Tuesday, March 31, 2009

DIY Wood Burning Stove....from Surly?

Probably NOT something that will be in the QBP catalog anytime soon, is this DIY wood burning stove I spotted on the Surly blog (of all places!). Made from a paint can, it has two large holes to accept the chimney and a Kleen Kanteen for boiling (pretty darn cool).

Check out the post for more.

Some things I like and some that are ok...

In my short time interested in cycling and bicycle touring, I've gotten to try out quite a lot of stuff. I'm the sort of person that has a need to experiment and get to know things intimately before I can make a decision. But even when the decision is made, I always have an eye out for other alternatives. Here are some quick notes about different things I've tried and some conclusions.

Trek 520 vs. LHT - prefer the LHT
I owned a Trek 520 for a few years and it was good but had a tendency to shimmy. Plus, it was sorta ugly with the welds on the frame and fork. No pizazz at all. Bought a LHT and found it to be superior to the 520. No shimmy. Super stable when loaded and descending. Haven't looked back.

SWOBO wool gloves v.s Ibex wool goves - prefer Ibex
I loved my SWOBO gloves when I first got them. They were the bee's knees. However, when I lost one of the gloves I decided to give the Ibex ones a try. Now I prefer the Ibex gloves, especially for cold weather. The knit is thicker and tighter and it doesn't seem to pill as much. They're noticeably warmer than the SWOBO ones. That said, the SWOBOs are still fine gloves, but if I were to just own one pair it would be the Ibex gloves.

SWOBO Merino Bobby vs. Ibex Frisko - prefer SWOBO
I bought both the SWOBO bobby and IBEX Frisko on sale. They're both polo style shirts with a collar. The SWOBO has buttons and the Ibex has a zipper. The Swobo has a useful pocket, the Ibex doesn't. In terms of weight of wool, I thought the Ibex was a little thin. The SWOBO one was just right. Light but had enough weight to it to keep you warm and last a long time. Plus, it has nice contrast stitching and a little chain plate on the sleeve.

MKS Touring Pedals vs. Rivendell Grip Kings - Tie
Simply put, it depends on the shoe I'm wearing. The MKS ones seem to work with the wide toe-box of my Keens better. The Grip Kings seem to support every other shoe except the Keens really well.

Plastic vs. Kleen Kanteens - prefer KK
Plastic still wins in squeezability, of course. However, the KKs will last forever and don't impart a plastic taste. More importantly, you can put coffee, tea or juice in a KK, wash it out and it won't have the same residual taste that plastic would. Just don't bite down on the hard sport top of a KK.

Jannd Rear Rack vs. Tubus Cargo - prefer Tubus
The hardware on the Tubus is tubing, which is super stiff compared to the flexy stays of the Jannd. Didn't think I would notice, but the first tour with the Tubus, the load just felt "tighter." Also, the two sets of rails lets me put the panniers on a lower tier, not interfering with things I have to tie to the top. The Tubus racks also wear a lot nicer. The paint doesn't flake off as easily.

Acorn Bag vs. Ostrich - prefer Acorn
The Ostrich is a good bag in its own right. Affordable. Available. The Acorn is just nicer and there are a lot of great details. Better closures for pockets, main bay opens toward the rider, a lot stiffer fabric and stiffeners. Plus the tan one totally matches my LHT.

Riv Wool Undies vs. Justin Charles Wool Undies - prefer JC
The Justin Charles boxers seem to be a wee bit thicker and more robust wool. I've had to darn my a few of my Rive ones, but the JC ones are still going strong. The extra length of the JC ones also prevent the legs from riding up AS much.

GSI Kettle vs. boiling in a pot - prefer GSI Kettle
The kettle is small and lightweight and looks good. You'll always have nice non-food tasting water for tea with the kettle, instead of washing out a pot you used for dinner.

Dirt roads vs. Paved Roads - prefer Dirt
Though a lot tougher, more remote and demands more from you, I prefer the dirt roads. Less traffic. You can ride two or three abreast. And no doubt, wherever you go it'll be an adventure. Just have a good map and sense of direction and you'll be ok.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Monday reminder...

Apologies for the repost from my other blog...just a friendly reminder ;)

We broke 100 votes! Awesome! Thanks so much to everyone that has voted and left a word of encouragement. It means loads to Laura and me. Special thanks to EcoVelo, Team Potter Cycling, Cycleicious and Bilenky for putting something up on their sites!

We've still got a ways to go, so if you haven't voted yet, then click HERE!

And if you want to post about it on your respective site/blog/tweet, then that's just more awesomeness!

A little montage...

Decided to make a small vid with some photos. The opening footage is one of two videos I shot while in Joshua Tree before my Flip stopped working. Luckily, it was good take and makes for a great intro! We haven't quite been everywhere (yet), but we've been a few places and I took some pictures to prove it :)

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Planet Bike Dynamo Light - Part 2

I know what you're thinking. Finally, the follow-up to my first article about the Planet Bike Dynamo light! Well, I try to be thorough and really try to put a product through the paces before I post about it.

Just a quickie recap. The Blaze Dynamo is the dynamo powered version of the very popular Blaze 1W light by Planet Bike. They share a nearly identical form factor. For all practical purposes, it is almost the same light with these two exceptions 1) the Blaze Dynamo runs on a dynamo (duh) 2) the Blaze Dynamo only has two settings, a high steady light and a strobe setting. The original battery powered version had three settings 1)high beam 2) low-ish beam 3) strobe. I'm assuming that the thinking is that since there is no need to worry about batteries, you'll just run it on high...which just makes sense.

So, if the Blaze 1W is great, shouldn't the Blaze Dynamo be great +1? Well, yes and no and it depends on your expectations.

Let me explain.

Blaze Dynamo as City Light
If your expectations are that this will be a Blaze 1W that you don't have to bother with batteries, then you'll be perfectly happy. The Blaze 1W, I feel, is one of the best in-city bike commuting lights there are for the price. The dynamo version is just as great without the need to worry for batteries. The strobe mode gives you plenty of fire-power to BE SEEN. I've even taken to leaving the strobe mode ON during the DAY as sort of a daytime running light.

The high beam is pretty bright, though to be honest, a bit narrow and focused for my taste. It will work just fine in the city with ambient light, allowing you to anticipate pot-holes and other road irregularities.

If you judge it within those parameters, then you'll be pleased. It fulfills its promise in delivering the same quality of light as the Blaze 1W without the need to worry about batteries.

Blaze Dynamo as High End Touring/Rando Light
There are A LOT of new LED-based dynamo lights out there. When I was shopping around for one a few years ago, the only decent looking one was an Inoled 10+ that I bought from Peter White. Now there is quite a few to choose from. Just check out Peter's page on "lighting systems" for pete's sake.

You've got the Edelux, the Supernova E3, B&M Fly, IQ Cyo, InoLed Extreme, etc., No doubt in a few months, we'll see the introduction of the Suprem-elux, SuperDuperNova E10, InoLed XXXtreme...you get the picture.

The Blaze Dynamo is not in the same class as these lights, but nor was its designed to compete with them. I say this because if you're looking to find a cheap Edelux in the Blaze Dynamo, you ain't gonna find it there.

That said, I have taken the Blaze Dynamo on tour and have ridden with it at night in some areas where there wasn't a whole lot of light. The light was pretty bright, maybe a little less bright than my InoLed 10. However, the issue isn't really brightness as it is beam spread with this light. If you could take the same amount of light and just make the coverage broader, the light would be exponentially better. Because it is so narrow, I had a tendency to be a little more cautious when riding with it if there wasn't sufficient ambient light.

Design Issues

The problem with using the same exact form factor as the battery version is that it looks too much like a removable battery powered light. The thinking is that if it looks like something you can swipe, people are going to try to swipe it. It's a point I can understand, so I went a little out of my way to make it seem like a more permanent light. I more or less field stripped the handlebar mount and made the light into a bolt on light on my front rack.

I think it works. It isn't as readily identifiable as a removable light, I think. However, I do agree with many readers that future iterations should have a more stubby, permanent looking form factor.

OR, if they are going to keep the same form factor, there should be some sort of in-line release mechanism for the cable. A few readers suggested splicing an inline connector like the ones pictured below. I think this would be a good design change, if PB decides to still produce it with the QR handlebar bracket.

Conclusion - The Pros and Cons

The Pros
-Affordable (if you've got a dynamo wheel already). A good LED dynamo light from reputable company that will not kill your wallet. What you pay up front you save on in batteries.
-If you liked the battery version, you'll also like the dynamo version.
-Good light for city and commuting. Very eye-catching strobe mode (something you can now leave on during the day as sort of a day-time running light!)

The Cons
-Looks like a "steal-able" light, might tempt someone to rip yer cables out.
-The light has QR bracket but there is no in-line QR for the cable!
-Bright light but narrow beam, not the best for riding with no ambient light.

Recommend with some caveats.
As an in-city Commuter light - B+
As a touring light for use on roads with no ambient light - C

EC on CBC / Food vs. Goo

Just a heads-up for anyone that listens to CBC (Canadian Broadcast Corporation), I did a shortish interview with their food columnist! I'm not quite sure how much they'll use (probably just a snippet), but keep your ears at the ready. It all started with a reference to Epicurean Cyclist on the Guardian blog about "Cycling food: eating or refueling." Here's an excerpt:

Non-racers go further still, and in fact some cyclists are genuine foodies. There is now an emerging sub-genre of cycling food bloggers. They include Sam the Cycling Cook from Leicestershire and the Epicurean Cyclist who guides us on the delights of Belgium waffles on tour in Southern California.

One of the questions that the reporter asked (who happens to be a big fan of Rivendell, btw!), was when did cycling food change from "real food" to squishy goo. While I think its impossible to give an exact date and time, I think it has a lot to do with marketing. Just as people think the latest carbon-fiber-electronic-shifting-bicycle-shaped-object will make them go faster, the same assumptions are made about space-age goo dispensed from foil packets.

Simply put, they're spending the advertising dollars so they got a lot of press. Like Laura pointed out to me when we were talking about it, there's probably not a giant apple lobby pushing the agenda of Big Apple in Bicycling magazine. Aside from the marketing, I think there's also just the basic human desire to believe that performance or happiness is a shiny packaged object away.

Now, to be fair, there are instances when goo is indeed good. While eating a roasted chicken from your handlebar bag during a triathlon is more satisfying, it probably isn't very practical. Goo has a home in competitive cycling and sports. However, the causal rider that is pedaling at a comfy 12mph for a days ride, probably doesn't need to suck down XtremeUltraPowerMegaGel like their life depended on it. Horses for courses.

For the kind of riding I'm interested in, the goo can stay at home. I much prefer real food, especially foods from little cafes, or the local farmers market, or that are regional specialties. Or if I'm going to pack food with me, I'll go to the local grocer and get some cured meats and hard cheese for the road, something which I prefer over gels.

Some of my greatest memories of being on tour are inextricably tied to food. Having a cone of Bubblegum flavored Tillamook ice-cream for breakfast in Oregon, eating nearly a pound of fresh oysters and salmon at camp in Reedsport, drinking fresh brews at Pizza Port on the Southern California coast, eating arguably some of the best Belgian Waffles of my life at the Filling Station in Orange, having the thickest juiciest slices of bacon at Hoover's Beef Palace during the Great Western Bike Rally in Paso...the list goes on.

Dang. Now I'm hungry.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Cargo Bike with Drops

Just put up a post about a switch of handlebars for my Bilenky on my other blog. I had to use two different types of brake levers Tektro R100 and Tektro RL520 to make it work. There's also a little discussion of why I went from the Albatross bars to drops (Nitto Randonneurs) with the bike.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

A little help from some friends

Hey everyone, I've entered a competition for a "Dream Photo Assignment." Here's my submission below. Please click on the link and VOTE today! The contest ends April 3rd. Not much time! Please PASS IT ON too!

I would like to ride a bicycle through North and South America on an ambitious portrait project, photographing the work of community leaders and activists who are striving for a more sustainable planet.

I am a freelance photojournalist in Long Beach, CA and I travel to all my assignments and shoots with a specially made cargo bicycle, able to carry up to 400lbs of equipment.

I have done this day in and day out for the last three years. In this time, I've come to realize that the environment will be the crises of our times. We've become trapped in a circle of consumption that fills our air with smoke and our lands with trash.

There is hope however. There are people around us that are working for a more sustainable way of life in large and small ways.

In the spirit of the work, I want to ride my bicycle across the country and document the work of these people in multi-media portraits combining stills and recorded audio.


I will bicycle every mile of the journey, making it the first zero emission multi-national photo assignment.

I will seek out local environmental advocates and celebrities, park rangers, bicycle commuters, leaders of co-operative markets, small organic farmers and tell their story.

This is important.

People need to know that there is hope, that around them are others who are working in ways no matter how small or large to make our lives better.

The work will culminate in a website with a series of downloads of the stills and multi-media stories.

It will be the most ambitious zero-emission paperless photography assignment to date.

Let's make it happen.

Camp Tools

I received an order from Ben's Backwoods (a great place for bike camping gear...fyi) a few days ago and have been trying out my new bits of camping kit.

Swedish Fire Steel
This is the "scout" version of the Light My Fire fire steel. Not quite as enormous as the "army" version, but probably plenty for a bike tourist with only minimal pyromaniacal tendencies :) Don't know if you can tell, but it's new but already well used as I've tried it on quite a few things to see if I can get them to light. I've gotten the most success out of lighting cotton balls with Vaseline which make a great homemade fire starter. I've also been able to easily light my Trangia stoves with it! There have been times when we couldn't get the stove lit because our matches and lighter got wet.

Mora #2 Knife - Laminated Carbon
This is a fair amount of knife for the money. At $15 you get a plenty sharp, pretty sturdy fixed blade knife that can handle most camp chores. Now, I haven't taken this touring yet but I have been practicing different knife techniques. We had a recent bit of wind that knocked down a lot of Eucalyptus branches around the neighborhood. I broke off a few of different widths and tried making tent pegs, splitting small diameter branches and general whittling. So far, so good. It takes a good edge (not as sharp as my straight razor) and will cut through a sheet of paper like butter (not that you would be doing this often in the woods, but its a popular sharpness test).

Wetterlings 19" Bushcraft Axe
Wow, my first real axe. It makes my cheapo $15 hardware store axe feel like a cheap $15 hardware store axe. Truth be told, at 19" it is a little long and I should have ordered the 15" one instead. Not so much for weight, but for packability. Strapped down to the D-rings on my Carradice the axe pokes out a fair bit. I'll have to figure out how to pack it or shorten the handle (what a shame). It's a Wetterlings, not quite as nice as the axe Riv. use to sell but of similar build just without the fine touches. I haven't really gotten to use this yet, but I'm hoping to practice splitting some wood this weekend.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Acorn in Black - Richard's Bag

(Apologies if I'm slow to respond to email. I get a lot of it, work and blog related, but I'm making more of an effort to respond quicker.)

An EC reader, Richard V, sent in photos of his Acorn Boxy Rando Bag in black! What a sweet ride it's on! A chrome/silver Bob Jackson with VO racks. Nice. Richard opted for the decaleur mounting. Do you have an Acorn Bag or ride pimped out in leather in twine, send it in, with a short description of the build and maybe an anecdote of a ride you've taken with it.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Fancy Water Bottle Holders

I decided to do a little arts and crafts on the bike this weekend. I love the Retro Cage from VO and always thought it would be nice to put some leather on it, especially when I'm using my Kleen Kanteens. (Advance apologies to the vegans and vegetarians right now).

So, I took some Toe Clip Leathers (also from VO) and stitched them on to the Retro Cages. Once I got the hang of it, I was able to stitch them on pretty quick. The toe leather kit comes with a pair of needles and some thick waxed thread (black). The pieces of leather themselves were just the right length and come pre-perforated (no awl necessary.. though it takes some poking sometimes to get the needle through)

The finished product, I think, looks great. It certainly stops the rattling and that irksome metallic scratching sound that sometimes happens when I pull my KK out.

Friday, March 20, 2009

JetBoil Recall

Just saw this on Bikeforums.net. JetBoil is doing a recall of some of their burners. Since I know that some readers use that system, I thought I'd post it. Click here for details.

Rediscovering Camp Fire Cooking

(These photos were taken by Bernadette Mckeever)

A few mini-tours ago, Chris, my touring mentor, made us some rather fancy quesadillas over a campfire. At first, I thought it was for the sake of being quaint and rustic. We had, after all, 4 Trangia stoves between us and could have made short work of the cooking.

However, as we began to cook, I saw the utility of using a small stick camp fire, not a "white man's" fire as you see here in Huntington Beach during the summer months, where people burn whole wood pallets at a time :) The more experienced outdoors persons have to forgive me. I grew up in Los Angeles and when we went camping as a child, the fire was for looking and for occasionally burning marshmallows over. The idea that you could cook over the fire is rather new to me.

So after that mini-tour where we cooked over the fire, I decided to try it out on our last trip, hence, the hatchet. The first night we did it was in Joshua Tree. Firewood was a few uphill miles away and we were tired. We sent Jenny to ask for some wood from another camper. She came back with one largish log. Having the log alone would have been useless without the hatchet.

I split the single log several times until we had pieces about the width of your thumb. It was enough wood to get a burn for about an hour. We flipped the grate on the fire pit and put our pots there. We heated up a quart of water and cooked a tin of canned corn beef hash.

Was it fast? Heck no.

But that's ok sometimes.

It was relaxing and gratifying to build the fire and watch it grow and feel in touch with your surroundings. We could have used our stoves and cooked up everything in about a quarter of the time, but sometimes speed isn't the point.

There were practical advantages as well. We were burning through our alcohol for the stove pretty fast and in the desert, the task of finding more was pretty inconvenient. Using the campfire to cook stretched out our fuel. Fires are also great for keeping a constant pot of hot water on. We made some water for tea with our kettle and when we drained it, we just filled it up again and put it over the fire, providing a constant source of hot water. To do this was a Trangia, or any stove for that matter, is very costly fuel-wise.

While I'm still pretty new to cooking with a camp fire, I'm learning and enjoying it. I just ordered a Wetterling "bushcraft" axe from Ben's Backwoods (my new favorite bike touring store). It should come in a week and I hope to learn how to sharpen it and wield it a little better for our trips to come.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Women's Wednesday (on Thursday): The Perfect Sweater...Found!

I wrote earlier about my quest for the perfect wool sweater. Partly to keep warm and partly to look less ghetto on our bike tours, I decided that a wool sweater was a needed item. I tried the Ibex Shak Full Zip and the Icebreaker Glider. And, then, in a stubborn, I’m-not-giving-in sort of maneuver, I ordered a Smartwool Hahn’s Peak.

The Smartwool arrived and I was instantly in love. Jackpot! It’s made of a thick, densely-knit wool that’s warm without being overly bulky. It has a ribbed neckline and quarter zip that give it a classy finish, and a nice easy shape that doesn’t look too boxy. This sweater hits at the hips, which I consider the perfect length for this type of garment – long enough to keep you warm without being so long that you get lost inside. The sweater is loose enough that you can layer several items underneath and still move your arms and torso enough to load up a touring bike and head out onto the road.

I took this sweater on our recent trip to the desert, where it got down to 30 degrees at night, and I was thoroughly delighted. At 30 degrees, you obviously need a few layers, so this sweater isn’t the end-all-be-all, like a down coat might be. But, at 45 degrees, this sweater plus a long-sleeve wool shirt was incredibly toasty. It’s not wind-proof, but the knit is dense enough that it keeps out more wind than the Icebreaker Glider.

The tag says “dry-clean only,” but I have to believe that if you wash your wool responsibly and don’t throw it in a machine, you can forego the expensive and environmentally-un-friendly trip to the cleaners.

Added bonus, if you act now (and wear a size medium), they’re still on sale at Rock/Creek

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Perfect Mug?

Right before our last trip, I broke down and bought the "mug" I had been coveting for the last year and a half, the Snow Peak Titanium Trek 700 (it just SOUNDS so spacey doesn't it?). It is sometimes sold on the Riv. site (not there right now), but I ordered mine from REI. So what's so great about this mug?

Well, to call it a mug really doesn't describe it well. It's really more of a tallish pot that can be used as a mug. From what I've read, it's suppose to mate well with the Snow Peak Giga stove system. I don't know how well that works because I use it with my Trangias. In fact, I can fit two Trangia stoves into the 700 (see picture below for scale). I also stick some matches and a lighter in a waterproof baggie inside as well.

Some of the neat features are the folding handles, of course, that make it pack easily. Even with the 700 full of liquid, the handles didn't seem to show any undue bending or stress. I imagine with reasonable care, this mug/pot should last a long time. Another really nice feature is the lid that you can use as a colander. I've cooked some pasta in it and have successfully drained out the water without losing a single noodle.

I've used it as a mug. I've boiled water in it over my Trangia and over a camp fire. I've heated soup in it over the range. The underside has a slightly different patina (pleasant to me), but otherwise it's fine.

Someone asked if I burned my lips on the 700 when used as a mug. Well, here's the thing. It's not double walled so the bottom and sides get hot! If you use the handles you'll be fine holding it. Now, when I make coffee or tea, I probably only fill it up to about halfway. While the heat does creep up the sides of the mug and the lip does get hot-ish, I can drink without having asbestos lips. That said, if you filled it up to the very top, you would get burned. However, with a normal serving of coffee, there is enough space from the lip of the mug to the liquid that it won't get overly hot. Makes sense?

A nice plus is that the folded 700 fits perfectly into the side pocket of my Carradice Camper Long Flap, so it is always within easy reach.

While perhaps not being the perfect mug, or a mug really, the Snow Peak 700 is a great bike camping accessory. You can cook in it, use it to strain out your pasta and yes, drink from it like a mug. It may not be an absolutely essential piece of kit (I've survived years with a lesser mug) it is a nice thing to have. Recommend.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Some Quick Gear Notes...

Before I forget, some quick gear notes.

GSI Kettle - Worked really well. I really enjoyed a dedicated pot JUST for water. Probably our most used bit of cooking equipment on our trip. Used it on a Trangia stove (that fits inside the kettle when packed away), but also used it over a fire as well.

MSR Dromedary Bag (6L) - Nice bag. At first, I thought it was a little overkill. I could have used the bladder of a Camelback wrapped in some cloth. In the end, it was nice that the drom. bag has a tough exterior since it was getting squished around on top of my rack. Super convenient for getting camp water (fill it once instead of walking back and forth). I carried 3 Kleen Kanteens and the drom. bag when we crossed Josh. Glad I had it along with us. I'll definitely bring it whenever water availability is in question. When not in use it packs down next to nothing.

Snow Peak Titanium Mug 700ml - This is the mug that Riv. use to sell. I ordered one through REI. It works great and actually fits a Trangia stove inside. It holds A LOT of coffee and has a convenient measuring notches so you can measure water in for MREs. I've put it directly on a flame and it has survived. Slight discoloration and the bottom got a little rounded but it's fine (and now has a nice patina :)

Opinel - I bought two knives and brought two. One was permanently in the bag with the hard cheese we carried. The other was in my handlebar bag. Great food knife. Made short work of chopping vegetables. Lightweight and classy. I did try to use it to make a fuzz stick for a fire but it didn't work so well for that.

Hatchet - This is the first time we brought a hatchet. Not quite sure the make of the one we have, but its nothing fancy. It is definitely worth bringing. We used it at camp to hammer in stakes (nice in rocky territory). We also used it to split wood. We were able to cook and enjoy a fire with just ONE largish piece of firewood. At one of our campsites in Josh, Laura and I scavenged small pieces of unburned and slightly burned wood from empty sites. Because we had the hatchet, we could break up the pieces into kindling and smaller bits that allowed us too cook. No need to buy a whole bundle of firewood with the hatchet. I'm going to get a big bushcraft knife in the future and see how that compares to a hatchet for splitting wood.

Panaracer Paselas 26 in. x 43mm - Nice tires. Folding bead lets you carry a spare. One problem is that these fit REALLY loose. When you get a flat, you will fishtail like crazy and these may pop themselves off the rim....which is exactly what almost happened to me. Coming down a steep hill from Pioneertown I got a flat while descending and I had a hard time controlling the bike. The tires have a really supple casing, which is good in terms of suspension, but seems to be its detriment during a fast flat situation. Although I like these tires, I am considering looking into Schwables.

Riv. Seersucker - Once it started to get really hot, I just wore the shirt with no undershirt and it worked great. The light color reflected the heat, the loose fit helped me stay cool. I can flip up the collar and keep the neck buttoned to keep the sun off my neck. A nicer option, I think, than slathering sun block on every bit of exposed skin.

Surly LHT - Awesome. Stable. You can see from the pics there was a fair amount of Vitamin G (gravel) in our road diet. We got bumped around and I dumped the bike once or twice in soft sand but it still kept ticking.

Things I would consider getting for our next trip...

GPS - getting lost on dirt roads was no fun. AAA maps had lots of mistakes as did Google Maps. When you have limited resources, getting lost is no fun.

Large Bushcraft Knife - looking for a knife that is capable of splitting wood, non-serrated, full tange, and able to be sharpened in the field. Must be able to take baton strikes on the non-cutting side.

Solar charger - the batteries in my cam ran out and I had to borrow Laura's just as we got into Josh for the rest of the week. I'm planning on teaching myself to solder and some basic electronics. Anyone have suggestions as how to begin? Learn?


Laura and I just got back a few hours ago. What an adventure! We made it through Joshua Tree. We rode literally through the windmills (5 miles of gravel and dirt that took 3 hours to get through)! Lots to write about, but for now, some pics.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Packing up for Joshua Tree...

My bike is sitting in the livingroom pretty much loaded. Just going through the final checklist of what to bring and what to leave behind. All the S240s and 3 day tours generally make packing easier, but on longer trips there's always that nagging feeling of leaving something behind.

The weather looks good. No rain for a change. However it will have wild swings. Highs in the 80s and lows in the 30s, so the clothes and gear have to layer well.

I bought some groceries for the trip. Dried fruits. Hard cheese. Baguettes. Prosciutto. Coffee. Tea. We'll probably buy groceries for dinner as we roll near the campsites. Bringing a hatchet this time to chop up fire wood so we don't spend two hours trying to get giant logs lit.

Everything is almost packed and ready to go. This tense stillness before a trip is always so excruciating and wonderful at the same time. Looking at the bike with gear, you can almost feel the kinetic energy that is all stored up and waiting to be unleashed.

You can almost hear the bike whispering, "All you have to do is push me out the door and you'll never have to come back."

Don't know if I'll be able to update on the road, but I'll try if its possible. If not. I will when I get back! Till then.

Lightening the load...

Perhaps it's reading Crusing in Serrafyn, or maybe because it's getting closer to finally heeding the road's siren song, but I'm considering selling a great amount of my camera gear to fund future adventures. I know many here are photographers and aficionados (in the Hemingway sense of the word) with discerning taste so some of you may be interested.

Here's a partial list. If you're interested, zip me an email. Everything is in good working condition. Used not abused and with many decades of life still in them.

Rolleiflex 2.8 with prism finder and close-up filters
Leica 111a with collapsible Summar 2.0 (includes yellow contrast filter)
Kobalux 21mm 2.8 with finder (slight crack in finder...doesn't affect picture)
Leica M4P Black
Leica M2 Silver
28mm 1.8 Ultron in M-Mount
Super Graflex (late model Graflex) - 4x5 camera with 135mm lens

Nikon F100
Nikon D100 + Sigma 18-50 2.8


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Mini Review: Opinel

I ordered some Opinels from Ben's Backwoods and have been testing them around the house. They're inexpensive but of nice quality. It's not everyday that you can buy something that is also exhibited at MOMA.

The knives have a pleasant feeling beechwood handle and high carbon steel blades that can take a good edge but need to be sharpened often (similar to the blade on my straight razor). They are really beautiful looking knives that have a nice old world simplicity to them and are perfectly at home in your Acorn or Carradice bag.

In use, they do short work of domestic tasks like the slicing of apples and oranges. I haven't field tested it yet so I can't comment about its carving and whittling abilities. However, do read this very thorough review here from Cutlery Science.

My feeling is that these will make great camp cooking knives and general utility knives. Perhaps, not robust enough for full on bushcraft work, but it should be able to carve out the occasional tent peg or notch a piece of wood.

GSI Halulite Tea Kettle

I ordered a few bits of new gear the last few weeks and they've finally arrived. I haven't been able to do a super thorough test but I have played with them around the house to get acquainted with them.

GSI Halulite Tea Kettle
I ordered this from Ben's Backwoods and it arrived hassle free. The kettle comes in a nice gun metal finish with orange rubber handles (bonus). The kettle itself weighs next to nothing.

What the heck is Halulite? From the GSI site:

Halulite is a proprietary alloy that also conducts heat better and more evenly—so you can leave the extra fuel at home. Plus, every piece is Hard Anodized to create a surface that withstands scratches and abrasions like nothing else. It's ultra light without the sacrifices.

It is large enough inside to fit a Trangia stove and mini stand.

The kettle was also small enough to nest inside our pre-existing MSR pots (double bonus!), there by not increasing the overall volume of our load.

In use, the kettle works like a kettle should. There is no whistle cap so you have to monitor the water by peering under the lid. Use a knife or a stick to lift the lid since it gets hot there. Once nice touch is that the large handle stays standing upright without making contact with the rest of the pot, this lets you pour without burning your fingers.

Why get a kettle at all? Truth be told, it falls more under nicety than necessity. I could get along just fine without it, but it's nice to have along. It's great for Tea for Two rides. It is also nice to have a dedicated bit of cookware just for boiling water. I've made tea using a pot that was used for making chili the night before and let's say that the tea just didn't taste the same.

What I'm reading : Cruising in Seraffyn

Cruising in maritime-speak is the equivalent to bicycle touring. And there is perhaps no book more influential about cruising than Lin and Larry Pardey's "Cruising in Seraffyn." All my friends who enjoy sailing have constantly referred to this book. And one friend who enjoys both sailing and bike touring recommended it as a MUST read.

The Pardeys' creed is "Go Small. Go Simple. Go Now." Sage words indeed. I've barely cracked the book open but I'll be taking it with me to Joshua Tree and should have a book report done by the time I get back :)

Here's an excerpt from the introduction.

The decision to go is the hardest part of the whole project. There always seem to be so many reasons not to go:children, aging parents, a business or job you've worked so hard to develop...But if you are determined to go, you'll analyze each of these factors and probably discover that each problem can be solved. If not, it may be just an excuse to hide your fear of heading into the unstructured existence that a cruising life seems to represent.

Sounds a lot like going on an epic bike tour doesn't it?

Wool Watch: Swobo Bobby for $42

(Sorry for the lack of posts lately, it has been a mixture of being busy and also sick. I'll spare you all the gory details, but I spent the latter half of the weekend heaved over and praying over the porcelain altar, if you catch my drift. Food poisoning? Stomach flu? Who the heck knows but I'm glad I'm starting to feel normal again, especially being so close to our Joshua Tree trip. Anyway, I'm going to put up a flurry of posts the next few days to give you guys some fun reading.)

SWOBO's Merino Bobby has taken another price dip, putting it at a very affordable $42! At the moment I own four of these shirts and am tempted to get a few more at this price?

Why? Well, I forget exactly which Riv Reader The Great GP advised that if you found something you really liked, buy several of them, because they will no doubt be discontinued or their design will be tampered with. This is how I feel about the SWOBO Merino Bobby. The wool is just right thickness to feel like a proper shirt. Unlike some IBEX and Ice Breaker shirts that feel like you're wearing lingerie because they are so thin.

I've worn the Bobby around town, to photoshoots, on long rides and some short tours and I think it really is the best all around shirt I own. It has buttons so you can open it up when it gets hot during a long ride. It has a useful chest pocket for putting things like subway tickets, spare cash and receipts. I get mine a little on the loose side so when I'm on tour I can layer it with a longsleeve shirt underneath. On sunny days, I'll flip up the collar to help protect my neck.

Can you tell I really like this shirt?

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Is that an Acorn Bag he's holding?

Sent in by reader, Gary. Atleast I feel that I'm not alone in my bike luggage fetish. Check out Yehuda Moon for more bike hilarity.

Eerily similar :)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Mid-March Adventure - Joshua Tree!

I've been quiet the last few weeks about doing any trips, but I'm still sticking to my New Year's resolution of doing atleast one mini-tour a month. For March, Laura and I (and hopefully some friends if I can convince them) are heading out to Joshua Tree!

Here's a rough map of our proposed adventure.

The plan originated because one of our friends is in a band called The Fling. They have a gig in Pioneertown and we wanted to go see them. So the gears started turning. I got some maps from AAA (I'm a AAA member almost exclusively for all the free maps...great for touring...thanks Chris for the tip!) and started planning. By combining the Metrolink, we are able to get to San Bernadino which brought us to a rideable distance to Pioneertown. Not content with just going home, we decided to extend the trip to Joshua Tree and to the Salton Sea before going back home. Thus, an adventure is born.

If anyone is interested in meeting up with us along the way, zip me an email.

Women's Wednesdays: In search of the perfect wool sweater!

After our last tour, the third in a row, of being quite cold at night, I realized there was a serious flaw in my logic that I didn’t need a heavy layer because I live in Southern California. Layering three or four lightweight wool shirts, I came to realize, isn’t warm enough in 30-degree weather. Nor does it seem particularly economical, space-wise, to pack a half-dozen shirts over just one decent sweater.

So I set out on a mission to find the Perfect Wool Sweater. I wanted something that was not only really warm, but versatile enough to wear with everything else. Brownie points for a bit of style.

With an image in my head of what I wanted, I started trolling the internet. I ended up plunking down the money for two different sweaters that I had been eyeing (in part because it’s that great time of year when everything is on sale). The first was the Ibex Shak Full-Zip. The second was the Icebreaker Glider 320.

The Ibex Shak Full-Zip was the first to arrive. After chuckling to myself about my lesson learnt to read about the color in the description and not rely solely on the internet picture, I jaunted off to try it on. The thing that I was most excited about with the Shak Full-Zip is the decorative stitching, which creates a much more tailored look. It has one front pocket that is quite big and a collar that zips up without choking you. All positive aspects, in my book. Unfortunately, I have long arms and a long torso, and this sweater does not. So, when I tried it on, I was disappointed to discover that, when I stretched out my arms, the sleeves pulled in just enough to not fully cover my wrists (and to really bug me). And, yet, despite the not-quite-long-enough sleeves and torso, I really wanted to make this sweater work. I had been so very excited about the stitching on the sweater when I pulled it out of the packaging. But, when I tried it on, I felt a bit like I was wearing a track suit jacket (which may work for some folks, but just isn’t my style). With a long, heavy sigh, I realized that this was not my Perfect Wool Sweater, and I opted to send it back.

The Icebreaker Glider 320 was the second sweater to arrive. Unlike the Ibex Shak, the Icebreaker Glider is a pull-over sweater, with a quarter-zip. Also unlike the Shak, the Glider has no decorative stitching, which makes it more of a sweatshirt sort of shape (albeit a well-fitting, feminine-looking sort of sweatshirt). At first, I honestly wasn’t sure if I wanted to hang onto it. But then I tried it on. Not only is the Glider noticeably softer than the Shak (it’s really extraordinarily snuggly), it has wonderfully long sleeves which end in a thumb loop to help keep your hands warm (a huge plus for me, as my hands are always cold). I decided to hang onto the Glider, even though it didn’t quite meet my criteria for the Perfect Wool Sweater, because it’s so fantastically comfortable. But, it doesn’t just sit in my house for me to snuggle into on cold evenings - it’s a wonderful layer for riding. I’ve worn it with layers underneath, as well as just the sweater by itself, and it keeps me toasty warm, while allowing a huge amount of breathability.

Despite keeping the Icebreaker Glider, I feel like I haven’t yet found my Perfect Wool Sweater, so the hunt continues. I’ve ordered the Smartwool Hahn’s Peak Half-Zip Sweater, and I’m hopeful that the third time’s a charm. (I’ll let you know…)

Monday, March 2, 2009

Some images from NAHBS

Check out p3dals photostream on Flickr for some pics of the cool new creations in the indy bike world.

I'm a little partial to Bilenky, but they do some awesome work. Check out that wicked chain guard.

And this beautiful longtail from Black Sheep.

And this beautiful rack with a mixed wood mosaic base?