NFL, AFL, cycling and helmets.

Malcolm Gladwell has written an article in the New Yorker that makes me think about cycling. The article is about American Football (NFL) players suffering brain injuries. They have a heap of head-on collisions that cause major damage to their brains. In both training and games, they regularly suffer impacts equivalent to decelerations of around 100 G-force.

NFL players report a rate of dementia 5 times that of the rest of the population.

This made me wonder what good those enormous helmets were.

The AFL has as much full on body contact, and concussion is not unknown. But there is not the documented evidence of AFL footballers going on to suffer from dementia. Similarly with rugby, which offers even less protection to the head than AFL.

Could it be that by increasing the volume of the head, helmets were making head contact worse, or more frequent? Or maybe hair plays a role in cushioning blows to the head?

What does this suggest for cycling?

Here’s a guy crashing without a helmet. You can see how quick his neck muscles react in the slow motion. The body is pretty good at getting the head out of the way.

Here’s another example.

And here are some crashes with helmets: 1 2 3 .

The verdict? We may have to wait until the jury stops laughing. Ah, youtube…

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Thomas the Think Engine is the blog of a trained economist. It comes to you from Melbourne Australia.

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