Friday, July 08, 2016

Equipment - Helmets That Saved Me - Specialized Sub 6, Scotch Plains, NJ

When the USCF passed the rule requiring helmets in races must pass Snell or ANSI tests, manufacturers scrambled to get helmets out there that didn't resemble motorcycle helmets. The first year of "the helmet rule" the peloton was wearing a mish mash of various helmets. One was the Monarch, one of the lighter approved helmets (who actually altered their design after testing and therefore production models didn't pass the test). Many of the other helmets out there were pretty heavy, and Giro was, I think, a year away.

I had a Monarch (and very few pictures of me using it). I never crashed it and when I learned it didn't pass the tests I only used it long enough to get another helmet. Then I tossed it. So no Monarch memorabilia here.

My (illegal) Monarch and me, Limerock, same direction as the cars.

We're on the little hill which is currently a downhill for the Limerock races. No chicane yet (that's where the backside wheelpit sits now). At the bell I was in a three man break with about 10 or 15 seconds on the field. I finished the race on the deck on the hill just as we got caught by the Richard Sachs team led field. I shifted hard into the small ring and managed to shift the chain right into the bottom bracket. I fell over but the ground was pretty low compared to the track - I couldn't reach the ground with my shoe and ended up rolling over onto my back.

Although initially mad at myself and covered in sand and dead grass I finally picked myself up and got back on the bike. I rolled down the course, mentally kicking myself for falling over. As I cleared the top of the hill and could see under the bridge I realized there were a lot of riders all over the place. I rolled forward and took in a breath taking sight - about 50, maybe 70 riders were scattered on the track and on the grass.

Apparently on the downhill (currently the "uphill") one of the first riders rode into the grass on the right trying to move up, tried to get back in, and fell over into the field. The field was going about 50 mph (the point man happened to be someone I rode with regularly) as the front riders sprinted down the hill to lead out the sprint. When the grass rider toppled over into the field at about 5th or 7th wheel, he took down a bunch of riders right there with the rest scattering mostly left to avoid the crash. I rolled across the line covered in dirt so everyone thought I crashed there also but I'd actually fallen over at zero miles an hour. I remember a Cat 1 put an ad in Velonews for the next year or so, selling all his bike stuff. Rumor had it he fell in that crash and was disgusted with how no one knew how to ride and he was selling all his stuff.


When Giro helmets came onto the scene it was huge. Suddenly there was this lightweight helmet that was reasonably ventilated, as much as anyone might expect, and it passed the tests. The trick was to use a harder foam (I think) as well as a mesh cover to hold all the bits together when the helmet hit the deck. This "foam with a cover" helmet design spawned a number of competing helmets. I had one of the cheap ones, an Avenir helmet. It was similar in construction, foam with a mesh cover. My helmet I'm pretty sure only passed the easier ANSI standard; I'm almost positive it failed the more stringent Snell test. However, at the time, I had just the Monarch. I negotiated with my mom - if she bought me the Avenir ($34.99?) I'd wear it every time I rode.

She bought it.

That helmet perished protecting me as well. I'm pretty sure it ended up chunks of styrofoam held together with a mesh bag (the cover). That, too, went into the trash can. Therefore no Avenir helmet memorabilia.

Avenir helmet in action, 1988, in Middletown, CT.
Rider in orange has a Giro helmet. I think they cost twice as much as the Avenir.

Another competing helmet was the Sub-6 helmet from Specialized. The goal was to have a sub-six ounce helmet that had good ventilation. This came out a bit after the Giro, Avenir, and such. I bought into it as we were a Specialized dealer and I was looking for an alternative to the ubiquitous Giro (mainly due to cost but also I just didn't want a Giro).

The Sub-6 helmet was pretty straightforward. One big innovation is that it had a plastic "frame", sort of a roll cage inside the foam. It helped hold the foam together in case of a crash. The super duper version had no shell on it; I can't remember if it eventually had to have a shell on it, I think it did, but I think initially it had no shell on it. I skipped that version but bought the one with the shell. Red, of course, to match the kit. Now that I think of it maybe it had no shell later? I don't know, 
Sub 6 in action, A race, Bethel Training Series.
I'm behind one of the Whalen brothers; John B is in the blue. I think the purple is a guy named Tom.

One of the problems with the Sub 6 is that they lightened up the helmet by making it really, really shallow. Less material meant less weight. It sat really high on your head, exposing a lot of the head up and around the ears.

However, if Motorola used it (with Phil Anderson, Steve Bauer, Andy Bishop, and a slew of other inspirational English speaking racers) then it was good enough for me.

My bike with my mechanic, if you will, Victor.
He had just gone over the bike for me and was very proud of his work.
Normally I did all my own work but he'd just resurrected one of my wheels so I let him check everything else over.

Specialized Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ

Scotch Plains Crit, P123

This was a P123 race that I didn't mean to enter. I'd intended to race the Cat 3 race but due to some logistical problem, probably traffic, I didn't make it to the race on time. Since I made the long drive going through NYC and committed to paying all the various tolls to and from the race, I decided to get some motorpacing in by doing the P123 race. I decided this with absolutely zero expectations of even finishing the race, forget about trying to do well.

Scotch Plains was an 8 corner, 1 mile course. The pavement melted a bit in the hot sun and the tar the Public Works Department dribbled into all the cracks softened up nicely. Sometimes you'd dive into a turn and your front or rear wheel would slide out a few inches. The melting tar felt like riding over thick oil, which, when I think of it, is exactly what was happening. It really unnerved me and I figured out the lines through the sunny corners where I'd miss the tar stripes. I think everyone did that because after the first few laps, where everyone explored different lines, we were single-double file for much of the race.

I assumed that I'd be shelled partway through the race, but as the race went on I realized that although I was hovering on the edge of explosion I wasn't getting pushed over the cusp. I told myself to do just another lap, another lap, another 5 laps, get to the prime, so on and so forth.

Racers crashed regularly. I counted at least 3 or 4 crashes in one turn alone, a left hander, three turns from the finish. It came up after one of the longer straights, transitioned from a wider road to a narrower one, and somehow guys would hit the deck there. It was such that the ambulance at the course moved to the corner and their crew stood there, waiting for the next batch of riders to come tumbling toward them.

It was about 10 laps to go, about 30 or 40 miles into the race, when I realized that, hey, I may have a chance at doing something here.

I started moving up every chance I could, usually just before or just after turns. With 8 turns a lap I had a lot of time to push a bit deeper into a turn, taking maybe 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 spots in a turn. On two straights in particular I could pedal a bit more and I'd pass another few riders.

At the bell I darted around the comet head of the field and planted myself squarely in about 8th or 10th spot as we dove into the right hand Turn One. I knew I had a couple minutes of racing left, just one mile, and I'd spend a huge portion of it coasting through turns. That meant that I could do a big surge, recover, surge again, recover, and so on. This kind of course favored my abilities, punchy efforts with quick recovery.

With the finish just a half dozen pedal strokes from the last turn, the battle would be to that last turn. This meant that going into the second last turn would be critical as the straight between them was very short. This meant going into the third last turn would be critical. The straight between the third last turn and the second last turn wasn't super short but it'd be hard to make up a lot of places. I guessed that at speed I could make up maybe 3 or 4 spots max; behind a fast guy I'd be doing well if I just stayed on the wheel. I figured the sprint would open up 100% after the third last turn.

To compound things the first five turns of the course came in rapid succession so we were lined out single or double file. It was next to impossible to move up significantly flying along at speed. We flew through that first turn, a right, then the next three turns, all lefts. Then a right at Turn Five, the opposite side of the intersection from Turn One. Then a bit of a straight to Turn Six.

Turn Six was the third last turn. The critical one in my eyes.

I approached the Turn Six sitting about 4th wheel. That in itself was a huge accomplishment. In front of me was J-ME Carney (or maybe it was his brother Jonas?). I don't remember, it was one of the two Carney brothers. More importantly, it was a pro, he was a phenomenal crit racer, and he'd be (or was already) national champion in various disciplines including the criterium.

I was on a pro's wheel, a good pro's wheel, in a P123 race, and we were approaching 3 turns to go.

I figured he'd go after the third last turn, I'd be on him like glue, and I'd get a top three.

In a P123 race!

We dove into that third last turn, hustling, with the two riders in front of the Carney brother going pretty hard. I was leaned over to the max when I realized that someone was approaching me from my left, sort of from above since I was leaned over really hard.

Some nut had sprinted up the inside to get into optimum position going into the sprint. The only problem is he couldn't make the turn. He made it up to me and promptly laid his bike down.

He slid right through my wheels.

I don't remember exactly how I flipped and stuff but I remember seeing pavement very close to my right eye for a brief moment and then a fantastic "CRACK!" as my helmet slammed into the pavement.

After that it was tumbling and such.

I ended up curled up, my hands on my head, rolling around. I looked up and saw this shadow of an enormous guy (he was one of those EMTs from that ambulance at the corner).

"Stay still!", he commanded.

I rolled around a bit more. "I'm okay, I'm okay!" I replied.

"You're not okay, you're holding your head."

I stopped and thought about that. Damn. I think he's right. I wouldn't be holding my head like this if it didn't hurt like a mofo, and it hurt pretty bad. I stopped moving around.

He took my shoes off, my socks, my gloves. He made me wince by doing something to my feet and hands. He asked me questions while he did all this. I remember having to help him with my shoes as I had all sorts of nutty stuff on it - toe straps, velcro straps.

I said that I'm okay because I'm not paralyzed so I went to get up.

"We're putting you in an ambulance."
"But I'm okay!"
"You're not okay. You took a big hit on your head. You need to get checked out."
"But I have to tell my friend who drove me here."
"Don't worry about him, he'll figure it out."

The guy, and I'm sure a helper or something, got me onto a stretcher. This was my first ambulance ride. I remember how I thought, boy, I'm glad I'm not really hurt because I feel like I'm being bounced around on the stretcher as they moved me to the ambulance. I remember that they didn't fold the legs, I think they lifted me into the ambulance because once inside I was well above the floor. My head faced the front of the ambulance, my feet the back. I couldn't move my head much (was it strapped down?) so I had to roll my eyeballs to look around.

Then we started off, siren in the background. I tried to look up to look forward. I couldn't see out the front of the ambulance so I just looked up at the ceiling.

We slowed for an intersection. Remember, my head was pointing forward toward the front of the ambulance. The blood rushed to my head.

The absolutely most excruciating pain pierced my head. I couldn't believe how painful it was, just horrible, nauseating. I felt like someone put a gigantic hardened steel spike into my head and then smashed it with a sledge hammer.

We accelerated. My head was okay.

We slowed. Arrrrhhhhhhhhhh!

Repeat about five or six times.

I got smart.
"Can we raise my head? It's killing me when we slow down."
"We're almost there."
"But... Arrrrrrrhhhhhhhhh!"

And then we were there.

Specializd Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ

I don't remember very much at the hospital except I was absolutely exhausted and it was air conditioned.

Specialized Sub-6, Scotch Plains, NJ
My thumb is over a sunken part of the foam.

At some point the curtain drew back and it was Mike D, the guy that I carpooled with to the race. It was one of the few times I got a ride to the race - Mike drove in his uber-cool Sirocco (MK2 for those VW nuts) - so I didn't have to weather the drive back.

I did subject Mike to a scare though - after the race he went looking for me as I seemed to have disappeared. He went to the start/finish area and saw my bike, shoes, gloves, and helmet on the announcer's platform.

He pointed at my stuff.
"Where. Is. The. Owner. Of. That. Bike?!" he hollered out.

The next day I ran my hand through my hair, as I do when I'm stressed and stuff, and someone nearby screeched in surprise. Apparently the whole side of my head, under my hair, was purple, one massive bruise. I'd whacked my head pretty hard.

I had a little bit of nausea so I definitely had a minor concussion. I don't remember much about the recovery. Back then there was no Facebook, no blog, and I haven't dug through my training diaries where I probably made notes like "leg hurts" or "didn't feel sick today". Maybe one day I will. For now though the Sub-6 sits in a stack of helmets that saved me.

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