In Honor of April Fool’s Day – SCUBA Mythbusting

whale shark, SCUBA, PADI
Don’t let myths about SCUBA deprive you of the chance to swim with a whale shark. (Image courtesy of PADI)

If you’re a regular reader, you know that I don’t go much for holidays like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m a Halloween sort of guy -- and I dig April Fool’s Day. I have a friend whose mother can barely speak to me without snarling nearly 10 years after a prank I helped pull on her (let’s say it involves my best police sergeant phone voice and a story about him misbehaving in some very bad ways).

You can imagine that I spend most of my April Fool’s time trying to -- well, fool people. But this time, I’m on the side of good: I’m going to help my friends at the Professional Association of Diving Instructors set the record straight about some misconceptions about SCUBA diving. Get ready for some surprises! My commentary on PADI’s info is in italics.

You know what's not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it's really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)
You know what’s not a myth about SCUBA diving? That it’s really pretty darn cool. (Photo courtesy of PADI)

MYTH #1: I don’t live near the ocean, so I can’t dive.

Nope! With more than 6,100 PADI dive centers around the world, you can literally begin your diver’s certification anywhere. Diving courses can be found at your local sports and recreational center, or in less traditional locations like exotic hot springs and lakes. Visit PADI.com to locate the nearest dive center.

And be sure to check my Yahoo! story about beginner dive sites. It has some non-ocean locations like quarries and rivers.

MYTH #2: If I dive, I’ll likely run into a shark or other dangerous underwater creature!

Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean
Scuba Diving in depths of the ocean (Photo credit: Grand Velas Riviera Maya

Maybe you’ve been watching too much Shark Week. In reality, the odds of having a deadly shark encounter is just 1 in 251,800,000, you’re actually 12 times more likely to be killed by a vending machine than shark! Many underwater animals that seem intimidating, such as the school bus-sized whale shark, are virtually harmless and enjoy human interaction.

Those are some low odds. People tend to worry too much – think of all those “afraid to fly” people you know, and how willing they are to drive at 85 mph in a school zone while texting and making themselves a cappuccino with their portable espresso machine. Makes fretting about SCUBA diving seem a bit silly, no? And watch out next time you go for a bottle of soda in the break room!

MYTH #3: Women with breast implants can’t scuba dive.

Never fear! If you’re worried that increased underwater pressure will cause damage to silicone- or saline-filled implants, you have nothing to worry about. A recent study found that diving caused an insignificant increase in bubbles ― nothing that will damage the implant or surround tissue.

Well, I guess that means most of the female population of the north half of my home city of Scottsdale is good to go. Um, what about collagen? (NOTE: PADI supplied the images for this story – none of which included breast implants.)

MYTH #4: Snorkeling is just as good as scuba diving.

Why stay on the surface when you can experience a whole new underwater world? Fully immersing yourself in scuba diving allows you to experience the wonder of breathing underwater, and explore amazing destinations such as reefs, underwater caves, shipwrecks, airplanes and more!

And let me say more about SCUBA versus snorkeling: Last time I snorkeled, I got bounced around in Belize by all the surface waves. Meanwhile, I watched as – 20 feet below me – SCUBA divers glided around unaffected. Soon, I was bobbing and barfing and getting laughed at while trying to escape a floating mound of my own chunder. So, I ask you: Would you rather be like the SCUBA divers or like me?

 

 

 

 

 

Enhanced by Zemanta

4 Dirty Lies Mountain Bikers Tell Bike Mechanics

This guy has heard all the lies mountain bikers and roadies tell.

Bike mechanics know when mountain bikers have abused or neglected their bikes – just like the dentist can tell that your choppers haven’t seen floss for the last four years. Here are some of the least-believable lines mountain bikers can spring on your local mechanic.

"I was just riding along!"

Your head tube is crumpled, and wood chips are embedded in the creased metal. Yet somehow your front wheel is just fine. The mechanic knows you weren’t innocently cruising along on a sidewalk. The truth? You forgot your bike was on the roof rack, and you drove into the garage. This happens to mountain bikers more often than you’d expect. No warranty frame replacement for you!

"I just put that tube in two days ago, and it popped!"

Flats happen. And thorny flora isn’t scared of new tubes. Any sort of rubber designed to hold air is a crapshoot. Quit trying to say it’s the tube’s fault. Pony up for a new tube and the mechanic’s time. Besides, all mountain bikers should know how to fix their own flats. Oh, and we also know that tires rarely “pop.”

"My friend tried to fix this for me."

If you’ve used this line, you’ve probably said to your physician "I have a friend, and he’s really interested in trying Viagra. I mean, he doesn’t have any problems -- he’s just curious about what will happen. Do you have any samples?"

Any good mechanic can tell when mountain bikers have monkeyed with their derailleur travel set screws, loosened the wrong bolts, hosed their chain with WD40 or sliced their chainstay with a hacksaw to remove the chain. There’s nothing wrong with learning to maintain your bike. But get some help from your local mechanic -- and come clean when your experiments go wrong.

"Um, my wife got it for me."

You walk into the bike shop with a shiny piece of bike bling that you ordered online. It’s pretty and new, but the wrong size. Your blubber out a sob story about how your wife got it here as a birthday gift, but picked the wrong part and lost the receipt. Your goal: Talk the shop into exchanging it -- and installing it -- for free. Legions of mountain bikers have already used the "blame the wife" trick. Don’t expect anyone to fall for it, and don’t deny it when you get called on the carpet.

I originally wrote this for the Trailsedge.com blog. Since that blog is now kaput, I figured it would be a travesty if I failed to give newer readers a look at this fun content.

  • J.r.a.
Enhanced by Zemanta

Gear for the First-Time Traveler: 5 Essentials

A selection of must-have items for a traveler.
A selection of must-have items for a traveler.

Earlier this week, I found out my 17-year-old niece is taking her first international trip … without her parents. She’ll head to Puerta Vallarta, Mexico, as part of a youth group. There, the group will get its hands dirty with some public works projects.

My official notice of her plans came as a form letter; members of the group are asking friends and family for some dollars for their trip. You probably already guess that my niece asked the right guy. I called her up and told her that I’d not only send some dollars, but I’d also make a run to REI to pick up a few odds and ends that will be handy for her Mexico trip … and any others that await.

So what does an intercontintental traveler/uncle send his first-time traveler niece? Here’s a breakdown of her Wandering Justin travel care package … and how each item earned its place.

English: Petzl Tikka XP
Not a Tikka 2 … but still a great headlamp. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Petzl Tikka 2 Headlamp
Light, water and air – you can’t live without them. A Petzl headlight can take care of at least one of them. And I’ve used my Petzl headlamp everywhere … from a blackout-stricken hotel in Dallas to a rainforest in Belize. It’s one of the first things I pack for a trip of any duration. Don’t even think a normal flashlight will do: A headlamp frees your hands, which can be essential when – as Forrest Griffin would say – the shit goes down. And the Tikka 2 has everything you need without any superfluous junk.

Sea to Summit Ultra-Sil Daypack
There is no limit to the Ultra-Sil pack’s usefulness. Folded up, it’s about the size of a D battery. Shake it out, and it’s a perfect piece of carry-on luggage. Going out for the day and don’t want to lug your full-sized backpack? Throw your stuff in the Ultra-Sil and call it good. If you’re camping (whether in a forest or an airport), stuff the Day-Sil with some puffy clothes and you have a pillow. Perfect for the international first-time traveler.

Asiana Airlines Boeing 777-200ER at Canberra A...
If you have a bottle, you’ll always have water on an Asiana Airlines 777 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Platypus SoftBottle
Remember that water I mentioned earlier? Here’s where you can put it. Breeze through the TSA security checkpoint with your empty bottles, then fill them up on the other side. No forking over $5 for 16 ounces of water for you! Once you’re on the plane, you can fill the Platypus bottle at one of the water taps throughout the cabin (well, that assumes you’re flying something awesome like an Asiana Airlines 777, my favorite plane out there right now). At your destination, carry the Platypus bottles with you everywhere. Drink, refill, repeat. I chose a pair of 17-ounce models for my niece; they’re more compact than the 34-ounce model.

Guyot Designs MicroBites
I remember watching a bunch of Europeans noshing away on a trail in New Zealand. They weren’t eating anything great, but it was better than my energy bars. But I didn’t have utensils to dig into something more substantial anyway. Never again, since I got my Guyot Designs MicroBites. They’re hard to destroy, and handy anywhere from a mountaintop to a hostel kitchen. They wash easily, too. And my niece will have a hard time losing the bright-red set I picked!

Energy Bar Mix
Sometimes, some solid pre-packed foods are just what you need. Airplane food’s too gross (or expensive)? Whip out a good bar. Have a long hike in front of you, and you’re keeping weight and bulk to a minimum? Energy bars, done! I’m hooked on ProBar – I got her a few different varieties including the big high-calorie ProBar Meal. They give you a huge amount of energy while taking up barely any room in your stomach (a very important point when traveling).

I also added a few Rise bars. I brought its entire line with me to Norway, and it powered me through a long, hard hike in conditions from sleet to sunshine, with more than a bit of wind for good measure.

Other Items Worth Considering
I could’ve gone hog-wild equipping my niece at REI. I went for some main essentials, but also gave thought to a few nice-to-haves:

Electrolyte Tablets
A kid from the Midwest could get dehydrated pretty easily in Mexico’s heat. Water alone might not do it – you need sodium, potassium and other good stuff along with the H20. Dissolve some electrolyte tabs in the Platypus bottle, and you’re good to go. So why didn’t I get some? I don’t know which of the myriad flavors she might like. Me? I love Gu Electrolyte Brew tablets in Peach Tea flavor. Another good point: If the water doesn’t taste good, electrolytes can mask the nastiness. That makes you drink more and stay hydrated.

Travel Towel
There are several companies making travel towels. These magical bits of fabric pack into no space at all, and yet the absorb water like a 500-pound sheep. Not a necessity, but handy.

last bit of advice: If you’re travelling solo, be sure to do some research on the destinations before you hit the ground. Websites such as Travel Associates have some really great must-read information on places to visit for solo travelers  Packing your gear is always easier if you know a bit about your destinations!

This post contains sponsored links.

 

X-Fusion 29er Fork – Slide 29 Gear Review -UPDATED

The group-think that can plague mountain bike culture led me to the new X-Fusion 29er fork. Many riders think you have to ride a 29er; you have to be on Strava. And of course, you absolutely must ride a RockFoxZocchi. (SCROLL TO BOTTOM FOR AN UPDATE)

Which is ridiculous. There are great alternatives out there, and I’ve uncovered one of the best deals in mountain bike forks in the X-Fusion Shox Slide 29 RL2.

Why Be Different?

So, why not skip the X-fusion 29er fork and just get a Fox? Fox makes great mountain bike forks. I’ve ridden a Fox Float R for six years and had it rebuilt once.

Well, the cheapest Fox fork I could find was $600 – more than I wanted to lay out for building my Raleigh XXIX frame into a belt-drive singlespeed mountain bike. You can pick up an X-Fusion 29er fork for about $400 – a great deal for a mountain bike fork. That’s enough extra clams to get a GoPro Helmet Hero so you can make bad mountain bike videos.

A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX, X-fusion 29er
A side view of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 on my Raleigh XXIX

Setting Up the X-fusion 29er 

I have a good home shop. But no headset press. I turned to a local shop for installation. Good thing, too – the tapered steerer tube combined awkwardly with the Cane Creek headset I planned to use. There was friction while turning the handlebar, and we couldn’t adjust it out. The shop staff put in a Chris King NoThreadSet as an experiment. The result? No friction. A bigger hit in the wallet. But I at least wound up with a cool gold headset.

I guessed at air pressure based on the manual’s 50-150 PSI range. I put it at 100, figuring it might be slightly soft. Did I do the whole bike geek "put a zip tie on the stanchion tube and get on the bike and see if it sags 20 percent into its travel"? Hell, no. The bike stand isn’t real life. Make an educated guess. Take your mountain bike for a ride. Bring a shock pump. Fork blows through its travel? Add some air. You bounce around like a Ping-Pong ball on ice? Let some air out. Done.

Let’s Ride!

On my first ride aboard the newly built Raleigh XXIX, I had questions. Do I have the Gates Carbon Drive Dialed in? Did I install the Stan’s tubeless conversion right? And will this crazy X-Fusion 29er fork detonate into a thousand pieces?

X-Fusion-BIKE Mag Ad, X-fusion 29er

Eight rides in, I’m alive. Looking forward to my next ride. Happy that I didn’t shell out 30 percent more moolah for -- a difference in performance that’s indistinguishable from my Fox FLOAT R. The 100 pounds of air pressure was on the money. I backed off a click on the rebound damping, and the fork was dialed.

Oil marks on the stanchion tubes tell me I’m getting a lot of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL’s 100mm of travel (it also comes in 80- and 120-mm). But no harsh bottoming. No wiggly steering performance. What’s not to like?

Niggles and Nitpicks

The Slide 29 emits a conspicuous hiss when I smack it into a square-edged obstacle. It reminds me a bit of air-sprung shocks of an earlier era that were notorious for the hiss (Old-timers will remember  "Amp-physema"). But my air pressure checks show no noticeable drop in air pressure. So the air is staying put.

Also, the Slide 29 stanchion tubes attract gunk more than my Fox Float R. That might mean seals with a sloppier tolerance. Or I could be a fork hypochondriac.

The decals will look thrashed in a few months. I’ll probably wind up peeling them off, rubbing the residue off and winding up with a Spinal Tap "how much more black could it be?" look.

Where Do They Go Now?

After just short of two months, I like my X-Fusion 29er fork a lot. I hope I still like it as much after six months – if I do, I’ll say "Buy without Reservations". It looks good now, but time will tell. Right now, I ride my Raleigh XXIX and come home happy. That’s what it’s all about.

A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2, X-fusion 29er
A close-up of the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2

The hard part is in X-Fusion’s court. It has to make a case with bike manufacturers’ product manager to get spec’d on bikes. They need to make a performance case and a business case. With the brand loyalty and economic power of Fox, Rock Shox et al, that could be difficult.

X-FUSION 29er UPDATE NOV. 9, 2013

A problem cropped up with my X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2. Here’s what I sent to X-Fusion:

Hi there. I’ve been riding a Slide 29 RL2 since February. It’s been a great fork, but I have a problem and wanted to see what you’d recommend. 

Here’s the situation: I did some work on my brakes yesterday, and had to remove the caliper from the threaded mount on the fork. The problem occurred when I re-installed the caliper. As I was tightening one of the bolts, I felt it something give and I could tell that somehow the threads had stripped. I removed the bolt and sure enough had some metal come out. Before I started tightening, I had the bolt lined up properly and there was no unusual resistance that would indicate cross-threading. 
If this info helps, I was using an old set of Hayes 9 hydraulic discs. I’ve also attached some photos. Do you have any advice that can get this fork back on the trail?
X-Fusion replied with advice to use a longer bolt on the affected mount. That’s a workable solution since only a few millimeters of thread are damaged. If more of the threads were trashed, we’d be in real trouble. The mounts are molded into the fork’s lowers, unlike the mounts on my Rock Shox fork (its mounts bolt to the lowers). So if this problem gets worse, I’m looking at a new set of lowers. Not really ideal. My guess is that the molded lowers let X-Fusion keep the price a bit lower. But it might be worth a few extra clams to have removable mounts.
Oh, and X-Fusion responded to my question within hours. I deducted points for the molded-in mounts on the Slide 29 RL2 (a factor I hadn’t considered before). But the company earned points back for being responsive.
  • 20 Signs You’re Addicted to Mountain Biking

Raleigh XXIX, Belt Drive, X-Fusion – A Few Thoughts

Raleigh XXIX, singlespeed, belt drive, McDowell Mountain Regional Park
An awesome new bike, my favorite local trails … what’s not to love?

Something about this bike that makes me a happy, friendly rider. I realize it as I greet a mountain biker headed the opposite way. Every time I ride this thing, I get so chipper that I’d say "hello" to a rattlesnake.

It’s more than "New Bike Syndrome." I’ve had plenty of new mountain bikes, and there’s something different here.

Maybe it’s the Gates Carbon Drive; I’ve wanted to try one for years. I salivated when I first saw the Raleigh XXIX with its belt drive. And hey! Wouldn’t you know it? That’s pretty much what I’m riding. I found a Raleigh XXIX stripped of all its parts at a local shop. They also had its belt drive bits lying about; I took those home, too (and ordered a new fork – more on that later).

Seven rides into life as a belt-drive singlespeeder, and I’ve had no problems. Haven’t touched a shop rag or a bottle of lube. Every bit of power I put to the pedals goes to the rear wheel. In just more than a month, I see a difference in my abilities.

And that belt drive. Many a mountain biker scoffs about it: "Is it really that hard to maintain a chain?" No. It’s not. But any extra work is a barrier – a barrier that can make it easier to say "You know, I’m tired and don’t feel like getting my bike ready. I’ll ride tomorrow." Maybe that never happens to you. But it does to me. And the belt drive is, as Forrest Gump says, one less thing. It’s also light and reliable, though the rider bears some responsibility for dialing it in right. By the way, you don’t have to be a mountain biker to ride a belt drive – they’re popular with the commuting crowd, too.

Hmm, what else about this bike makes me such a cheery nutjob? The X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2 suspension fork. I love the Fox FLOAT on my Santa Cruz Superlight. But those things are expensive! For about $400, the Slide 29 does everything my FLOAT does. And even something it can’t – it locks out.

On the trail, the Slide 29 works hard. Square-edged hits make it hiss a bit. But it steers where I point it. It makes short work of stuff in the trail. It didn’t cost me an arm and a leg.

 

X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2
A close look at one of the X-factors of my Raleigh XXIX – the X-Fusion Slide 29 RL2.

So we have a steel hardtail belt drive with a cool fork. Oh, and it’s a 29er, a novelty for me. If you’re a 26er holdout and expect me to say the Raleigh XXIX handles like a porker, sorry. It just doesn’t. And it rips through fast corners. The combination of hardtail and singlespeed pairs well with the 29er wheel; the big wheels softer the ride and preserve your precious momentum. I’m still not convinced 29er wheels are a must for every mountain bike (or mountain biker), though.

Speaking of wheels, I ordered some WTB Frequency i23 rims built on SRAM 9.0 hubs and added a Stan’s tubeless conversion. The wheels seem durable, but the Stan’s wheelset on my Santa Cruz Superlight spoils me. The bearings roll like nothing else, and the SRAM hubs don’t compete. The WTB Frequency i23 rims, though, look like they can take a flogging from a heavy-riding mountain biker. So far, they have.

Other bits: A gold Chris King NoThreadSet. An old set of Hayes Nine hydraulic disc brakes. A Shimano SLX crank, Answer carbon handlebar, Thomson seatpost and an excellent WTB Vigo saddle. Some people complained that the Raleigh XXIX looks goofy with its World War II graphics. Hmph. Maybe it’s because I grew up watching Black Sheep Squadron, but I like it.

There’s really only one thing I’d change: the top tube. I’m 6’2 with a 34-inch inseam. When I stand over the top tube of the XL frame, there’s flesh-to-metal contact (feel free to chuckle and infer whatever you wish). Raleigh could make a nifty bend in the top tube like my XL Santa Cruz Superlight. Boom. Problem solved.

Chris King headset aside, there’s nothing fancy here -- but each part is an upgrade from a regular Raleigh XXIX. It all adds up to a bike that’s one big chunk of fun to ride.

Enhanced by Zemanta

5 Tips to Make a Mountain Bike Video That Doesn’t Suck

santa cruza superlight, pima & dynamite, mountain biking, arizona, adventure bicycle company, wandering justin
My bike, ready to roll video at Pima & Dynamite.

Someone just posted a 17-minute mountain bike video on YouTube. It’s a painful slog through a trail – one camera angle The.Whole.Damn.Time. This sucks. And there is entirely too much of this visual colon exam brand of suck on YouTube, Vimeo and the rest.

It doesn’t have to be this way. I’m no film maker. I don’t even play one on TV. But I can tell you how to make a mountain bike video that doesn’t suck.

Tell a Story
Are you making a video just because you bought a GoPro Helmet Hero? Woah. Slow your roll. Think. Would you watch a movie because Sam Raimi or Quentin Tarantino just bought a new camera? Even if the answer is "maybe," you didn’t direct Army of Darkness or Pulp Fiction.

So before you pop that camera into a helmet mount, think. What about your ride could be interesting? First time on a particular trail? Your longest ride ever? A really cool race? Did your favorite trail just get a maintenance facelift?

Find the story … and tell it.

I'm ready for my close up.
I’m ready for my close up.

Vary Your Camera Angles
The video I mentioned above? One single solitary view: straight ahead. What a god-awful snoozefest. Whether the terrain is forest, desert, tundra or sewer tunnels, one viewpoint makes for dullness.

What can you do? Well, here are some of my go-to angles:
-Handlebar, facing straight. I always show a little front tire for perspective.
-Helmet.
-Handlebar, facing to the side and showing hand and brake lever.
-Handlebar, pointing down to show the fork. Great for technical bits.
-Handlebar, facing rider. Always good to get a person.
-Seatpost facing rear. Awesome for passing people!
-Seatpost facing front. Definitely shakes things up.
-Have a friend with a helmet cam. Mo’ angles, mo’ riders, mo’ fun!

If you whine "But that’s a lot of work during a ride, and I don’t want to hold anyone up" -- then don’t make your movie during that ride. Go with some people who don’t care (every movie needs stars) about some delays. Yeah, it takes some time to move the camera around. Or you can have a bike with SRAM 9.0 instead of XO and maybe an X-Fusion fork instead of a Fox – that way, you can afford three Helmet Hero cameras and not have to switch so much!

Keep Each Bit Short
I rarely show one clip for longer than 10 seconds. I keep most clips at 3-6 seconds. I also try to vary the camera angle every 3 clips or so. This keeps it all from getting monotonous.

Just forkin' around.
Just forkin’ around.

Font Something Once in Awhile
Flash some text on the screen. It can be something informative, funny, insulting, whatever. It’s just a nice way to add something extra to the story you’re telling.

Shorter is Better
If you are guilty of making a 15-minute mountain bike movie with a helmet cam, do me a favor: Invite a bunch of random people over. Sit them down and make them watch your opus. Within 60 seconds, people will be playing "Words with Friends" on their smart phones, squirming in their seat and looking for rafters in your ceiling so they can hang themselves by their belt.

But if you apply all the rest of these tips and jam it into a sub-5-minute package, they’ll ask when the sequel is coming out.

Have you seen an amateur mountain bike video that you love? Link to it in the comments!

Enhanced by Zemanta

Transportation Gone Bad: What’s Your Worst Story?

 photo DSCF3485.jpg
This crew of Belizean boys is a bit more competent than the guys in charge of my boat from Caye Ambergris to Belize City.

My transportation karma finally ran out. And that’s why I’m adrift a few miles east of Belize City.

We got to Caye Ambergris in a Cessna – probably a 170. Three passengers and a pilot. Just to mix it up, we decided to return via boat.

It turns out the boat’s crew isn’t so clear on that whole "refueling" thing. The engine sputtered out a few moments ago. Cue much confusion in the crew, and a smattering of worry in the passengers.

The delay only costs us an hour or so. We wait for another boat to come get us; we hop into the new boat, and off we go.

Ambergris Caye - Near Basil Jones Cut
Ambergris Caye – Near Basil Jones Cut (Photo credit: cloud2013)

And that’s honestly my worst transportation story. Pretty harmless stuff. It definitely beats other situations I’ve been in for weirdness and novelty: my two-hour delay aboard an Asiana flight to change a pair of flat tires; a five-hour Amtrak journey that stretched into eight; even watching an Icelandic bus driver fix a muddy road with his trusty shovel.

I’m lucky.

I want you to one-up me: Tell me your funniest or worst "getting from Point A to Point B" story. Sorry, I have no prize to offer. But I will give my favorite story all the props it deserves!

Enhanced by Zemanta