When is it time for a new mountain bike? If you’re the bike industry, the answer is "every time we come up with a new wheel size or standard" -- both of which they seem to be doing with ever-accelerating frequency these days.
If you’re a guy like me, the answer is a bit more complicated. Here’s what I mean by "a guy like me:" I go out on frequent rides and love nearly every damn thing there is about the bikes I’m riding. But I also know that everything has a limited lifespan, especially stuff that gets pounded by a 200-pound dude plowing over rocky terrain with -- let’s say not exactly the most deft of skills.
I want to start a fun conversation about how we decide it’s time for a new mountain bike. I’ll start off by talking a bit about my bikes and my impressions of riding them. It would be great to get your thoughts, and also to hear about your thought process for deciding to retire a mountain bike.
Bike #1 is a 2012 Raleigh XXIX that I built up largely piece by piece -- back in 2013, when I scored a killer deal on the frame and the previous iteration of the Gates Carbon Drive singlespeed drivetrain (that’s right, I don’t have CenterTrack).
The very same day I mountain biked in the Whakarewarewa Forest, I started to wonder where else in New Zealand I could ride. Our itinerary would take us to a sheep farm, Wellington and then on to Nelson. So I googled Mountain Biking Nelson, New Zealand -- and found out that none other than the International Mountain Bike Association give the Nelson trails one of its very few Gold ratings.
Oh, boy. This could escalate quickly.
When we finally got to Nelson, I spent a day poking around the bike shops to see who had the good stuff. There were plenty of fine bikes to be had, with one pop-up rental operation sending people out on Santa Cruz Bronsons. Fine bikes, but the KTM Lycan at Crank House Nelson caught my eye (I can demo all the Bronsons I want here in the US, but I didn’t think KTM made anything that didn’t have a throttle on it).
So the Crank House KTM it was -- I pedaled out toward Codgers Mountain Bike Park, which is apparently the closest place to ride. Other places would require driving and a bike rack, which wouldn’t exactly work for my situation.
My wife was nice enough to hang with the little person while I rode, and I wanted to be considerate and not disappear for a huge chunk of the day. I really wanted to cap my ride at not much more than three hours – time for riding and faffing off with my GoPro.
Get Ready to Work Hard
My first five miles included about 1,000 feet of climbing. Most of it was grinding up a jeep road. The trail signage wasn’t exactly helpful, and I didn’t do myself any favors by not knowing the full capabilities of the awesome Trailforks app just yet. It could’ve helped me navigate quite a bit better than just blundering around on my own.
Singletrack trails branch off of the main jeep road. They’re full of switchbacks, and pretty steep in places. There’s also a good amount erosion. Those of you who identify as more downhill-inclined will particularly love the Codgers trail network.
As more of a cross-country guy who loves some good flow, I simply didn’t love the Codgers trails. The scenery wasn’t much, either. Next to riding in Rotorua, Nelson seemed kind of blah. Maybe it’s because I wasn’t covered in massive groves of redwood trees. And the trail contours were a bit predictable -- a bunch of switchbacks all headed pretty much the same way.
There Might be Better Riding than Codgers MTB Park
Still, I can’t shake the feeling that I simply missed something. I’d bet a local could’ve pointed me to the best bits. After my ride, a guy at Crank House Nelson clued me in that the trails that have more my style of flow would be at Richmond Hills MTB Park or SIlvan Forest MTB Park. Those areas seem a bit -- compact, shall we say, if you want to get in 20-plus miles.
Of course, that would’ve required some driving and a rack for the car. I could’ve also rented a bike in Richmond (New Zealand), but I really liked the Crank House crew, so I wasn’t into that option. Certain shops just have a good vibe, you know?
About That Bike
So about this KTM Lycan bike -- look, I don’t obsess over linkages and spring rates. That sort of stuff makes my eyeballs shrivel (and possibly other balls, as well). Let me ride the thing, and I’ll tell ya if it works, OK?
And the KTM Lycan works. I love my simple, single-pivot Santa Cruz Superlight. I know there are better suspension systems out there. But I also know that the improvements are by and large incremental, and the added weight and maintenance simply doesn’t justify the difference.
The KTM Lycan forces me to re-think my position. Late in my ride, my legs were hammered -- but I wanted to check out another bit of trail. All of a sudden. The trail shot straight up, and it didn’t look like I was going to get much traction. I’d also lost all my momentum. I had no choice but to shift into the lowest gear and stand up – not a best practice for climbing on a full-suspension bike.
Well, wouldn’t you know, that rear wheel crunched right into the ground and gave me everything I needed to get up that steep, crappy climb with energy to spare. Awesome. I am certain that I could not have pulled this off on my Santa Cruz.
The Lycan also had 650B wheels and a 2X10 drivetrain. Both were absolutely spot on for maneuvering and shifting. The Rock Shox (Recon Silver, I believe) came in well behind the forks I’m used to -- a Recon Gold, Fox Vanilla Float and X-Fusion Slide 29RL. But that’s a Rock Shox issue, nothing to do with KTM.
Wrapping It Up
I was super-excited to ride in Nelson, and I’m glad I did it. Next time, I’ll likely head to Richmond instead of Codgers, though. Your mileage may vary – if you have more time than I did and really like some rutted switchback action, give it a go!
My training plan for the 6 Hours in the Papago mountain bike race wasn’t a winner: A month before the race, I came down with strep throat. Before my antibiotics even ran out, I was headed to New Zealand for two weeks. That doesn’t add up to a lot of pre-race saddle time.
Fortunately, I didn’t plan to win anyway. Did I have fun, though? Oh, hell, yes. It was one of my better days at a race … I credit the pre-race dinner of raviolis and Stone Xocoveza.
If you’re looking for a good race when January rolls around next year, here’s what you should know about 6 Hours in the Papago.
It Used to Be 12 Hours in the Papago
That’s right – 6 Hours in the Papago was once twice as long as it is today. The change in length had something to do with permitting from the City of Tempe. The new setup did wonders: Twelve hours is a LOT of time on a 7-mile loop in Papago Park. No, downright monotonous. But for a six, it’s pretty spot on.
The Course is Jam-Packed with Stuff – Kind of
Each 7-ish mile loop will give you about 500 feet of climbing. That’s pretty solid as the laps pile up. And they’re not long, grinding climbs. Instead, you get short bursts. There are also no long downhills, but there are a few parts that can be tricky – especially as people jockey for position.
You’ll also spend some time blasting along flat, smooth canal bits. Not the most exciting, but … hey, it’s a mid-metro area mountain bike race.
From the course marshals to the crew of kids at the refueling station, every 6 Hours in the Papago volunteer was smiley and helpful from the first lap to the last. They put out a lot of energy to give the race a very fun vibe.
Organizers and Sponsors Had Their Priorities Straight
Look, I don’t need a huge medal and a bunch of useless sponsor coupons in my race bag. And frankly, I have exactly one race t-shirt that I’ll wear out of the house.
What I got for my entry fee at the 6 Hours of Papago was frankly, far more valuable than any of that: a well-stocked refreshment tent where I could fill up my water bottles and grab some sponsor-supplied Hammer gels whenever I needed them (I could swear the electrolyte mix was Heed, which I supplemented with Kola Nuun tablets – exactly why are those delicious little tablets discontinued?!).
Speaking of sponsors, AZ Barbecue was there selling food; racers got a ticket for some free bbq, but I didn’t partake – my priority after a ride or race is to take my shorts off and brush my teeth, and one of those always causes me problems if I do it before I leave the venue. Oh, and SRAM was the title sponsor. I’ve had soft spot for them since the Grip-Shift days, and my current bike is mostly SRAM. Just sayin’.
I Think I Missed Solo Alley
I thought there was supposed to be a place where solo riders could park and make a little encampment. But it looked like that plan morphed into more of an area for teams and clubs to congregate. I really could’ve used having my car and gear around … my 6-, 12- and 24-hour race plans always involve (I know this sounds gross) copious amounts of V-8 and chocolate milk, and that run to my distantly parked carÂ — and the cooler inside it — was a bit of a pain. But it was hardly enough to put a damper on things. Just a small tweak that could be in the works for next year?
What’s the Strategy for Average Joes?
I’d like to improve my standing the next time I do this, and I’m trying to lock onto a good strategy. I noticed that my first four laps were considerably faster than the dudes just ahead of me in the standings. Then my times ballooned up again (corresponding with the laps where I had to jet out to my car). Maybe I’d be smarter to hold back a tiny bit more … maybe use some lower gears in the climbs and hit the electrolytes a bit harder earlier.
I did start spinning low gears a bit, and the decision seemed to pay off, especially after my final infusion of V-8 kicked in. On my last lap, my quads came back online to nearly full power with no danger of cramping … that was after the previous three laps where I relied on calf power to spin the pedals (and frankly, no small amount of farting – to anyone who’d been with 150 feet of me, my deepest apologies).
I’ll sign up for 6 Hours in the Papago next year for sure. It was fun and well-supported, not to mention 10 minutes from my front door in the middle of a huge metro area. That’s an opportunity not to be missed.
The Whakarewarewa Forest in RotoruaÂ is absolutely the worst place in the world to go mountain biking. If you ride here, you will go back home. You’ll prep your bike for a ride and get yourself to what used to be your favorite local trails. You’ll straddle your bike at the trailhead, look down the trail and think "Well, this is a bit pointless."
That’s because your local trail doesn’t beckon you with the fragrance of spruce. It isn’t protected from the sun with a canopy of redwood trees and ferns. Its ground doesn’t grip your tires just right.
What I’m saying is that, next to the Whakarewarewa Forest, your local trail probably sucks. I’m sure you love it. I used to love my favorite local trails, too. But within 6 minutes of cruising through the Whakarewarewa Forest, I felt like it ruined my local trails for me. I thought of my usual rides -- mile after mile under a punishing, unrelenting, angry sun through acre upon acre of dried-up Tattooine-like dirt that is practically unfamiliar with concepts like moisture or wetness.
I’ve ridden in some cool spots like Whistler, BC. But the trails there didn’t make me think I’d hate returning to my local trails.
Seriously, This is What It’s Like to Ride the Whakarewarewa Forest
I started my ride out by renting a bike at Mountain Bike Rotorua, which is perched right at the edge of the trail area. My Giant Something-or-Other full-suspension bike, some packets of Gu and a map cost me $60 NZ for 2 hours, but I planned to go longer (they promised to make up the difference later). I brought my own pedals and a helmet. Just one thing: I was so eager to get out on the trails that I forgot to get a pump from the staff. This would come back to haunt me. No fault of theirs at all, and everyone was perfectly nice and accommodating.
Anyway, the trails meander uphill, but not consistently. They roll and dip upward. You might gain 100 feet of elevation but climb for 160 feet. Jeep roads radiate up the hill and intersect with the trails. Much of the singletrack is directional, with a general net loss of altitude. I guess locals go up the Jeep roads, then grab the trails on the way down.
So all these trail intersections make it really easy to get lost. And it’s easy to lose your place on the map. I made life harder by taking photos of the map before handing it over to my wife so she could hike – the important one came out blurry.
The trails themselves feature lots of changes of direction rather than relatively straight, fast runs. You’ll do a lot of steering, and you need to pay attention. There are steep chutes and the occasional drop-off. And you’re going to work hard: I climbed 1,800 feet in about 20 miles.
How was the Rental Bike?
A mixed bag. It was my first experience with a 650B/27.5 wheel. It thought it handled almost indistinguishable from a 26er, which is nice considering the sharp turns and switchbacks. It was also my first time on a 2X11 drivetrain, which I found really agreeable. This one wasn’t very well tuned, though, and the chain often wandered in the first two cogs. It probably worked fine in the bike stand, but things change when a drivetrain is under load.
I’ve been on the other side of this equation. There were a few creaks and groans throughout the whole package, too. The Fox fork worked well. Overall, the Giant just didn’t have that meticulously maintained feel of my personal bikes – but hey, what can you expect? It’s a rental, and it wasn’t built part-by-part by a guy like me. And it doesn’t get broken down to bare frame and rebuilt regularly like my bikes.
Tell Me About That Missing Pump
Welp. I got a flat. I had a patch kit, but I made the mistake of leaving port without a pump. I nearly brought my own on this trip (I also forgot to bring an SD card for my GoPro, so I took the ill-advised route of one-handed cellphone camera videos).
Anyway, I walked a good way looking for someone with a pump. I went through six riders before finding a few that had pumps. The upside is I got to banter with some nice people. My patch kit and borrowed pump saved the day; the Mountain Bike Rotorua staff seemed inordinately surprised that I used my own stuff to patch the bike up.
I wasn’t really thrilled to be out there without a pump, so I tried taking some roads as a shortcut back, and I got really damn lost on all those roads. And my blurry map photo was no help. I actually got to a place where I was clueless about my whereabouts, and I was genuinely nervous. I thought back to my training from Cody Lundin, and cultivated my "party on" spirit – which involved riding back to the last location where I knew where I was – even with legs about to cramp and no Gu left. Sure enough, that got me back where I needed to go. My 2-hour ride had ballooned to nearly 4 -- but the Mountain Bike Rotorua folks didn’t charge me for the extra time because of the flat.
So is Whakarewarewa Forest the Worst Place in the World to Go Mountain Biking?
Yes. I have a six-hour race the weekend after I get back from New Zealand. All I can think about is how I’m gonna keep from falling asleep of sheer boredom turning laps on this dry, dusty, barren expanse of trails. I mean, I had strep throat a week before my trip. I haven’t been training per se during my two-week trip. But hey – I’m not expected to win. And six hours isn’t that long for the physical effort. But man, mentally it will be hell after riding in the Whakarewarewa Forest. I’ve actually thought about not showing up, but I just can’t bring myself to not do something I signed up to do.
I suppose I’ll get over it and start taking my pleasure in my local rides again. But my wife and I have both the phrase “the next time we’re here” already, and you can bet I’ll have some serious mountain bike plans when that time comes. And may it be sooner than later.
After a more than 10-year hiatus from road-biking tour events, I made my return at the 2016 Tour de Scottsdale. In the meantime, I’ve ticked the box on some 12- and 24-hour mountain bike races. Why the hiatus? Road bike tours tend to have a rather mixed bag of skill levels -- and some of them freak me out (like the guy who crashed and slid shoulder-first into my front wheel at the Taylor House Century â€“ how I didn’t crash, I still can’t figure out).
Anyway, that brings me to the Tour de Scottsdale. Here’s my rundown of thoughts and observations. Let me frame this by saying I ride once a week, either road or mountain depending on the time of year. The rest of the time, I lift weights, do hot yoga and various other odd exercise. I’ve done a few 12- and 24-hours races. When I’m solo or duo, the goal is to not be within 10 spots of DFL.
OK, onto the ride report. I didn’t get to pick up my race packet in advance. My wife ran a half-marathon the day before, and I didn’t want to cart the little person all over. I wasn’t able to get the pick-up point, so I figured I’d just grab my packet and stash it in my car.
Except that most of the parking was a few miles from the race start, and they were running trolleys. Fortunately, the nice people at the info tent were nice enough to let me stash my t-shirt (which I probably won’t wear outside my house, to be honest). That’s why I really don’t like busing to the start line – things can go wrong. I did find out that there was at least some parking near the start. Show up early!
Scrambling for my packet had another ill effect: I got stuck behind the 30-mile riders -- which included a multitude of fluorescent-yellow-clad people clearly from some sort of organization. They struck as some sort of group from a bro-y sort of church where the pastor wears a trilby and quotes the network TV version of The Big Lebowksi. They filled me with dread, and they demonstrated handling skills and a lack of situational awareness that fully lived up to my expectations.
Once the yellow spazzes and others like them cleared, I was having myself a grand old time. I tucked in with a few smart riders, including this one older women with silky-smooth skills, all sorts of energy and the manner of a peloton patron (I was sad later when she broke off on the 30-mile course).
Let me diverge for a moment to talk about earbuds and headphones. They are stupid, stupid and stupid. That is stupid to the third power. So many riders cluelessly weaving along listening to Nickleback or whatever, absolutely oblivious to what was happening around them. My favorite was the guy with full headphones – his rear derailleur cage was pinging into his spokes, making it a very real possibility that he’d break a bunch of spokes, twist his derailleur hanger and blow the derailleur itself into shards. Do you think he heard? Nope.
Still, I was feeling great!
I screamed past the first rest stop. Then the second, even though it had Gu -- the crowd of 30-milers was a bit thick, and my groove was fully on. I turned up Dynamite, where another rider pointed to one of those electronic speed signs that was totally demoralizing us as we headed uphill into the wind. Near the top of the hill, we were rewarded with the third aid station.
But wait -- no Gu. Just bananas, pretzels and Gatorade. At this point, I barely had any of my Nuun-Skratch Labs mix in my bottles, though I still had a few of my own Gu packets. A twinge of concern lurked in my gray matter because Gatorade absolutely sucks â€“ more accurately, it blows right out my backside after souring my stomach. I started kicking myself for not bringing a tube of Nuun and a boatload more Gu.
Back on the bike, things were still going swimmingly. We ripped down Nine-Mile hill, and then turned south to have the wind at our backs. Having the wind at my back and riding on the tops always makes me feel like a pirate ship – arrrrr!
I figured Aid Station Four would be the place to grab some Gu. I was still ripping it up, nearly 40 miles down at a pace I haven’t maintained before. I was feelin’ it!
Then, Aid Station Four. No Gu. I didn’t even bother stopping since my bottles were still pretty full, and I barely needed anything on the long descent.
The terrain started rolling, which seemed to just make everything even more enjoyable.
The miles ticked, and I started to feel a few little twinges in the legs. Nothing too big. Just that little electrical current-like feeling of muscles saying "Dude, you need to relax."
This morphed into a serious problem on the last incline before dropping into Fountain Hills. The small twinges turned into multiple “check engine” lights. My left quadriceps seized. I tried to come to a stop with dignity and not freak my right leg out, too. That required my to fall over on my side.
It took a few minutes of smacking my leg to get it to bend again. And then I was off, fully aware that I was in for some hurt. I got to Aid Station 5 without further problems.
No Gu. That’s like deer camp with no whiskey. And I knew right than that what had largely been my happiest day on a bike in a long, long time was about to get shitty. I drank more of that god-forsaken Gatorade, feeling it clump in my stomach. I had no choice as I rode but to let some out -- so I stood up, let it fly, and both my legs seized.
Yes, you read that right. I farted so hard I fell down. This time, both legs were fully flamed out. I flipped onto my stomach and dragged myself fully onto the sidewalk to restart my engines. This involved whimpering, beating on my legs, whimpering, draining my bottles, whimpering, cursing the gods and whimpering.
Once my legs were mobile again, I stretched out a bit and got myself moving up the hill on-foot. I figured a different motion for a few minutes would help. Meanwhile, my project finishing time ballooned like Baron Harkonnen at an all-you-can-eat buffet.
Fortunately, we had big downhills on the way! And the next few climbs followed downhills so big that I could coast up most of them. We turned onto Shea, and I was hitting 40 miles per hours without doing a damn thing.
Oh, hai, Aid Station 6! I can haz Gatorade? (Yes, I know I’ve been fustigating the very existence of Gatorade throughout this post. Well, it’s last call and I’ll take anything.) They had a few thimblefuls left.
Blessedly, they had Gu! Even the super-salty, sliver-of-the-Dead Sea Roctane variety! Praise be the Seven, the Red God, The Drowned God and anyone else listening! But where was the Gu when we really, really, needed it? (My wife, a far smarter and more experienced racey sort of person â€“ this isn’t a race, of course â€“ summed my dimmwittedness up with a sympathetic but probably exasperated "Never put your faith in them.")
And then we went up a hill I usually climb in my friggin’ big ring -- but now, I’m spinning my lowest gear and hoping my legs wouldn’t seize again. Sure enough, I got away with it! Then down the hill, and it’s all downhill from there!
Except it wasn’t.
Even a speed bump was an hors categorie climb. FML. At one point, I slowed down to massage my left quad into compliance. It was just good enough to coast to the finish. My legs were the only problem – I was clear-headed with no other aches or pains. I have to rue my bad decision making and how it affected what could have been a really awesome day in the saddle.
So just the other day, I was talking to a co-worker about events and how I can tell when organizers and volunteers know they’re stuff, and what a difference it makes. The Tour de Scottsdale makes me suspicious on this point. Consider the Tour of the White Mountain â€“ this race has destroyed me body and spirit three times, yet I still love it. Part of it is the plugged-in volunteers and organizers. Every aid station is different, and tailor-made to the distance where it falls. For example, the last aid station always had boiled red potatoes that riders can roll in salt. Carbs, potassium and salt to stave off cramps â€“ brilliant!
Maybe Tour de Scottsdale skimps on quality sports drinks and Gu because of the cost. Tell you what â€“ skip the t-shirt that I won’t wear much. Even skip the medals. Just fuel me right because I’m counting on you." Or if you (or more likely the participants) want to keep all the swag, say "Hey, we provide stuff -- but not much. Bringing your sports food/gels is own is a good idea, but we’ll hook you up with water and gels at every XXXth station."
I still like the event, don’t get me wrong … especially since this my depleted electrolytes area ultimately my fault. I’ll ride it next year. It was decently organized, and the volunteers were nice. The course was pretty fun, too. It just has the sort of problems that are part and parcel of larger events and tours (I’m looking at you, Spaz Riders in fluorescent yellow).
And I will show up loaded with a bandoleer belt full of my favorite hydration stuff and riding food. I suggest anyone outside the front of the pack do the same.
Congratulations, Phoenix. You’ve officially destroyed one of the nation’s best urban mountain biking areas. And you managed to do it on the down-low.
By the time I started mountain biking in 1992, the Papago Park trails were the gathering place for local riders looking for a quick post-work or -class ride. Whether you were new to the sport or one of the fastest racers around, Papago Park was there for you. It was up to the task of being a venue for everything from 12-hour races (edit: I had a case of 12-hour brain when I wrote this … 12 Hours in the Papago stayed in the Tempe and Scottsdale portions of Papago) to ad-hoc races
No longer. Here’s what I’ve been able to find out:
Most of the trails on the Phoenix side have been bladed from the singletrack mountain bikers love so much to an eight-foot-wide (just my eyeballed estimate) superhighway. The surface is unpaved and covered in loose pebbles. The berms in the corners are also gone, so forget about sustaining any sort of speed into a corner. In places, there are even slabs of concrete, presumably for drainage.
There appears to be no motive.
No existing trail user benefits from this destruction. My only guess is that this is some bizarre, mishandled effort to improve the area’s
wheelchair accessibility. I could support that – but why destroy the existing asset for the majority of users when a separate wheelchair-accessible trail network is an option? UPDATE: I’ve seen some talk in the Facebook group referenced in a few paragraphs that this might be a way to lure more 5k trail races to Papago.
Rumors of Starbucks and other silly money-grab theme parkization (my new word) of Papago Park have been around for quite awhile now. It seems the public heard about this for so long that they stopped believing it, and didn’t monitor the situation closely enough. Notice that the trail destruction happened during the summer months, when most cyclists switch to road biking or head up north to cooler climates. There’s also no news coverage, with this being the closest mention to the topic. There was no signage explaining anything or asking for input.
I’m to blame. But so are you. So is every single mountain biker who may have knownabout this, and didn’t expend all energy possible to organizing the people who use and love these trails. This speaks to a need for a far more organized and engaged cycling community. I’d also really like to know what the International Mountain Bicycling Association would say about the quality and sustainability of the new pseudotrails.
It’s not too late. Seriously. A Facebook group has formed to mitigate the damage. And imagine if enough of us stand together and demand that Phoenix build new mountain bike specific trails. The business case is there if you look to the progressive thinking of McDowell Mountain Regional Park, which turned itself into a regional draw for cyclists by expanding its trail network. Then-Supervisor Rand Hubbell put McDowell Mountain Regional Park on the national mountain biking map – maybe someone equally intelligent at the city of Phoenix could do the same. Step One: Go find the people who hand-built the Fantasy Island North Singletrack and get them to work their magic at Papago. The result would be even better than the current – sorry, make that former – trails.
Let’s see how Phoenix handles this, and how it explains the lack of public notice. I’d also like to see how they analyzed the trail user groups to figure out whether this would actually benefit anyone.
Ray Stern from the Phoenix New Times is following this situation. Expect balanced, well-researched reporting from him. It’s what he does. And while it’s great to have bloggers and social media users squawking, it’s a huge benefit to haves someone with the time and resources to dig into city documents and present other sides of the story. Not to mention using those resources to right the situation.
Ray’s found that at least one off-road wheelchair user really digs the revamped trail. And some other disabled trail users do, too, judging from the social media conversations. Meanwhile, I think too many mountain bikers are howling “tear it out and make it the way it was” and polishing their pitchforks. I favor a solution that would create something unprecedented: A venue that includes a resource for off-road wheelchair users to have fun and maybe even compete (sign me up as a race volunteer and trailbuilder, already!) and integrates a purpose-built, mountain bike-specific singletrack network. Given FINS and its amazing trail design and execution, this is possible with a minimum of resources. The biggest challenge is finding the political will. And jeez, mountain bikers … stand with disabled trail users, FFS.
I hate summer heat in Phoenix – and I’m sure I’d hate it in any other hot, desert city. But you know what? It’s not so much the heat that bothers me. It’s the people who don’t know how to deal with it. I’m going to clue you all in based on my experience living here since 1980.
Stop Obsessing Over the Temperature
Right, that’s it: No more posting graphics about the forecast. No checking the forecast. Look, you don’t need to know whether it’s going to be 95 or 125. In this case, knowledge isn’t power. There is literally nothing you can do as a result of knowing the exact temperature that will make summer heat in a desert any more comfortable or any less challenging. You’re gonna be hot until October, and that’s simply all there is to it. Whether it’s 95 0r 135, you should take exactly the same steps. Repeat it with me: Exactly. The. Same. Steps. The only impact knowing the temperature has is psychological, and it’s demoralizing rather than helpful.
Drink a Lot of Water, Already
I don’t want to hear anyone say "but you can drink too much water, too." Tell you what – come up with a sourced number of people who have died from hyperhydration Â (aka, drinking too much water) in a given year. Then, I’ll reply with stats from the same year from dehydration deaths. Guess which one will be astronomically higher.
I’m now at 6’2, 198 pounds. I usually drink north of a gallon a day – more if I do anything outdoor. Oh, and it helps to know how to drink water. Don’t sip it: Pound a quart per sitting if you can. Read Cody Lundin’s "98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive" for the science behind it. Something salty to go with your water or even an electrolyte tablet now and then will also help. I have a post with more advice about hydration.
Get Out In It
If you do nothing but scuttle from air-conditioned area to air-conditioned area, you will never acclimate an iota to the summer heat. You need to spend at least some time in the heat. That doesn’t mean you need to be stupid about it, so dress right, wear sunscreen and – I can’t possibly say this enough – drink your damn water.
What does dressing right mean? On days I head to the office, I wear breathable, light clothes. Fortunately, I work in a place where people won’t think twice about my Eddie Bauer Guide Pro pants and (discontinued, damnit) Mountain Hardware McClane shirt.
On my own time, I favor my Onno hemp t-shirts and -- well, pretty much the same sort of pants I wear to work. I don’t believe in shorts. If I’ll be in the heat a long time, I’ll cover my head with something. And I never, ever hike without a pretty good bunch of gear that works for me; one of the more unusual items is a shemagh, which is great for covering up from the sun or even any sudden dust storms that blow in (yes, that happens in the summer).
Why no shorts? Because I like to cover skin from the sun. If I were really smart, I’d probably opt for a long-sleeve version of my hemp t-shirts. Look at traditional Arab dress – it’s light, flowing and layered. Great for insulation from the summer heat. Oh, and avoid wicking materials. They dry too quickly to cool you. Stick with quality cotton or – as I prefer – hemp or bamboo blends. They’ll keep you cooler and won’t make you stink.
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?"
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
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!
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.)
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.
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.
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 Desert Boneyard 10k at Davis Monthan Air Force Base isn’t a race for hardcore runners. The course is slow thanks to its uneven surface and occasional mud patches. And the scenery – which runs through the 309th Aerospace Maintenance and Regeneration Group boneyard and thousands of aircraft from C-130s to F-15s – will add minutes your time if you’re even remotely interested in aircraft. If you’re a full-on avgeek, forget about it: You’re going to lose minutes when you stop to snap photos. So it’s not the quest for a personal record that makes the Desert Boneyard run an extremely cool 10k race: It’s the backdrop.
I only did a few 5k training runs before I lined up for the Desert Boneyard 10k, and it had been nearly a year since my last 10k training run. I’m pretty sure my last 10k race was a few years ago in Norway. So I didn’t have high hopes of a personal record, especially considering the post-apocalyptic vibe of the parked aircraft.
I accidentally added to the desolate flavor of the race by starting at least 10 minutes late: I had to make a run back to my car to drop off my race pack, and my car was pretty much out in the weeds. By the time I got back, the 10k and 5k events had both started; I’d highly recommend that the organizers add a bag drop near the race area. The fortunate upside is that I was by myself for long stretches of the course as I chased the pack. That made the experience a bit more fun.
I don’t know what my official time actually was. I figured it would be posted online somewhere. Even if my time never appears, my GPS had me at 60 minutes and change – not nearly as bad as I’d feared thanks to the mud and photo stops. And my frilly pirate shirt: It was Halloween, so of course I was going to dress up. The race announcer encouraged those finishing near me to run faster so the pirate wouldn’t catch them;but some spectators gave me a good, loud "Fabiooooooooo!" as I finished.
The Desert Boneyard 10k is a low-key, low-fuss affair that relies more on its oddball backdrop of parked aircraft than on big sponsors and lots of frills. I get that – but I’d highly recommend that the organizers consider putting some of the ample scrap to work, teaming up with some local artists and offering some really cool finisher’s medals. The cool location makes it the sort of race that would be highly sought by runners after interesting racers just as much as personal records. I’d definitely pay a higher entrance fee for a personal piece of boneyard history.
Speaking of that, an email from the organizers also said to bring cash for souvenirs. Which I did -- and found nothing for sale at all. Maybe I missed it. I would also love to see some course photographers offering downloads for participants. It seems that some local photographers would love a chance to work in the boneyard and get a cut of the action. It’s also possible that the public affairs staff at Davis-Monthan Air Force base could help.
Still, I liked the Desert Boneyard 10k race and will do it again, no doubt. I also thought the Air Force personnel were very welcoming, even while tasked with keeping an eye on a huge crowd in a fairly sensitive area. Keep in mind, some of the stored aircraft are still just a notch below state-of-the-art – so it’s definitely important for them to manage the crowd. There was also an ample number of water stops, and the course markings were pretty solid. These are some of the most-important facets of a good race, and it’s always a positive sign when race organizers get them right.
Fact is, you can’t find a steel road bike like my 1999 LeMond Zurich growing on trees. The odds of finding one used are ever out of your favor. So what is a steel-curious road bike owner to do? Let me share a few ideas for you. These are the steel road bikes I’d consider if someone swiped my LeMond and I had a bunch of insurance money to buy a new ride. (BEFORE I GO ANY FURTHER: None of the companies mentioned have in any way compensated me for mentioning them. I would genuinely put them on my list. They earned their way here by making products that caught my attention.)
The Roadhouse oozes class, even with its many modern accouterments – disc brakes, carbon fork, 1-â…›" headset. a mix of Shimano Ultegra and 105. Of course, the heart of this bike is Reynolds 853 steel tubing. That’s the same stuff as my LeMond. One question that remains is -- where is the frame made? I’m not saying it has to be US-made to be quality stuff. But I like to support American people doing skilled jobs. This is a question I have about many of the frames in this blog post. Still, you could do a lot worse for $2,400-ish.
Ritchey Road Logic
This is a beautiful, elegant lightsaber of a steel road bike. It’s made from Ritchey-branded tubes. If I’m reading the website correctly, the Road Logic comes with a Ritchey carbon fork for a very reasonable $1,050. The downside here is that it’s frameset only. That might be good for someone out there with a garage full of parts. The rest of us are gonna have a hard time not getting bent on the components.
Curtlo Custom Road
If you’ve been riding bikes awhile, you’ve probably heard a few whispers about Curtlo. It’s a small operation that somehow makes quality hand-made custom frames for a very reasonable price. My guess is Doug Curtiss found the Lost Dutchman Gold Mine, and just makes frames for nice people because he likes to -- and he doesn’t mind barely making money. Or perhaps he kidnapped a bunch of Santa’s elves, and has them wielding blow torches in a dimly lit basement somewhere, subsisting only on fruitcake and eggnog. The frame-only price is $990 for a frame with a single powdercoated color. I think it’s entirely feasible to get a made-to-order Curtlo Custom Road with a mid-level component group and a carbon fork for about $2,500. One custom item I’d be sure to add is pegs for a full-size frame pump.
Raleigh Record Ace
If you want to go full-on retrogrouch, the Raleigh Record Ace is your bike. Steel fork and Campagnolo parts – none of this Shimano or SRAM nonsense! (Disclosure – I’d happily ride a mid-level group from any of these companies -- Veloce, 105, Rival, whatever.) I have some quibbles with this bike, even at its $1,900 price point. They are: shitty hubs, a lower-end Reynolds 631 tubeset, iffy rims. The wheels are an easy problem to overcome. The tubeset is still decent – but you’re only a few bones away from a better one. And again, where is the frame made?
A few weeks ago, this bike was making me drool with its Ultegra/105 mix and really, really ridiculous good looks. But I can no longer confirm that Breezer still makes the Venturi. It no longer appears on the Breezer website. You might be able to find a few on closeout, but that usually means limited sizes. I’m not sure of the tubing’s origins or where it’s being welded.
Greg LeMond Washoe
It’d be wrong not to mention the latest iteration of a LeMond steel road bike. That’s the Washoe, and it’s a US-built Reynolds frame with a top-end ENVE carbon fork. I have to say, though, that Greg might be putting a high value on having his name on the bike: A list price of $3,150 for a bike with a Shimano 105 group doesn’t sit that well with me – especially next to the artisan Curtlo frames. Honestly, there’s something a little off aesthetically, too. I won’t say it’s ugly … but it doesn’t make me drool.
I love the color many people know as Celeste Green. If you feel like fighting over whether it’s blue or green, go somewhere else. That’s not all that’s nice about the Vigorelli, though. $1,750 (Street price, not MSRP) for a mostly 105 group. I’d definitely ask some pointed questions again about where its Reynolds 631 tubes are welded. But I’d almost feel like a heel at that price.
Oh, these Gunnar Roadie frames are awfully nice: An off-the-shelf frame for $900, with another three-and-a-half Benjamins getting you a full-custom fit. True Temper OS frame tubing, US made. Not bad at all. I see one big downside: You’re on your own for components, or at the mercy of your local dealer. And honestly, it is never as economical to piece it all together. Still, I will not quibble with Gunnar quality, and its frame prices are very reasonable. I also do like the option of selecting my own color.
So What Steel Road Bike Would I Buy?
I love small companies. I like picking my own damn color. So unless the waiting list is 6 months or more, I’d go with the Curtlo. I’d ask him to mirror the Zurich’s measurements because it’s always been a nice fit for me. But – and pay attention, I say, pay attention here – I’d also want Doug’s input for my measurement. For all I know, I might think the LeMond fits me perfectly without it actually being true. Doug’s expert eye would likely notice what I really need versus what I think I need.
Do you have a favorite source for steel frames that working people can actually afford? Let me know if I missed it!
If you haven’t heard, here’s the quick version: A vacationing French family went for a hike near White Sands National Monument in Mexico. In August. With barely any water. The parents died; their 9-year-old son, Enzo, survived, but will have to live with the most awful memories and probably a terrible case of survivor’s guilt.
"How stupid! Didn’t they realize what they were doing?" squawked many people.
I understand this knee-jerk reaction: The national park authorities did everything possible to alert people of the dangers, with more than adequate warning signs. I can’t say why Ornella and David Steiner didn’t obey them. This unbelievably sad situation was unnecessary and easily avoidable.
But I feel a great deal of sympathy. Maybe they just didn’t understand the basics of human physiology and the critical role water plays in it. Or exactly how the hot, dry and unbelievably vast desert can suck moisture from a person’s body, especially during physical exertion. There is just nothing in France that can prepare a person adequately for the desert Southwest; it may as well be a different planet. Irresponsible articles like this mind-boggling piece of shit in the increasingly out-of-touch and haughtyNew York Times don’t help matters. The staggering ignorance of the comments is nearly equaled by the author’s ridiculous generalizations. The writer also failed to prove the harm in drinking 64 ounces a day, even in cooler, more humid conditions.His attitude encourages American to stay inadequately hydrated, fatigued, over-caffeinated and overfed.
Where I live, people need to get rescued from Camelback Mountain – which is right in the middle of a city – every single year. In 2014, first responders went on 120 rescue missions (remember, this is just one mountain among many in the Phoenix area). Nearly every one of these rescues can be traced to dehydration – from getting immobilized by heat exhaustion to the lack of mental sharpness induced by dehydration. That leads to bad decision making, which leads to falls and injuries. Note to the New York Times: Precisely zero people have been rescued from Camelback Mountain due to the effects of hyperhydration. No adult is going to get hyper-hydrated by drinking that often-stated 64-ounces-a-day standard.
My foreign friends, especially those from Europe where deserts aren’t really in your frame of reference, I don’t want this to happen to you. I want you all to get back home safely. So I’m going to give you a few things to think about:
The deserts in the American Southwest are huge. In many cases, they’re bigger than the countries you live in. Do not underestimate their size.
Drink a lot. If you drink three liters a day as a baseline (more for increased heat and/or physical activity), you’re going to be in at least somewhere close to your needs.
If you’re exercising or hiking or doing any physical activity, you need some electrolytes to go along with your water. Drop a few Nuun tablets or a few scoops of Skratch Labs mix into a liter of water, and you’ll stave off cramps and other effects of heat exhaustion. (NOTE: Nuun and Skratch Labs did not compensate me in any way for being mentioned. They’re just what I use whenever I exercise outdoors in the desert. Use whatever tastes good or makes sense to you.)
Don’t forget to bring a snack. Raisins and nuts are compact and calorie-dense, and can balance the calories you burn.
There are a great many tips for staying safe in the desert. I can’t even scratch the surface here. If you plan to visit a desert region, I recommend picking up a copy of 98.6 Degrees by Cody Lundin. You will learn incredibly valuable information on hydration, desert safety and other wisdom that can be the difference between life and death. I’m not exaggerating. If Ornella and David Steiner had read this book, they’d still be alive and Enzo would still have parents.
This post is pretty old- if you want to know what’s REALLY up with modern steel road bikes, be sure to check this one, too!
There’s a bike the bicycle industry doesn’t want you to know about. And it’s in my garage.
Its frame is a top-secret alloy that is light, easy to fix, smooth-riding and strong. Cared for well, it can last indefinitely.
Sounds impressive, right? What is this new machine?
It’s a 1999 LeMond Zurich. It’s made out of heat-treated steel. And the thing handles just as great as the day I bought it.
So why is this bike such a threat to the bicycle industry? Because it absolutely flies in the face of everything the cycling industrial complex wants you to believe: that carbon fiber is the material of the future, that you need to buy a new frame every few years, that everything needs to be shiny/new/fancy.
Steel: The Bicycle Industry Secret
Right now, there are plenty of cyclists who have never ridden a steel-framed road bike. They grew up on aluminum, with carbon, maybe with aluminum with carbon stays.
Put these cyclists on a quality steel bike, and I promise they’ll rave over the smooth ride. They will not, unless that are at the absolute apex of the sport, notice the weight.
Let’s call an upper-end steel frame four pounds. A carbon frame? You can probably get one to about 2.5 pounds. That’s 1.5 pounds. If you have an extra 1.5 pounds hanging off your torso, don’t look to a lighter frame to make yourself faster.
The bicycle industry has made bikes like my Zurich an endangered species. The closest I can find to it is the very, very slick Kona Roadhouse. That’s about $2,400, where my Zurich was about $1,700 in its heyday. It also has a classic/classy look, refusing the current trend to look like a NASCAR racer or a stealth bomber.
Committing to Steel
Here’s the thing: A steel bike like the Roadhouse will stay with you. You’ll need to replace a few bits here and there, as I did with my Zurich. So far, that’s been a rear shifter (I now need a front shifter), a fork (carbon – it has a limited lifespan), the headset, the stem and the handlebar. The bicycle industry has definitely endangered my Zurich by making 1-inch threadless carbon forks a rarity. The Easton fork I use is no longer made. And then there’s my reliable 9-speed shifter/cog combo.
I’m having one helluva time finding a left shifter that’s anywhere on the same planet – a Sora left shifter would be kind of an odd pairing with a Dura-Ace right. This means I’ll probably wind up needing a new set of shifters, which means a change to 10 or 11-speed, which also means a new rear cogset and possibly a new rear wheel with the compatible freehub body.
How necessary is all this? Not very. An awesome rider will still be awesome with a 9 or 11-speed rear cog. And if you suck, you’ll suck just as bad with a 9 or an 11.
The Bicycle Industry Loves Carbon
I know what I’m saying is a tough pill to swallow, especially if you shell out faithfully to prop up the bicycle industry every few years with a shiny new carbon bike. But try a steel bike sometime. Borrow one from a friend who’s been riding a good long time. Use any means necessary short of stealing one. It’ll surprise you, I promise.
Now, I know exactly what bicycle industry apologists are about to squawk: It’s better for customers to buy more. It helps drive the prices down. And you’re wrong. Do you think Seven Cycles or Independent Fabrications succeed on the notion of disposable bicycles? No. They count on you to love and keep their products – maybe even turn them into heirlooms.
If buying your rough-riding, limited-lifespan bikes makes you happy, do it. It’s OK with me. I know that some people love new shit. But at least take a ride on steel sometime and see what you’re missing.
One thing people often tell me is "I wish I could travel with you!" I’m flattered, honestly. When someone says that, I hear "You know what you’re doing and you know how to have fun." Great! I’ll take that any day.
The fact is, though, I like traveling with as few people as possible. The odds of me opening up my travel time to just anyone are slim to none. The odds of our schedules aligning? Even worse (though I did get to travel overseas for work this year, and had a phenomenal co-worker with me).
Here’s some good news, though: I’m going to give you my best travel travel advice to help you check out the world the way I do. I’ve learned much beyond these, but I think these are the most important to me.
Better Fitness = Better Travel
Some people love tweeting from the gym, or taking selfies at the yoga studio. I am not one of them. My exercise routine is personal, almost solitary (with the exception of hot yoga classes) and always kind of grim. I don’t exercise to impress people or to be a male model. I exercise so I can do cool stuff.
Fitness is the basis for being ready to do anything you hear about when you travel. It gives you the ability to do a long hike, sign up for a 10k (which I’ve done in four countries so far), go cross country skiing -- you name it. There is no one-size-fits-all method to getting fit. My system of weightlifting, hot yoga, running and cycling is just right for me. There are so many ways to get sweaty these days that I can’t fathom it. Try a few things. See what you find fun or at least tolerable – and then stick with it. Start right this very minute. It will make your next travel experience better.
Love to Fly for Your Best Travel Ever
Airport security is a hassle. Airplane seats are leftover torture devices from the Spanish Inquisition. You always wind up sitting next to someone who hasn’t bathed since the Game Of Thrones season finale.
Look, heading to Oregon in a covered wagon was no picnic. In the time it might’ve taken your ancestors to get out of the county, you can be on the exact opposite end of the planet. You can do this for a price unprecedented in human history, and you can do it breathing nice, clean air: I feel like smacking people who yap about the Golden Age of air travel when people suited up in their finest to fly -- and then smoked like chimneys the entire time (how easily we forget that, right?).
Even if you never learn to love flying, just remember it’s a means to an end. And that end is a new place, a new culture and new experiences.
Change From Your Usual
Let’s say you’re a meat-eating, football-watching SUV driver. If you travel, you just might wind up in a place where everyone else is a vegetarian cricket fan who gets around on a motorbike.
Guess what? You’ll have to fit in, because the culture isn’t going to change for you.
That goes for the vegans, too. I watched a vegan have an emotional warp-core breach because she had to ride in a horse-drawn cart. There was much blubbering and torrent of tears -- all because she expected that the world and its cultures would revolve around her comfort zone.
This isn’t the way travel works.
You’re going to get the best travel experience if you are willing to morph in any direction. Stay somewhere that doesn’t have a 5-Star rating. Eat something that would normally frighten you. Use your own two feet. Try to speak a different language.
I can’t even tell you how many times I hear American travelers go on about Spain, Italy, France and England. You’ll hear about culture, history, museums and food (a little less so with England on that last one!). But I can’t say I’ve ever heard an American traveler all wound up about the idea of a trip toÂ Finland.
And I just don’t get it.
Finland – and also Iceland and Norway – have a certain sense of community spirit that’s hard to define. But that spirit makes Finland an incredibly fun place to travel. And then you have the scenery, the events, the food, the public transit and the shopping. I’m not ordinarily a big shopper. But IÂ always look outÂ for things that will interest others, and I can tell you that any fashionista with an eye for one-of-a-kind items from small, independent designers will love Finland.
Let me share some information that gives you an idea of why you should go to Finland.
We arrived in HelsinkiÂ after a flight from TromsÃ¶, Norway via Oslo aboard Norwegian Air Shuttle. I sat across the aisle from a young female rock band, one member of which got startled when my wife accidentally launched a gob of sanitizer directly onto her lap (pressurization, yo). Sharing a plane with young rockersÂ reinforced my notionÂ that Finland is a paradise for good, loud rock music; part of our reason for visiting was to go to the Ruisrock festival in TurkuÂ (the Ruisrock link includes a story about having several people convinced that I’m a rock star who performed at the festival).
I was a little surprised that the rail line from the airport to the city center was still under construction during our visit (it may be ready now, though). The bus ride was still pleasant, and I thought more than a few times of Minnesota as we cruised along through rolling plains and evergreen trees.
Downtown Helsinki, though, was all cool Old World architecture alongside sleek but welcoming new architecture. It’s a blend Finland wears well, just like so many other countries in the region.
First example of the community spirit I mentioned earlier – we asked a young Finnish woman for directions, and she walked us to within a few steps of our hotel and told us all about herself as we walked.
What’s So Cool About Finland?
If American travelers knew what I do about Finland, it would be a huge, up-and-coming destination. It’s just that awesome. Let me break it down:
Absolutely Vibrant During Summer – Finland comes alive in the summer, with music festivals spanning nearly every genre practically every weekend somewhere in the country. Also, there’s a nightly tradition in the cities -- people fill up a cooler, grab a blanket, head to the nearest park and hang out with their friends and neighbors in the post-dinner hours. I imagine winter is a little less social, but I’d bet it’s still a picture-perfect scene of a holiday season.
Getting Around is Super Easy – Whether you walk, bicycle or take a train, the transit options are affordable and easy to navigate. Our two-hour trip on the VR train to Turku was a marvel of comfort and efficiency. We also used a combination of train and bus travel to enjoy a day hiking at the Nuuksion Koulu. Every leg of the trip went off without a hitch. And cyclists – be prepared for an astounding bicycle infrastructure.
History and Fun – We also took a quick boat trip out to Suomenlinna, where we spent a day enjoying the island’s history and sites -- be prepared for some gusty Baltic winds, though. I also got to try some bear sausage. Back in Helsinki, we took an evening trip out to the LinnanmakiÂ amusement park.
Things to Know
You might be tempted to call Finland a Scandinavian country. Resist the urge. Refer to it as a Nordic country instead.
Also, Finland uses the Euro. That’s part of the reason its prices aren’t quite as high as Norway.
If you’re a beer connoisseur, let’s just say Finland hasn’t quite hopped into the craft-beer movement just yet. There are a few places to get good brews, but you’ll mostly see fizzy, watery, pale-yellow lagers.
Finland in a Word: Liveable
I could very easily see living in Finland, even with its winters. There seems to be a work-life balance that allows the country to prosper, but it exudes a "work to live, not live to work" outlook. That’s healthy. The country’s fixation on sauna (pronounce it “sah-oo-nah”) is another healthy element, along with well-marked hiking trails serves by huts. Finland is the place to be for backpackers and cross-country skiers.
My total time in Finland was about nine days – enough to convince me that you should go to Finland – split between Turku and Helsinki. Turku is built around a river, and it is so incredibly relaxed and pleasant that you might never realize that many of the world’s behemoth cruise ships are built there. As for Helsinki -- I could easily use a few weeks to dive into all that it offers. I’d love a chance to learn more about its heavy metal scene and to get out into the surrounding natural areas.
I’m late to the starting line. I’m cold. I’m disoriented from a trip that started yesterday – kind of – in Phoenix and left me 220 miles north of the Arctic Circle.
The pack for the Midnight Sun Run 10K left without me moments ago. I have the road through TromsÃ¸, Norway, all to myself. This is my initial glimpse into the country, a barometer of its personality.
I’m the first to say that I’m not really a runner. I’ve coaxed myself through several half-marathons, plus sundry shorter races. Yet 10K races have become my way of tapping into the countries I visit. This is my third race abroad; they each leave me with a medal – and plenty of thoughts.
Running Abroad: Travel Tradition for the Active
One morning in New Zealand, I slept in while my wife, Sarah, went for a run. Her path intersected with a local race. She didn’t have a number plate or a timing chip, but she followed its route for awhile. And she decided on our new travel tradition – we’re going to race wherever we travel.
A half-marathon is barely enough time for Sarah to warm up at home. But during a vacation, that or a 10K is a good distance. We pile the miles on when we travel, taking in multiple hikes that stretch as long as 15 miles. We walk as much as possible in every city. For me, a 10k is a good challenge … especially to keep my time at less than 50 minutes.
We got the plan rolling during a trip to Iceland. We found the MiÃ°nÃ¦turhlaup, or Midnight Run. It’s a nice cruise through Reykjavik. The course passes a zoo, athletic fields, churches. Best of all, it ends at a city-run geothermally heated pool called Laugardalslaug.
By the time we ran the race, Sarah and I had embraced Iceland’s love for its hot tubs. We saw families and friends lounging in tubs, which they usually followed with an ice cream bar.
The MiÃ°nÃ¦turhlaup also reinforces our impression of Icelanders as cool and laid-back, more so than people we encountered in recent trips. They weren’t likely to strike up conversations like Kiwis or Aussies. They wouldn’t tell you all the insider spots to visit, unprompted, like a Costa Rican.
And don’t expect them to "woo-hoo!" like Americans do at passing runners. Sure, running races prompt wacky spectacle in Americans. Some racers revel in outrageous outfits and costumes. The spectators love screaming at passing runners. If you go running abroad in Iceland, you’ll find the inhabitants are are made of cooler stuff. I heard an occasional golf clap, but that’s it. Later, Sarah told me she waved her hands in the air at spectators and gave a yell, which seemed to boggle their minds.
The racers themselves are matter-of-fact. They get on with their run, and save the grins for the pool afterward. When it’s time to run, run. When it’s time to hot tub, get communal.
The Hi Seoul races started off with cowboy boot-clad cheerleaders leading the entire pack in warmup stretches. A news camera crew milled about, noticed me, then shot footage of my entire stretching routine.
And in South Korea, it’s never too early or too bright for fireworks. A brace of rockets whistled into the air, and the boom echoed among the tall buildings. The theme to Star Trek: Voyager followed, and the 10k was underway. So if you want commotion when you’re running abroad, this is your race.
The race passed workaday portions of Seoul, far from the palaces, the souvenir shops of Insadong and the carts selling boiled silkworm larvae. It connected to the Han River, and ended in a public park.
As we ran, spectators yelled "Ite!" I can only guess it means "go" or something like it. The race, the runners, the spectators added up to a lively and outgoing experience. At this point, I had been in South Korea for more than a week. It confirmed my impression that South Korea is happy to see you and wants you to have fun -- even if the population wonders why you’re here instead of in Japan.
At the finish line, I collected my second foreign race medal – plus a technical t-shirt and a can of spicy chicken. Perfect for post-race recovery!
Racing at the Top of the World
The Midnight Sun Run is the first time I’ve ever run a race the day after arrival. The previous races came mid-trip, after we’d had a chance to mingle, to form impressions. We slept through most of our first day here; we woke at 3 p.m., which doesn’t look much different from 3 a.m. at this latitude.
So, what is TromsÃ¸, Norway, all about? As I start reeling in stragglers, I notice lots of revelers in skimpy dresses. A desert dweller like me wonders how they handle the cold.
The cityscape changes from businesses to homes. The residents line the course, cheering the runners as they pass: "Heja, heja, heja!" They wave, they smile, they clap.
The course drops to the shore. Even in June, snow covers many of the surrounding mountains. I forget that I’m even running, that I slept my day away in a tent, that my timing chip might not even work since I started so far behind.
I cross the finish line, get a finishers medal and settle in to wait for Sarah’s half-marathon to start. Her race is a far bigger event, with runners carrying their home countries’ flags – quite a few people are running abroad. The Norwegian spectators cheer the foreign visitors, sometimes throwing out a phrase of Spanish or Italian.
And once again, I experience the connection that brings runners together at races. And I look forward to my next race in a foreign country, wherever that happens to be.
My next adventure running abroad will be the Song Hong 10K in Hanoi, Vietnam.
I amazed a new mountain biker a few weeks ago. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t my riding that did it. It was a bit of trivia I shared – that you can actually buy a mountain bike frame made out of bamboo.
It’s a shocker for many, especially newer riders who think the old flavors of bike frames are aluminum and carbon fiber. I’ve made a list of bike frame materials I know about, and what they say about the people who ride them. Pitch in with your own in the comments!
Aluminum – You’re everyman, a card-carrying member of Average Joe’s Gymnasium rolling into work with Dockers and a pale blue shirt. Sticking out, making a statement? Not for you. Keep it real, keep it cheap, keep it real cheap. Your aluminum bike frame is common and functional. You won’t feel guilty about replacing it when the bell tolls for it.
Carbon Fiber – Just put a revolving door on your garage: You’re going to ditch your carbon fiber frame soon – probably as soon as your brand of choice releases a new version that’s 21.2 grams lighter. You’re all about going fast. You don’t ride: You only train and race. When you go wild at parties (the few you get invited to), you share a bottle of Michelob Ultra with five friends.
Steel – Your bike sleeps beside you on your ratty futon You boast about how long your frame can last, about how any welder can fix it, how smooth it rides. You’ll shed tears when the $300 custom paintjob on your latest handmade, fillet-brazed wonder gets scratched. But you never bat an eye as your car drops parts in its wake while rattling down the freeway.
Titanium – Custom steel is not exclusive enough for you. So you tracked down a bearded Ukrainian recluse who used to weld ICBM fins to whip up a titanium bike frame for you -- back in 1993. You’re still riding it, and it looks just as good as the day you bought it. Too bad it doesn’t have disc brake tabs or suspension-adjusted geometry.
Bamboo – Well, hello, Mr. Fancy Pants! You’re bicycling’s Bono, cruising smugly on your very pricey, sustainably grown bike frame. You’re saving the world while oh-so-gently scorning those who lack the bank account to save the world like you do. You just better hope a panda doesn’t start munching your frame while you’re inside the local coffeehouse sipping a shade-grown, fair-trade caramel latte made with non-GMO soymilk.
Getting more women involved in mountain bike racing is an old challenge. It’s plagued event organizers and the industry as long as the sport has been around. Now the new Arizona High School Cycling League is taking a shot at it. After its first race on Sept. 29, I noticed a huge difference in the number of boys versus girls. I asked Mike Perry, Arizona High School Cycling League executive director, via FacebookÂ about how the league plans to get more female high school racers involved. His answers impress me, and they go beyond the usual “awareness” message that I’ve largely tuned out. Here’s his answer in its entirety. What do you think?
It really is a challenge to get more girls involved, and it’s front and center on our priorities. We’re coming at it from a few angles.
1) We have been very intentional about the composition of the league leadership and board to ensure both are representative of our communities. That means having women (and minorities) in key positions. For example, our Chief Referee is female, our Registration Manage is hispanic and our Merchandise Manager is a hispanic female. 2) Team scoring at our races is co-ed, the highest placed four riders on a team, and must include at least one girl and one boy. That gets the boys’ / men’s attention knowing that they need to have girls on the team to be competitive in the team category. 3) We’re working with teams to ensure they have females coaches in their ranks. Teams in more established leagues have told us that they’ve experienced firsthand that girls are more likely to join, engage and remain active in the team when at least one of the coaches is a woman. Roughly 25% of the participants who have gone thru our coach licensing have been women. 4) We’re putting on girls-only skills clinics and other opportunities. It’ll come as no surprise that group dynamics change when boys and girls are together when learning. Generally boys already have the advantage of more time riding and they want to show off, both of which can be very intimidating to the girls. Pros Chloe Woodruff, Krista Park and Pua Mata have all done girls-only events for the league, and we’ll continue to work with them (and others).
We’ll continue to do more as we learn and evolve; like I said, it’s a priority for us.
There’s an endless number of ways to stay fit – and to stave off boredom. But to me, mountain biking is a blend of exercise and fun that is hard to beat, and I have nearly two decades of priceless memories and experiences to convince me.
But if I tried to put a price tag on each ride, what would I find? I crunched a few numbers to figure out the cost of mountain biking. I combined the cost of my gear (and its lifespan), the amount I ride, gas, food and park entries (when applicable). On the conservative side, that’s less than $7 per ride. Yes, seven bucks, or bones, or clams, or whatever you call them.
What does each ride get me? It varies. Some rides might be ho-hum. The very next one gets me a close encounter with a bald eagle or a gila monster. Yet another ride pushes me straight to my limits. Then I’ll do a 12-hour race as a solo rider, and face the choice of whether to go out for another lap as the day winds down.
Get involved in mountain biking, and you’ll drown in enthusiasm, oddly dressed people, camaraderie. You’ll see the bizarre, the sublime and the downright awesome. You’ll be baptized in energy drink, and eat the Clif Bar communion wafer. It’s not all a love-fest, I admit – there are plenty of jerks on mountain bikes. But they can’t spoil the experience for me.
Want to figure it out for yourself? Tally how much all the gear from your last ride set you back. Total the bike, the socks, the shorts, the energy gels, the gas to get there. Figure out how long you expect the big items to last, how many times you ride each year, and divide by the total. That’ll give you some idea of what your cost of mountain biking.
Feel free to post your per-ride cost of mountain biking. And answer this question: Why is your ride worth the price to you?
A PR person from a major deodorant company emailed me a few weeks ago. She wanted to send me some deodorant samples of a new formula designed for athletes -- so I could review it and write all sorts of high praise about how this deodorant made my life better. I wasn’t very interested in the pitch – I mean, how do you really test a deodorant in any objective way? So I offered her an alternative: Her company could sponsor a fun post about the three most hideous odors in sports. It would actually be interesting, if a bit edgy for our staid, well-established smelly-good company (betcha AXE would’ve jumped on it).
Well, I never heard from her again. But I decided to do the post anyway. No sponsor? No problem!
Alright, onto the list!
The Hot Yoga Dutch Oven
OK, even though I like yoga a lot, I can see how you can object to classifying it as a sport. Let’s leave that alone for now. I promise you, the Hot Yoga Dutch Oven is a legitimate stench. It happens when someone (ahem) goes to a hot yoga class. He then leaves his sweat-saturated yoga towel and shorts in his car overnight. He then goes out to his car the next morning – and gets hit in the face with the decaying-school-of-mackerel smell of wet, fermenting yoga gear.
This is obviously worse in summer.
I don’t know why I ever did this more than once. That’s really all it should take to learn my lesson. I guess it’s the same neurological short circuit that has made me burn the roof of my mouth on countless slices of way-too-hot pizza over the years.
The Goalie Bag Miasma of Doom
There are lots of reasons why you shouldn’t be a hockey goalie -- or allow anyone you know or love to do so: The mental anguish of letting in a goal, putting yourself in harm’s way, the absurd cost of equipment. But tops on my list is the smell.
Every piece of goalie gear is a utopia for funk that loves to stink. Now imagine putting all that gear together, throwing it into a dark bag, zipping it up and letting it sit. Oh, you think spraying that with some sort of smelly-good stuff will do anything? Ha! It laughs at your spritz of Febreeze and then ramps the stinkiness to 11 (it’s been awhile since my last This is Spinal Tap reference).
Opening that goalie bag unleashes pure disgustingness into the air. Remember when Han Solo sliced open a dead tauntaun and shoved Luke Skywalker into it to keep him from freezing? That’s about right.
The Tour de Crap
The Tour de France is pretty much the legalized month-long torture of about 200 spindly armed nutjobs with unearthly bike-handling skills. It’s bad enough as it is without a guy at the front of the pack flinging soupy feces on the trailing pack.
That’s the scenario the peloton dealt with in the 1986 Tour de France. Greg Lemond picked up a nice case of dysentery and clawed to the front. He did not stop for a squat in the bushes. He let fly from the saddle of his bike.
In the pre-Internet era, I read a quote from fellow American Bob Roll that said "His sickness was coming out of his shorts." The story went onto describe how Lemond’s diarrhea flowed over the waistband (or is it now a wasteband?) of his shorts. It would fall onto the rear tire, which would then launch it all over the trailing riders.