A Roundup of Odd Sports, From Jugger to Spikeball

odd sports
Honestly, that’s not me on the left. It’s just a guy who has a bunch of the same goalie equipment that I do.

I have a co-worker who always calls me "Ocho." As in ESPN the Ocho, the (unfortunately) fictional ESPN arm that shows odd sports. Yes, I love odd sports that don’t get a lot of love from the mainstream media (I would love nothing more than an Amish Rake-Fighting League, and possibly Worldwide Bicycle Jousting). Recently, I’ve uncovered a few misfit sports you need to know about.

Let’s start off with Jugger. I was at Arizona Wilderness Brewing Co about a month ago, and saw a really random assemblage of characters file onto the patio. They were dressed in odd bits that looked kind of like sports jerseys, but clearly from a dimensional plane I had never visited -- possibly a dystopian future in which all conventional sports clothing has disappeared along with high-quality graphic design and screen-printing techniques.

I struck up a conversation, and learned that their sport – Jugger – is derived from a movie called The Salute of the Jugger (which I still need to watch, by the way). Let’s get this out of the way, though: This movie stars Joan Chen and Rutger Hauer – yes, the guy from Worst Movie Ever in Universal History candidate Hobo With a Shotgun. This is not art house stuff, friends.

From where I stand, Jugger has elements of a broomless Quidditch with a measure of free-form beating-the-hell-out-of-each-other-with-foam-implements. I get the impression from the participants’ habit – lots of drinking and more smoking than is typical among athletes – that strategy rather than fitness rules the day during a rousing game of Jugger. It also seems that DIY sort of people will love crafting their "weapons" and team uniforms.

Apparently, Australians and Germans really get into this. That speaks volumes, doesn’t it? Oi and ja.

Most likely participants: B movie-loving misfits who love making people say "WTF?"

odd sports
You still won’t look this cool fighting at a park. You might need a good eerie warehouse.

And now onto one for anyone who grew up with Star Wars, even the largely miserable prequels. It doesn’t have an official name, but I guess you can call it lightsaber combat. I discovered a group just steps away from my house practicing in my local park; they’re called Syndicate Saber, and their enthusiasm is contagious. They do not only combat, but choreographed performances. It’s free to participate and they even have loaner sabers, but they want all participants to get their own in a reasonable amount of time. Here’s an interesting tidbit: The popularity of The Force Awakens has made many of dueling-capable lightsabers kind of scarce.

Syndicate bases much of its technique on actual martial arts, too. They’ll point out elements of kendo, and I detected hints of iaido. You can work up a good sweat sparring, and you’ll can definitely work up some soreness even if you lift weights, do yoga and ride bikes regularly. The interesting thing is, though, that skill is a huge equalizer. A practiced swordsperson in less-than-Olympic fitness can hold off a far fitter specimen who lacks finesse.

Most likely participants: Anime fans with needlessly precise diction

odd sports
Spikeball in action.

Now, let’s get into a new beach sport. This one found me by way of the Internet rather than in-person good fortune, and it’s called Spikeball. I think of it as a small-scale volleyball that substitutes one of those little trampolines for a net. You serve into into the trampoline, it pops up, your opponents can, at most, bump, set and spike. Or bump and spike. Or something, just as long as you don’t get three more touches.

It’s pretty straightforward, and should attract its share of volleyball fans. I think Jugger players (would that be Juggernauts?) would want a ball with actual spikes, and you don’t get to whack anyone with a replica lightsaber, so the Star Wars fans are likely out.

Spikeball doesn’t have the cache of being affiliated with a B movie or a cinema icon. It comes across as the by-necessity offspring of a bunch of dudes who went to party on the beach, decided they wanted to play volleyball, realized they didn’t have the gear, and just rooted around in the back of the station wagon they borrowed from Mom until they found enough stuff to keep themselves occupied … and then took the idea to Shark Tank. Hey, necessity is the mother of invention. And Spikeball doesn’t take up nearly as much room as a volleyball court.

Most likely participants: Bros and those who love them

Have I missed your favorite odd sport? Clue me in with a description and some links!

In Search of Good, Budget Mountain Bikes – Part 1

budget mountain bikes
Yes, this crazy-expensive bamboo bike is a real thing.

I might be the world’s weirdest mountain biker: I simply don’t care about super-expensive, shade-grown, organic, gluten-free artisan bikes. There are so many great $5,000 bikes that there’s no possible way to decide between them, even if you divide them into smaller categories – full-suspension, hardtail, steel, carbon fiber, titanium, bamboo (yes, that exists) or what have you. I simply don’t admire anyone’s ability to craft an excellent cost-is-barely-an-object mountain bike.

Instead, show me a $1,500 or less mountain bike that will make a discerning, experienced mountain biker nod in satisfaction. (I realize some people might still find that expensive. Sorry, but every hobby has a price. I realize you can probably find a used car for that price … but it won’t be as good at being a car as this bike should be at being a bike.)

budget mountain bikes
The Rocket 1 is a good-looking, for-real budget mountain bike. (photo borrowed from bikerumor.com)

This is going to be an ongoing project – to unearth cool, budget mountain bikes and major components that don’t cost a fortune -- gear that’s reasonably priced yet high-performance to stand out in this world of $1,000 wheelsets that the mainstream mountain bike media pushes in front of us. I’d love to test these items, if possible. If not, I’ll 1) evaluate the specs and give an opinion or 2) I’ll rely on guest contributors. If you have a budget-priced favorite bike or piece of gear, I want to hear from you. Now, you might love your cheap gear because you don’t know better; if that’s the case, you’re not the contributor I’m looking for. But if you convince me that you know your stuff and a budget items meets your standards, I’m in.

budget mountain bikes
Proof that not all gear needs to be needlessly expensive.

So let’s get this started with the Schwinn Rocket 1, which is priced right at $1,000.

What I Like

  • The frame geometry is aggressive and quick, perfect for real mountain biking. You’re getting a trail-capable bike in the Schwinn Rocket 1, not a paved-path cruiser dressed up to look all bad ass. Its dimensions are not very different from my Raleigh XXIX.
  • I also dig the 27.5 wheels. I have two mountain bikes, one with 26-inch wheels and one with 29ers. The Schwinn Rocket 1 and its 650b/27.5 wheels seems a very smart point right between the two, offering the quicker handling of a smaller wheel, but the smooth rolling of the bigger 29er.
  • Tubeless-ready wheels! At this price, that’s a really nice bonus. I also like that these are WTB rims, which I trust more than some of the no-name rims you’ll often see on many budget mountain bikes. And what’s the deal with tubeless wheels? Used with tire sealant, flats are pretty much a thing of the past. You can also use less tire pressure to increase traction and smooth the ride out. Maybe in a future discussion, we’ll dive into this more.
  • Lots of durable Shimano stuff on this bike. The Deore group is solid if not flashy. You can count on the hydraulic brakes to be awesome for the money, and the drivetrain is bound to perform well for a good, long time.
budget mountain bikes
My Raleigh XXIX started life below $1,000. Budget mountain bikes for the win!

What I’m Curious About

The fork is one of the most-important parts of any mountain bike. If you visit my garage, you’ll find a Rock Shox Recon Gold, an X-Fusion Slide 29 RL, an old Fox Vanilla and – I’m not kidding here – a Marzocchi Atom Bomb. They all work great. The Schwinn Rocket 1 sports an inexpensive Suntour XCR Air. Aside from the 27.5-inch wheels, this is the part of the Rocket that I’d be most interested in trying. Forks are getting crazy-expensive and extravagant. Could today’s budget fork batter the high-end fork of a few years ago? I’d like to find out, especially with my positive experience with the relatively unknown X-Fusion.

What Do You Say?

If you own and ride a Schwinn Rocket 1, let me know what you think of it. Same if you’ve just ridden one enough to get a feel for it. And hey, if you know of other cheap mountain bikes that can still get the job done, pitch in!

The Great List of Non-Obvious Travel Tips

non-obvious travel tips
Oddly enough, not mentioned in Dante’s Inferno.
Every time I see a list of travel tips, I brace myself to expect the obvious – from the practical "remember your ID" to the goofily gooey "be open to new experiences," I’ve seen every element of a travel tip listicle before.

I’ve set out to create the ultimate list of non-obvious travel tips that goes beyond all the same tired stuff you’ve heard before. These tips will either improve your travel experience, or turn you into a superhero for your fellow travelers. If I’ve missed something, pitch it into the comments.

Parking at the Airport Can Kill Your Car Battery

I recently returned from a weekend getaway to find my car battery dead. Fortunately, Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has a service that will give you a free jump-start. I was remarking to the person jumping the car that it’s a new battery, and that I couldn’t figure out why it died. He clued me into a little-known fact: Jet noise often sets off car alarms, and a bunch of false alarms can wear a battery out. He told me that it’s a rare day when he doesn’t jump-start a car with a previously healthy battery. So, if you can park further from the rumble of the jets (or get a ride to the airport), you may reduce your chances of a dead battery.

non-obvious travel tips
This plane has lots of middle-seat passengers – be nice to ’em, eh?

Traveling Abroad? Learn Your Metric

I can’t believe how many American travelers have a hard time with kilometers and meters. Look, metric just isn’t that difficult. And being able to convert it will help you communicate when you need directions.

Traveling Abroad, Take 2: Driving a Stickshift

If you’re headed abroad, don’t expect every rental car to have an automatic transmission. Many if not most of the rental cars will have a stickshift. Being able to handle a manual transmission is great for many reasons – not least of all, being able to drive no matter where in the world you go. And do you honestly want to learn this skills on the fly, especially in a country where you’re driving on the opposite side of the road?

Never Board a Plane Without Visiting a Loo

By the way, "loo" is metric for "bathroom." I promise that this simple step will save you from squirming in your seat through a takeoff and climb to 10,000 feet. Not only will you fly more comfortably, but that’s one less time you’ll needlessly climb over other seated passengers.

non-obvious travel tips
Bungee cords can do almost anything.

Bungee Cords and Carabiners

You won’t believe what you can do with bungee cords and carabiners. From carrying a water bottle to securing a folding baby stroller, these magical devices can solve a wide array of problems. And keep in mind – when you need either of them, you need them badly -- and that’s when it’s almost impossible to find anyplace selling them.

Turn Off the Water Works

Before you leave your house for a trip, turn off your toilet valves. Toilet hoses have a way of failing in spectacular fashion. They’ll start to leak or spray, and the toilet will diligently keep the water flowing to try filling the toilet. But since it’s leaking, it never fills. That’s when you return home after two weeks to find your house flooded. That’s a crap way to end an adventure. So shut the valves off. (And seriously, can nobody honestly figure out a way to bring toilets into the 21st century?)

Get Away from the Baggage Return

There’s a special circle of hell for people that park themselves directly in front of the baggage claim. If you step back just 10 measly feet, you’ll make it possible for A) other passengers to see their returning bags and B) get to their bag without bumping you out of the way. You gain nothing by standing too close, aside from the contempt of smarter, more-considerate travelers.

Be Nice to the Person in the Middle Seat

Nobody appreciates a bit of courtesy like someone in a middle seat. Gracefully letting them out for a bathroom visit or letting them have the armrest are really cheap, easy ways to make life better for that more middle-seat flier. That little bit of consideration rarely goes unnoticed.