30 June, 2011

Fit is It

A recent article in Bicycling magazine on the effects of bad fit on your body with road bikes set me to thinking. For the past two seasons I've ridden less on my road bike than in the past. Upon reflection, I realize that the sore neck and shoulders and numb toes are most likely a result of poor fit on my ride.

Stopped by my local shop, Great Lakes Cycling & Fitness, and talked to owner Oscar. Sure enough the do custom fitting by appointment, so I set on up. The fit process was pretty fascinating - in addition to a wide range of all sorts of body measurements, Oscar puts you on the bike on a trainer and watches your riding style. Based on measurements, observations, and a bit of help from computer-based fit sofware, he starts making adjustments.

Two items were immediately apparent. First, my Look stem was a good bit too long. Second my Serfas RX saddle belonged on Grandpa's upright cruiser, not my performance-oriented road bike. Funny thing is that I'd wondered if this saddle was part of my problem - being overly wide and overly padded. A shorter Giant stem and a new Selle Royal saddle were the first times.

Then the tweaking began. Surprisingly, the tweaks were all relatively small, but there were quite a few. It started with raising the seat height, sliding it back, and adjusting the angles. Then, after discussing my flexibility, or lack of it, the handlebars were rotated upward. The effect of all this was to shift my riding position rearward to more evenly distribute the weight load between handlebars and saddle. Previously I'd been riding with much of my weight supported on my wrists, causing neck and shoulder pain.

Finally he addressed the position of my cleats. This is both to provide proper alignment and efficiency, and to deal with the toe numbness I've been experiencing.

It's interesting I'd never considered having a pro do a fitting. Especially since discovering the HUGE benefits of a custom fitting for my ski boots (thanks to Rob @ Sun & Snow Sports for that!) last year. Watching Oscar work made me realize how little I knew about getting a bike to fit me well.

Are we done? No, not quite. I'm swapping the new saddle for one with an anatomical cutout. And there's still a bit of toe numbness lingering. But a few more adjustments today and we should be further along. Hoping to sneak in a ride tonight to see!


23 June, 2011

Thoughts of seasons to come...

Even though it's clearly Summer in Michigan, for a steelheader that means Fall can't be far off. Get your fix like I did with the excellent video from Capt. Jon Ray. Looking forward to getting crushed on the swing! Eager to learn to better use my spey rod in a few weeks at the Schultz Outfitters Spey School. There will be chrome in the Northern Michigan rivers before we know it!

22 June, 2011

Scott - None Better

This short video encompasses so much of why I love my 6 Scott rods so much. Each is a tool, handcrafted for the job it was intended for. The people are what makes the difference. This is why whenever I consider a new stick, I start with the looking at the Scott offering. Watch and see...

Scott | behind the scenes from Scott Fly Rods on Vimeo.

20 June, 2011

The Right Profile

Yesterday was the season's first outing for my Project Singlespeed mountain bike. This was my first ride since installing the Profile bmx crankset and bottom bracket. Holy cr@p!!! I expected an improvement, but was immediately shocked at how much difference it made.

Originally I started this swap to eliminate a pesky creaking/thumping somewhere in the drivetrain. I suspected the stock OEM generic bottom bracket/crankset didn't fit well and wear may have become an issue. With the Profile design the interface is ultra-precise, which eliminates this problem. 

The increase in stiffness was incredible and impacted power delivery and the overall "jump" of the bike. This made hill climbing so much easier. Hills that normally frustrated me weren't an issue. Just powered right up them. A stiffer crankset also provided a handling benefit - a more direct connection to the bike that provides yet one more "steering input". Cool!

My Profile's are a 165mm and replace a set of 175mm stock cranks. The difference in clearance is another benefit. I first noticed it when I didn't need to continually pay attention to my size 12 feet hitting the front tire, but I also found plenty of pedaling ground clearance from the shorter arms.

For those who haven't followed the blog for a while here's some more on Project Singlespeed. The bike started life as stock SE BM Flyer (nice acronym, guys...). My goal was to build up a bulletproof single-speed mountain bike. It started with some simple upgrades - a WTB Laser V saddle and then some Sun Ringle magnesium pedals.  I've always wanted a disc brake-equipped bike and the SE has all the mounts, so I scored a set of Avid BB-7 calipers and discs and installed those. A chat with Steve Sauter, wheel building guru at Great Lakes Cycle, revealed that the White Industries ENO Eccentric rear hub was the solution to effective chain tension, as my bike has vertical dropouts. Plus a 29" wheel with a casette hub is up to 40% weaker than a dedicated single-speed hub, due to the wider distance between flanges. So I had Steve lace up some new hoops with the ENO in the rear and stock Formula sealed hub in front on Mavic TN719 rims. During this process I was also looking to dial in the gearing (when you only have one option, get it right). The final solution was a 31 tooth Graveyard sprocket coupled to an 18 tooth White ENO freewheel (stupidly expensive for a freewheel - and worth every cent). A Wipperman single speed chaing completes the drivetrain.  The Profile cranks and sealed bottom bracket were the final stage.

The resulting bike is amazing. Fairly light for a 29er, handles great, nimble and responsive, and super comfortable to ride for long periods. Sure a single-speed can't go everyhwere, but the appeal of simplicity certainly works for me. Cool ride!


15 June, 2011

Product Review: Simms G4 Jacket

I'm in my third season with my Simms G4 Pro jacket, so I thought a long-term review might be warranted. When you spend a lot of time outdoors, you end up with a lot of jackets. Of all that I own, my G4 is probably the most reliable and versatile.

For me performance is first and foremost when considering outerwear. So far, this jacket has been there for me in many situations, like:
  • 8 solid hours of driving rain trout fishing in Michigan's UP; without a single leak.
  • Man full days of Winter steelheading in all conditions from sun to snow squalls.
  • Two days fishing during a period of record low-pressures that sustained 30mph winds with gusts up to 60 mph.
  • Three days of temps in the 30's, sustained winds, and snow, sleet, and rain chasing steelhead in the UP.
  • And more...
This jacket has taken everything I can throw at it - wind, rain, snow, sleet - and it looks like new. And it's become my go-to when the weather turns ugly.

Like all Simms products it's clear that the G4 was designed by people who fish. Tons of easily accessible pockets make it easy to carry a wide range of gear for Winter steelheading without the bulk of a vest. Fleece lined handwarmer pockets offer cold fingers a break when you need a quick warm-up. The hood is has the best ergonomics of any I've encountered - fits easily over a hat, but not bulky as some. Two built-in retractors hold nippers and other tools at the ready. One cool extra touch are two magnets just below the retractors that hold metal tools steady. The huge pocket on the back has a shock cord attached to the zipper for easy access without removing the jacket.

As with many Simms products, it comes with a serious price tag. And it's worth every cent.

13 June, 2011

Dusting off the Cobwebs

Finally got my road bike out for the season's first ride on Saturday. Weather, work, and other commitments have kept me off the road so far this Spring.

The first outing is alway interesting. You never know whether it will be 5 miles of torture, or an easy 20. A lack of consistent exercise this Winter and a late start had me anticipating the former. To my pleasant surprise, it quickly became the latter.

What I find fascinating is that I know in that first mile how the ride will progress. If I'm dragging ass, I know I'll either cut it short, or need the mental discipline to complete my planned route. But some days, you find that jump that tells you that there's plenty of fuel in the tank. Saturday was one of those days. A day when even a heavy bike feels like an 18 pound tweaked out road racer. There's a lightness in your legs and seemingly boundless energy that just feels like it's been waiting all week to be unleashed.

My Saturday ride accomplished my three primary goals:
  1. Get out and ride somewhere;
  2. Go a reasonable distance; and
  3. Not die.
Now that I've succeded in these three, it's time to set some new goals for the season.


07 June, 2011

Utility Stick

My new streamer rig is turning out to be a great utility player. It's a Scott A3 907/4 rod with a Ross Evolution LT 4 reel. Fortunately I picked up two spare spools (for a total of 3) that have added greatly to its utility.

Spool one has an older Rio 200 grain sink tip, primarily for stripping streamers for trout. Spool number two has a Rio Outbound short with an intermediate tip for flinging crayfish and other streamer patterns to smallmouth on the Huron and other rivers with less abrupt holes. Finally, I think today I've decided that the third spool will be getting a floating line for bass poppers and possibly if I get out to chase carp. Most likely a Rio Gold in 7-weight. 

Considering that I initally invested in this rig primarily for trout streamers, I couldn't be happier about its newfound versatility. I think I'll be fishing this stick often! It's nice when you make a purchase that proves to be such a solid utility player in the quiver!


06 June, 2011

Brand Loyalty

At a recent beer-fueled meeting with a client/friend last week he asked what brands I was loyal to. My general response to that sort of questions is more consumer-oriented brands -- Jeep, Nikon, Toro, Weber BBQ. But it got me to thinking about loyalty to outdoor brands. Those brands where I start for a new purchase. The "default" setting. Didn't take long to generate a pretty long list:
  • Scott fly rods
  • Ross reels
  • Simms waders, boots, and clothing
  • Daiichi hooks
  • Nordica ski boots
  • K2 skis (and their associated Line brand)
  • Mountain Hardwear clothing and other items
  • Giant bicycles
  • Merrell footwear
What's interesting to me as a marketer is why are these brands "sticky" for me? After some reflection I realized that all of them have two things in common:
  1. Their products consistently outperform my expectations. I've never cast a Scott rod I didn't like. Every Nordica boot I've owned was top-notch. And so on down the line.
  2. Each has a solid brand in its outbound marketing efforts. I routinely use Simms as an example of solid brand marketing. It starts with their positioning as the choice of guides. But their advertising is excellent, as is their web site and literature.
This says to me that the best outdoor brands are a combination of consistent product quality and brilliant brand-driven marketing. As an example of the other side is Orvis. While I've had some very good Orvis products (my BLA V large arbor has been a great reel), I've also had some less satisfying products (my Silver XT waders). And their marketing has been rather stodgy. They seem to have positioned themselves as the brand for dry fly elitist geezers. But this seems to be changing lately -- some excellent new products, as well as a bit more attitude in their marketing. We'll see how it plays out, as brands change slowly at-best.


01 June, 2011

Floaty Toy

Been on the hunt for a canoe since selling off the kayaks recently. I think a canoe will have some advantages, including ability to haul multiple people, versatility as a base for river camping (I'm thinking a Two Hearted overnight needs to be in my Summer plans), and more. For a while, my Dad and I have wanted to try the UP's Fox river a look. But it's not great wading water, has little access, and other challenges. Unfortunately my parents 17' Grumman aluminum canoe handles like a battleship, and weighs about the same.

I had a chance to paddle one of the new generation of Royalex canoes last year on the Chippewa river. Light, easy to handle, easy to paddle, and made for a very comfortable day.

First boat I considered was a Mad River Explorer. While I liked the boat for its design and construction, most reviews I read pegged it as more of a flat water boat, and at 72 pounds it's really too heavy to get on the roof of the Jeep when solo.

While shopping, I ran into the Old Town Penobscot. Most reviews I found described this as great river boat, due to some rocker, and a passable flat water floater, too! And, at 58 pounds (lighter than most any 16' Royalex boat I found) it just about flies up onto my roof racks. Several reviewers added that its a very competent solo boat simply by reversing it and sitting backwards in the bow seat (to center weight distribution). Bonus!
A little time spent on Craigslist showed me a gently used Penobscot about 20 miles from home. After a quick visit and some price negotiation, I had a canoe. Above the waterline, you can barely tell it's not new. Below, there's a bit of river rash, but it's surprisingly minimal. Need to score some paddles, but then it's ready to get wet!

Won't replace a drift boat, but for now it's cheaper, easier to store, and more versatile.