Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Local doctor invents device to help cyclists avoid 'road rash.'

Most locals know Westonite Robert Weiss as an empathetic and skilled ear nose and throat surgeon, but those who know him well also know he is a dedicated and accomplished cyclist, with skill and speed and passion for the sport he has embraced.

Like many riders who fall seriously in love with the sport, Dr. Weiss knows the importance of practicing vigilant safety on the roads, but over the years he has had his share of accidents and seen others get injured as well.

“I got into cycling about five years ago,” he said. “I caught the bug early, got into it heavily, doing some racing. It became my hobby and passion and a way to keep healthy. I also saw the down side, and knew about the risk of injury you face when you ride.”

One of the most common and painful types of cycling injuries, one which he has sustained himself, is known as road rash, and it happens when a cyclist falls off his bike and hits the pavement, most typically with his or her hip and outer thigh. Because of the speed at which cyclists often fall, they skid along the surface of the road till they stop, getting scraped and cut, often picking up dirt and gravel which embeds in the skin in the process.

Weiss has thought up a way to prevent road rash, and actually has invented a device, which he calls Road Rash Guard, to help cyclists avoid this very common and painful injury.

“My physician background helps to recognize the pattern of injury which is more consistent than most things. When you fall off a bike, you usually land on the sides of your legs, your hip and your shoulders. You are still clipped into your pedals and your handlebar. You go down as a unit, and the more prominent places on your leg, hip and shoulder will hit first. Anyone who falls off a bike consistently gets hurt in those locations. If you strategically place one of these Road Rash Guards in those areas it will protect you from road rash.

“Road rash is a deep skin abrasion, and can be equivalent to a second degree burn. It can be very debilitating. It requires a lot of wound care, and can take up to four to six weeks to heal,” said Dr. Weiss.

In an attempt to reduce the threat of road rash, many male cyclists, especially racers, shave their legs, in the hope that if and when they fall, the smooth skin will reduce the amount of gravel and dirt that will get into their skin, making the inevitable road rash less severe.

The Road Rash Guard, the device that Dr. Weiss and his partner invented, is just a small two inch piece of plastic that clips onto the cyclist’s clothing. Strategically placed at the hips and shoulders, the guards will slide across the pavement, creating a buffer between the skin and the road, significantly reducing road rash.

“I got the idea while watching a television show about how motorcycle racing boots are constructed,” Dr. Weiss said. “In the l960s and l970s, boots were made of leather for protection, but they didn’t slide on pavement in accidents. Motorcyclists would stop short at 70 miles per hour, grabbing the pavement, creating all kinds of twisting injuries to the leg foot injuries. When they started making the boots out of plastic material, they put sliders on the boots so they could slide along the pavement. Injuries went way down. I watched the show and got the idea of putting sliders on my body as a way to protect myself from road rash.

Dr. Weiss called on a former patient and friend Frank Avellanet of Westport, an engineer/entrepreneur who works in the field of medical devices, with a number of inventions and over 30 patents to his name. Avellanet had told Weiss that he was always on the lookout for good ideas, and despite the fact that a road rash guard was a far cry from a medical device, Avellanet loved the idea and the two men got to work creating the product.

“We worked on the invention together as co-inventors. We developed a prototype and tested it on cyclists for wearability during indoor training. We asked, ‘how does it feel?’ and ‘How can you clip it on your shorts?’ and a whole host of other questions. We found it was well accepted. Fellow cyclists have been incredibly enthusiastic.”

The concept was still largely theoretical until they launched it at the Bethel Criterion race, where over 70 racers agreed to wear the product and see how they liked it. One unlucky cyclist actually crashed at the finish line going 20 miles and hour and the inventors got the test results they anticipated.

“The product worked beyond our expectations. The cyclist who fell was photographed flipping over his handlebars and going down on the road. When he got up and took a look at his injuries he said, ‘I’ve been racing for 20 years. Without the Road Rash Guard my entire leg would have been torn up.’”

Weiss and Avellanet were thrilled. Said Weiss, “It’s been crash-tested validating our concept. Something like this has never been done before. No other product has attempted to do this.”

Now, armed with positive results, they continue to test market the product at races, as they work on trying to introduce their new device to a larger marketplace.

While the product is already in retail bike shops in the area, such as Target Training in Westport and Greenwich, they are looking for a broader market.

“We need to train people about how to wear the Road Rash Guards so they know where to put them on their body. The device is small and extremely lightweight but it protects a large area. We want people to understand that it is a part of the cycling uniform. Most importantly, we need to educate the cycling public that the guards are a great way to prevent injury whether you are a racer or a recreational cyclist or part of a family that likes to ride together. It is a safety ‘must-have’ no different than a helmet.”

For more information, see the website at www.roadrashguard.com or contact Wiser Products Corp. at info@wiserproductscorp.com

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