CategoriesGear

Review: Fotodiox Aftermarket GoPro Mounts

aftermarket GoPro mounts
Some of the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox.

I’ve been on the hunt for aftermarket GoPro mounts. Every few months, I break one of the stock plastic mounts that come with the Helmet Hero cameras. I have a grab bag of spares, so it’s not the biggest deal.

But I really want to some tougher aftermarket GoPro mounts, preferably made from aluminum. I’ve found a few over the past year, and I recently thought I’d hit the jackpot when I ran across Fotodiox. The company has a laundry list of aftermarket GoPro parts, including aluminum extender arms. I ordered enough of its GoTough accessories to help me get creative with camera angles.

Now, Fotodiox doesn’t have a compact handlebar mount – so I stuck with using my K-Edge GO BIG (I’m tempted to say the K-EDGE stuff is overpriced. There’s just one little thing, though: It’s never, ever failed me.) mount for the handlebar and suspension fork.

What I’m about to tell you about the aftermarket GoPro mounts from Fotodiox pains me. I don’t want to say it because the Fotodiox crew is friendly on social media and ships promptly when you place an order.

But holy cow, I broke one of the GoTough extender arms within 30 seconds of riding on my local trail. On a hardtail singlespeed with a short-travel, lightweight, cross-country suspension fork. Less than 30 seconds.

The guy in American Pie lasted longer.

aftermarket gopro mounts
Broken already – the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts.

And I feel a bit bad hanging Fotodiox out to dry in these terms. But as friendly as they are on social media, they dropped the ball when I sent an email on May 13 outlining the problems I had with their GoTough extenders. I sent the same info to them via their email form, too. If a company doesn’t at least say "Hey, we got your message" after a few days, my goodwill melts. And I tried to be nice about it (see text of the letter).

So, why did the Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts blow up?

Each GoTough arm is made from at least two pieces of aluminum – I’m guessing it’s cast since I don’t see the telltale signs of CNC machining. The pieces are held together with either two or four tiny machine screws.

I noticed problems from the moment I test-mounted some the GoTough extenders. There was wiggle in all of them; I found the screws when I started looking for the source of the play. I then tightened all the screws with small screwdrivers.

It seemed OK, so I went for a ride. I figured a milk run to a trail nearby would provide an adequate test. Everything was fine as I rode to the trail. It all went to hell when I went off-road.

The Fotodiox aftermarket GoPro mounts have other problems, too.

There’s a lot of space between the "knuckles" that connect the GoTough extensions to each other. This means I had to tighten the pieces so much that the aluminum crimped noticeably. If they were each as little as a quarter of a millimeter thicker, Fotodiox might solve this problem.

As for the other problem -- the extenders need to be one piece. Screwing them together is screwing them up. They won’t be able to withstand the pounding of mountain bike or extreme sports with such small-diameter screws with just about two millimeters of metal to bit into. It just won’t work.

I’ll update when/if Fotodiox responds to my email. I hope they have some ideas.

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CategoriesAdventures

New Estrella Trails a Bit of a Mystery

The people who built the FINS trails in the Estrella community of Southwest Phoenix are up to their old tricks again – but this time, they seem to be building new Estrella trails with the blessing of landowners.

I went out to FINS in late April for one of my rare West Valley forays; it’s a bit of a haul, and the FINS network doesn’t have a whole lot of mileage. But some fun on Kimurel’s Hurl – one-third of a mile of crazy fun complete with wooden bridges – appealed to me that day. I had my GoPro charged and was ready to go.

My day took a turn for the way better after knocking off one lap around the outside perimeter of FINS and run down Kimurel’s Hurl. After that, I struck up a conversation with a dude resting after taking a lap.

estrella trails
A tight switchback at the new Estrella trails.

I always grill locals at FINS. It’s how I find out cool things, which sometimes are enough to turn into stories for mountain bike magazines. This particular stranger clued me into miles of new Estrella trails to the east (see the video to get a look).

As I questioned my new friend, I learned that the FINS crew worked with the people who own the land that comprises the Estrella community. They designed and carved the trails, which are well marked.

But nobody – and I mean nobody – is talking about these new Estrella trails. This is happening on the downlow.

Now, the signage for the new Estrella Trails is far from complete. I would’ve been flailing around without my tour guide. You may have to question a few locals to link everything together. And there’s a giant gap between the southwest end of D-Votion and the FINS network.

Estrella trails
The new Estrella trails are swooping, flowing fun – but some parts require hard work.

I’ll tell you what, though – there’s some fine stuff east of Estrella Mountain Parkway. We’re talking long, grinding climbs. Switchbacks. Tons of options. The kids from the Estrella Foothills High School mountain bike racing team will definitely benefit from these trails. The Wolves have a perfect training ground right in their collective backyard.

D-Votion itself isn’t quite as steep. But it’s full of flow and switchbacks.

Flow – that’s the mysterious quality that reveals who built a trail, isn’t it? When a trail flows, you can bet mountain bikers built it. Or at least had input.

So, two things are on my mind after riding these new Estrella trails.

First, it’s awesome that the developers/landowners see the benefits in engaging trail users.

Second -- why so quiet? What else are these trail builders up to? Why has the Estrella Trails Club website gone offline?

My Spider Sense tingles: You won’t find a map that shows all these trails online yet. The best I found was a half-assed D-Votion map, and one on this page that may plug the hole between D-Votion and FINS -- but it has none of the new stuff to the far east side.. Something is afoot, and these new and untalked-about Estrella trails are just the beginning.

 

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CategoriesTravel

What Makes Phoenix Better Than Tucson?

tucson
A fun bit of Tucson funk.

People from Phoenix love to shit all over Tucson by saying things like "It’s dirty" and "the roads are terrible."

(Disclaimer: I am an Arizona State University graduate. But I also have little regard for silly-ass tribalism. I also like Tucson more and more with every visit.)

While those who bash Tucson run their mouths, downtown Tucson gets steadily more interesting. I’m not ready to proclaim it "Portland in the Desert."

But that day could come.

During my most-recent visit to Tucson (May 2014, as of this blog post), here’s what I did:

  • I visited a museum that is literally a one-of-a-kind in the entire world. I didn’t visit the Pima Air Museum this time, but that’s also a better museum than anything in Phoenix. And yes, that includes the Musical Instrument Museum. That gives Tucson two museums that are better than anything the Phoenix area can offer.
  • I walked -- and saw interesting things. Yeah, Tucson is a sprawling desert city kind of like Phoenix. But it has more pockets of densely packed interesting stuff like art studios and  independent restaurants than you’ll see in Phoenix. Scottsdale is by far the worst offender of useless space – you can walk for miles in that city without seeing anything interesting. And no, "Old Town" Scottsdale and its rubber tomahawk shops don’t count. Sadly, downtown Mesa currently out-cools downtown Scottsdale, and would comprehensively throttle its snooty neighbor to the north if it could convince businesses to stay open later.
tucson
A look at the tidy-but-cool downtown Tucson area.

My perception of Phoenix is that it erroneously believes everything has to be fancy and "high end" to be interesting and viable. It only embraces the funky and weird – like the 5th Street and Roosevelt area – under duress and as a last resort. Tucson mixes it up nicely, especially downtown and near the university.

It’s kind of funny to me, also, that Phoenix and its stepchildren position themselves as great places to shop. I scratch my head over this. I see the same old stuff here, with few alternatives. Let’s put it this way: A few years ago, I was in a band and looking for a new amp. I couldn’t find the one I wanted in Phoenix. I drove to Tucson and found it at one of the several independent music stores down there.Tucson also has Miller’s Surplus, which appeals to my love for surplus stores. Right now, it’s hard to find a decent surplus store in Phoenix.

Tucson
Inside a cool Tucson coffeehouse.

And let’s talk food. Phoenix gets overlooked nationwide, and I absolutely hate listening to people from Chicago overrate its greasy, cheesy artery-clogging fare. And Tucson is no slouch, either. For the past few years, I haven’t considered a visit to Tucson complete without a visit to the Time Market. And during my last visit, my friend and former co-worker Will introduced me to 47 Scott and its accompanying speakeasy Scott & Co. We started out at the speakeasy, where I had a cocktail made with a whole egg and hoisin sauce -- it came off a bit like an aggressive White Russian, which means "completely delicious." I don’t always drink cocktails – but when I do, I prefer for them to be like that!

As for 47 Scott, we slid in just about 15 minutes before it closed and had a stuffed bell pepper, a burger of ridiculously high quality and a crusty bread & olive oil appetizer with some fresh mozzarella. And yeah, I made my ritual visit to the Time Market. I started off with a slice of pizza made with locally sourced lamb sausage, and took a few chocolate bars to go. Yeah, Tucson sounds terrible, doesn’t it?

Look, I can understand giving Tucson a hard time. It’s our neighbor to the south, and smaller, to boot. And I laugh every time someone calls the University of Arizona "Nogales Tech." But I can’t honestly say much bad about Tucson. Phoenix is losing its edge over Tucson.

Here’s how I see it: Tucson has awesome mountain bike trails. It has caving. It has shopping, a viable art/music scene. Personality through independent businesses. Great scenery. It’s even a few degrees cooler. Phoenix offers a few more culinary options, sure. Employment might even be a wash. And the airports? Hell, every international trip I take requires a stop at LAX before I can get anywhere cool – so Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has little more than Tucson International Airport to offer.

So, can someone remind me why Phoenix is that much better than Tucson?

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CategoriesAdventuresTravel

Titan Missile Museum Tour Taps Cold War Memories

Titan Missile Museum Tour
You’ll get a good look at a Cold War relic during the Titan Missile Museum tour.

 

The Titan Missile Museum tour is perfect those of us who have forgotten – and for those of us who never knew – the Cold War. Some of us (not me!) will recall the "is this the end?" tension of the Cuban Missile Crisis. People my age will think back to Regan-era rhetoric, the Star Wars missile program and countless other NATO versus Soviet mini-conflicts that could’ve spiraled out of control.

Some people on the Titan Missile Museum tour, like the tweens in my one-hour tour group, will realize that people in America had a legitimate fear of nuclear annihilation. It seemed to be their first exposure to the notion, and their reaction was far stronger than I expected. I was impressed that they felt the gravity of the situation.

Maybe it’s because the Titan Missile Museum near Tucson, Ariz., has an unmistakable end-of-days vibe with its foam-green paint and steel construction. Maybe it’s because Hap, our tour guide, had served in a Titan missile installation and was able to relate first-hand knowledge in plain English, with just the right mix of technical jargon tossed in. His knowledge and delivery elevated the $9.50 entry fee from “good deal” to “cheaper than it should be.” Consider that the entry fee to the Desert Botanical Museum in Phoenix is $22, and you see what you get with the one-of-a-kind Titan Missile Museum tour.

I really don’t want to tell you too much about what you’ll learn and see during the Titan Missile Museum tour. Why spoil your trip by revealing some of the most-interesting facts? I’ll just walk you through what to expect from the one-hour tour -- and I’ll add that there’s a five-hour tour that I definitely mean to take in the future.

Step One – Watch the Video

The one-hour Titan Missile Museum tour starts with a video. It’s about 15 minutes long, and frames what you can expect once you descend into the missile complex. It also gives a hint of the the concepts and conflicts that fueled the Cold War. If you’re tall like me, you’ll have to pick up a hard hat after the video; trust me, it’ll come in handy.

Titan Missile Museum Tour
The Titan Missile Museum tour concludes on the surface, where you can get a look at the engine nozzles.

Step Two – Into the Silo

This is where the Titan Missile Museum tour takes you to the launch control center. You’ll also get a good look at the silo and the missile itself. The size and scope impressed me, and I wondered what it would be like to be down there alone for a length of time (OK, here’s my lone semi-spoiler: Crews served a 24-hour rotation.).

Something about the walls below seem to drink in sound and light, which adds to the somewhat creepy atmosphere. I could spend days lurking about and poking my nose into every corner of the silo. If you have a tour guide as good as Hap, you’re going to find out some astounding facts about life in the center -- and about exactly how much punishment it can withstand.

Step Three – Back Topside
You’ll return to the surface and get a look around the site. You’ll be able to look down into the silo, which brings me to one of my few gripes about the Titan Missile Museum tour: It’s hard to get a good photo of the missile. There’s a Plexiglass barrier that reflects, and the upper reaches of the silo are well-shadowed.

You’ll also get to see the engine nozzles topside, which adds a pretty interesting perspective.

Titan Missile Museum tour
You’ll see the business end – the warhead – before you begin the Titan Missile Museum tour.

Final Thoughts

Since the Titan Missile Museum tour take you through the the last Titan II missile silo in existence, you might feel like the world is a whole lot safer in regard to nuclear weapons. Well, let’s remember the successors to the Titan II missile program: the nuclear ICBM-carrying submarine. There were 50 Titan II installations during the Cold War – today, there are 18 missile submarines in the US Navy, each carrying 24 missiles.

There’s something else that makes me scratch my head: Missile technology in World War II mostly consisted of the German V2, which could barely hit targets in England with much accuracy. Twenty years later, the Titan II could strike within one mile of a target 6,000 miles away. Bringing it forward today, public perception is the NASA is, at best, stuck in neutral. It hasn’t scored a major win in the public eye. That’s somewhat unfair considering the Mars rovers and many other space probes and an avalanche of technological derivatives we use every day.

But by the measuring stick of human spaceflight, all the nations seem to have regressed. The Titan Missile Museum tour sticks that point home for me. Add this to your “to do” list the next time you’re near Tucson.

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