Think about dog mushing and you’re probably imagining scenes straight out of the Call of the Wild, wild-eyed huskies, fur clad dog drivers and miles and miles of unspoilt snowy wilderness.
The huskies are still there (and still pretty wild-eyed) but you might be surprised to learn that snow has become a smaller part of running sled dogs than it used to be and if you glance under the fur trimmed parka of some of even the most Northerly dog drivers, you might spot something even more surprising – a helmet.
Here in the UK where snow is a rare commodity and our huskies more often pull wheeled rigs than sleds, we’ve been wearing protective headgear for some time. During the winter months there is a thriving dry-land (occasionally on sleds) race scene in the UK where sled dogs – either purebreds such as Siberian Huskies or purpose bred racing crossbreeds called Scandinavian Hounds – compete in time trials around often complicated forest trails. This involves being pulled around tight turns and whipping through trees at speeds sometimes in excess of 25mph with only your voice to steer teams from two up to six or eight headstrong and energetic dogs. People running the faster teams soon learned it hurts when you part company with your rig and eventually saw the wisdom of putting something between your head and the ground (or worse, a tree trunk). Some people opt for cycle helmets but the majority wear ski/snowboard helmets with the added benefit they keep your ears warm. Headgear is compulsory in some of the sled dog racing organisations, others leave it to the competitor to decide.
Having been thrown off my rig on a slippery corner during a race last year, wearing a ski helmet definitely prevented me from being knocked out when I planted my head into the frosty ground. Fortunately I was able to get up straight away and was quickly reunited with my loose team (huskies aren’t usually polite enough to wait for you) and we were able to finish the race unscathed.
The other half of Mystic Charoite Racing Kev Spooner is much less likely to fall off than me but still swears by a protective lid (for the last two seasons it’s been a flashy Hardnutz Auto Chrome snow helmet).
Of course, what we do in the UK is miles away from the 1000 mile endurance races in North Amercia such as the Yukon Quest and the Iditarod. This year, however, one of the top mushers in Alaska, Brent Sass, came off the back of his sled during the Yukon Quest and was knocked out. In Sub Zero temperatures this is a potential life threatener and following his accident, many other well known mushers announced they would be trialling head protection. A few weeks later saw the start of The Iditarod. We’ve had a shockingly mild winter in the UK and it hasn’t been much better over there and this year’s 1,000 mile or so trail saw long stretches that were completely bereft of snow. This meant mushers were essentially at the mercy of more than a dozen giddy sled dogs with no proper means of slowing or braking their sleds (sleds rely on snow to stop). At least one competitor spent some time unconscious after losing his sled and those who chose to learn from Brent’s accident in the earlier race were probably very glad they added a protective lid to their list of equipment.
Dog powered sports in the UK are not just confined to large teams and sled dogs. Bikejor is a growing event where dogs of all breeds (that are physically suited to pull and run at speed) assist cyclists on mountain bikes around similar trails. Headgear is a must, especially as dogs are much more willing than bikes alone to suddenly veer off after a squirrel or deer!
What started off thirty or so years ago as a way to exercise dogs in a way suited to their heritage and genetic programming has evolved over the decades with better equipment, advances in nutrition and training and fuelled by a passion to transform a hobby into a real sport. There are sled dog events throughout the UK from late October until late March and if you cycle through forests you may come across people training. The sport now has a governing body and this race season saw the first World Cup events held in the UK. A recent event organised by the new British Sleddog Sports Federation (BSSF) at Kings Forest, Thetford, attracted more than 250 teams ranging from one dog canicross and bikejor up to eight dog dryland rig classes. The event was part of the selection process for Team GB to race in the European Dryland Championships in France next December. If you want to see what it’s like driving a world class team of six Siberian Huskies, have a look here.
Mel Hannam, Mystic Charoite Racing
Kev Spooner along with Brew, Rogue, Spook, Millie, Hexie and Pyewacket, winning the six dog purebred class at the BSSF World Cup event in Thetford this year.
Kev, gang and the same shiny HardNutz helmet in the world famous SHCGB Aviemore sled dog rally in January.
The Barclays London Cycle Hire system is hugely convenient, but it’s not perfect. If you have a key, either on pay-as-you-go or year-round access, and can abide by the 30-minute journey limit, they’re an almost perfect method of transport.
However, having your own bike waiting for you in London is a very possible luxury. Yes, there are some extra worries, but these can easily be addressed with a bit of common sense.
KEEP IT SAFE, KEEP IT LOCKED
It’s a big mistake to have a bicycle in shop-fresh, pristine condition, unless you have somewhere secured to store it when you are not using it.
To prevent your bike from being stolen you want to make it as unattractive as possible to potential thieves. So a bike that looks tired and tattered is ideal, as long as it’s in perfect working order. Also, remove any quick releases and replace with bolted versions instead.
The second stage is to decide where to lock it. The initial thought of some quiet side street is not right. That will allow any thief plenty of time to work on it. We suggest using the excellent purpose-designed bike parking racks outside most central railway stations.
The final consideration is how to lock the bike. Use two different types of lock, so a thief will have to think twice. We had an old cable lock, which isn’t ideal, but teamed that with a far more suitable new Kong Bouncer (£37.99).
Feed your first lock through the front wheel, through the main triangle of the bike frame, and then around the bike parking rack. Use your second lock through the rear wheel and smaller rear triangle of the bike frame, and then put that through the rack too. Make sure your locks are as tightly wrapped around your bike as possible.
Do you use your bike to get round London? Do you have your own or use a Boris Bike?
All of us here at HardnutZ Helmets would like to send our best wishes to Michael, Corinna, Gina Marie and Mick.
It has been confirmed by doctors that seven-time world champion Michael Schumacher is only alive today because he was wearing a helmet. The retired racing driver was skiing with his 14 year old son near Méribel in the French Alps.
The Racing Driver is in an artificial coma with multiple brain lesions after hitting the right side of his head on a rock.
Professor Jean-Francois Payen from the Grenoble hospital said: “We believe that taking into consideration the very violent shock, his helmet did protect him of course.
“Somebody having this kind of accident without the helmet would not have got to here.”
“We would like to clearly stress that any information regarding Michael’s health not coming from the doctors treating him or from his management must be treated as invalid and pure speculation.
“In consultation with the doctors treating Michael, it is not expected there will be any press conference before Monday.” Kehm also addressed reports that police were examining footage from a helmet camera worn by Schumacher during the skiing trip on which the accident happened.
“Michael’s helmet camera was voluntarily given to the investigating authorities by the family,” she said.
“That this should have been done against the wishes of the family is untrue.
This has again brought the discussion of whether ski helmets should be compulsory on the slopes in all regions. With the impact that Schumacher suffered splitting the helmet that he was wearing I think we can all agree that if that had been his head he would have died.
What are your thoughts on making the wearing of ski helmets on the mountain compulsory?
More than 16,500 cyclists have been taking to the roads around London and Surrey as part of an event being billed as the UK’s largest festival of cycling.
The Prudential RideLondon weekend featured four separate events designed to appeal to riders of all ages and abilities in the mass participation event.
But the event has caused anger among some motorists who feel that the event has had too much impact on London’s congested road network.
Hundreds of roads were due to be closed across the capital for at least 12 hours with thousands of motorists being forced to make extensive detours or abandon their plans to travel.
London mayor Boris Johnson was among thousands that took part in a 100-mile road race which started at the Olympic Park and headed out to Forest Green in Surrey before heading back into the centre through southwest London.
Rugby World Cup winner Matt Dawson, two-time Olympic rowing champion James Cracknell, former Olympic champion sprint hurdler Sally Gunnell and actor Gary Kemp were among the famous faces taking part.
The event finished on The Mall shortly before 150 professional cyclists race in the inaugural Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic on a similar route.
Organisers hoped the two-day festival would boost the number of active cyclists in the UK, attract hundreds of thousands of visitors to London and Surrey, and raise large amounts of money for charity.
The capital’s motorists remained unimpressed however, with many taking to Facebook and Twitter to express their anger at the event’s planning.
Although the event was billed in advance, both in local media and on display signs, many felt that not enough was done to help residents and road users avoid the problems that arose from the closures.
Hilary Irving wasa among those who wrote on the LBC Facebook page: “Two Sundays in a row the people of Wapping have been cut off and unable to drive out. Not great planning.”
Silvia Denecke McGrath wrote: “Not a thought for all the people who have to work in essential services like hospitals!
“I have to commute in somehow from Bucks with most of the roads in London shut the entire weekend!
“Can’t even use the Tube as I start work so early, never mind that the metropolitan have no services this weekend.
“But no, the whole of London has to come to a standstill for a bunch of cyclists who don’t pay road tax.”
For cyclists who want to ride faster, but are reluctant to buy a pricey e-bike, the Rubbee bicycle mount may be a happy medium.
Once attached, the device converts your regular bicycle into electric bike that moves at speeds of up to 15 mph.
Rubbee includes a “motor, bioelectronics and batteries in a single unit,” with no tools or wires required for attachment. Users simply mount the device on, and then release its handle and disconnect the throttle to take it off.
Rubbee’s creators say e-bikes are not ideal because they’re heavy and expensive, and if purchased, force users to ditch their old bikes. Similarly, conversion kits are cumbersome, and installing them requires advanced skills, they add.
A giant snow dome to rival the largest indoor ski resort in the world is to be built next to the Olympic Park site in Stratford.
London’s first indoor ski centre will feature several runs of varying difficulty, snowboard ramps and an ice-skating rink.
It is believed the project, which will cost up to £200 million and is being funded by shopping centre developers Westfield, could be ready to open in 2015.
The longest run will be 300 metres — twice the length of the next biggest one in the UK — recreating Alpine skiing conditions. There will also be toboggan runs and snow-play zones where children and beginners can get used to the sub-zero temperatures.
Emergency care doctors today called for urgent road safety measures after three cyclists were killed in three weeks in London.
The three specialist medics work on London’s air ambulance and are at the forefront of often desperate attempts to save the lives of injured riders.
They rejected Boris Johnson’s claim that reaching a “critical mass” of cyclists will make the roads safer.
They added that the cycle superhighway where French student Philippine de Gerin-Ricard died at Aldgate was “far from fit for purpose” and said that many council-designed routes are “even worse”.
Two of them first called for action 18 months ago in response to the rising number of deaths and serious injuries involving HGVs.
Three of the five cyclists killed in London this year died after collisions with lorries, including the latest fatality a week ago at Holborn, Alan Neve, 54, and Dr Katharine Giles at Victoria in April.
The two other cyclist deaths were caused by car collisions. The air ambulance, which flies a surgeon and paramedic straight to crash scenes, has been called to 30 critical incidents involving cyclists this year.