10 December, 2015

Product Review: November Bicycles Nimbus Alloy TI Wheelset

It seems so common that factory bikes lately have one Achilles Heel - the wheels. Nearly every review I read seems to say something to the effect of, "an upgraded wheel package would make this bike faster/better climbing/more durable...". This appears to be the area where manufacturers control costs. Most buyers don't really understand much about wheels, while they can immediately spot the difference between Shimano Sora and Ultegra. Too bad - wheels are easily the biggest single game changer for many bikes.

After a few gravel rides on my Specialized Crux, I began to feel that was likely an issue for me as well. At 20 spokes front, 24 rear the Roval Pave SL wheels feel a bit flexy and undersized for my 200+ pounds. I'm not saying I'm some sort of Road Beast, but I'm a decent-sized guy who's reasonably strong. Had a wheel guru at a local shop take a look at the wheels. As seems to be the case with Specialized wheels, the bearings are pretty small. Especially up front. Two strikes.

But what are my alternatives? My wheel guru builds great wheelsets. But we chat and I'm looking at just over a grand for that. Nope. Took a quick look at Mavic, but something leaves me cold about these. 

Enter November Bicycles. I first ran across these guys on the RoadBikeReview online wheel and tire forum. Everyone comments on the great quality and tremendous value. A visit to their web site and now I'm intrigued. Semi-custom 'cross wheels for 600 bucks? For real? After some dialogue with owner Dave (great guy), I settle on the Alloy Nimbus TI with Pacenti SL25 rims in a 28/32 spoke configuration. The hubs are made for November by White Industries - basically a White T11 with a simpler shell and available only in a standard pewter color. I have a White ENO on the rear of my single-speed mountain bike and it's SOLID gear. November offers these wheels in a wide range of spoke configurations, rim choices, etc. so you're sure to find something that meets your needs. And if you don't know what you need, I found them really helpful in guiding my decisions.

Good looking ride!
I love getting sweet bike gear shipments. And November didn't disappoint. In a word: solid. These wheels look durable and solid, without feeling "overbuilt". The hubs are a great color and the bearings are butter-smooth. I really like the T11's titanium drive - nearly as light as aluminum and as strong as steel. And the Pacenti rims have a great profile, a great matte black finish, and even some pretty sweet graphics (hey, I'm a marketing guy by profession).

Once the wheels are mounted, I'm even happier. Somehow they just clean up the look and pull the bike together visually. I love that November even does their own skewers that are just a touch unique and match the hubs. Nice attention to detail.

OK, that's all fine, but what's it ride like?

Bomber rear hub!
Sublime. Smooth. Solid. The smooth-rolling hubs carry momentum wonderfully -- blast the descent on a roller and you get half-way up the next hill! The added rigidity of the higher spoke count and more rugged rim means flex is GONE. Every pedal stroke translates into maximum forward motion.

The Alloy Nimbus TI has transformed the Crux from a bike that I liked a lot to one I love. That's pretty cool. And surprisingly affordable.

Of course, this has me eyeing November's Rail 52 carbon road wheels. My Roval Rapides have been fine, but with a low 16/21 spoke count and the same small bearings, I wonder if I'm crushing them. Ah well, a consideration for next Spring.

If you're looking for a handbuilt wheelset with top-notch components at a mass-market price, I strongly recommend checking out November. Great product!


30 November, 2015

Pain Cave and Winter Fitness

The Winter fitness season is upon us. You know the one where you realize you're not exercising, and then you step on the scale for that "uh-oh" moment? Where the Holidays loom large, as does your waistline. I seldom make that transition well. And this year's proving to be no exception.

In 2013, I put on a bunch more weight and burned any fitness I'd built over the Summer. I tried joining a gym. But it just didn't work. Crowded at peak times. Boring as hell. Just not my bag. Last Winter I did a bit better. Decided a combo of skiing (thank you to Vail for picking up local Mt. Brighton) and indoor cycling was my best bet. Picked up a CycleOps Fluid2 trainer. Mounted my bike up and I'm ready to go!

Only problem. Riding a trainer is boring as hell. The only place I think time passes more slowly is waiting at the Secretary of State to renew your driver's license. Even with a custom playlist on the iPod, a half hour feels like a month. But, it works. I kept the Winter Weight off, and by the time I arrived on Colorado to ski I was running the slopes from top to bottom without a stop to catch my breath. Awesome. My road cycling season starts off very strong. All good.

As my goal is to continually improve, this year I vowed to make the Pain Cave a more pleasant place. My first thought is to press a TV into service. Throw on some Family Guy or Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives and I'm good for an hour. Fortunately, due to upsizing a TV elsewhere in the house, a 32" is looking for a home. This past week a little re-org of the basement results in a nice little home exercise spot! It's not the prettiest, but it's comfy, has a fan to keep cool a high-def TV with a gazillion channels, and a DVD player. 

Will it be the solution? We'll see, but I must admit I'm looking forward to finding out! Pain Cave 2.0 look out!


06 November, 2015

And so it begins...

When you're a skier, it all appears predictably. Yet every year I never tire of the progression.

First the ski mags start to fill the mailbox. They're full of cool new gear. Sweet destinations. And prognostications about who's going to have an epic Winter. And so it begins...

Then we have to ante up for early season deals on passes. And so it begins...

Later, we start seeing reports via social media of snow in the Western mountains. And so it begins...

Next Colorado, Utah, or the Sierras get an epic dump before November 1. And so it begins...

One of the high elevations ski areas, like A-Basin, opens in early November. And so it begins...

All the while, back in the Midwest, we're watching for that first frost. The earliest flakes. That really cold morning. And we're looking in our gear bags, checking our ski bases, and just generally getting anxious. Non-Winter friends are grousing about their hatred of the season. While we're just trying to hide that shit-eating grin as we think about ripping that first face, or catching a powder day.

If you're truly a skier. You understand all of what I just said. And if not, well then get your ass out there this year and give it a try. You might learn to embrace Winter, rather than dreading it. If you need me, I'll be watching for the signs of ski season...


26 October, 2015

Gear Lust

Been having a bit of a run-in with gear lust just lately. You know the feeling, "Do I need a gravel bike with disc brakes? What about a skinnier ski for those hardpack situations when it hasn't snowed in 10 days and the temps have been in the single digits? Dang, having a second Muskie fly rod that I could put an intermediate line on would be cool. Maybe I need that cool new superlight road bike?" Damn near bought a Kona Jake the Snake 'cross bike on Saturday.

Then I went for a bike ride yesterday.

That simple act reminded me of why I love all this stuff so much. It's time spent outdoors. It's the sights, sounds, and smells. The feeling of the sun warming you on a cool Fall day. The strain of muscles that sit at a desk too much.

And its freedom. Freedom from the tedium of a job, a house, and a life. Where you can just escape for some pure "me time". Last Monday as part of a whirlwind trip that included Michigan's Upper Peninsula, I got to float the storied Big Two Hearted River. Yup, the one of Hemingway lore. I've waded it a couple of times, and even kayaked it years back. But seeing a river from a raft or a drift boat is just another experience. We didn't catch much - or even turn much - but it didn't matter. I got to spend a day with my Dad, and a good friend. On one of the most remote rivers in Michigan. In a place where cell phones don't work and GPS' can't be trusted. Truly off-the-grid.

This phase of gear lust will pass. And until it does, I need to remember - use the shit you already own. That will give you far more joy. When you wear it out; you can get something new!


24 September, 2015

Houston, We Have A Problem...

Ran into a little snag on the 'cross bike. On my first real dirt ride after my fitting, I noticed my saddle was pretty low about 3/4 through. I knew Josh had said he'd had some issues with this, so not surprising. I adjusted back to about the right height, re-tightened and finished my ride. Later I took the measurements from my fitting with FitMI and put it in the right spot. Oh, and since this is MY bike, I put a scratch in the seatpost for reference.

 On the next my next ride, I noticed it slipping again. Re-adjusted and this time put a little brute force on the bolt. Like until I heard a solid creak. And, yes, I know that isn't "tourqued to specifications...". A few miles later, I'm low-riding. Another stop, another adjustment, only this time, the second creak turns to a loud, "SNAP". F@CK!!!! I'm 8-1/2 miles in to a 24 mile ride and at a pretty good distance from my truck. I limp back as directly as possible in a combination of standing and riding on an all-the-way-down seat that fully swivels. Fun.

At first, I'm blaming the non-stock Zipp seatpost. Figuring maybe it's not quite a true 27.2mm size. But after I get home and start doing some research, I find that this problem is a known issue with the Specialized Crux Comp. A wide range of fixes are suggested (including shimming with a cut-out from an aluminum beer can), but most center on the seat clamp. The general consensus is that the Thomson seat clamp is the ticket.

OK, cool, but the Specialized clamp also has an integrated cable hanger for the rear cantilever brake. No problem. I like an engineering challenge. A little more time with The Google and I find the Problem Solvers Cross Cable Hanger. OK, I can put this on the seatpost just above the clamp. Good enough. Oh, wait, the hanger is 1-1/8" ID and the post is 27.2mm. D@mmit! Ah, but there's a shim available. Click. Click. Credit card. Order complete.

As I'm waiting for delivery, I realize that this rig - while functional - is going to look full-on hillbilly. Not acceptable. A little more research leads me to the IRD Long Drop Cable Hanger. Better still I can order locally and have it in a couple of days. Sweet!

On Monday night I finally have all the needed parts. I'm sweating if the cable and housing will be long enough, but I dive in. Installation goes smoothly and the cable and housing just fit. With the clamp properly torqued, seat can't be twisted when tugging (it could before). And, the installation looks nice and clean. Perfect.

Planning the first ride on Saturday; fingers crossed! Somehow I have an odd love for this sort of problem-solving.


Good news! Did a nice 23 miler on gravel today and everything held fast. Didn't slip a millimeter! Kudos to Thomson for a top-notch seat clamp that does it's job. Ride was a blast and felt great! I love that bike.

22 September, 2015

Muskie Mania

I did it - boated my first "real" Muskie - measured 36" fish! On my UP trips with Dad and Capt. Jon Ray in the past two years I've hooked up on some good ones, and boated a "pike in a muskie suit" (as a friend said). I firmly believe attitude was a key part of it. I've embraced Muskie Mania.

Cute little guy from 2014
In the past I think I believed, but honestly I knew so little about what I was doing that I'm not exactly certain what it was that I believed in. Maybe that there were Muskies where I was fishing? Or that Jon had flies they'd chase? I don't really know.

This year was different - the result of some study and effort on my part to learn more about this game of chasing Muskie on the fly. It started with attending "Muskie University" this Spring. Put on by Capt. Brian Meszaros (a top Muskie fly guide on Lake St. Clair, and nationally renowned), this was an excellent day-long seminar on all things Muskie related and exclusively devoted to fly fishing for these toothy beasts. River rat, Chris Willen was there to impart his wisdom on chasing fish in moving water. We started in the classroom for the morning, and then moved to Lake Erie Metropark for some casting and on-water practice. I picked up so much knowledge, including things like how to really figure 8 (and it's importance) and water-loading casts to enable throwing the big flies all day without killing your body.

The second game-changer was reading Robert Tomes excellent book Muskie on the Fly. Though published in 2008 when chasing these toothy critters on the fly was pretty off-the-grid, there is a TON of helpful knowledge in this book. It helped me to better understand the "why" behind the "what" of this chase.

Abel Super 9/10N Muskie Edition
And, I suppose adding a Muskie rig of my own didn't hurt - a Scott Tidal Muskie/Pike Special rod with an Abel Super 9/10N in Muskie graphics mounted below. This rig gave me some great confidence. You can read my review of the rod on the Mangled Fly Blog (you should be reading it anyway because it rocks...). And yes, I know a reel like this one isn't needed for Muskie, but when I saw it -- well let's say I have a fondness for special reels. Throwing this rig was fantastic! And so cool to glance down and see this sweet-looking reel.

What do all these things do? Add confidence. And when chasing an alpha predator like a Muskie, you need that confidence. I rolled into this trip with a little more swagger. A little more heart. and plenty of patience that this next cast would be the one...

Finally, in closing, I can't show you my fish - yet. Muskie are special. Their hideouts are closely guarded. And my guide friends, like Jon, make their living knowing where to find them. So, out of respect and friendship, I agreed that I wouldn't post the shot anywhere until after Jon finishes his season and moves on to steelhead on the waters we all know. Check back in a month or so. You'll see it and the whole story.


21 September, 2015

Black is the New Black

Several years back as Jon Ray and I were trying to find the right hoodie to offer from Mangled Fly, he taught me a valuable lesson. Black absorbs and sunlight to keep you warmer. Seems pretty obvious, but I'd really never considered it before. Since then, black is the new black for me!

Yesterday was a perfect example. Wanted to take a ride, but it was a touch chilly. Of course it wasn't quite cold enough to warrant a thermal jersey. As I'm choosing my kit I remember Jon's words. Ordinarily, I tend to select brighter jerseys for visibility, but I decided it was time to break out the SWEET BikeWorks jersey I picked up in Kona last year.

This shop was pretty amazing - when you're in a place with a lot of disposable income like Kona, you can stock things like a Specialized S-Works Venge (at $10K) or or a Giant Defy Advanced 0 that you might never see in other shops.

Threw on a pair of bibs, this jersey, and arm warmers and headed out for a perfect ride. I was very comfortable the whole time and even able to remove the arm warmers on the route home. The little extra boost warmth from black on a sunny cool day was just right.

A simple reminder of a great outdoor trick - black is the new black!


09 September, 2015

Product Review: SQ Labs 611 Race Saddle

Ahh, the saddle. Perhaps the most overlooked - yet critical - bike component around. Your saddle is the most critical human-bike interface. On my recent Century, I spent over 6-1/2 hours in the saddle. As I commented to one of my riding companions, after that long, even a La-Z-Boy gets uncomfortable. Enter the SQ Labs 611 Race saddle.

Recommended to me by Master Fitter Jessica Bratus, of FitMI! after a failed attempt with another saddle, I've found home. My goal was a saddle that didn't cause pain, numbness or other issues - particularly on rides over 50 miles. And the 611 delivers on this. Even after over a hundred miles, I was feeling surprisingly good.

One of the main factors in male saddle design is relieving soft tissue pressure. That is, not sitting on your junk. Research has consistently proven that prolonged saddle time is a clear factor in unpleasantries like ED. So, if you'd like to hold off on the need for Viagra, best to pay attention. Most companies address this issue with cutouts or relief channels. SQ takes a unique approach to ensuring you're sitting on sit bones, not a more sensitive body part. The rear 1/3 of the saddle is elevated, and combined with a subtle channel down the center.

From the moment I got on the seat, I knew I was headed to the right place. Sure, it needed break-in (or maybe my ass did...), but the basics were THERE. After a couple of 50+ mile rides everything was groovy.

The aesthetics are really pretty cool. It's a unique looking saddle, without the Toucan Sam wildness of the SMP models (perhaps the fugliest saddle I've ever seen...). It looks sleek, elegant, and fast.

The other aspect that's really solid about these saddles is that each model is available in several widths - to fit your sit bone distance. While in the past saddle makers created one-size-fits-all models in only one width, folks like SQ and SMP are recognizing that not everyone needs the same width to be properly aligned on the sit bones. For me the medium-large 14cm model was just right.

Build quality is excellent, especially considering the price point. This is clearly a well-made saddle. And the lack of a cut-out means the shell can be a stronger structural component which should lead to long-term durability. It's also surprisingly light weight at only 235 grams. I think the TiTube alloy rails are a definite contributor to that.

The biggest proof of my satisfaction? When we got to the cyclocross bike fitting, Jessica simply said, "So, the SQ 611 seems to be working for you - let's just do that...". And that's been the right decision from Day One. As an interesting aside, I have noticed there is a bit of break-in for this saddle. I'd ridden so many miles on the road bike with the 611, that it became second nature. When I hopped in the saddle for the first ride on the 'cross bike my ass reminded me that this saddle wasn't broken in yet!

Jessica only recently began offering this line of saddles after discovering that some of the top ultra distance riders were on this unique, seldom-seen German brand. Evidently distribution is a little challenging as the company is pretty new to the U.S. Need a new saddle? Check these guys out, you won't be disappointed!


08 September, 2015

Simple Pleasures

The new-to-me Specialized Crux has helped me re-discover the simple pleasures of an earlier time. Of riding dirt roads just for the sheer thrill of riding. Of not seeing a car for an hour. Of the feeling that there's no place I have to be now. I'm not riding to hit a pace, or complete a road loop and beat a particular time. In short, it's like being a kid on Summer Break all over again.
I picked up a copy of Dirt Road Washtenaw over the Winter. This excellent book has lots of good advice about bikes, gear, techniques, etc. But most importantly it has an AWESOME collection of routes that really take advantage of the prettiest parts of the area. I've ridden the Liberty Loop a couple of times now and just enjoyed myself silly. Now I've got a bunch of others to explore - including the forboding Dirt Hammer route...

Thus far, I'm loving the Crux - it was a great first gravel bike. Sure, I love the idea of a Seven Cycles Evergreen built just for me, but until I hit the lottery, it ain't happening. The Crux is stable, handles great, and is very efficient. It took me a little bit to make the mental transition for the world of Shimano shifters to the SRAM Double Tap system, but I've got it now.

Yesterday I rode most of this route, though cut short by a mechanical failure that forced me to limp back to the truck (more on that in an upcoming post). I just couldn't keep the stupid grin off my face. Dirt roads are pure, simple pleasures. The scenery of Western Washtenaw is really quite stunning. And for some reason, I look up and around more when I'm on gravel -- maybe because I'm not constantly on the lookout for distracted drivers and potential road rage.

As we transition into Fall, I'm really looking forward to moving from more time on the road to more gravel. Who knows, might become a year 'round obsession!


05 August, 2015

First Century - Lessons Learned

The day before my first Century, I found myself turning to Google searches for "Tips for a First Century". I found a few ideas and pointers, but thought I'd share my reflections for others. So, here's my top ten, in no order of importance.

  1. Share the load - I quickly found a couple of guys about my age and fitness level. We all got along well, enjoyed chatting, and shared the workload in rough stretches. Made the miles fly by. This is really key.
  2. Hydrate and fuel - you're burning calories, and sweating off fluids. Drink often. If Gatorade is available to you, take advantage of it, especially on a hot day. And even if you're not hungry, eat something every hour or so.
  3. Fit is it - I had a professional fitting done by Jess Bratus of FitMI. Over the first 50 miles, I might have never noticed it. But for the last 50 it was CRITICAL.
  4. Log the miles - Training was key for me. I needed regular, increasing miles. By mid-Summer, my standard training loop was around 45 miles. General wisdom is that you can complete 2-3x what you train. I found that to be true.
  5. Beat the heat - riding a Century in August means it could be hot. And we had a generally cool Spring and early Summer here in Michigan. When the first really hot weather hit, I made sure to get in a few solid rides. This really paid off on the big day as I was more acclimated to the heat. My first hot training ride was a shit show...
  6. Move around - when you're spending over 6-1/2 hours in the saddle, making some effort to change positions, stretch, etc. really pays off. Climb some hills out of the saddle. Ride in the drops. Ride on the bar tops. At mile 80, you'll wish you did.
  7. Enjoy the view - most organized rides are set-up to maximize rider enjoyment. Don't just pedal along and suffer. Take in the scenery!
  8. Smooth is good - one thing I learned watching others, a smooth pedal stroke is efficient, and easier on your body. When you hit mile 90, you'll be glad. I've always had a pretty good pedal stroke (my fitter even complimented me on it). But, working on it on a trainer or while climbing really helps.
  9. Shit happens - on arrival I found I'd grabbed a pair of mis-matched gloves. And, of course, one was from a pair I don't really like very much. I started to get fired up about it, but then realized it didn't really matter. And, it didn't. Relax - things will go wrong. As long as you didn't forget your bike, you're good.
  10. You CAN do it - if you did #1-9 above, you can easily ride a Century. If there's one thing I've learned about cycling it's that confidence is king. Knocking off every ten mile increment always gives you confidence that enables the next one. So get your ass out there!

04 August, 2015

First Century!

On Saturday, 1 August, I achieved a personal goal I set three years ago - my first Century ride! When I re-committed to road riding seriously three years ago I got this idea in my head to complete a Century before I turned 50. Well, I'm 49 this year, so the pressure was on...

For the past three years, I've ridden and fundraised for the Susan G. Komen "Ride for the Cure". I do this to honor a good friend who lost her battle with this disease in 2011. You can read more on my effort here. The ride is the first Saturday in August, so it's been good timing for goal-setting and training. My first year, I rode a Metric Century (100km/62.5 miles) and was a top-five fundraiser. Last year some health issues sidelined my training, so I did a shorter 30 mile ride (but still raised more money than the previous year). This year was the big one - I increased my target to the full Century ride, and bumped my fundraising goal up a pretty good notch.

Training went well -- I had broken the 40 mile mark multiple times by the end of April and even had a Metric Century in by the end of May. Prior to ride day, my longest ride was 74 miles and the weekend previous I'd done 55-, and 65-miles on concurrent days. So, I had the miles under my legs.

Ride day start - feeling good!
Ride day weather was looking perfect, if a bit windy. That morning was a touch cool, but the wind was down for our 7 a.m. start. Definitely had some pre-ride jitters, but generally felt pretty confident. With about 25 riders for the Century we had a manageable group to tour the farmlands south of Lansing.

This crew included a wide range of cyclists - including a fit looking guy a few years older than me who planned to ride the Century on a FAT BIKE! Rock on! We stayed largely together until the first rest stop, though I'd started to ride and chat with a guy who turned out to live in the neighborhood across the street from mine! I was surprised by how quickly we got to that first stop at 25 miles. Everybody was laughing and having fun - some of us even got our photos taken in grass skirts and coconut bras (no, I don't have a photo yet...).

By the lunchtime stop at around 60 miles our group had split up a bit, with me riding with neighbor John, and gravel-grinder Nat (on a Specialized Crux 'cross bike much like mine!). For the most part we cruised comfortably at a 15-17 mph pace. When the ride turned west into the mounting wind, we formed a pace line and took turns pulling on the front without losing too much speed. I was really fortunate -- found two really good guys to ride with who were comfortable at about exactly the pace I wanted to ride.

Riding companion John - with me on the chase!
At the 77 mile rest stop, all three of us were eager to get off the bikes for a stretch, re-hydrate, fuel up, and have a little break. But it wasn't long before we set off again. The ride was set through some pretty gently rolling country. An area I would definitely return to for riding. By this time, the wind was definitely coming up, but we had some pretty good cover on the tree-lined stretches. Though heading east and south were definitely preferable. Each turn north (groan) or west (GROAN!!!) was a little less cheerful.

The last ten miles were - predictably - the Sufferfest. Not as brutal as I'd expected, but not easy. The three of us definitely took turns pulling each other along. Though the last 3 miles were BRUTAL as the wind peaked and we headed into a strong headwind for much of it. We all finished feeling happy and pretty strong - though not ready to knock off another 20!

A new favorite jersey!
So, I did it - rode my first Century at age 49! I was proud, tired, and happy. I also raised over $2,600 making me the #3 fundraiser - a nice bonus! Funny thing though, on the drive home I was thinking, "Now what?" and sure enough several friends have asked me the same thing. My guess is more Centuries are in my future, and hopefully at a faster pace (we did 103 miles in 6:40) but, stay tuned!

FYI, I'll also be following this up with a lessons learned entry for other first-timers!


21 July, 2015

Fear No Rock ... Or Repair!

I love my Clackacraft 16LP MegaBox drift boat. The layout has tons of storage and is easy to access. The boat rows like a dream. And, despite having had a hard life as a working guide boat, she's in solid shape.

I also love companies who stand behind their products. Had it a year back with my Remington Versamax shotgun when not only did they replace a problem part I identified, but also checked and found a few others and sent those - despite being over a year out of warranty. Nice!

Recently I've notice that the rower's bench in my Clacka won't stay put. It rides on rails so you can adjust for different leg lengths, gear loads, etc. Even when thoroughly tightened, as soon as you get your feet on the brace and pull a good oarstroke, you slide back. Gets old fast.

So, I give Clacka a call this morning, figuring I'll need to order some new screws or something. As soon as I get the guy on the phone it's evident that he knows this problem well. "Do you have the plastic clip or the metal one...". Of course, I don't know as I've yet to take it apart. "No problem," he says "I'll send you out a set and some new screws. Just give me your address." Wow - impressive. No warranty questions, no hassles, and no charge.

And that, my friends, is why I'll likely never row another brand of drift boat. I truly value companies who stand behind their products. When I hit the Lottery ($152 mil drawing tonight, just sayin'), I'm ordering up a Clackacraft 16' Eddy in Central Michigan Chippewas maroon and gold.

Looking for a new drift boat? I can't say enough good about the Clackacraft brand. Well-built, and well-backed! Kudos!


17 July, 2015

Bike Fit Follow-Up

At this point, I've got in 250 or so miles since the fitting with Jess Bratus of fitmi!. I've ridden as long as 73 miles and as short as 20 miles. What I have now is a bike that gets even more comfortable the more I ride it.

Round One wasn't a rousing success. The SMP Avant saddle that felt good on the trainer in the fit studio proved not to work for me on the road - I'm actually convinced that it actually had too much padding. In an effort to get me in a more upright position, she swapped out my 8 degree stem for a taller 17 degree model. While the shorter reach felt better, bike handling quality really went downhill.

Just like ski boot fitting, bike fitting is a process. It's such a myriad of small adjustments and every body structure is different. So, back I go. Jess immediately smiles and says, "Well, sounds like we need to do a follow-up fit session - we'll get all that taken care of easily enough!" Cool - that's what I want to hear from my master fitter; confidence.

At my initial fitting, Jess mentioned that she had some new saddles coming in from SQ Labs of Germany. A number of long-distance riders are thrilled with this line and she feels really good about what she's learned. Fortunately for me, but my second visit, they had arrived. We quickly settled on 611 Race model. This model seems to fit my need for minimal padding with some flex in the seat base. Feels much better than the SMP on the trainer, so I'm cautiously optimistic.

Next is the stem. In addition to making my sweet ride look like Grandma's upright condo cruiser, introduces some really squirrely handling. At the first fit we'd discussed my traditional bend Bontrager bars (and how they fit almost no one!) and swapping them for a shorter reach bar with more compact drops. This will enable me to return to the stock stem, but get a shorter reach for a more relaxed stance. So, a pair of FSA Vero Compact bars are ordered. She's eager to get me able to comfortably ride in the drops, for more efficiency and to be able to comfortably vary riding position on longer rides.

I head off happy and feeling like we're making progress, full well knowing that the proof will be on the road.

In the morning I set off on my regular 35 mile training loop. From the outset, I'm liking this saddle. It's got the pressure relief of the SMP for the nether regions (or "soft tissue" as the industry so delicately refers to them, but rather than feeling like I'm sitting "in" it, I feel as though I'm "on" it. My sit bones seem to rest at the right location as well. It's a little harsh, but feels like this is more ass acclimitization and saddle break-in than anything else. Best of all, my ride is faster than before, while feeling like I'm not working as hard.

Lizard Skins bar tape - SWEET!
A few days later, my handlebars show up. I take advantage of this to replace the bar tape. Jess suggests the Lizard Skins DSP 3.2mm. In addition to a nice tacky grip and good cushioning, the tape is actually RED rather than the pinkish of my previous Bontrager tape.

The following day's ride is EPIC! Saddles feeling really nice and these bars are such an improvement! The miles melt away and I return home happy. In the ensuing week, I knock off a 64 and a 73 mile ride. Both feel great, but best of all is the next day - no lingering soreness. This tells me we got it! I'm now riding 50% of the time in the drops so that makes me happy.

Up next? The 'cross bike. When I started this, I was really looking to fine-tune for longer rides. Whereas on the 'cross bike, I know I have some issues.

If you're in SE Michigan and having fit issues, I highly recommend a visit to Jess. You won't be disappointed!


02 July, 2015

Rules of the Road

I read an article a couple of months back in Outside magazine about the significant increase in the number of cyclists being injured in motor vehicle collisions. The article has definitely been food for thought in recent weeks. It does seem clear that we all (cyclists and drivers) need to learn to follow the rules of the road. I've been much more observant of behaviors among both groups and we have a long way to go before the roads get safer for cyclists.

Since reading the article, I'm amazed at the number of stupid things I see cyclists do on the road that makes us deserve some of the driver's wrath. For example:

  • Riding the wrong way on one-way streets. WTF? Cars can't do it -why are you?
  • Ignoring stop signs. OK, we all slow-roll some in lightly trafficked areas. I'm talking about brazenly blasting through, often without looking.
  • Riding on the sidewalk. Most non-cyclists are amazed when I tell them that in a significant number of municipalities that bicycles are illegal on the sidewalk. If you're biking on a sidewalk, you run the risk of injuring pedestrians, but you're also virtually impossible to see for drivers turning at intersections. Stay on the road.
  • Not owning the lane. We expect to be treated like other vehicles on the road, yet many of us don't behave like one. Don't make a left turn from the right lane, put on your Big Girl Panties and jump in the left turn lane like a boss!
  • Helmets. Wear one. And, if you do, buckle the stupid strap. In addition to making you look like an asshat, this pretty much removes any benefit the helmet might deliver.
  • Riding two (or more) abreast. Unlike the previous items, which are mostly on less serious cyclists, the hardcores tend to be the issue here. Yeah, it's legal to ride two abreast. It's also stupid. And when a heard of you just takes over a lane, blind to vehicles around you, it just pisses drivers off. Particularly if you're all wearing some matching team kit...
I am truly amazed at the stupidity and anger I encounter on the road. Curiously it's been better this year - maybe more bikes on the road increase awareness? But it's still there.
  • If you wouldn't pass a car, don't pass me. You wouldn't pass a Buick on that twisty, hilly road. What makes you think you can somehow magically slip past me and not cross the center line? And when you do encounter that oncoming car, are you going to hit it or take me out? Yeah, we both know the answer on that one.
  • Stop honking the fucking horn. Yes, I dropped the F Bomb there. For a reason. I get this all the time. I'm riding a virtually silent vehicle, and you're rolling along in 4,000 pounds powered by internal combustion. I know you didn't see me, but I heard you a LONG time ago. There's no need to "let me know you're there" with the horn. I'm quite aware. If you startle me and I fall or swerve in front of you, both of our days are ruined (oh, and I'm dead...).
  • Put down the smartphone. I'm constantly scanning road looking for signs of driver distraction. You'd be surprised how many of you I see peering into tiny screens.
  • Give me a little room. When you pass properly, without oncoming traffic, there's plenty of room for you to pass. Take it.
  • Slow down. Many times I see that way-too-close-way-too-tight pass from people who are just driving far too fast for the road and were surprised by me. That extra 10 mph on a 10 mile drive isn't going to get you there any faster.
So, there you go - we all need some improvement with following the rules of the road. Hope these reminders are helpful, no matter which group you fall into.


19 June, 2015

Charleston - Think About it

A warning to those who follow this blog for cycling, skiing, or fly fishing and who are anti-gun - we're going to talk about guns here today. And a warning for those who read for hunting and shooting - I'm going to step out of line with the NRA party line. Call me an equal opportunity offender...

The events in Charleston this week have really given me pause. As a gun owner, they've caused me to re-examine some thinking. As an American, they've stirred a lot of thought. And as a human being, they've caused me to be really disappointed in my fellow man.

I heard a talk radio host yesterday posit the theory that the problem is we all hate each other - blacks hate whites and vice-versa. I'm sure he was firing for effect to keep the program lively, but it was a legitimate theory. Do we really all hate each other? My take is that there are extremists in every group and those people probably do hate each other. But the vast majority of us don't share those feelings. Unfortunately, social media, the Internet, and the 24/7 news cycle have given the limelight over to the extremists. Sad. We've become a nation focused on the extreme. Maybe it's time for the Moderate Majority (yeah, damn right, I capitalized that...) to seize control and get this place straight.

No Gun Zones
This one's ticklish, but this particular case is illustrative. An Emmy-award winning reporter from a Dallas TV station told the tale of an interview with a family member of a victim that Dylann Roof reloaded FIVE times. As a long-standing concealed carry permit holder, I know that churches are an identified gun-free zone. Curiously, I think this is more of a legal thing -- churches and stadiums both hold a lot of people, and therefore are gun-free. Sad, I'd actually think you'd do it out of respect for the Church as a place of peace. But I digress. He reloaded five times. And you've got to figure a 21 year old isn't going to be trained in eyes-off reloads. So he had to look down, drop the magazine, grab another, insert, and rack the slide to chamber a round. I wasn't there, so this is merely speculation, but I have to believe that during at least one of those reloads, a savvy concealed permit holder could have ended the situation. Does this mean I'm advocating eliminating gun-free churches? I'm not willing to go there yet. But in Michigan you can carry in a Church if you have written permission from the priest, minister, rabbi, etc. Makes you think.

We don't do this much on Get Outside - polly-ticks that is. I'm a confirmed fence-sitter who's beginning to align more with the Libertarian mindset. If there were really any moderate Republicans or conservative Democrats, I'd probably vote for them. But I'm incredibly disappointed in our President who took this opportunity to use this tragedy to push his personal "no guns" agenda. That's shameful. And to say that "this doesn't happen in other developed countries..." is just outright rubbish. Seen what's happened in Paris in recent years as it became a melting pot of cultures? Would you consider Pairs a developed country. This was a time for our leader to express the Country's grief for the victims, their families and loved ones, and the people of Charleston. Period.

More Politics
Obama's decision to focus on guns took everyone's eyes off the real issue. The gun in Dylann Roof's hand didn't kill those people - his finger pulling the trigger did. And his decision to reload and pull the trigger again. I own a number of firearms. None are equipped with a self-pulling trigger. The gun is simply a tool. He could have killed those people with knife, a bomb, or even a folding chair. What Obama glossed over is our utterly ruined mental health care system. All reports indicate that this was a truly troubled young man, with a history of drug abuse and violent statements. We see this pattern over and over in these shootings. Virginia Tech? Same deal. Aurora? Yup. So, I would issue this challenge to our government - how about if you devote 50% of the time, energy, and money that you spend trying to prevent law-abiding citizens from having guns and put it into fixing our broken mental health system. I have a number of friends who are mental health professionals. All will tell you the system has been gutted by cuts. It's time for real reform. And remember, this is an anti Big Government guy suggesting this...

Sorry folks, its time to stop being part of the problem and start being part of the solution. We need to stop protecting the rights of people like Dylann Roof and Adam Lanza. People with a history of mental illness, drug abuse, and/or violence shouldn't be able to own firearms. Period. Do whatever it takes to find a solution. Show that you are the good people you claim to be. If that means stronger background checks - good. A national database? I'm not thrilled about some aspects of that, but maybe we need to look at it. One logical place to start, in my opinion, is levelling national policies rather than the current State-by-State model. A friend told me that in Indiana you can get a concealed permit by having a simple chat with the Sheriff. Seriously? I've been an NRA member for years, but this is my last unless they start to find some way to collaborate and seek solutions.

The Family
You need a license to drive a car. A special certification to operate a motorcycle. A CDL for commercial truck drivers. And, what do you need to have a kid? Just a few sweaty moments. Dylann Roof's parents saw the external signs of hatred -- he wore Apartheid patches on his jacket and had a Confederate flag on his car. So what do they do? Buy him a gun for his 21st birthday. That's some solid parenting there. Adam Lanza's Mom thought that somehow having a Bushmaster AR would be a good idea with a kid with clear mental health issues in the house. She paid for this mistake with her life. Do I have a solution? No, but there are plenty of smart people who study family dynamics. I'm pretty sure if you got a few of them in an apolitical room, you'd get some clear, simple answers. I will give you one piece to think about -- I enjoy and value my guns. But if a family member in the household begins to have issues, they're out of the house. Immediately. The guns, BTW, not the family member...

This city has long been one of my favorite places. It's hard to describe, but it's a place with soul. I love the State of South Carolina and the city of Charleston. I can only imagine parents in the United A.M.E. trying to convince themselves and their families that the church IS a safe place. It's a city that's had a rough year of senseless violence. Honestly, I don't know how I'd cope with it if I lived there. Just know that you're in the thoughts of an awful lot of Americans right now.

So there you go. I suppose I wrote this for me more than for the readers. Just putting some of this down was cathartic. I hope perhaps for you as a reader it was, too. Just one man's opinions.


16 June, 2015

Fit Is It

Pick up any cycling magazine or browse web site and somewhere in the issue you'll likely a mention of the value of a good bike fitting. Sure, a good salesperson can get you on a bike that looks like a good fit. But did you get a good salesperson? And did the wrench who assembled your bike position the bars correctly? Did the manufacturer put the brifters at the right place? Bicycle companies have come a long way with sizing and such, but every 56cm Trek Madone is the same. The people who ride it are not.

For a while now, I've been considering a pro fitting. My road bike was set-up as-built from the shop. It's comfortable enough, though I find that when I get past the 40 mile point, I get some foot numbness, some shoulder/neck pain, and my arse hurts. These days bike shops have all figured out that a fitting is a great way to make a few bucks on the fit, and sell a bunch of new gear to adapt your fit. And a decent fitting isn't cheap. So, I really wanted to find someone good.

Thanks to my cycling-connected friend, Josh, I am introduced to Jess Bratus of fitmi!. She recently fitted Josh and he absolutely raved about the difference it made. A chat with my neighbor Mike, a competitive triathlete, reveals that Jess also did his fit and he was very pleased. SOLD! An appointment is scheduled.

Jess' studio is located above Sic Transit Cycles in a historic building on the north side of Ann Arbor. From the moment I walk in, the whole experience is just about perfect. The space is bright and open with all the tools of the trade on display. Right away I can tell this won't be a big box bike store fit. Plus, she digs my bike.

I gear up while Jess gets my bike on the trainer on an elevated platform so she can observe, measure, and tweak my bike. To my surprise we don't even start off on the bike. First she wants to quantify all of my body's quirks, oddities, and issues. She finds a few things I already knew (really stiff hamstrings) and a number I didn't (a great deal of pelvic rotation and a right foot arch that's lower than the left). She looks a my stance, measures the natural angle of my feet, observes how my knees are positioned in relation to my ankles. All the while, she's methodically making notes and clearly thinking about how what she's seeing will translate on the bike.

We discuss my Fizik Alliante VS saddle. Josh had warned me about this, so it wasn't a surprise. Turns out that in addition to being overly narrow, has a reputation for excessive pressure in the nether regions. Yeah, that's not good.

Now it's time to hop on the bike. Immediately she's identified a couple of major areas. And the adjustments start. First a swap to a shorter stem to get my shoulders relaxed. Ahhh - that does feel better. Then we swap out the saddle for an Selle SMP Avant in the mid width. Immediately I can tell that the trusty Fizik wasn't supporting my sit bones at all. Then we go to work on my cleats. A positioning adjustment, followed by a shim in my right foot and things are feeling really nice.

Thus far this has all been the experienced eyeball. As we chat during the fitting I learn about the extensive training Jess has completed, both with custom builder Serotta and later with the Specialized Fit Lab training. Pretty cool.

But wait - now we're going to break out the laser. COOL! She puts an elastic band with a reflective target just below each knee. Using a laser, she's now able to visualize how my pedal stroke is tracking. The improvement is incredibly visible. My right side is now largely corrected. Given that I have a history of issues on that side (tight IT band and a funky knee) this fix feels hugely better.

All in all, a really worthwhile expenditure of time and money. Jess is like a bespoke tailor, mixed with a kinesiologist and a bike mechanic. A true intersection of art and science. She sends me away with a new understanding of my body and how it's issues intersect with my bike (and a new stem and a demo saddle to try out).

But the true test comes tonight on the road (I hope -- Michigan has been enjoying some weather that has me happy to own a drift boat as it means constructing an ark won't be necessary). Stay tuned!


08 June, 2015

Dry Fly Adventure

Had the pleasure of a dry fly adventure float with Capt. Jon Ray over the weekend. I've done a little dry fly fishing, but only once before out of a boat. I know enough to understand how technical this style of fishing can be. Being in the right place, at the right time, with the right cast and presentation can mean the difference between a successful outing and a skunking.

Found a dumb one (the fish)!
Fortunately, Saturday was a successful outing. We were floating a section of the Manistee river known for its big fish - but not for quantity. Jon knows I'm always up for a research project, so this stretch was chosen to give him some more knowledge on it. Plus, it's linking up some sections I've floated before. A definite dry fly adventure.

One big challenge for this adventure - angler skills. My dry fly casting skills are among my weaknesses. Blame chasing smallmouth bass and steelhead. Throwing a sink-tip, spey rod, or popper on a heavy line has a tendency to make you lazy. Plus, I haven't put in the casting practice I need this season.

A few lessons learned:

  1. Slow down. Slow down your cast. Slow down your hookset. Slow down and watch the water ahead for rises. Just slow the eff down overall.  
  2. There are no second chances. Trout are smart. prick 'em and miss a hookset and they vanish like a ghost.
  3. Sometimes, there are second chances. But they're few and far between. I got lucky and missed a fish on a jet set. This was a dumb one, as she started rising a few moments later. On the second try, I got her!
  4. This is a lifelong skill. We fished with one of Jon's long-time frequent clients. This guy had a story of a lost fish around every bend. He's done this a LOT. He had skills I didn't even know I lacked. 
  5. Missed fish will haunt you. I missed what looked like a nice fish on a too-fast hookset. This one wasn't dumb enough to come back. Was it my mythical two-footer? Maybe, but we'll never know.
  6. Rowing for dry fly anglers is harder than it looks. To give Jon a break, and because I'm always happy for some constructive criticism, I took the sticks for a while. In the two years I've owned my boat, I've gotten fairly competent with the basics of maneuvering the boat, river position, etc. But in dry fly adventures, I learn that now you have to watch the front fly and try to match boat speed to presentation.
  7. I need to do this more. A lot more. It's fun and relaxing. But it's also demanding and you need the skills to keep up. The more I do this, the better angler I'll become.
  8. I love my Abel clicker reels. My AC2 was ideal for my 6 weight Scott A4, and my Classic is perfect beneath the G2. There's nothing quite like the purr of those clickers.
An excellent day/evening on a beautiful river. And, as a bonus, I learned something. If you're looking to up your dry fly game, I highly recommend Jon, or any of the guys at Hawkins Outfitters.


04 May, 2015

Early Season Progress Report

Cycling season is off to a solid start. By the end of April I had surpassed the 40 mile mark several times. Each ride was generally solid with decent pace, despite often-windy conditions. All in all I feel like the off-season work on the trainer, mixed with some skiing, helped me maintain some semblance of fitness. This is a nice feeling as the past Winter was UGLY. Got really good at watching TV and gaining weight.

Thus far, I'm enjoying the new carbon wheels. Lighter rotating parts do make a big difference and I'm feeling some of the aero benefits. We'll see how durable they are - so far things seem to be holding true, but I haven't really got a ton of miles on them yet.

On Saturday, I had a nice day with a relatively free agenda so I thought I'd attempt to break the 50 mile mark. Not only did I accomplish that goal, I did it by adding on the loop up through Hell, MI. If you haven't ridden that area, it's known for being pretty rolling. I needed to spend some time on hills and I must say it went pretty well. In fact, my final mileage was 56.75. Actually closer to 60 than 50, so I'm quite pleased by that. And, I had enough energy to do just over 30 miles with Bike Ypsi

Another notable addition to this season is joining Strava. I had some reservations about this (how much sharing is too much?) but I've actually found that having a smaller community with other active friends has been good for me. If I see that Josh or Jeff did a ride and I skipped, it, I'm more motivated for the next time. And when I put up a solid ride, I get kudos. Best of all, it syncs automatically from my Garmin Connect account, and shares with my LoseIt! app. Pretty cool and some interesting data is now flowing in all directions.

As of now, I've really got the road bike dialed. Everything fits me well and I'm comfortable riding fairly long distances. On Sunday I rode the cross bike and realized we still have some fine-tuning to do. The first is going to be picking up a Fizik Aliante VS K:ium saddle. This is the same saddle my road bike has on it and we're used to each other. I also think it's probably time to score some decent MTB shoes for this bike. My old original entry-level Pearl Izumi's from a decade ago really aren't doing it. Especially after the oh-so-comfy Bonts on my road bike (and sadly Bont doesn't have a two-bolt pattern that will fit the SPD cleats on the 'cross bike).

It's early May, I've got some solid miles in and I'm eager for more. I started fundraising in earnest for the Susan G. Komen Ride for the Cure (feel free to donate!) last week. Thus far, the season is off to a solid start for this cyclist.


10 April, 2015

Roll On - Roval Rapide CLX 60 Wheels

Got the new wheels out for a first ride last weekend. Josh had a 40+ miler all planned out for me. Despite some pretty serious wind, we headed out in the afternoon.

I'd read a lot about aero profile wheels and the wind. A number of online mentions expressed concern over 60mm profiles like my Roval Rapide CLX 60's. More profile = more exposure to crosswinds, etc. So, I wasn't quite sure what to expect.

What I found was that while you could definitely feel the impact of the wind, it really wasn't that big of a deal. Not bad per se, just different. Cross-wind gusts were noticeable, primarily with the front wheel, but not completely scary.

One thing I will say is that my bike looks BAD ASS with these wheels. As Josh commented, "It's like a completely new ride." And, he's right. Just looks tough.

Giant Defy Advanced with Specialized Roval Rapide CLX 60 wheels
Giant Defy Advanced with new Specialized Roval Rapide CLX 60's

As to the performance and handling of the wheels and their impact on my ride, it's really hard to say. Between ripping winds, and the fact that I haven't got a lot of road miles in yet this season (Winter hasn't really wanted to give up in Michigan) I don't think it was an optimum situation to evaluate. By the end of almost 45 miles, I was pretty much cooked. But, I survived those miles, and I think the new wheels made that easier.

More to follow as I get in more miles. Early impressions are that I like 'em.


07 April, 2015

It's Back...

At $579, the Epic Locals Pass is just an awesome deal. Plus, for just a $49 deposit, you can lock in the season's lowest price and pay for it this Fall. Easy decision - done like dinner! Next year's goal will be a long weekend (probably Keystone and A-Basin) as well as a longer week, perhaps to Utah. Can't wait!

03 April, 2015

Spring Fling - Ten Lessons Learned

Picked up a few things while skiing in Colorado:

  1. Some pretty damn good beer there. Both the Dillon Dam Brewery (try the Brown) and Backcountry Brewing (easily one of the best amber ales I've ever had) delivered great beer and mighty good food. 
  2. It snows in Colorado. Even in Spring. Might want to think about that when offered the $80 SUV upgrade on your rental car. And factor it into your commute time to the mountain.
  3. Staying slopeside is cool, but it was equally nice (and way cheaper) to stay at a hotel in a central location. Dillon Inn was great.
  4. Seriously getting back in to cycling has really helped my fitness and my skiing by leaps and bounds. Long runs at high altitude were no issue. I owe that all to thousands of miles on a bicycle.
  5. Paying for parking at a ski area is bullshit. Vail's model is quite clearly "pay to park close", but I was able to park for free with only a short shuttle ride at Beaver Creek and Breckenridge, and within easy walking distance at Keystone and A-Basin.
  6. Arapahoe Basin is awesome. A true local gem. Reminds me of places I love like Solitude and Powder Mountain in Utah. Great terrain, cool people, and a great vibe. Plus, Ramrod is one of the best blue runs I've ever skied (should be a black easily). Fast. Steep. Scenic. I will definitely return to the Basin.
  7. Breckenridge just isn't my cup of tea. Crowds. Tons of pretentious dining. Traffic. And their blue runs would be greens anywhere else. 
  8. Still love Beaver Creek, and Keystone will become a new favorite. I really learned from chatting with the locals that all of the area can be great, but you have to consider some key factors. For example, chatting with one of the locals at the bar on my last night in town revealed that A-Basin is awesome, but you don't want to be up there on low-visibility days. Having a third of the resort above treeline makes it really disorienting.
  9. My Blizzard Bonafides rule the mountain. They also got a lot of compliments on their appearance (they are a sweet-looking ski).
  10. Pack for nearly everything in Spring out West. After two days of bluebird sunny skies and temps in the 50's I thought bringing the colder weather layers was a waste. Wrong. I ended up needing everything I had with me.
  11. (Bonus Round) The Epic Pass is awesome. I had my choice of five mountains in Colorado, AND I got a pass to ski Mt. Brighton back home and stay in shape. Perfect!
Next year, who knows? Maybe I pull of two Western trips and get to both Colorado and Utah. Sure would be fun!

02 April, 2015

Spring Fling - Day Five

Day Five started off  solid -- with an easy 6-7" of powder atop the fairly crappy Hyundai Elantra rental car. A powder day in CO in late March? AWESOME!!!!

Check out of the hotel, load up my gear, clear the snow and ice off and away I go. Keystone is only 4 miles away and I'm dying to explore it some more as my first day was a short one. Well, some days, nothing is ever simple...

Did I mention that the Elantra needed new tires? Badly? As soon as I hit freeway outside Denver International Airport I could hear -- that sound like a semi was following me. I glance at the odometer to see it's got nearly 50K miles on the clock. Should have turned around right there. In fact, should have turned around and spent the extra 80 bucks to upgrade to an SUV. Dumb.

I get out of the hotel just fine, but the road from Dillon to Keystone goes up a hill. A relatively steep one. And there's been no sign of snowplows and not a lot of traffic. Within 15 feet, I'm finding I can barely get the car to move at all. Traction control is on, I've got it floored and I'm barely moving. Not only not good, but friggin' scary as I'm on a boulevard with nowhere to turn around. I've got the flashers on and I'm watching the rear-view mirror the whole time to see if I'm going to get rear-ended. I white-knuckle it up to the first light, bang a left U-turn and head back downhill to the hotel.

Back at the hotel, reality starts to sink in. Not only might I not get to ski today, I wonder if I'll be able to get over Loveland Pass and back to Denver for my flight? Ruh-roh. A quick chat with the hotel owner reveals the Summit Bus, which picks up just down the street and runs to Keystone. Sweet! After sitting at the bus stop with some other folks for a half hour, a local sticks his head in and informs us they've shut the Summit Bus down due to weather. Crap.

I wander dejectedly back to the hotel, where I run into the owner. He thinks that since the plows have now been out, and traffic's picked up that I can make. So, what do I have to lose? I came out here to ski.

I set off and immediately, things are better. Not perfect, but manageable. Still a little spooky, but I get there, score a good parking spot in the River Run lot. I'm HERE! And it's only 10am, so I didn't lose much skiing! My day is turning around!

What I arrive to is 6+" of fresh powder, with some fresh tracks still to be scored and now crowds. YAHTZEE! This is an awesome way to cap off my trip! Some quick calculations about travel, rental return, etc. and I figure that I can ski until 2-2:30. Not a full day, but a solid one!

I'd skied Keystone a little on Day One (after arriving late thanks to a delayed outbound flight) and I liked it well enough. But today it was just awesome. Great variety of runs, easy to get around, fast lifts with little or no line. All good! Snow is still falling, filling in tracks, but it eases up (reducing my panic about Loveland Pass) as the morning goes on.

 I know I've said a bunch about my Blizzard Bonafide skis, but let me take a moment to compliment them one more time. These are hands-down the best ski I've ever owned. They're smooth, initiate turns easily, and seem to handle everything from powder, to chop, to hard-pack with grace and style. This ski makes it easier for me to ski fast and in control, no matter the conditions. I genuinely love this ski! And the 187cm length has proven to be perfect. It really lets the ski run fast and cut through whatever you encounter with power and confidence.

And now on to Keystone. As I've mentioned before, I'm a low-maintenance skier. Great skiing doesn't mean the mountain has to be HUGE, or that I need 8,346 gourmet lunch choices. I want good skiing, great scenery, and most of all a cool vibe. This is part of what I like so much about Caberfae Peaks here in Michigan. Cool people and a mellow vibe. That's what Keystone's like, only with some really excellent terrain!

Around 2pm, the snow picks up and I realize it's time to beat it back to Denver. I've got a two hour drive that could involve some sketchy conditions. Plus, after 130,000+ vertical feet skied in 5 days, I'm feeling pretty satisfied.

The drive back is OK, with the exception of coming down the eastern side of the Continental Divide. Visibility is roughly to the front bumper due to snowing and blowing, but fortunately the roads aren't especially slick. I make Denver in time to have dinner and a couple of very tasty beers at the New Belgium Hub at DIA.

5 days. 4 ski areas. 3 breweries. 130,000+ vertical feet skied. And one brain cleaned out, re-energized and ready to dive back into work!


24 March, 2015

Spring Fling - Day Four

Today it was off to ski Breckenridge. I'm not sure quite why. Not a big fan of crowds, and over-hyped resorts. But, I was determined to maximize the value of my Epic Pass and hit another area. Of course, I'm cheap, so I have to look for where I can park for free. Seriously, paying for parking bugs the crap out of me. I had dinner and three beers for less than many of the Vail resorts charge for close-in parking.

A few inches of fresh snow had me hopeful. A Spring pow day? Awesome. Didn't quite work out that way. A couple of locals had told me that Breck "over reports" snowfall. They were right on today. It snowed just enough for them not to groom, but not enough to be interesting. Plus, temps dropped 10 degrees and the wind was WAY up. To say I missed on dressing for the weather was a significant understatement. I was COLD for much of the day. I'm finding my tolerance for being cold isn't great anymore. And, it didn't help that I'd consciously made some bad decisions. Spring gloves? Stupid. Lighter shell? Stupid. Note to self - it's colder on the mountain than it is in the parking lot, dumbass.

By lunchtime I was seriously contemplating bailing for Keystone. But, I stuck with it. Lunch was mediocre and pricey. Snow conditions varied from piles of pushed around powder to icy golf-ball sized pellets. 

Add to this Breck's terrain. It just didn't do it for me. Blues should have been greens, and blacks ranged all over the map. I had a lot of trouble finding runs I liked. I should offer a disclaimer -- at least out West, I love big, steep, fast blue runs. Skiing fast and steep is my thing. I'm to old (and smart) to ski bumps anymore. And there was none of this to be found today. To add insult to injury, I think I skied one of my favorite runs for a good chunk of the day yesterday at Arapahoe Basin. Steep. Fast. Smooth. And well-suite to blasting it. So, today was disappointing. By the end of the day I had finally warmed up and got in a few nice runs. But nothing that really lit me up. This is part of the skiing game though. Some days are epic, others mediocre, and still others disappointing. That's how it goes.

I did conclude one positive from today -- I'm in a TON better shape than my first visit to Colorado two seasons back. On that trip, I was reminded that I was the fat, out-of-shape guy. Now with three seasons of 2,000+ miles on my road bike, I am STRONG and ready to rock. That feels rewarding.

Tomorrow is my last day. Snow's in the forecast tonight and tomorrow. I think I'm bound for Keystone. Close to my hotel and Denver. And I really didn't get to fully explore it on Saturday due to my late arrival. 

A great trip all around, though I am eager to get home and get my road bike out. Funny how I enjoy every sport's season, but when it winds down, I'm anticipating the next one.


23 March, 2015

Spring Fling - Day Three

Hit some new terrain today -- skiing Arapahoe Basin. Really had a nice experience. I love the smaller local areas. Whiile I certainly have enjoyed places like Vail, Beaver Creek, and Deer Valley, I don't need the ammenities and the fancy treatment. I'm there to ski. But I was reminded of something even more important today - the value of the vibe. 

I've had a season pass at Michigan's Caberfae Peaks for at least a decade, and in addition to great terrain and solid snow fall, I think the thing I like the most is the vibe. People are chill, nice, and just fun to be around. That''s what A-Basin was like today. Super mellow (especially for a place with some of Colorado's most respected terrain) and really fun. 

But on to the skiing...

A-Basin, with a summit elevation of 13,050 feet, is one of the highest resorts in the Continental US. And that altitude makes for great Spring skiing. The snow at A-Basin was the best I've seen on this trip and surprisingly good for this late in what most locals told me was a disappointing year snow-wise. 

I spent a chunk of my morning on the Black Mountain Express lift. The Ramrod run was EXACTLY what I love -- an aggressive blue (that would be a black at most other areas). Steep. Fast. With really good snow cover. I enjoyed just blasting it at Mach One. And, yes, I will offer kudos yet again to the Blizzard Bonafides. These boards smoked.

By late morning, I needed some top-to-bottom laps, so I connected up the Lenawee lift. So, this is pretty cool as now we're above treeline. Ride Black Mountain up, ski over to Lenawee then ski top to bottom. Awesome. 

I had another revelation today - cycling has been really solid for me. My legs are strong all day, and even at the high altitude of A-Basin, my lungs held out. This wasn't the case on my first trip to Colorado two years back. I was SMOKED. Between the altitude and my lack of fitness, I was gassed after two runs. I'd be stopping halfway to catch my breath. Now - straight down runs are no issue. This feels reallly good.

Another day in the books. Tomorrow's challenge is where to ski. I made a visit to Breckenridge last night and it was a ZOO. Heard from a local that it was Spring Break for a lot of colleges. But, I feel like I need to ski several areas, so maybe I'll brave it. Of course, my cheap streak comes out here. One of the things I don't like about Vail ownership is the parking. I remember the first time I encountered paid parking. My first thought was "WTF - seriously? You want to CHARGE me to park?". At Vail, Beaver, and Breck you can park for free, but you have to ride a shuttle. So we'll see. There's also some snow coming in tonight and that could change my thinking totally...

For now, I'm happily enjoying excellent $3 craft brews and half-price appetizers at the brewery next to my hotel. A damn fine day.


22 March, 2015

Spring Fling - Day Two

BEAVER! To avoid the weekend crowds, I got up early today and rolled westward to one of my favorite Colorado ski areas - Beaver Creek. I've always found great runs here and it's a tremendous place to rack up the vertical feet. I got in 39,120 feet today. That's a personal record and it puts me around 50,000 feet only two days in on the trip. Pretty solid, I think.

Experiencing true Western Spring skiing for the first time has been interesting. You just need to plan your day. Early on, stay low on south and east exposed runs. It starts off icy, but softens fairly quickly (especially in late March). Today I spent my morning on Larkspur lift, followed by an early lunch and then heading back mid-mountain for some time on Centennial/Cinch Express. My early lunch paid off with the hill nearly to myself for a solid hour. Just rippin' laps! Even hit some black diamonds today.

After two days out West on my Blizzard Bonafides, I am happy to proclaim them my favorite skis of all time. These boards just RIP! They're decent on ice, awesome on groomers, and cut through late afternoon mashed potatoes at an obscene pace. I've never had a ski I felt so comfortable skiing fast over variable terrain. I think the 187 length was a solid choice. I've always liked a longer ski for the stability and the way it just cuts through whatever's in your path. I'm actually having serious thoughts of selling my Volkl RTM 84's. At 171cm, they're just too short. And now with the Blizzard's I'll likely never ski them much.

Over the past two days, I have crystallized one thought - the GoPro has clearly jumped the shark. I can't even begin to count the number of really weak skiers I saw with them mounted to helmets, on "selfie poles" (ugh -- nothing says 'tool' like one of those on a rookie) and elsewhere. If you're struggling to snowplow down a steep blue with your jacket fully unzipped and flapping in the breeze, no one wants to see that on video. Ever. I suppose some of this is must my mindset. Even though I love photos and camera gear, there's really no appeal for the GoPro for me. If you're ripping Birds of Prey at Mach 10, cranking cork 720's in the park, or blasting a foot of fresh pow -- them maybe. Otherwise, leave it at home.

Tonight I took a trek over to Breckenridge to check out the brewery. What a ZOO! It was insane with traffic and no parking. I talked to a local and she said it's all college kids on break. For me, it was just a reminder that I don't enjoy that scene. Though I did find a really nice microbrewery (Backcountry Brewing) in Frisco with one of the best amber ales I've had in some time on tap. And, at happy hour pricing, I walked out after two beers and a massive smothered chicken burrito for $20!

Tomorrow, I'm thinking I'll try Arapahoe Basin. This would enable me to put another ski area notch in my belt. We'll see -- I'm a bit intimidated by its bad-ass reputation. If I don't like it, I can always bounce down the road to Keystone and I'll be quite happy! Coolest part is that Keystone's 7 miles from my hotel and A-Basin is only 14!

Shaping up to be a solid trip. We seem to be headed into flirting with some sketchy weather with some rain/frozen mix and wind in the forecast. Hoping it holds for my next three days of adventures. More to come!


21 March, 2015

Spring Fling - Day One

Told myself I hadn't been blogging enough, so thought I'd commit to something each day during my ski trip to Summit County, Colorado. 

Rough start after my 8:03 United flight doesn't depart until 11:30. Maintenance issues, coupled with their inability to get a repair guy on site for almost two hours didn't help my mood to start off. But they bought me a beer on the flight, so that was a plus.

Landed in Denver, snagged the rental car and headed up to Dillon and the Dillon Inn. On the upside, by the time I got there, I was able to check in. Initially I'd thought today was just a loss. But, as I rolled up into the mountains, the stress of travel melted away and I decided, "Screw it -- Keystone has night skiing, I'll go there!". Checked in - Dillon Inn was a great choice for a home base. Affordable, clean, centrally located. Just what I was looking for! 

Dump my gear in my room, change into ski gear and off I go. Turns out Keystone is 7.2 miles away! NICE! As has become the Vail Way, there's paid parking, or free with a short walk. Being a cheapskate, I opt for the latter. This is my first visit to Keystone and I must say I really enjoyed it. Much of the mountain closes around 4pm, so I don't get to fully explore. But what I skied, I really enjoyed. This is also my first Western Spring skiing trip. Last year we went about three weeks earlier and enjoyed 3' of snow in just 4 days. This is a totally different, but very pleasant experience!

The best part of the day was the perfect bluebird conditions - the alpenglow and subsequent sunset were truly epic. After a few hours, I decided to call it and head down-valley to my hotel. An added bonus? The Dillon Dam Brewery is right next door. Great beers and an equally solid menu. 

A dam good day. Tomorrow, I think I'll head West to an old favorite to Beaver Creek. 

20 March, 2015

Spring Fling

Off to Colorado in the morning. Can't wait - my first time for Western Spring skiing! Even headed out on the first day of Spring! Looking forward to bouncing around on the Epic Pass at up to five ski areas. Hoping to notch Keystone and Arapahoe on my "areas skied" list. Stay tuned!

05 March, 2015

Product Review: CycleOps Fluid 2 Trainer

This Winter I vowed not to spend the snowy season getting fat. Or at least not fatTER. I hate gyms. My knees won't take running. So, I had to come up with a solution.

This year, I decided to try combining some time on the trainer with more regular local skiing at Mt. Brighton, courtesy of my Epic Pass. I figured that between these I'd get some regular, aerobic activity and burn some calories in the process.

First things first, though -- I needed to get a trainer. Several seasons back I had a house-brand unit from one of the larger bike retailers. It was LOUD, didn't really have much of the feel of the road, and generally loathesome. I hated being on it, even with a TV to watch.

On the advice of a friend, I looked into CycleOps products. He was pleased with the ride of his and found that even living in a townhouse with shared walls he had no issue with noise. After some online research and a shop visit, I purchased a CycleOps Fluid2 trainer. The sales guy and the reviews both said that the fluid model was well-worth the extra money for quietness and a progressive resistance that would simulate real-world riding. And, the sales guy added that the CycleOps was really the "forever" trainer.

Right out of the box, the unit makes a good impression. A sturdy frame and a heavy, rugged cast resistance unit should make for durability and help keep things stable and quiet. Set-up is simple and straightforward with excellent directions. Off to a good start.

From the first pedal stroke, I notice something - the absence of noise. And in fact at higher RPMs the volume level really doesn't increase very much. This will enable me to ride whenever I want without fear of the ruckus.

But the best part is the resistance. Unlike the old trainer, it's silky smooth. And as you pick up cadence and/or increase load it responds by gradually increasing resistance. In short, it acts like riding a real bike on a real road.

And I'm finding that while it's nothing like the reward of a real outdoor ride, I'm actually enjoying the trainer. I like that it's MY bike, not just some spin machine at a health club. And I'm using the heartbeat and cadence sensing capabilities of my Garmin Edge 810 to manage my rides for maximum benefit. I've got the unit set up in my shop, so I have a good stereo connected to the iPod. I actually find that music helps pass the time (for me) better than TV did.

As an aside, I have found that some music motivates and passes the time better than other music. I've built a couple of training-specific playlists on my iPod just for rides. So far Bob Mould/Sugar/Husker Du and Black Flag seem to be some of my leading choices. But even seemingly mellow stuff like Band of Horses also works.

But I digress...

Great job CycleOps - the Fluid2 Trainer is an excellent product. Highly recommended!


28 February, 2015

Disappointed - REI and Volkl

I'm truly disappointed in one of my long time favorite outdoor retailers - Recreational Equipment Incorporated, or REI as you likely know them. I've been an REI member for at least 20 years and have made many purchases. One of the things I really liked about them was how well they stand behind their products.

Until now...

In March of 2013, I purchased a pair of Volkl RTM 84 skis/bindings from REI. They were on sale at a very good price. I was told that a gentleman had purchased them, didn't like them and exchanged them for a different ski. Seems like his loss is my gain, right? So I picked them up.

Great ski. Very happy with them. Skied them out West and in Michigan in everything from hockey rink ice, to a foot of fresh powder at Vail. My only complaint is that I would have gotten a little longer ski. Mine are 171's and I've now learned that rockered skis tend to ski a bit shorter. A 176 or better still a 181 would give me some more stability at speed and power through crud better. Ah well.

Volkl RTM 84 damage don't buy from REI
Nice delamination, eh?
Then this year when I was taking the Summer wax off readying for my first trip, I noticed the scraper catching at the tail. On closer inspection, I find that one edge is delaminating from the ski. Well, that's not good. Sure, it's minor now, but these are expensive skis and I want to have them for a while.

So, off to the REI store I purchased them from (Ann Arbor, Michigan) to have a chat. I speak to  representative in the ski shop who takes my skis and my receipt and says he'll talk to Volkl.

About an hour later, I get a very frustrating call. I am informed that my skis were in the REI Garage Sale and are not eligible for warranty. Oh, but it gets better. He then proceeds to tell me that the skis were warranty returns and that's why they were in the Garage Sale! Whiskey Tango Foxtrot???? Are you kidding me???? If I'd have known either of these things, I'd have never purchased them!!!!

But later I get thinking about this. That's not possible. I worked in ski and bike shops growing up and I help out some friends with their fly shop. I know how these businesses work. Warranty items go back to the manufacturer who repairs or replaces them for return to the owner. They don't go out on the shop floor for sale! So, this is either highly unprofessional on REI's part, or a lazy employee who wants to get rid of me.

I know the owner of a local Volkl dealer (where I should have shopped) so I ask him for some help. Of course he gives me some good-natured hassle about why I didn't buy from him (deserved) but says if I send him a photo, he'll ask his rep about what they can do. A few weeks pass, so I send a follow-up e-mail. Still nothing. Again, this really isn't his problem, so I don't want to push him.

OK, but now I'm mad. I look on the Volkl website -- there's pretty much nowhere to contact them and speak to a human. So it occurs to me to write the president of REI a letter. That was in January. Curiously, he has not responded. I go to the Volkl website's Contact Us page and send them an e-mail. It's been over a week and no reply from them.

Seriously - someone should step up here. My skis are still within the three year warranty (and they certainly were when I started all this back in November of last year!) and this is a legitimate manufacturers defect. C'mon REI -- you're better than this. And Volkl, shame on you for your lack of response and letting a major national retailer do this.

The right thing to do here would be to replace these skis. Now. And for my time and trouble, you might as well bump me up to the larger size. I loved the skis. When I bought my fat skis at the end of last season, I would have considered the Volkl Mantra. Not now. I'm on Blizzard Bonafides. Didn't even consider Volkl.

My advice to you? If you buy Volkl, don't buy them from a big box. Buy them from a local dealer who will stand behind the product. And don't make major purchases from REI. Stick to socks and hats.