dimanche 30 août 2015

Sorting out saddle problems

from the keep-dancing-on-the-pedals department

This article appeared in the pages of Cycle, the membership magazine of the CTC, almost ten years ago. It doesn't seem to be easily available online there, and it's still useful, so I'm pasting it here for those in need.

 When I confessed to my own saddle problems in the rather public forum of the London Cyclist ten years ago, I certainly discovered one thing: cyclists' bottom problems are a taboo area. There were lots of giggles for a few months after publication, though fortunately the dignity of my profession enabled me rise above them. The article also proffered the anecdote of my own resolution of the problem--a couple of boils on the perineum. Round town I switched from gel to sprung leather, and, on long distance rides, adopted a recumbent. Result: no more problems.
The part of the body that relates to the saddle on a conventional machine is technically termed the perineum. Now, most animals are quadrupeds, and their perineum has less to do, being vertically inclined and acting as the side, rather than the base of the bucket. But humans' upright stance makes the pelvic outlet (as it is known) an insoluble conflict between ease of labour in childbirth and mechanical efficiency when walking on two legs.
The umbrella of muscles suspended from the inside of the pelvis and sacrum collectively is known as the pelvic floor. In men its only defect is the anus, but woman need the space of the birth canal too. Hence, as is widely understood, the adult female's broader girth about the hips, on average, than males.
This fact of nature—the distance between the ischial tuberosities that form the lateral bony boundary of the pelvic outlet—is an important variable in saddle selection. Best bought in person, grasp the demonstration model in the shop, and bring it firmly into alignment with the your ischial tuberosities there and then. Any saddle whose widest part is narrower than this distance runs the risk of inflicting pressure injuries potentially deeper than the skin, as the right and left perineal blood vessels and nerves course forward to the genitalia close to the midline. The anus is also in the midline, but its internal and external sphincters are reasonably robust to saddle trauma.
Out of the shop, saddle correctly fitted, the most obvious saddle injury, instantly painful, is an unexpected blow from an unyielding saddle on an unsprung bike. Unexpected road surfaces--I speak of potholes--can result in a stiff biff where the sun don't shine that is rarely appreciated if unanticipated. Usually the pain settles in a few minutes and the damage is minor, but you certainly don't do it for fun.
More insidious but with the same disastrous potential as a direct hit, is damage caused by lack of blood flow when the pressure of the saddle exceeds the pressure in the blood vessels. The circulation of the skin and pelvic floor muscles is rarely a problem in young adults of either sex, but older riders may start to notice problems, with the first symptom noticeably slower recovery and healing times after longer rides.
The perineal skin can suffer local infection at any time, though it is more likely in summer or warmer climes, when the increased transpiration of moisture from the sweat glands encourages yeasty organisms such as Candida, and mechanical problems such as chafing and maceration of damp skin. If you're prone to a spot of groin rot over the summer months it's probably safe to suggest a strategy of a couple of days of rest off the bike, preferably in a sarong rather than a pair of Y-fronts, and the application of a little clotrimazole cream twice a day, while nature runs its course. Hint: a small folding mirror and a good light can be very helpful when monitoring the progress of your perineum through the course of its cycling career.
There's much more that could be said of course, but do so would require longer than the editor allows: consult your doctor if symptoms persist.
Among cyclists who really know about these matters: the randonneurs and racers of this world, opinion divides on both prevention and treatment of perineal problems, but on one fact all will agree: if you're not dancing in the pedals, you are already finished. As to the merits of padded shorts, the application of pre- and post- ride ungents (such as Vaseline), or specially-shaped saddles (once the basic requirement of physical fit has been satisfied), none agree, as you would expect from the ruggedly individualistic body of cyclists.

samedi 1 août 2015

On the road to cycling hell

This is a translation of an original post I published in French here.

"Be careful what you wish for: it might just come true one day..."

We, as London cycle activists, were always careful not to fall into the pockets of the road engineers and planners, whose responsibility was always for "the possible." We, on the other hand, were struggling with "the impossible"—the end of car culture in town, with its impossible demands for space, its danger and pollution. My vision is still to reclaim the roads for the cyclist, and leave the pedestrian unmolested on the sidewalk. And the Dutch method of "cycle apartheid" has absolutely damn-all to do with promoting cycling; rather it is a dangerous source of oppression.

It's true that planners can do useful things for cyclists: allowing cycle contraflows in one-way systems for motor vehicles (the principle of cycle permeability), and reducing speed limits on roads where necessary. But if each "advance" is accompanied by a degradation, such as, for example, the appearance of "No cycling" signs on roads with cycle paths alongside, one begins to doubt the good faith of the authorities. (This happened in 2012 around Nantes, on the D69 between Nantes and Sucé-sur-Erdre, the D75 between Indre and St. Herblain, and the D107 between Chantenay and Indre).

So I went to a meeting organized by Place au Vélo (Nantes' most significant cycling organisation) to hear a talk by the author and transportation journalist Olivier Razemon yesterday evening, and to criticize their strategy.
I spoke up against this pavement cycling (and separatist infrastructure) during the meeting.

I began my remarks by quoting the aphorism "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", and my opinion that, in the seven years I have lived in Nantes, conditions for cyclists have worsened. And I read an extract from Olivier Razemon's latest book to illustrate the true problem which prevents sharing the road:
"We've all met, at least once, an arrogant, overweight driver, steering wheel in one hand, the tyres of his 4x4 squealing, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, while giving the finger to cyclists."

(They're certainly more common in England, hence my preference for life in France! And the beautiful strict liability law—the loi de Badinter—passed in 1985, gives strength to the cyclist's elbow as well). And I asked Olivier Razemon, and the auditorium in general, if we were ignoring the true problem, that he so expertly describes, whilst scrabbling round in the details of local authority expenditure on street design, with €80 millions budgeted to the year 2020, etc, etc.? Behavioral problems are solved by education and the law, not just road design.

I didn't say at the time, though I might have, that one could justly revise this extract to read "Everyone has already met, at least once, a fit, arrogant cyclist holding the handlebars with one hand, tyres skidding, as he accelerates towards pedestrians, middle finger held aloft to drivers," as a reminder of the new daily experience for crossing pedestrians since Nantes' main north-south cycle route was laid past Commerce. The enemy isn't the transport mode chosen, nor the road design nor its marking: it's the users of wheeled vehicles who lack respect for others.

I think my French was sufficiently fluent to express my ideas, but I don't think my intervention was particularly welcome. The president of Place Au Vélo contradicted my remarks by expressing his affection for the now obligatory cycle path running alongside the D39 D69 to Sucé, and made an ad hominem remark, that, as I was already a convinced cyclist, I was not part of the group of new cyclists they were looking for.

I'm certainly familiar with this line of argument from my time in England, but, to speak frankly, it's bullshit. I have no problem with a choice between a cycle path and the road. But why do you have to make the cycle path compulsory? Because it is inferior.

And there you have it: that's how the rights of cyclists are trammelled whilst claiming to enhance them! It's a manoeuvre of Fordist political genius. The Fordists never forget their fundamental principle: everybody must drive a car. Pedestrians and cyclists alike are an insult to this principle. What could be better then, than to mix them together on the sidewalk in conflict with one another, while leaving the road clear for the real travellers? And if the cyclist has the temerity to continue to use the road when there's a cycle path alongside, give him a good blast of the horn, the rebel! Defenders of cyclists' rights? I don't think so!