28 April, 2014


In the years since I started downhill skiing seriously in High School, I've owned nearly every brand of ski around - K2, Rossignol, Olin (best ski ever from an explosives company), Kastle, Atomic, Fischer, Yamaha (yep, they made skis for a while, too), Line, and probably a few others I can't recall. I remember some great ones (the Olin 930s and Fischer RX9's immediately come to mind), some bad ones (the Atomics - can't recall the model but they flex about as much as a battleship), and some scary ones (K2 VO Slaloms).

Now I've ended up with two brands I've never owned, which is a bit surprising to me - Volkl and Blizzard. I've had the Volkl RTM 84's since late last season and written about them a few times here. Great all-around ski. Solid in all but the deepest powder, great on groomers, and even hold an edge well on ice. At 84mm underfoot, I'd call it a "mid". These are my first rockered skis, and the difference in turn initiation is definitely noticeable. In fact, on my first outing, I actually had to back off as I was overpowering them. My only real issue is the length - at 171cm - is a bit shorter than I think I'd like. At 6'0" and 205 pounds, I'd really like to be on the 176 or even the 181. But I scored a late season BARGAIN and that's all they had. I definitely give up some stability at higher speeds, though I do gain some maneuverability in tight spots.

I've really enjoyed the Volkls over the dozen or so days I've skied them. Which got me to thinking - maybe it's time to replace the fat boys (Line Prophet 100's) with a rockered ski. After all, the rocker trend started with powder boards. I already own a set of Marker bindings that could be readily swapped over. My last day skiing this year, I rode the chairlift with a guy on Blizzard Bonafide's. He'd just gotten them, but was really happy with his choice. On a recent visit to Sun and Snow Sports, I found out that owner Rob Parent is also skiing on these and loves them. I've really come to trust Rob's judgement, so this endorsement means a lot to me. After some dialogue, an end-of-season deal is struck and I'm buying a pair.

Next choice -- how long? Rob's still got most of the sizes in. I'm debating between the 180cm and 187cm. Most of the articles I found online suggest that a typical rockered board skis about 5-10cm shorter than it's traditional cambered equivalent. My Line's were 185cm. In general, I'd say that I liked that length overall, though I could have gone a touch shorter for better control in tighter quarters. Given those factors, I opted for the 187cm. I'm sure they'll be just fine in MI, as I tend to ski more fast, open runs here. Out West, I'm not much for trees, so I think they'll be solid. I don't ski a lot of tight spots out there and I think the added stability will be a benefit for skiing faster, and having more edge should help with mushy, tracked-out powder.

While I've owned a number of skis with European pedigrees, Volkl and Blizzard are two that really haven't been "Americanized" like Rossignol or Atomic. So, I guess I'm Eurotrash now! Time for a one-piece "fartbag" ski suit and a perpetually dangling cigarette.

BTW, the title of this post was intended in a fun, frivolous spirit - it was actually inspired by Cracker's "Eurotrash Girl". I'm just very entertained by the cultural differences when I head out West and encounter Germans and Swiss hiding out over here. Always been nice people and it's always an interesting chairlift ride!

Looking forward to unleashing these monsters next season!


17 April, 2014

Product Review: Bont A Three Cycling Shoe

With just under 70 miles in this weekend, I felt compelled to write about my ever-so-fabulous Bont A Three cycling shoes. Yes, they rock.

My friend Josh found Bont after noticing Bradley Wiggins wearing them in the tour. The idea of a heat-moldable cycling shoe immediately appealed to both of us. For me, I'd been having some issues with numbness in my toes on longer rides, as well as general discomfort. Plus, my cycling shoes were pretty entry level and I'd been considering an upgrade to something stiffer for a while.

Bont was originally known for speed skates (with heat-moldable boots, of course). They were smart enough to realize that many of the properties of a skate would translate directly to cycling footwear.

Unfortunately, most cycling shoes use the European sizing standards, and there's often a great deal of variance between brands. I've worn shoes from EU44 to EU47 that were comfortable - though I'm usually best in a 46. But Bont has a handy sizing chart. So I used that and placed my order, even though the size they recommended (44) seemed much too small.


The first pair arrived - shipped on the slow boat from Australia. As soon as I slipped them on, I knew they wouldn't fit. So back they go, with an order for the correct size 46. In the meantime I score a barely used pair of 46's from eBay.

Lesson One: Buy from a local dealer. At the time I ordered mine, there wasn't one. Now there is. Next time, I'll know.

OK, so now I have a pair that seems like they're going to fit correctly. Per the instructions, I preheat the oven to 160 degrees and remove the insoles. Bake for 20 minutes at 160, pull 'em out, stick in the insoles and put 'em on. Then stand in one place as they mold to your foot and cool. The result? A full-custom fit that's positively awesome.

The next evening, I get them out on the road. Wow. Just wow! The improved fit is evident, but the real difference is in the stiffness. I had no idea how flimsy my previous shoes were! Every pedal stroke goes straight to moving you down the road. I gain a significant advantage on hills. Pure happiness.

A few weeks later, my replacements arrive from Bont. I do the heat molding process again. Here's where it gets interesting. The used eBay pair simply had three Velcro straps. The new ones are the replace the top strap with a buckle system and the difference is extremely noticeable. Much more rigid fit, and more comfortable as my foot stays in-place on the footbed.

Lesson Two: Buckle/strap models dramatically outperform just straps

Now I've got the better part of a year on my A-Three's and I couldn't be happier. They clearly deliver a fit and performance advantage I could never have imagined. Cooling airflow is also surprisingly good, considering the upper is all smooth leather. While these shoes are pricey (I got a deal - I bought mine as the improved A-Two was being introduced) they're comparable to other top-notch shoes like Sidi, Mavic, or Diadora. The difference is the heat moldable fit. None of these competitors deliver this at ANY price.

Highly recommended!


08 April, 2014

1911 - Phase II

While I've been very happy with my Kimber Custom Stainless II 1911 .45, the tweaker in me just can't resist. The 1911 platform affords so much opportunity for customization, that I knew this would happen before too long.

What initially fueled this was shooting my friend's Kimber TLE model. The checkering on the front strap really makes a huge difference. I'm more easily able to get a solid, consistent grip and as a result accuracy increases greatly.

These days it seems like finding a good gunsmith is a real challenge. Fortunately, I have a friend who shoots competitively and loves 1911's. He recommended I talk to Marianne Carniak - "The Accurizer". On Saturday, I paid Marianne a visit at her shop to have a look at my gun. This lady knows her 1911's! Super cool, incredibly knowledgeable, and really able to talk me through what I liked and didn't like about the gun. I knew at the outset that she'd be doing more than the checkering, I just didn't know what. With Marianne's guidance we were able to identify some modifications to make this MY gun. To say that I'm eager to have it back in my hands is a vast understatement.

Upon pulling the gun from its case, Marianne immediately identified a weakness -- the plastic mainspring housing. I'd never even noticed that this part was plastic! Though it's a non-critical functioning part, she said, "it just should be metal...". Music to my ears, I found the right resource.

I've not had a lot of luck with gunsmiths in the past, but I think that's because I was going to general, mass-market places. In the hands of specialist, I was really able to uncover areas for both significant and minor improvements that will customize this gun to me.

I'll write more after I get it back in a month or so!

07 April, 2014

Like Butter

First ride of the season yesterday. Damn I love this bike...

After a somewhat wobbly "how the hell do I ride this thing?" start of 100' or so, it was all good. This bike is everything I wanted when I upgraded to carbon. Smooth, fast, responsive, and so much more. Road feel is excellent, but it also does a nice job of soaking up mixed pavement qualities (something we seem to have even more of in SE Michigan after our run-in with the Polar Vortex).

The biggest benefit, in my mind, comes from being on a slightly larger frame. My old Giant OCR3 was a size M. This one's a M/L and slightly bigger. Having a little extra room to stretch out makes such a difference. My riding position is better and I can open up my chest a bit for better breathing.

The only down side? My ass hurt! Yup, need to work my way back into a solid butt-seat interface. I figure a few rides will take care of that though. The Fizik saddle isn't the issue. My sissified arse is.

Did about 24 miles with 3 friends. While I wasn't setting any records, I put in a solid 15.4 mph average and finished feeling strong. Given that this is my first outing since October and I really didn't put in any meaningful off-season conditioning, I feel very good about this. Plus, I was out far earlier than last year. My cycling season is off to a solid start!