I have no pretension to say that what I will tell here is the absolute truth. It is only ideas, reflexions and comments that came to my mind in the past year as I got remarks or questions about my brain injury. Often, sentences or ideas pop up in my mind, but my brain is too weak to express them. Fortunately, sometimes, I am strong enough to write or dictate, and some of these moments ended as a chapters in the Insider Out series.
I hope you will appreciate the reading and that the thoughts of my injured brain will give you matter to think about.
Words of a brain-injured rider
I was an insider.
Inside racing, competing at world level since a teenager. First in XC, later as an Enuro and DH rider.
Inside the industry. As an engineer, trying to get to the heart of how a good bike is made and how to make it faster and funnier.
Inside an athlete body. Training it day after day and eager to understand its biomechanics and physiology.
Now I’m out. Brain injured. Unable to ride, hardly able to live.
I’m out of my dreams and out of my world.
But from outside, I was offered a perspective no full insider can grasp.
I’m an Insider out.
Wear a helmet... but not only!
You didn’t have a helmet on?
I heard that question a dozen times in the rehab centre, when explaining what happened to me. Of course I had a helmet on. A full face helmet if you want the details. Considering the damage it sustained, it probably saved my life or close to this. But as much as your helmet protects your skull from direct impact and dissipates some of the energy of the crash, it can’t completely protect your brain.
Let’s do a little experiment:
Take a tennis ball and put it into box a bit bigger than the ball (a cubic cookies pack is perfect, don’t forget to eat the cookies first).
Cover the box with as much bubble wrap as you can (tape might be needed for this step, if you don’t have any un-mount your tubeless tyre and use the sealant tape) – so that it is very well protected.
Throw the whole package against a wall (avoiding your nice collection of porcelain kittens).
Result: Even if the cookie box is unharmed, you will hear the ball slam on the box walls.
The same kind of situation happens with our brain and skull. The brain is not a hard tennis ball, but a soft jelly mass. So even if it has little room, it’s still free to distort in the box that is the skull. When a head crashes the brain will deform in the skull and impact against it. Due to its soft composition, the collision will then not only damage the surface, as it might be with our tennis ball, but can cause deformation deep inside the brain.
In fact, you don’t even need a crash for this phenomenon to happen. A very fast acceleration/deceleration of the head is enough to create it. But of course being stopped by the ground, a tree or another massive object like an elephant’s bottom, is probably the easier way to produce a very fast deceleration (I guess that if the elephant farts at the exact moment you’re about to hit it, it might create an air cushion that might ease the situation a little - Researches to be done).
During the impact, the brain is thus sheared and faces important tissue stretching, and as the human neurones aren’t made for such strain they will suffer. Some bleeding and swelling might also occur. This is what we call a concussion or a Traumatic Brain Injury.
So what are the morals of this little experiment?
Wear a helmet!! Your skull is a great cookie box and you don’t want it damaged.
Choose a light helmet: By reducing the mass above your neck, you reduce the energy of the impact and also allow a better control over your head motions. I don’t mean go for a minimalist helmet, but between two good helmets, the lighter is probably the better.
Never wear a helmet too big for you. It’s like putting the cookie box into a shoe box (adult size). It’s not very effective unless the void is well filled with bubble wrap.
Train your neck. A strong neck changes the situation of two almost separated masses (body-head) into a single masse (body+head). It can decrease the head acceleration/deceleration and also allows a better control of the head position during a crash.
Never assume that because you have a helmet, your brain is protected!!
Recent statistics show that amateur boxers (who wear helmets) receive more hits to head than professional (without helmet), because they don’t protect their face, feeling more protected. They are therefor more susceptible to get concussed In the same way, looking at my history of crashes, I’ve noticed that I hit my head much more often with a full face on. Of course it could be because I wear a full face when it’s riskier. But I didn’t crash less in open-face (oh no!). I crashed differently. This is maybe partly due to the difference in weight between my two helmets. For a tiny rider like me, it’s quite hard to control the extra weight that represent a big full face. But I also think it was because with the little helmet, my reflexes were to protect my face. But while when more protected, my subconscious thought it was ok to crash head first (my subconscious can be very stupid).
Of course, I know that controlling what happens during a crash is impossible. I don’t intend this text to prevent concussion for anyone reading it. But I hope that these few words might make their way into your subconscious and make it realize that no helmet can completely protect your brain. Keep it in mind; who knows, it might make a difference!