As anyone who has accidentally asked me a technical question relating to cycling or triathlon will know I am a bit of a geek about tech. I could (and frequently do) bore people to tears with my thoughts on the best lubricant for Speedplay cleats or the relative merits of file tread versus slick tread. Although I don't seem to be able to curtail my verbal diarrhea when talking in person I did vow to avoid getting too in depth on my blog. However in my current condition I feel I have earned a bit of self indulgence so I am doing my first tech review.
BRACE YOURSELF - long term test of Halo Brace
Having recently had the dubious pleasure of putting a Halo Brace through its paces for 10 weeks of full time use this is my take on it's long term performance.
The first thing you notice about the Halo Brace after you unpack it/wake up from the anesthesia to discover you're wearing one is the total lack of concession for user comfort and aesthetics. The light weight titanium package screws to your skull and they have done little to disguise this fact. It looks grim. That said as the user you can't see it anyway so it is only really going to put those around you off their food.
As a prosthesis it effectively removes all load from your neck and upper back, neatly concentrating it on your lumber region which will prove massively uncomfortable in almost all positions apart from standing bolt upright. How do you sleep in it you ask? Badly. Very, very badly.
The sheep skin lining is the latest in second hand car dealer chic* and remarkably only smells when it gets damp. At which point, rather predictably, you stink like a wet sheep. In the day and age of silver coated synthetic antibacterial fabrics this blast from the past holds its own nicely in the hygiene stakes, which is probably a good job as you can't wash it during the 12 weeks of continual wear.
Correct maintenance requires a trained surgeon and a medical grade (=expensive) torque wrench. At a pinch you can get your next door neighbor (mine is a bike mechanic so this counts as RESPONSIBLE behavior) to have a bash with one of those mini torque keys you get with carbon handlebars. A quirk of this American model is the imperial sized hex key fittings which I can only assume they stuck with to hark back to the great days of early independence before total moral decay and the obesity epidemic set in. I digress.
Down to the nitty gritty...is it going to make me faster? Overall the brace lacks the hydrodynamics to assist you in the swim and is pretty tricky to get under your wet suit. Add to this the water absorbent properties of the lining and the inability to turn your head to breathe and it is probably going to kill you if you try. The frame does however attract sea birds looking for somewhere to roost which makes a for a good event photo.
On to the bike. Can we undo the damage here? Probably not. While the brace assists you in holding a flat back position Tony Martin would be proud of, once you are on the aero bars you will be looking squarely at your feet with no option to check where you are going. This is inevitably going to have consequences.
Assuming you have neither drowned, crashed or got tangled in transition what does this piece of high tech kit offer during the run? Simple; the unpleasant sensation that with every stride you are grinding away at your skull. Why? Because you are.
Criticisms aside the halo brace is an absolute bargain with the best price of erm...free** being from the NHS. You simply need to present yourself in a condition where one is required. I went for the classic unconscious at the side of the road with 9 broken vertebrae but a simple C2 fracture would clinch you one at this exceptional price.
How does it do versus the competition? Surprisingly well given the draw backs. It knocks 12 weeks strapped to a spinal bed out of the park. Also preferable to the access-through-the-front-of-the-neck style surgery which is both a bit risky and also liable to leave you with a throat so swollen you won't be able to swallow your pain killers. Nice.
In summary; I hate the b**tard thing and can't wait to be rid of it. However right now I couldn't live without out it. Would I use one again? I sure as hell hope I don't need to.
3 out of 5 stars
Pros - makes you easy to find in a crowded post race area***
Cons - could do with some more colour options and a dimpled finish to reduce turbulence
* Reference Jimmy Taylor. I acknowledge my muses.
** Price at time of publication. Tories are doing their best to f**k this up as best they can.
*** Just head for the medical tent.
Hi, I'm Ali. I like riding bikes and coaching people to achieve their athletic goals. I've been coaching for more than 10 years now and have never failed to make an athlete faster (I can't quite believe this myself either). I used to race bikes, triathlon and in 2014 I broke 9 vertebrae and my skull. Follow my journey here and on Twitter.