopers, we can expect to see doping at this edition of the Tour de France rise to new heights.

I also anticipate that we’ll see some performances that will make the best of Lance Armstrong, Floyd Landis and Alberto Contador (to date) look mundane.

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