3 Awesome Things People do to Mountain Bikes – Part 1

Use Simple Green instead of WD40 to get your chain and cassette clean!
Use Simple Green, t-shirts and brushes to get your chain and cassette clean!

Awhile ago, I posted 6 Horrible Things People Do to Mountain Bikes. Let’s flip it the the positive side – here are some awesome things people do to and for their bikes. This list is for new folks -- most longtime riders probably know this stuff. But if they’ve forgotten and it refreshes their memory, so much the better.

Add your thoughts in the comments, including your experience with these tips or what I missed. I plan to do a future post -- "XXX More Awesome Things People do to Their Bikes." If I include your tip, I’ll credit you and link to your blog or the site of your choice.

Pay Attention to the Chain
A bike’s chain needs attention. It needs to stay clean and lubed. I usually clean mine with a combination of old t-shirts, toothbrushes, a Park GSC-1 gear brush and Simple Green. That lineup also lets me care for the derailleur pulley wheels and the gaps between rear cogs (I know, I’ve just gone beyond the chain -- but while you’ve got the tools out, might as well hit it all). From there, I use a decent lube. I dab a drop on each link and spin the gears while shifting for a few moments. I’ll let it all sit awhile, then come back with one of those old t-shirts to wipe the chain of excess lube.

And change the chain completely every so often. Bike shops have a tool that can tell you when the chain is starting to stretch too much. My rule of thumb: A new chain every 6 months is good for enthusiastic riders. If you’re diving in whole-hog, think about a chain every four months. It’s relatively cheap insurance – ride around with a stretched-out chain, and you just might have to change your cogs and chainrings, too. That’s ‘cause the stretched chain will cause oddball wear on those surfaces, and a new chain won’t mesh quite right with the remaining metal.

I love my WTB Vigo saddle. But you might not - try before you buy whenever possible.
I love my WTB Vigo saddle. But you might not – try before you buy whenever possible.

Dial in the Fit
Your bike might be better than you realize – you just might have to set up all wrong for your body. Manufacturers try to make bikes fit a broad range of people. But hey, we’re all individuals. Get some help from a knowledgeable shop. A fit expert might see ways to make the bike fit you, rather than make you fit the bike. That can mean a different stem or changing the length of your crankarms -- or something cheap and simple as changing your saddle height or angle by a few millimeters.

A good fit can be pricey – I’ve seen some as high as $200, without the parts. But it could make you like your bike that much better. And you’ll have some knowledge for your next bike purchase -- you might get a better deal swapping the stock parts out for different lengths/sizes at the time of purchase.

Take Care of Your Ass
Newer riders always, always, always complain about their asses being raw. It’s part of the deal. But you can make it a bit better. First, get yourself some good bike shorts. Don’t skimp – there’s a world of difference between $40 bike shorts and an $80 bike shorts. More expensive models have more panels to fit formly to your undercarriage. The padded part – aka chamois – is also nicer in the more expensive shorts. Disclosure – I’m talking about form-fitting shorts here. I know nothing about baggy shorts. I don’t roll that way.

OK, now let’s talk saddles. This is a tough proposition. There are dozens of companies making dozens of legit saddles. Each will be just right for someone, but not for everyone. Borrow your buddy’s saddle, if possible. Or see if your local shop has a loaner program.

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Turku, Finland – Scenes from a Summer Day

During my trip to Finland, I gave Turku too little time. I even stowed my big SLR camera, relying instead on a little point-and-shoot to give some impressions. If I go again, Turku gets more time … even at Helsinki’s expense. It’s a compact, walkable city – and warmer than anywhere else I’ve been in the Nordic countries.

The Aura River makes it scenic … you’ll find paths on both sides of the river (in many places). It’s an easy way to find restaurants, museums and parks.

A cool bit of public art in the Aura River.
A cool bit of public art in the Aura River.
A power plant in Turku, Finland ... a high point in the city skyline.
A power plant in Turku, Finland … a high point in the city skyline.

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Where to Drink Sahti

The moment I arrived in Finland, I was trying to find out where to find sahti, a traditional local beer.

Just about every bartender looked at me like I’m a mental patient on the lam because I asked for sahti. I struck out everywhere.

At Panimoravintola Koulu in Turku, my question riled the barkeep the most. Then the expat Italian barkeeper at Alvar clued me in.

Looking for Sahti in All the Wrong Places

First, I mispronounced “sahti.” The right pronunciation sounds like “sock tea,” as in tea brewed in a sock. But you give the “ck” a bit of gravel to it, a kind of Hebrew slant on the syllable.

where to fnd sahti
Sahti – the taste of the forest in a metal cup.

Second, I expected Finland was proud of its traditional brew. It’s made out of cool stuff like juniper and rye. It hits pretty hard. What’s not to love?

Well, Finland isn’t rooted in the past. They favor a good kebab, apparently, to a reindeer repast. And they prefer large amounts of whiz-colored lager to earthy-brown brews served in a small silver cup. It’s the stuff a Finn’s mothball-scented grandpa drinks, not the young and hip.

I don’t qualify as young, and I am too metal to be hip. But a guy my age asking where to drink sahti is an oddity. It’s also a bit of an under-the-radar quaff, almost like a moonshine. It tends to be small-batch stuff that the big brewers eschew.

I Finally Found Where to Drink Sahti

Back in Helsinki, I found sahti – the Lammin Sahti Oy brand – in a kitschy farm setting at Zetor near the city center. And my order  yet again surprised the bartender: I explained that trying local/regional food and drink is part of the reason I travel. I guess not many foreigners know about sahti.

where to find sahti
A glimpse of the beer menu at Alvar in Turku – some fine selections, but no sahti.

A few moments later, I had a small silver vessel – a cross between a ladle and a cup. The sahti was dark brown and opaque. I took a sip.

And found that sahti tastes exactly like the forest smells. It reminded me of pine trees, wind, cool air. It’s strong, but not absurdly so – probably 8-10 percent ABV. There’s little carbonation, but I didn’t mind the flatness.

Why Isn’t Sahti a Big Deal?

where to fnd sahti
Brewing a traditional sahti (photo from distantmirror.wordpress.com).

The sahti-influenced ales – Samuel Adams Norse Legend or Dogfish Head Sah’Tea, to name a few – are not even in the ballpark. They’re alright, but they are far different from what you’ll get in Finland. You’ll probably like the real stuff better.

If you’re an exotic beer fan, don’t show up in Finland unprepared like I did. I assumed sahti would flow like wine. Do your research. Google “sahti in Finland” in a bunch of different ways. And make your game plan, and figure out what else to do while you search for sahti.

The late beer legend Michael Jackson (the un-gloved one) has a nice write-up about sahti, but some of it is outdated.

And pronounce it right!

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PressReader by NewspaperDirect: A Quick Overview

HTC Aria android 2.2 smart phone review www.li...
Can a smartphone and the right app keep you connected to your favorite news sources – all in one place? (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m still burned out on newspapers – even though it’s been about 10 years since I last worked full-time at a daily. My time working for a public relations firm didn’t help.

This is why I viewed PressReader by NewspaperDirect with a certain “here we go again.” I love the notion of newspapers – but online curating and aggregation has left print sprawled and unconscious in the ring. Newspapers have nobody to blame but themselves … or more accurately, gray-haired, jowled shareholders/publishers/executive editors who harrumphed about the passing fad of the Internet (much as people like them did about rock ‘n’ roll, electric lights, the telephone and so on ad nauseum).

PressReader contacted me to offer a few thoughts on its app. I admit my use has been a bit limited, but I can still offer you my impressions.

The Process
I started by entering my credentials via laptop on the Newsreader site. Then I downloaded the app on my Samsung Galaxy S Blaze S. From there, I could select my newspapers. You can search by country, language, favorite status or recently viewed. Scroll through the list, click a paper, select your date, wait and – BOOM! – there’s the edition you wanted.

The Wall Street Journal – a paper I’d like to see in PressReader. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Reading
Not bad at all. No, make that “pretty darned good”. Scroll through using your touch screen. It’s all the same pinch-and-swipe action touch-screen users have come to know. Click a headline, and it opens to just that story. It’s intuitive, even for a reluctant smart phone guy like me. One of these days I’ll be an early adopter for some bit of technology. But this wasn’t one of them!

The Clunky Bits
There are quirks, of course. After I select a source and try returning to the full list, I seem to get a truncated list. I have to hit the “Sources” tab. And be careful about using your phone’s “back” function from any menu: Odds are good that you’ll kick yourself right out of the app.

And the by-country selection needs a better organization system than just alphabetical, which is just too long. I’d suggest a “by circulation” sub-menu before the alphabetical list (Sorry, Boyerton Area Times, but I don’t want to sift through the lightweights to find the The Denver Post.)

There are some notable absences from the list, too. Among the most prominent are The Wall Street Journal and The Christian Science Monitor. I hope they hop aboard.

Keeping Informed Abroad?
I didn’t get to test PressReader while traveling. The PressReader team positioned it to me as a benefit to travelers.

But here’s the thing: No app can really help travelers stay informed abroad. It’s not their fault – it’s just that there is so much rigamarole that comes with staying connected when you travel. You need to unlock your phone, get a code from your service provider and get a new SIM card that serves the region you’ll visit. And yes, this applies to so-called “World Phones.” Until the service providers get their act together, an app – no matter how high performing – will never keep travelers connected through a smart phone. If I’m wrong about this and there’s a cost-effective solution, please-oh-please clue me in!

What PressReader does well is collect a bunch of newspapers that you can read on the go via smartphone or tablet. You’ll get a solid sense of the design asthetic, layout and other X factors that are part of the hard-copy newspaper-reading experience.

Prices range from a per-download price to a monthly subscription of $29.95. I think PressReader should look beyond news junkies and travelers – I predict a very receptive audience in media professionals … people who make a living knowing about newspapers, how they cover the news and what they’re printing.

And I hope the decision makers at print newspapers take a look at how PressReader melds technology with the old-school reading experience. They’ll kick themselves and wish they’d come up with the idea first.

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5 Great Cities to Visit

Helsinki looks like a seafaring slice of an earlier time. photo IMGP0542_zpsb7534161.jpg
Helsinki looks like a seafaring slice of an earlier time.

I wrote a post for Barrelhopping.com about 5 great cities to visit. Like many of the better things I write, it came from getting all fired up about something. It was a Conde Naste article with the same mission … but it was ll over-priced and over-hyped fluff. I wrote something of my own, but aimed at Average Joe travelers like me.

You should head to barrelhoppping.com and read it. And in the meantime, enjoy some photos from those five great cities.

Seoul's cultural attractions include a plethora of palaces. photo IMGP8695_zps50f345f4.jpg
Seoul’s cultural attractions include a plethora of palaces.
From hipsters to submarine tours, Portland has it. photo DSCF9117_zps43db6f31.jpg
From hipsters to submarine tours, Portland has it.

 

Get up in the air at Tree to Tree Adventures just southwest of Portland. photo DSCF9102_zps66d14414.jpg
Get up in the air at Tree to Tree Adventures just southwest of Portland.
Don't be surprised if you walk through Cairns and catch a bike race. photo DSCF0177_zps3ab871d5.jpg
Don’t be surprised if you walk through Cairns and catch a bike race.
Panorama of central Wellington, New Zealand, f...
Panorama of central Wellington, New Zealand, from the summit of Mount Victoria at night. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Serenity Now! – Four Places to Find Quiet

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Morning outside the Gaia Riverlodge.

Sometimes, the din has to stop. You need to get away from TVs, traffic and the white noise of people-people-everywhere. But where? A slice of quiet seems harder than ever to find, but I have some ideas.

The Cayo District, Belize
Far from the legless beggars, heat and general unpleasantness of Belize City, you’ll find the Cayo District. People go there for Mayan ruins, limestone caverns – and quiet. There are probably dozens of cool places to stay. Our stay at Five Sisters Lodge – now known as Gaia Riverlodge – was my wife’s work, not mine. Finding the Gaia Riverlodge involves dirt roads – and it’s at least 30 minutes by car away from the small city of San Ignacio.

And what a find – you won’t hear so much as a hair dryer. Gaia Riverlodge gets its power from a hydroelectric dam nearby. The power flickers according to the flow, and there’s nowhere near enough for power-sucking stuff like televisions. Mornings are misty and serene – perfect for a hike or a mountain bike ride. Nights are great for a stroll -- just know that those little sparkles you see reflected in your flashlight are the eyes of thousands of spiders.

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Find serenity in Monteverde – along with herds of curious coatis.

Monteverde, Costa Rica
Getting to Monteverde by road involves pummeling – the road seems like it was paved by having a B-52 carpet-bomb the jungle with a line of bowling balls. Monteverde is your reward. the first thing I noticed was light rain floating down despite the sunshine – locals call the fluffy, vapor-like rain pelo de gato, or cat’s hair.

Yoga retreats are big in Monteverde thanks to the solitude. But you can still find good food everywhere, from Italian staples to the best damn veggie burger I’ve ever had -- served from an unnamed outdoor kitchen by the roadside. Take a hike and see coatis and purple hummingbirds the size of sparrows. And let’s not forget the zip line thrills of the Original Canopy Tour.

Our "room" at Woodlyn Park. We even had the cockpit!
Greenery, blue skies, quiet, cool

Waitomo, New Zealand

The search for cool caving expeditions put Waitomo on our radar. And when I found out about Woodlyn Park, I was sold. No normal hotel, this one: The rooms include suites made from a Bristol freighter plane, railroad cars, a yacht and even Hobbit holes. We booked a room in the airplane, which has a mini-kitchen.

Our caving adventure was amazing, and so was the pastoral quiet. Between the comfy room and the silence, we slept deep. When we wanted a bit of pre-sleep fun, Curly’s Bar (which burned down in November 2012 – thought the website is still up) isn’t far away. Or we could drive up the road to the Thirsty Weta on some quiet streets. Convenience, yes – but you’ll feel far away from it all.

wandering justin myvatn iceland
On the shore of Myvatn at Vogar campground.

Myvatn, Iceland
Solitude is hardly in short supply when you visit Iceland. But certain places are more peaceful than others – just try getting any sleep when a bunch of college kids are singing Joan Osborne songs at the Skaftafell campgrounds! The campsites in Reykjahlid are a different story.

Not only is the area quiet, but the shoreside campground are nice and grassy. Put up your tent, crawl into the sleeping bag, relax -- and you’d swear you’re on a mattress. After a busy day of hiking the Krafla Fissure, Dimmuborgir, Hverir Crater and other crazy places nearby, you’ll be ready for a rest. And if you really want to apply the knockout to a restful night, visit the Myvatn Nature Baths. It’s like the famous Blue Lagoon, minus the price and crowds.

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Lance Armstrong Cheated – and I Don’t Care

English: Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 T...
Cyclist Lance Armstrong at the 2008 Tour de Gruene Individual Time Trial, 1 November 2008 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lance Armstrong admitted to Oprah – and her larger-than-usual viewership – that he doped through 2005. And some people blinded by hero worship had the nerve to act surprised. Maybe not as many as would have two years ago, but still there were some.

I’ve said the same thing all along. I’m convinced that anyone near him in the standings also doped.

And you know what? I. Don’t. Care.

It helps that I was never a Lance-O-Phile. Something about him always bothered me. I always preferred Greg Lemond – and Marco Pantani. But doping or not, there are  things about him that you will never, ever be able to take away from him.

First, up Lance Armstrong had an excellent on-bike code of conduct. If you’re not into cycling, you might not remember how Jan Ullrich – one of Armstrong’s best adversaries at the time – crashed. What did Armstrong do? He slowed down. He waited for Ullrich. When Ullrich was back in position, the battle resumed. This happened twice – in 2001 and 2003. Ullrich also waited for Armstrong after he crashed.

Lëtzebuergesch: De Marco Pantani 1997 zu Lëtze...
Marco Pantani – my personal favorite racer – in 1997. But he had his demons, too. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As Phil Liggett said, you don’t attack a fallen rider. It’s one of many unwritten rules of conduct in the pro cycling peloton.

And second -- no matter what pharmaceuticals are involved, pro cyclists have mind-boggling skills. There is no injection that can make you able to corner at 60 miles per hour. No treatment can give you the balance to ride handlebar-to-handlebar with 120 other riders – with your hands off the handlebars. I once heard a story about Bob Roll stripping naked while riding in the middle of the pack – and putting his kit back on before race officials caught him. I wasn’t able to confirm it … but can you imagine having the bike-handling skills to do that while riding at a high pace? I sure can’t!

There’s only one way to become so facile on a bike: Love it, ride it all the time, be willing to get hurt for it.

And I never believed any of the denials from any of the racers for a millisecond. Not one. So the Lance Armstrong confession changes nothing for me.

And no matter how little I liked him, how many times he lied, what cancer survivors he let down or who he intimidated to stay silent … I can’t say Lance Armstrong is not, or was not, an incredible racer.

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Asia’s Novelty Act – Me!

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This orange-clad troublemaker and her friend (taking the photo) got it all started. Notice the ubiquitous Asian “I’m having my photo taken” peace sign.

I’m curious about South Korea -- and it seems South Korea is just as curious about me. From news television crews to young women asking me to pose for photos, I cause a stir everywhere I go. Here are some encounters that will give you an idea of what it was like:

Day One
One of my first activities is a climb up Namsan Mountain. Now that’s about 850 feet up, pretty much paved. At the top, two Korean women ask me to pose for photos with them. Then I head down -- and two more want a photo. Then a young Korean man says "Excuse, please -- are you from Italy?" I tell him that I’m from the U.S., and he turns shy and repeats "sorrysorrysorry." After these two encounters, the rest become kind of old hat, an expected part of my day.

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24 Hours in Turku – A Visit to Ruisrock

Nightwish concert
Nightwish performs at Ruisrock (Photo credit: tiendan)

It’s a warm summer weekend in Turku, Finland. I just stepped off the VR train from Helsinki to check out Ruisrock. This is a swift, convenient, punctual train trip that I’ve never seen equaled in the U.S. – for some reason, we’re a nation that hasn’t grasped the benefits of high-speed rail travel.

Now, it’s time to wander Turku. We have a good eight hours to kill before we head to Ruis Salo, the island that hosts Ruisrock. Today’s lineup ranges from Nightwish – the day’s headlining band and Finland’s best-known musical export – to Children of Bodom, Apocalyptica and The Cardigans.

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Cool Content – Top Finds from Other Blogs

English: oaken beer barrel in brewery Hanssen
Make a great beer awesome by aging it in an oak barrel. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Should you drink your own pee? Well, not recreationally. In a survival situation. That’s main point of the lead story in today’s Cool Content Crypt.

This comes from the blog of survival wiz Cody Lundin, whose topic cuts right through the stream of other recent blog posts to earn a spot here. Cody, a fellow Arizona dude, differs from celebrity survivalist Bear Grylls – now that guy is ready to swill his urine if the beverage cart on a 60-minute flight rolls a bit late. Found out what Cody has to say. And be ready should you run dry of water on your next adventure. Or even if you think "it’s sterile and I like the taste" justifies anything.

Next up, DailyWritingTips.com offers some thoughts on the Most Overused Words of 2012. Lots of links there for those who want further reading. I like writer Mark Nichol’s disdain for the phrase "man cave." While I love the male-centric second-hand store on Cave Creek Road in Phoenix that bears the same name, I stopped thinking that having women around was bad when I was about 12 years old.

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What’s Your Oldest Bike Gear?

Hayes nine
Hayes Nine Brakes. Mine are still slowing my roll.(Photo credit: Saint Hsu)

Back in my bike shop days, the other mechanics liked to say I was like junkyard owner Fred Sanford from the old TV series. I earned it, I guess – by not buying new stuff constantly, by wringing every last mile out of my bikes and parts. Sure, sometimes I pushed the notion too far and wound up riding jalopies.

Those days are over. Kind of. I still love taking care of my bikes and stretching my gear-buying dollar.

I hadn’t really thought much about this until today’s ride. My rear derailleur got a bit glitchy. It took me longer than usual to dial it in. Then I realized something: My Shimano LX shifters and XT rear derailleur are eight years old – which qualifies them for AARP in bike years. They came from my 2005 Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX (still one of the most awkward bike names ever).

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
Many of the parts on my Santa Cruz came from its predecessor – a Gary Fisher Cake 2 DLX.

Same goes for my Fox Vanilla fork and my Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. I think Shimano, Fox and Hayes all deserve props for making stuff that stands up to years of use. These parts have been through multiple epic races. And they still work well. Adventure Bicycle Company rebuilt the fork a few years ago, and I’ve just kept fresh pads in the Hayes brakes – I’ve never even needed to bleed the lines.

Here’s why this makes me so happy: I can think less about gear and more about having fun when I ride.

So, what are the oldest bike parts you use for every ride?

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