There’s been a lot of talk in the cycling world about head injuries in the past few days following Toms Skujins’ scary crash in the Tour of California. The technological solution to the head injury debate already exists, it’s a commercially available product. Adoption of the technology, however, is lacking.
The logical solution to keeping a cyclist with a head injury from continuing on in a race is the ability to identify injury causing impacts when they happen. Impact sensors on every rider’s helmet would do just that. Install an impact sensor on every helmet, link the data to teams or race medical staff and make decisions as the race goes based on sensor readings.
Cycling faces unique logistical challenges in taking on head injuries. Officials and teams often have no idea a rider has crashed, let alone hit their head in real time. Making sound decisions and getting riders medical attention quickly first requires the knowledge of when they need it.
A helmet sensor removes decision making from the hands of a potentially concussed athlete with impaired judgement in a high-stress, fast paced environment and places it with trained medical professionals and coaches. The argument could be made that a certain level of force doesn’t necessarily correlate with head injury, so pulling a rider based on just a reading would be controversial. But a sensor reading would at least alert medical staff to check out a rider further more quickly.
This proposed solution actually already exists, it’s called ICEdot. It’s a sensor, packaged in a small yellow disc, that links up with your cell phone to notify an emergency contact when triggered. The sensor contains an accelerator to detect for linear impacts and a gyroscope to detect angular forces.
For amateurs, ICEdot provides peace of mind. If you hit your head on a ride and end up laying in a ditch, someone will know and be able to get you help. In racing, it could be modified to inform medical staff and a rider’s team of an impact much more quickly than relying on television feeds or radio contact.
ICEdot’s tech would need some modifications. The sensor would need to transmit its warning by means other than a connected phone. Telecommunication equipment is already being added to rider’s bikes to send power, speed and heart rate data, so adding impact data wouldn’t be a stretch of the imagination.
The technology is out there, similar to the NFL’s concussion issue, but bravado and governing bodies are the main barriers to adoption.
Changing the culture would take years to accomplish and might even require a rules change. If a rider sits down after a crash and submits to medical evaluation are they able to rejoin the race with assistance or reenter the following day if deemed okay after a concussion? Can directors convince riders to abandon their ambitions after a crash? Can riders learn to react with caution after falling off a bike, rather than with a frantic desire to saddle back up? Could we see a day when Toms simply walks to the side of the road and forgets about the stage win?
I hope so, in the absence of a rider’s union it will be tough, but for the good of the sport and it’s participants, I hope so.