CategoriesGear

My 2018 Nissan LEAF Test Drive

This past weekend, I test-drove a 2018 Nissan LEAF SV. I’ll tell you that it was straight-up an extremely cool driving experience. It’s dead-quiet and accelerates like a little beast. It turns well, and that ePedal feature is incredibly slick; seriously, it took me about three tries to get used to it, and then I was hooked.

So am I gonna buy one?

No. And here’s why.

Tight Quarters, Low Clearance

I drive a 2006 Subaru Forester with a 5-speed manual transmission. And I drive it like the rally car in disguise that it is. Even though it only does short trips these days while my wife’s 2017 Forester gets the long hauls, I take it into dirt regularly. I completely disregard rough roads and trails without a thought. The Subaru is a formidable vehicle to replace, with decent space, a tight turning radius and absolute braking and turning confidence.

subaru electric vehicle
My well-loved Forester on an expedition to Arizona’s volcanic fields. I’m profoundly disappointed with how Subaru drags its feet on electric vehicles.

The 2018 Nissan LEAF will do my commuting just fine. Better than fine! But when it’s time to load up a mountain bike and hit the trails? I don’t see being a happy camper. Ground clearance is a huge issue here. It’s hard to come from nearly 9 inches of clearance down to less than 6. That’s going to be a factor in installing a hitch mount for my Kuat NV bike rack.

And then there’s the backseat. The 2006 Forester doesn’t have a roomy backseat. And the LEAF is no better here. When my 3-year-old daughter falls asleep back there (which happens often), it will be a chore to extricate her without bonking her on the head. And the low-slung LEAF will force me to hunch down into an even-more awkward position to handle this routine chore.

Its Batteries, Though

Add this to lingering concerns about the passive thermal management on the batteries and a lease rate that’s way higher than comparably priced vehicles, and I’ve gotta say "no." I am supremely unhappy about this because I believe electric vehicles need to happen right now. I honestly do not want to buy another vehicle with an internal combustion engine (especially after sucking down so much exhaust in the recent Tour de Mesa – we really need to do everything possible to limit ICE vehicle emissions).

electric vehicles
Here’s a Chevy Volt getting recharged. The Volt doesn’t do much for me since I want to kiss oil changes and belts/hoses good-bye.

I’m really not sold on the idea of a hybrid. Part of the appeal with EVs is not having to change oil and worry about stuff like belts and hoses. I don’t like the Chevy Bolt EV, especially since it doesn’t have adaptive cruise control. The Kia Soul EV is intriguing, but also sits way too low to the ground. The only possibility that fits what my Forester can do? Finding a used Toyota RAV 4 EV. Of course, that means going to California to buy one. And then how do I get it back? There are a few stretches on the I-10 where the RAV 4 EV just doesn’t have the legs to make it from charger to charger.

Nissan Leaf EV VW ID BUzz
WANT (Seriously, VW, hurry this thing up)
By Matti Blume – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0

Bah. The year 2020 can’t come soon enough. That VW electric minibus concept makes me swoon pretty hard. But I really don’t want to keep using gas for another two years.

My Nissan Dealer Experience

When I was digging around for availability, I made the mistake of entering my info into one of those "Truecar" sort of sites. Good grief. Take it from me – don’t do that.

Within seconds of hitting "enter," you can expect a blizzard of emails, texts and phone calls. Expect them 2-3 times a day on all channels until you tell them "sorry, the car you’re offering can’t do the job for me." I feel sorry for any women who date these characters because they are straight-up stalkers. And it was all stupid stuff like "let’s schedule a test drive!" or "when can you come in?" (Dudes. This isn’t surgery. I’m not scheduling it. And I’m not driving 80 minutes round trip for a test drive I can do 7 minutes from my house.)

Oddly enough, the dealer where I did my test drive must not be part of that website’s network. They never called. When I asked for a test drive, a salesperson got in the car with me. They didn’t ask for my license nor take any contact info from me. That was straight-up shocking after the autoblitzkrieg of the other dealers.

Nissan really needs to address this. Dealers are the first line to moving their product – and only one dealer made a good impression. They focused more on letting me figure out the vehicle and less time trying to extract information from me.

There’s also a huge product knowledge problem. I have spent a lot of time tracking down information abut the 2018 Nissan LEAF. I’ve looked for everything, from the number of USB ports to the cruise-control options. I used these two somewhat obscure aspects of the LEAF to test the salespeople out. Here’s how they fared:

As we were in the car, I mentioned to the salesperson that I was surprised that a battery-powered 2018 vehicle has only one USB port. He acted surprised, looked in the console where they’re located and said “the SL might have more.” (SPOILER: It doesn’t.)

I asked a different salesperson, who is lauded as the dealership’s EV guru, about the tiers for cruise control. My homework beforehand tells me there are three tiers: A standard dumb cruise control (on the S model), Intelligent Cruise Control (Available on the SV) and ProPilot Assist (available on the SV and SL). The sales dude insisted that Intelligent Cruise Control is only available with ProPilot Assist; this is incorrect, as proven by the Nissan-produced video below.  Is Nissan that bad at educating its sales force, or is this a deliberate attempt to get people to stump up more money for ProPilot Assist? (Adaptive cruise control is awesome, so there are probably people who will pay for it.)

I’m Really Bummed to Say No to the 2018 Nissan LEAF

It just isn’t enough car for my situation. If you’re single or kid-free, have a look. It’s super-cool to drive. It will keep you away from the gas pump. It’s quiet, it’s clean, it’s straight-up suited for city driving.

But I recommend leasing to address that battery situation – and to also free you up when more advanced EVs start rolling out. Watch for better range and more-effective thermal management.

CategoriesAdventuresFitness

2018 Tour de Mesa Review

A few weekends ago, I rode the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It was my first of the Perimeter Cycling events held in the Valley after doing El Tour de Tucson for the past few years. The Mesa version was a 60-mile loop that had a bit of everything – flat sections, screaming downhills, grinding climbs, roads completely devoid of cars and sections where riders had to suck some serious exhaust. In short, a perfectly legit and enjoyable road ride made better with good support, good traffic control and a good finish line festival.

I’m not one of those guys at the front of the pack. The 2016 Tour de Scottsdale was my first road event in a very long time thanks to a near-miss some years ago. I’ve worked my way back into road bike events with the simple goal of trying to get a little better with each one. That’s been going well, with my average speed in each race rising.

With that out of the way, here’s my 2018 Tour de Mesa review.

Registration and Check-In

Online registration is what it is. It’s hugely convenient next to the old days of race registration. So that was all fine.

Packet pick-up was also pretty decent. There was a small exhibition going on. The first person who saw me was very enthusiastic – a bit too much so. Her recitation of “go here do this than that in this order” was more hand-holding than I need and was ultimately more confusing than anything else. I’ve checked in for many races, and it’s not rocket surgery. Ever.

The goodie bag was full of stuff that got recycled after a cursory glance. The bag it came in was by far my favorite item. Quality re-usable grocery bags are awesome! I didn’t take a Tour de Mesa t-shirt because they’re just as ugly as I expect from Perimeter event t-shirts. They put most Christmas sweaters to shame.

Getting the Ride Started

I showed up at the starting line for the 2018 Tour de Mesa confident in my preparation. Strava has been a huge help in tracking my mileage and effort. I’ve figured out what electrolytes I need. I’ve tuned my eating habits on the bike (no more gels – just fig bars). My ritual starting a week before the ride ensures that I’m hydrated, well-rested and topped off with electrolytes. I was probably a little too confident: I spent time yacking with other riders instead of making a visit to the portable toilets – that would cost me later.

When the group rolled out for its start, I had the novel experience of not being stuck in narrow streets behind riders who were all over the place. The wide streets allowed passing room, and I was able to find a comfortable pace within moments. I didn’t experience the frustration of being confined behind anyone. Sure, there were a few people out there who deserved a "hey, get to the right unless you’re passing" yell. But I contained myself.

Out of the City – 2018 Tour de Mesa

Once we turned on to Country Club/Beeline Highway, little groups started to form. Some were spontaneous, others were clearly friends who were used to each other. For a random guy like me who trains alone, this presents some opportunity to be social while also enjoying the benefits of drafting. But try as I might, I really couldn’t find a group in my Goldilocks Zone. Some were just a touch too slow, some a touch too fast. As the climbs steepened, I passed many of the groups who’d zipped by me in the flatter parts.

Beeline presented a nice place to get into a groove. Which I could’ve gotten into better if I’d made a visit to the john. But no. Within 30 minutes of the race start, all I could think about was a toilet. The second rest stop (I completely missed the first) came just short of 20 miles in, and I went running for the john. That little visit cost me about 2 minutes. The work I’d put in on the climb got undone. Ultimately, I’d see the same people over and over again: I’d pass them on a climb, then they’d band together in a downhill or flat section and pass my lonely ass. And they’d be going just a bit too fast for me – maybe because they were drafting off of each other, or I’d put it too much energy on the climbs.

Great Scenery, A Few Problems

I should mention here that the scenery after the third rest stop was spectacular. The mountains in this area area a treat for the eyes, and I wished I’d thought to put a camera on my bike. Next year, I definitely will. The speeds also picked up in the downhills. One guy on a low-slung handcycle that looked like a street luge zipped right by me at ludicrous speed. I really enjoyed seeing that!

I made my first refueling (as opposed to the "defueling" of the last one) at Aid Station 4. There, one of the friendly volunteers helped me wrangle my spare canisters of EFS drink mix into my bottles. I was in and out very quickly, and that proved to be the only filling stop I needed (I started with two full-sized insulated bottles and a smaller bottle, all filled with EFS).

Tour de Mesa
“Sports drinks have nutrients!” “Hmm, yeah – gimme more EFS, heh heh!!”

I also had a few strange problems starting to pop up: My butt was absolutely killing me by about 40 miles in, which is extremely unusual. This is not something that happens to me at all. I’ll have to solve that mystery. Also weird: My left hip flexor didn’t seem happy at all. Fortunately, I know of some ways to deal with that.

The middle of the Tour de Mesa is kind of the crux of the thing: In my head, I had my sights set on two stiff climbs. As we were grinding up what I thought was the first of them, a couple of guys were like "just one more hard effort and we’re home free!" Somehow, the first of the climbs didn’t even register as a big deal. OK. I can deal with that. Five minutes later, we were descending back into Mesa.

Back into the Concrete Jungle

Our route along University took us into a section that didn’t have a bike lane. Fortunately, the local police agencies (including DPS) had that all under control. A few drivers had moments of confusion, but the situation was well in-hand. Everyone seemed to feel safe and able to concentrate on the last miles of the ride. (Except for some people on the Facebook page. There was some carping about the section without the bike lane, which I can understand.)

We had a wind coming in from the southeast, which gave a little boost of speed as we approached downtown Mesa. About a half mile from the finish, I accelerated and passed a few riders without getting overtaken myself. My right calf didn’t respond well to the hard effort, but I can’t complain about a slight, fleeting cramp in the finishing chute of a race. Not at all.

I also learned that medals were based on your finishing time, and my finish was good enough to snag me a gold. I think that’s kind of a nice setup, and I think more races should consider having different medals. It’s something to shoot for when you know you don’t have a chance at winning.

There were a few food truck available for refueling – and some company was giving out samples of hard kombucha (that went down pretty well!). Another nice touch: There were activities for kids. Had I known, I might’ve recommended that my wife bring our little person down to enjoy the fun.

I’ll definitely do this race again and look forward to it. Good course and an overall good vibe.

Random Thoughts: 2018 Tour de Mesa

STUFF I ATE/DRANK DURING THE RIDE: A fig bar every 45 minutes, one bottle of EFS per hour. DID NOT USE: Hammer Gel that I carry just in case, vial of pickle juice.

LESSON LEARNED: I might need to team up with other people to take my times up a notch, especially in El Tour de Tucson

RANDOM OBSERVATIONS: Strava tells me my heart rate was a bit higher for this ride than for my previous road rides. This tells me I’m able to work a bit harder without worrying about cramping. That’s huge, and means I have a bit more performance to extract from myself.

CategoriesGear

One Last Ride on My 1998 Lemond Zurich

After being my bike since 1999, my Lemond Zurich took its final ride with me this past weekend during the 2018 Tour de Mesa. It deserves a tribute.

Here’s a little story about it that epitomizes what that bike was all about.

I was riding in the Taylor House Century in Flagstaff. Sarah (my wife, for newer readers) and I were both on our Lemonds, and a third Lemond rider joined up with us. We had a nice little group going, but I noticed a nearby rider right from the start and I knew he was trouble. I don’t know if it was the socks pulled all the way up his ankles, the neon windbreaker or his 1970s pornstache, but that guy was full of bad vibes.

lemond zurich
My Zurich fresh back from the paint shop with a little Liberace sparkle.

Sure enough, we encountered him on the roughest patch of Route 66. It was a pot-holed mess, and this guy had no idea how to handle his bike. He was about 50 feet ahead and slightly to our left, and he was just all over the place. My sixth sense told me to back us off a little bit, so I signaled the group that we were gonna slow down. Right then, Pornstache slammed his rear wheel so hard into the trailing edge of a pothole that his tube blew out explosively – as in so hard I could see vapor escape the tire. He tried to turn and head to the side of the road, failing to realize that’s a really bad idea with no pressure in your tire. As I knew it would, his rear wheel slid out from under him.

lemond zurich
Getting advice from my coach before the start of El Tour de Tucson.

And he was headed straight for me, sliding along the ground toward my front wheel. My first thought was that Sarah would get taken out if I crashed. So I had to get around him.

I took us to the right toward the space that Pornstache didn’t yet occupy. I refused to look at him, even when I could hear the spokes of my front wheel chopping at his windbreaker. I braced for the feeling of sliding along pot-holed, cheesegrater pavement.

But I never fell. Sarah and our third Lemond rider sailed right through. No problem.

I’m pretty sure it was really him …

I’d never been that scared on a bike before. I was riding to save not just my own skin, but Sarah’s.

I probably could’ve done this on any half-decent road bike. Probably. But my miles leading up to that gave me a ton of confidence in that bike. And that near-miss made it seem even more unflappable and capable. Really, I am that bike’s only limitation.

Well, that and time. Today, road bikes are a little different. They have cool mountain bike-inspired stuff like disc brakes, through-axles and frame clearance that allows bigger tires (which allow us to venture off the pavement – great for shortcuts and getting away from cars).

lemond zurich
My Lemond Zurich before repaint and reassembly.

My hope is to find a new home for the frame and fork, plus a few of the other bits. The drivetrain will go straight onto my new ride. I know there is someone out there who’d like a classy US-made steel frame.
I’m excited by the thought of riding a capable, modern bike that can do a little bit more than my 1999 Lemond Zurich. But it will always be a special bike to me. It was dependable, elegant and confident in its domain. I hope its next owner appreciates it as much as I did.

Just in case you’re wondering, my Lemond Zurich went out on a high. My time won’t compare well to the top finishers, but it was my fastest 60 miles ever. I’ll have a full race report of the 2018 Tour de Mesa soon – be sure to watch for it!

CategoriesTastesTravel

How I Fly with Craft Beer Without Spilling a Drop

Whenever I travel, I’m on the lookout for craft beer that I can’t find at home. Often, I want to take some home with me. That was the case when I visited Curitiba, Brazil. I found a thriving, varied craft beer scene that was a welcome surprise (and seriously, Curitiba is now one of my favorite cities). The question is, how can you fly with craft beer without turning the inside of your luggage into a sticky mess? I have one tried-and-true method, a second iffier method and now a third new system that I look forward to testing.

The Sock and Shoe "Fly with Craft Beer" Method

I found some great bottles at Clube do Malte in Curitiba. My method for getting them home safely was to slip each bottle into a sock, wrap it up in a plastic bag and then stick one bottle each in a shoe. Being a fairly low-maintenance guy who doesn’t bring a lot of clothes when he travels -- well, that limited the number of bottles I could bring.

fly with craft beer
A visit to Club do Malte in Curitiba is a must.

Both those bottles in the shoes survived the flights from Curitiba to Sao Paolo to Houston to Phoenix.

The "T-Shirt and Pray" Way to Fly with Craft Beer

I had two more bottles to bring home from Curitiba. Those, I wrapped in t-shirts and plastic bags. I used rubber bands to secure all the goods and hoped for the best. I was worried the whole time about these two bottles, but they also made it.

I’ve used this scheme more than a few times, and it’s always worked. But it’s not exactly good for piece of mind. And you only need a bottle to get crushed once to make your day suck. I’m convinced that I’m running on borrowed time using the t-shirt method. My wife has a perfect record for flying with craft beer, and I suspect this – or something like it – is the way she does it. Still, it’s the dicey way to fly with craft beer.

fly with craft beer flexi-growler, beerpouch
The Craft Beer Depot in Nelson, NZ. Definitely a place that should have Flexi-Growlers!
A "Capri Sun" Pouch to Fly with Craft Beer

Some clever characters formed a company called BeerPouch, and then begat a work of art called the Flexi-Growler. And just like I said a sentence ago, it’s a Capri Sun package for beer. But stronger, thicker and bigger so that you may fly with craft beer without a second thought. This is perfect in the age of taprooms that are willing to fill growlers.

And that stack a lot flatter than glass bottles, and can’t get squashed like a can or a crowler.

I’m ordinarily not this effusive about a product I haven’t yet tried, but this just makes sense. It also appeals to my interest in sustainability – according to the BeerPouch website:

Pouches of this nature are well known to require a fraction of the carbon footprint than found in a comparable sized bottle or can. The BeerPouch uses far less energy to manufacture, fill, ship, and store beverages than virtually any comparable package.

fly with craft beer, crowler, beerpouch, flexi-growler
The Aegir brewery in Flam, Norway. If you find craft beer in a place that remote, chances are you’ll want to fill up some growlers.

Speaking of the BeerPouch website, let’s not judge the product by the website. Because that website is terrible in literally every way that’s possible for a website to be terrible. May they soon sell so many Flexi-Pouches that they can afford a web designer who knows SEO, UX, design and all that other good stuff.

The best news for me is that they’re working on smaller versions: Sixty-four ounces is a bit much for my wife and me. But taking home a few different 32-ouncers from a vacation is exactly the ticket for us.

So, what’s your solution when you have to fly with craft beer?