I Rode a Singlespeed for 3 Years. Then I Tried Full Suspension Again.

[I originally published this hardtail versus full suspension bike blog post in March of 2020, right when COVID-19 started to hit. It just got a major update. Read on for the fun!]

I’ve been riding a singlespeed mountain bike for the last three years. During that time, my 2011 Santa Cruz Superlight sat in the garage doing absolutely nothing.

A recent ride with a friend made me wonder what would happen if I:

  • Pulled the Santa Cruz out of deep storage and ran a lap on my local bike/equipment test track.
  • Rode the same on a modern slack-angled full-suspension bike.

During the ride with my friend, I noticed our bikes were the exact opposite from each other: My Domahidy Ti belt-drive bike has fairly traditional geometry. My friend’s bike was carbon fiber with barely any stem to speak of — and a generous amount of travel. I noticed where our bikes excelled and fell short (see the video for some of the fun we had).

And I got curious.

Hardtail Versus Full Suspension for a Day

I topped the Superlight’s tires off with some Stan’s sealant and checked the shock air pressure. Then, it was time to ride.

I’ve been on the Domahidy 29er since I’ve been using Strava heavily. I have a ton of data on it from my local trails. So this would be a perfect test for my Superlight.

I felt like the more slippery climbs were a bit easier on it. I definitely felt faster on one particular rocky descent.

new mountain bike
My Superlight when it was still considered a modern bike instead of a throwback.

Overall, the Superlight didn’t feel as stable or as quick to handle as the Domahidy. That titanium hardtail holds its speed and accelerates with tons of punch.

And there I was thinking about gears again. Especially cumbersome with a 3X9 system versus the modern 1X systems. With a singlespeed, all my concentration is on picking the line and braking.

Enough Feelings – What About the Data?

My Strava times shocked my gizzard. The Superlight was nowhere near as fast on this ride as my top times on the singlespeed (which is also slightly undergeared). It was 52 seconds slower over my nearly 4-mile lap.

That rocky downhill I mentioned? It tied my typical time on the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension. No faster even over chop and small drops.

I felt like I was working hard, but not worked over (I’d ridden 40 miles on my road-plus bike the day before).

This bears mentioning: I admit that I’m kind of a chicken. My priority is to finish every ride in one piece. So I ride in control, more Iceman than Maverick.

What I Expected

My prediction was that the Superlight would make me noticeably faster. Maybe by as much as a minute.

hardtail versus full suspension

I expected its top-end speed and ability to crunch over some of the rocky sections to win the day — even against the Domahidy’s efficiency.

What about weight? I have no idea what either bike weighs. But the Santa Cruz Superlight has always been a light-ish full suspension bike. Certainly lighter than the slack dropper-equipped trail bikes of today.

What I didn’t expect was for the longer 29er to carve corners so much better and to give up next to nothing to the Superlight in rocky downhill bits. I’m at a loss for words.

There are still question marks with the singlespeed hardtail versus full suspension issue: How would I do riding the Santa Cruz on long rides, like the Fat Tire 40 or the 50-mile Tour of the White Mountains? (The answer to that: If it rains beforehand, the belt drive singlespeed will straight-up murder every other bike I could pick. The mud up there can change the game.)

hardtail versus full suspension
This bike is unstoppable, especially in wet weather.

What Next for Hardtail Versus Full Suspension?

I’m eager to repeat this experiment with a modern bike.

I may also rent a bike to test somewhere like McDowell Mountain Regional Park. The Long Loop there is currently in chewed-up condition. During the Cactus Cup and Frenzy Hills races, I got rattled pretty hard back there.

I’ll update this post with more info and data when I have something to add — I hope that’s soon!

THE UPDATE

Finally Testing a Modern Dualie

Almost one year after the quarantine scuttled my plans to demo a full-suspension bike with this new “progressive” geometry, I finally got my opportunity.

The Rocky Mountain Demo Tour made a visit to Rage Bicycles, just a few miles away from my home in Scottsdale. This also meant an apples-to-apples comparison on trails I know well — Papago is a short pedal away from Rage.

rocky mountain demo tour
The friendly Rocky Mountain Demo Tour van.

The bike closest to my preferences was the Rocky Mountain Instinct Carbon 70, a nearly $7,000 monster with a Fox 36 EVOL fork. That’s 150mm of travel in the front, 140 in the back. It was set up tubeless, with some CushCore type of insert in the tires. It also had a dropper seatpost.

I spent about 90 minutes/16 miles on the Instinct. It made a good first impression with crisp shifting and a pretty efficient feel as I cruised on the canal bank to Papago. I noticed that it responded to small amounts of handlebar input, probably because of that super-short stem.

My first real dirt was at Hole in the Rock, a well-known short climb followed by a short rocky downhill. It took zero concentration for the Instinct to handle the climb. It also knocked off the downhill easily, and this was the only time I deployed the dropper post. But when I got the numbers from Strava, the Instinct was nearly 10 seconds slower up the climb, and a second slower on the downhill. This would become a theme.

Taking Aim at My Record

My real test for the Instinct was the 3.8-miles Pivin Loop, a handy litmus test for messing with bike, tires and suspension.

I was definitely running the Instinct hard. Big suspension, big tires, outstanding brakes. Why not?

Apparently, those big treads don’t like loose rocks. The front tire washed, causing me to dab. Obviously, this was not gonna be a record-setting loop. Sure enough, I was nearly three minutes off my best time.

Rocky Mountain Instinct 70 Carbon
A look at the Rocky Mountain Instinct 70 Carbon I demoed.

I did a second lap, concentrating on riding clean. It was the slowest lap I ever turned at the Pivin Loop, nearly 5 minutes off my best pace and about 4 off of a typical run.

So it suffices to say that, on my Domahidy Ti singlespeed and even my outdated 26er-wheeled 27-speed Santa Cruz, I would handily beat my doppelganger who’s on an Instinct 70 on the type of terrain I usually ride. So that’s two major points in my hardtail versus full suspension debate.

I think it’s fair to expect that I’d get faster on the Instinct as I got used to it. I also think riders with different skillsets might get more out of it than I did.

So Why is This Bike So Slow?

This is actually a very good bike. I want to get that out of the way. I can think of a bunch of black trails at Brown’s Ranch and South Mountain where the Instinct Carbon 70 would be an asset with its dropper and long travel.

But that’s not my type of riding. I am not the kind of guy who has a quiver of bikes. I want something that can let me haul ass when I race and requires minimal maintenance.

And honestly, there’s just a fun factor in that belt-drive singlespeed that makes no sense on paper. It makes me feel like flying a Colonial Viper every time I ride it.

I did notice that the Instinct Carbon 70 was a hefty bike, probably exacerbated by the CushCore inserts dropper seatpost. A lot of the weight seemed concentrated to the rear, giving that bike one hell of a bodonkadonk.

Rocky Mountain Instinct Got Back!

I’m very curious about what I’d think of an Element Carbon 70, which is far more race-oriented. I also don’t want to give the impression that I’m slamming Rocky Mountain: I’m willing to bet that I’d have the same issues with any trail bike.

The Conclusion: Hardtail Versus Full Suspension

This makes me go back to a point I’ve made many times before: Someone needs to bring back the lightweight, cost-effective, short-travel dual suspension bike. At one point, Santa Cruz made a $1,700 Superlight dualie that was about 28 pounds. Someone needs to bring a bike like that back. I realize it’s not 2005 anymore, sure. But could you get a light, responsive, modernized XC speed machine for $2,200? I’ll bet someone out there could do it.

I think that, to be as fair as possible, I also need to do another demo with something a little more race-oriented.

Keep in mind, this might be exactly the bike you need. But if your preferences are more like mine, you might have to swipe left on this one.

5 Important Types of Bike Accessories for New Cyclists

Bike Accessories You Need Today

At a Glance

Bike accessories can be just as important as the shiny new bike you’re buying. Here’s a quick breakdown of the categories we’ll cover. Keep scrolling for all the details!

–Stuff to Wear When You Ride
–Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage
–You Break It, You Fix It
–Electronics and Safety Gear
–Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

You’ve spent tons of time test riding bikes, asking questions, reading and generally obsessing over getting your first good bike. You’re ready to make your decision and you’re glad that’s all over.

Except it’s not.

There’s more to getting into cycling than just buying your bike. There’s a wealth of other stuff you need. And not just gear — knowledge, too.

Let’s talk about what bike accessories you need to be thinking about as you head to the bike shop ready to swipe that credit card.

Stuff to Wear When You Ride

I can’t even fathom getting on my bike with street clothes. Even for a short ride, I’m still wearing at a minimum:

Some sort of bike shorts, though I’ll often opt for casual baggy ones on short rides — I’m used to wearing something with a chamois (that’s the butt pad you see that separates stretchy shorts from bike shorts).

A chamois is the difference between bike shorts and stretchy pants.

A helmet — I don’t ride anywhere without one. It’s not just good for protecting you in a fall — it also keeps the sun off your head and protects you from branches, bees and all sorts of other stuff that can whack you. I’m serious about bees; you wouldn’t believe how many bees have donked off my helmet.
Gloves — Indispensable. One fall without them will convince you. Smart people won’t need that fall to convince them.
Eye protection — You probably have sunglasses. You’re good to go.

bike accessories
A good pair of sunglasses are necessary for riding.

These are some optional items:

A jersey — Not necessary. You can get by in a sweat-wicking t-shirt. A good jersey can be awesome, especially since many of them have pockets in the back that come in handy. If you decide to wear jerseys, get good ones.
Bike shoes — These are a must for people using clipless pedals. If you’re sticking with flats, I still advise avoiding shoes that are super-floppy. Something with a stiff sole works better. If you’re determined to use clipless pedals, buy good shoes. My Sidi shoes typically last 10 years. I seldom got more than a year out of other shoes. If you’re going to ride flats, I can’t offer any good advice.
Bike socks — I like them. They fit in my shoes better than my regular socks. But I could do without them in a bike apocalypse.

bike accessories
A stash of bike accessories in a serious cycling household. And this is just some of it! NOTE: The pink mini-miner’s helmet is not approved for cycling.

Hydration Supplies and On-Bike Storage

These two types of bike accessories go hand-in-hand, and I’ll show you what I mean.

On all of my rides, I carry water bottles filled with electrolyte mix. On certain mountain bike rides, I’ll also use a Camelbak — this is especially true of night rides when I might carry a spare battery.

I avoid the Camelbak since it’s a vector for sweat and weight. I suppose I could use a hydration pack for electrolytes, which I used to do — but I let it in my car with a little leftover electrolyte mix too many times and wound up with a gross science experiment in there. And it wasn’t fun to clean out.

The Camelbak helps when I know there’s no place to refill my bottles.

bike acceesories
My Lynskey Urbano sporting both a BeerBabe bag on the top tube and a Topeak saddlebag. Awesome, helpful products.

But I also need to carry stuff with me — food, tools, etc. That means I need some form of bike storage when I don’t use the Camelbak. My go-to method is a Topeak saddlebag. For really long rides, I’ll add a BeerBabe bag right behind my stem along the top tube. This bag is awesome for races when I want quick access to food without fooling around. It saves several minutes, for sure.

For bottles, I use insulated Camelbak bottles. I haven’t yet found the perfect water bottle cage. I break ‘em regularly.

You Break It, You Fix It

I carry a pretty solid arsenal of bike-fixing tools on every ride. I’ve saved myself a few times … and saved other people on more than a few occasions.

Here’s my complete loadout of my bike accessories for handling repairs:

One pump — Self-explanatory, right?
One Innovations in Cycling Bacon Strips kit — I roll with tubeless tires, so this is how I fix the bigger holes. I also love its built-in valve core remover, as well as the spare valves contained within.
One Stan’s Dart — Another method of fixing flats. Mostly for races since it’s the fastest way to fix them.
Multi-tool with allen wrenches, screwdrivers, etc.– I have multiple brands I’ve collected over the years.
Chainbreaker — I also carry a specific chain tool, even though many multitools include them. I find the dedicated type easier to use.
2 Pedro’s tire levers — If I need to use these, I’m having a bad day. If I don’t have them and need them, I’m going to have an even worse day.
1 Small bottle of Stan’s Sealant — Another potential ride saver for those who ride with tubeless tires.

No, not THAT kind of pump!

If your bike uses tubes instead of tubeless tires, you should always carry a patch kit.

It should go without saying that all of this stuff is useless if you don’t know how to use it. The good news: YouTube can demystify quite a bit of this for you. Spend some quality time checking out videos and practicing what you learn before you need to do it on the trail. Still stumped? Get advice from your local shop or other riders.

Electronics and Safety Gear

bike accessories
A bell, Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo and GPS computer.

If you’d told me back in 1996 how much electronic shit would be on my bike in 2021, I wouldn’t have believed you. Here’s what I’ve got:

A GPS computer — Brilliant for tracking miles. Connect it to Strava for all sorts of great data about your progress, speed, calories burned. Hook it up to Trailforks for more fun. The possibilities are endless. I hate riding without it.
A Cycliq Fly12 light/camera combo — This is expensive, but invaluable for road rides. It actually makes drivers behave differently around me.
Tail Light — Also handy for riding in traffic. I don’t need it as much for the mountain bike unless I’m riding at night.
A bell — This sounds irredeemably dorky. But it’s super-handy for both road rides and mountain biking. It’s a friendlier way to warn people than shouting at them. It’s also a nice “how’s it going?” signal to other cyclists.

I also use a heart rate monitor. But that’s hardly necessary unless you’re training and racing.

Other Bike Accessories You Might Need

bike accessories

There’s a good chance you’ll need a rack for transporting your bike on your car. Great news: I have a nice little guide all about that.

You should also ride with food. I mentioned electrolytes earlier. The hotter your climate, the more important electrolytes are. Even if you’re a casual rider, why make life any harder than it needs to be?

As for actual food, experiment. See what carries well and feels good during a ride.

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike – 2021

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike at a Glance

  • Try Rental Bikes
  • Get Familiar With Geometry
  • Think About Frame Material
  • Don’t Obsess About Parts
  • Considerations with Buying Direct
  • Pick the Right Bike Shop

One of my co-workers is looking for a new bike, and he asked me for some pointers about how to buy a full-suspension bike. He just moved to a neighborhood near some nice, rough, rocky singletrack – and he wants something more modern and well-equipped than his 10-year-old Diamondback hardtail.

So what should he look at?

I have some ideas. And I know exactly what you’re thinking — “Is he gonna mention my favorite brand?!”

I might. Before I mention brands, though, we’re going to talk about features. Look, I know a lot of us are very brand-focused. I am, too, but in the opposite direction of most (I avoid the Big Three – Specialized, Trek and Giant).

I’m going to start this off with a features-first, brand-agnostic look at what I’d look for in a good full-suspension bike. This is based on my personal preferences and experiences – your mileage may vary.

This is also intended for newer riders. If you’ve been around awhile, you probably have your own preferences. My intent here is to give less-experienced riders a look at my decision process and let them grab some ideas from it.

How to Buy a Full-Suspension Bike

Try a Few Rental Bikes

how to buy a full-suspension bike
I learned a lot from riding this 2X10 26.5 bike in New Zealand.

A test ride in a bike shop’s parking lot won’t tell you much. Putting in a few hours on your home trail, though, is invaluable. Heck, even riding somewhere unfamiliar is educational.

I realize that spending a few hundred on rentals sounds harsh. But you’ll get real education for how the bike and you perform together.

Also, some bike shops might have free demos. Still others may apply your rental fee to a purchase if you buy from them.

About this Modern Geometry …

This is tough to define. In the last few years, mountain bike stems have gotten way shorter, and the angles of their head tubes have gotten much slacker. The seat tubes also seem to be getting less slack. It can make for some funny-looking bikes.

I haven’t tried this new generation, but riders I trust tell me that these changes to frame geometry have made their bikes more fun.

UPDATE March 21: I got a chance to try a Rocky Mountain trail bike recently with “progressive” geometry. With its short stem and wide handlebar, the steering was very responsive. I am still not 100-percent convinced it’s the be-all, end-all solution to mountain bike geometry. But there were a lot of other variables compared to the bikes I’m used to riding — like nearly 10 extra pounds of weight and way more travel than I’m used to. I still need to try progressive geometry on a bike more like mine.

Anyway, if you see a stem longer than 80mm on the front of a bike (maybe even 60 or 50!) that interests you, you might have the wrong bike if you’re after progressive geometry.

One more thing: There are a bunch of types of full-suspension bikes, starting wth cross-country bikes (shortest travel) to downhill bikes (longest travel). Down country, trail and enduro bikes wedged between them in order of travel. This can get confusing, RIGHT?

I Prefer Aluminum Frames

I know carbon fiber is cool. Bike shops tout it as lighter and all-around more awesome.

It’s also more expensive, which means you’ll have trade-offs. Compared to an aluminum-framed bike, you’ll get lower levels of components (drivetrain, wheels and suspension forks being the most-important and likely to affect performance). I’d put some extra money toward a nice wheelset from November Bicycles.

I also don’t like the idea of rocks and other trail detritus plonking off of a carbon frame. All those impacts can add up and weaken the frame. If you don’t think this is a problem, just take a look at all the frame protection stuff coming on carbon mountain bikes, especially on chainstays and downtubes. Those are there for a reason.

On the plus side for carbon (aside from weight), it seems like carbon frames can be shaped to maximize space for stuff like extra water bottles (more on that in a moment).

What About Water Bottles?

Look, I know just about everyone mountain bikes with a hydration pack. But believe me, the water bottle is not dead.

I live in the desert, and I do long rides. I sweat electrolytes out like crazy. If I don’t replace them during a ride, I will be the mayor of Cramp City.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
The Orbea Oiz is smartly designed with two water bottle bosses. Notice the built-in chainstay protection because “carbon.”

Also, putting electrolytes into your hydration pack is iffy. You will at some point forget about it after a ride, leave it in your car and then grow an absolutely hideous colony of funk in there. No bueno.

Here’s another reason I insist on two water bottles: When I race, I don’t want to use a hydration pack. When I do something like the Fat Tire 40, I want to be able to keep the weight down, while also not dying of thirst. Two water bottles are enough to get me through with the electrolytes and fluid that I need, as long as there are aid stations where I can refill.

No Creaking Bottom Brackets

I do almost all of my own bike maintenance. That means I want stuff that works well. Let’s start with the humble bottom bracket – that thing that your cranks are attached to.

There are way too many ways to stuff a bottom bracket into a frame. My favorite is the threaded bottom bracket shell. It’s low-maintenance and relatively fuss free.

The other popular alternative for full-suspension mountain bikes is the Pressfit bottom bracket. The Google machine has numerous stories of woe about these, as do shop mechanics.

29er or 26.5 Wheels?

For me, 29ers are the right choice. Not because there’s a huge difference between the two. It’s just that I have a 29er singlespeed, and I’m all for maximizing the commonality of spare parts – which is another good reason for the threaded bottom bracket, as well.

how to buy a full-suspension bike
A KTM Lycan – a bike I’d never get to ride in the US.

But if this is your first “good bike” or the first one in awhile, try them both. Or grab whichever one is a better deal.

I’ve ridden and am fine with either one.

On the other hand, I would never own a bike with 26.5+ wheels. They are ridiculous if you plan to do any climbing. I also don’t like the way they turn. They’re solid going downhill in a straight line.

What about a Dropper Seat Post?

It will make riding in difficult terrain easier, for sure. If you need to save a few clams, go without one. Buy a better one later, preferably from the shop that’s best at helping you out.

Don’t Get Hung Up on Parts

A lot of newer riders get caught up on the parts – especially derailleurs. But drivetrain parts, stems, handlebars and seatposts are easy to change.

Don’t lose sight of the frame, fork and wheels/tires. Those are the bits that really make your bike. I’d rather have a killer frame and fork with mediocre components than a stellar drivetrain on a crap frame and fork.

Keep in mind, Rock Shox makes everything from high-end to low-end. I wouldn’t go any lower than a Rock Shox Recon. Marzocchi and Fox don’t have anything crappy. I’ve had good luck with X-Fusion, too I rarely see Manitou, so I have nothing to say about them.

Who Puts This All in One Full-Suspension Bike?

Based on what I have here, Salsa would rocket to the top of my lists. Their Spearfish and Horsethief bikes check every box. They are also reasonably priced, starting at $2649 for a complete bike. If they had a frame-option for aluminum frames, I’d grab one and start building. Alas, they only offer carbon frames without parts on ‘em.

There are more-expensive options that at least meet the two-bottle rule: The Specialized Epic, the KTM Scarp, a few different models from Santa Cruz and Rocky Mountain. The Orbea Oiz. Also the Canyon Lux, Cannondale Scalpel and the Fezzari Signal Peak.

fuel100_electro-bites
This old-ass bike had two places to put a bottle.

These are all good bikes. Some, though, are carbon.

A lot of you can disregard my “two water bottles” obsession. I realize it’s a weird personal quirk. You could argue the same about carbon fiber. I tend to keep bikes longer than most people — if you do, too, maybe you’re nodding in agreement.

If you’re going to ignore me about the water bottles, I recommend a look at Marin. They make some super well-equipped bikes for the money. Also, they’re not a direct-to-customer brand. That means you can see one before you buy. I haven’t seen them as rentals, which is a bummer.

But at least you can buy from a local shop and get the support and service you need.

Direct-to-Customer versus Local Bike Shop

I honestly don’t need much shop support. That said, I like to do what I can to support my local shops. They’re important and helpful.

The industry is moving more toward direct-to-consumer, and I’m starting to see hybrids. For example, I can order parts online through the web portals of some stores. They get credit for the sale, and I just need to either pick them up or have them delivered. I like that.

I’m not sure how you’ll be treated if you show up at the local shop needing help for your Canyon, Framed or Fezzari. Old habits die hard in the bike shop, which is part of the reason so many of them fail. A customer is a customer — and not every customer is going to like the bikes a shop offers. They need to do a better job of understanding this, and some are coming around.

That reminds me …

Buy the Shop, Not Just the Full-Suspension Bike

I recommend giving your money to people you actually like. If the shop staff isn’t friendly and excited to get you into the sport further, find a different shop.

Getting the right shop might be the most important part of how to buy a full-suspension bike. Make sure they’ll know how to help you when it’s time to have shocks rebuilt and pivots replaced.

4 Awesome and Random Short Bike Gear Reviews

When I buy new bike stuff, it’s usually because I broke something I already had or I just wore it out. And it generally doesn’t require a thousand words to tell you what I think of it. That’s why I’ve concocted some handy mini-reviews of bike stuff I’ve had to get lately.

Here we go!

SIDI Dragon Mountain Bike Shoes

Just a few days before the Frenzy Hills 50-mile race in Fountain Hills, my damn bike shoes were having a hard time sticking to my Crank Brothers Eggbeater pedals.

That’s because the cleats were worn beyond any reasonable belief. I also started taking a close look at the shoes themselves. And I was like “holy shit, these are worn to nothing.” I also shook my head at Sidi, thinking about how they don’t make them like they used to. I mean, it felt like I just got these a few years ago.

bike gear reviews
Old Sidi let, new Sidi right

Then I thought a little more, and discovered a photo of myself racing in this same pair of Sidi Dominator 4 shoes more than 10 years ago. I hung my head in shame for allowing any dark thoughts about Sidi to cross my mind.

I dutifully trooped over to Bicycle Haus, where I knew I could get new Sidis. The owner strong-armed me into a $400 pair of Sidi Dragon 5 shoes — in black, because it would take too long to get the red ones I craved.

The Dragons have a weird highfalutin sort of clasp with delicate-looking wire things. I quickly figured out how to work everything, and the rather stiff top of the tongue (that sounds terrible) broke in nicely.

The Dragons have a nice stiff sole, replaceable treads and a nice fit. All is right with the world.

And yes, I also got new cleats.

RATING

Bontrager Circuit MIPS Helmet

During a nice nearly 30-mile ride on my singlespeed, I was burning back toward the trailhead. This was on by far the easiest trail of the day. My stomach was a-growlin’, and I was thinking about where I’d stop for some post-ride food.

This helmet did its job for me.

That’s when I drifted too wide in a corner. My front wheel washed upon entering a heap of loose pebbles. I nearly recovered, but it was not to be.

I was cookin’ when I lost it, so the results of this crash were: a gnarly flap of skin peeled of my left thumb complements of my Shimano SLX brake lever clamp; a knock on my left shin; trail rash and bruising on my right upper arm and shoulder; a bloodied-up right knee; and a good knock on the head that left visible signs on both helmet and head.

That’s right — five major body parts … a type of crash I will now refer to as a “starfish.”

My budget-priced Kali helmet laid down its life for me. I bought another Kali on Amazon using a gift card. When it arrived, it was way too small despite being marked as the same size as my old one. I returned it and went to a local shop to get the helmet I actually craved: the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.

The magnetic mounts on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS helmet are sweet!

I wanted this one because of its Blendr magnetic mounts for lights and cameras. Yes, it’s also a comfortable helmet with a great adjustment system. But I wanted a more-secure accessory mount after my light got ejected (from a different Kali helmet) just minutes into the first lap of the Aravaipa Jangover ride.

I tested it on one ride with my Ofi OneFive camera on it, and it started to ride a little low on my forehead. I think wearing a headband under the helmet might lock it in a little better. Watch this space for more updates on the Bontrager Circuit MIPS.

RATING

bike gear reviews

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages

I rarely spend any time riding at Trail 100 in the Phoenix Mountain Preserve. One day, I corrected that by heading out to the far-west side of it.

During that right, I broke one of my Planet Bike mountain bike cages. That was the second one I killed — the last one was during the Prescott 6er race.

I really wanted some Wolf Tooth cages because those things look like they mean business. But they were sold out everywhere. I found that Spartan Rides AZ had a cage that might be worthwhile, so I plunked down for a few of the Supacaz Fly cages they sold.

Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages
There are way better bottle cages out there than the Supacaz Fly Bottle Cages.

After two months, I am not thrilled about these cages. They’re made from a thin aluminum that flexes and widens after a few rides. I’ve caught my bottles on the edge of being ejected more than a few times. I cannot recommend these for any reason unless they’re going on a road bike.

UPDATE (March27, 2021): And I completely broke the cage on the seat tube. Great.

RATING

bike gear reviews

Boie Body Scrubber

I know what you’re thinking: “Hey, this isn’t a bike product! This is something for taking showers!”

That’s where you’re wrong. Getting clean after a ride is vitally important. You NEED to have something to scrub the muck away.
I ordered this Boie Body Scrubber hoping for something moderately abrasive, yet also easy to clean and re-use.

Unfortunately, this soft silicon scrubber simply doesn’t have the grit I need for regular showering. It also does a miserable job of producing suds.

But here’s what the Boie Body Scrubber is absolutely stellar at: cleaning out cuts and abrasions from those moment when your speed outstrips your skills.

boie body scrubber
Days like this are when you need the Boie Body Scrubber.

After the crash mentioned a few mini-reviews ago, I had a mix of open cuts, scrapes, blood, leg hair and dirt all over my knee. The Boie Body Scrubber did a perfect job of gently cleaning everything out without making my blubber like a toddler.

RATINGS

For normal showering

bike gear reviews

For cleaning out groady scrapes and cuts

Wrapping up the Mini Bike Gear Reviews

I’m not surprised that the Sidi Dragon 5 shoes were awesome. What DID surprise me, though, is how crappy something simple as a bottle cage can be. Huge disappointment from these.

And here’s a thought: If you’re testing something new and want to say a few words without writing “Moby Dick,” I’m more than happy to interview you to get your thoughts to add to this post of mini bike gear reviews. Hit me up!

Thinking About Buying a Bike in 2021?

Here’s a handy roundup of advice for people buying a bike in 2021. Here’s what we’ll cover:

  • Hybrid Bikes
  • Gravel Bikes
  • Mountain Bikes
  • Random Thoughts

This post is inspired by a message from one of my high school friends:

“Any advice on buying a bike? I haven’t ridden since freshman year of college. I’m just looking for something casual (like 2-3 times a month) that I can ride on suburban streets but also dirt roads/trails (but not crazy off-road mountain biking). I’ve heard of gravel bike or hybrid bikes.”

The person asking this question mentioned the Co-Op Cycles DRT 2.2, which goes for about $1,800, as a possibility.

I figured he’s not the only person considering buying a bike in 2021. So rather than dump all my thoughts into email or FB messenger, I’ll just turn it into a blog post to help out anyone else facing a similar situation.

NOTE: If you’re dead-set on buying a full-suspension bike in 2021 or 2022, read this post, too. It gets way more into that type of bike.

Are Hybrid Bikes Any Good?

Let’s tackle the hybrid question first. Hybrids as we knew them aren’t as big a slice of the market anymore. They were the wimpy offspring of a road bike with skinny 700c tires, swept-up handlebars, a short wheelbase and a very upright seating position.

I hated them during my bike shop days. Now in 2021, bikes like the Kona Dew with their 26.5/650B wheels, disc brakes and more-maneuverable geometry have totally crushed that same corner of the market: the person who mostly rides city streets, but also wants to hit unpaved paths. With a change of tires, the Dew and other bikes like it will let you ride some trails without killing you (keep in mind it doesn’t have a suspension fork). I like the Dew so much that my brother and I pitched in to buy one for our dad – he absolutely loves the thing.

I suppose there are probably some 1990s-style hybrid bikes out there. But they’re really not good for anything.

What About this Gravel Bike Thing?

I’ve already written about gravel bikes extensively. Still, I see a split in this category between hardcore off-road only gravel bikes and the “road plus” or “all-road” category, which is how I’ve built my Lynskey Urbano.

Either way you slice it, I love gravel or all-road or whatever. They are super-stable on the street next to a road bike. They’re in their element on unpaved paths. And in the right hands, they can chew up singletrack mountain bike trails. (I don’t consider myself the right hands — I still prefer a mountain bike for that sort of riding.)

buying a bike in 2021
Gravel bikes are pretty awesome for so many reasons.

I wouldn’t feel comfortable telling someone who hasn’t really ridden in 20 years to get on a gravel bike to go forth and shred the singletrack, though. That is best left to experienced roadies or mountain bikers who have their handling skills down pat.

Gravel Bike Recommendations

So for my friend here, I’m gonna say that a gravel bike is great as long as he really has no intention of hitting real mountain bike trails. With that said, I’d recommend the State Bicycle Co All-Road Black Label.

The standout specs to me are the 1X chainring setup, carbon fork, tubeless wheelset and excellent Vittoria tires. I’m pretty sure the shifters and derailleurs are made by Microshift. So it’s serviceable more than spectacular.

Still, it’s a lot of bike for the money. A lot.

A few hundred more bucks brings the All-City Cycles Space Horse Tiagra into the frame. (Tiagra, by the way, is the grade of Shimano components on the Space Horse, which is available in various build options. Tiagra is a lower-end Shimano group but still solid – the next levels up are 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace. Below Tiagra from low to high are Claris and Sora. The gravel-specific GRX group exists in three flavors: RX400, RX600 and RX800. Which sounds a bit like a weird pharmacy, but whatever. )

I love the steel frame on the Space Horse — a lot of old bike dudes love the ride of steel, plus the durability. As a brand, All-City Cycles also oozes personality. Their bike just look f-in’ cool. One concern I have about All-City Cycles is that they can be hard to find at a local bike shop. Many bike shops can get them, but it’s unusual to see them on the showroom floor.

What if I Want a Mountain Bike?

If my friend decides to go for a mountain bike, I will always say that if you’re spending less than $2,000, you should buy a hardtail. Avoid rear suspension below that point!

I also favor telling less-experienced riders to go with a mountain bike. Yes, they’re not as fast on city streets. But the maneuvering and fit is more-forgiving than a gravel bike.

What I’d look for in this price range is a Shimano Deore build kit. I’d avoid SRAM’s SX group. The general consensus on SX is “plasticy shite.” SRAM’s mountain bike component levels start pretty much at SX, then NX, then GX and then into fancy stuff with so many Xs you’d swear they were shooting porn.

Shimano’s minimum level of competence starts at Deore (which is actually fantastic stuff for the $$$) and progresses to SLX, XT and XTR. Alivio is below them all. Avoid it.

Fork-wise, you’re really not going to get anything great here — a Rock Shox Recon is the best you can hope for. The Recon isn’t actually bad, though.

When it comes to getting a lot of mountain bike for the money, the brands that are my top-of-mind for me are Salsa, Kona and Marin. They not only offer good value, but they seem to be plugged into what’s going on with modern geometry. They’re also relatively easy to find at local bike shops, which is important.

One concern: Every bike in the price range seems to come with tires that are a minimum of 2.4 inches wide, with some non-plus sizes going to 2.6. I typically ride a 2.3 (usually something like a Continental X King). When those tires wear out, I’d opt for something less chubby.

So what bikes have this?

The Salsa Timberjack was the first one to come to mind. It seems Salsa no longer has a Deore version of the T-Jack, just the upper-level SLX and XT stuff. One of the reasons I like the T-Jack for my friend is that it has mounts for EVERYTHING. This guy is a hiker – I could see him getting bit by the bikepacking bug, and Salsa had exactly these kinds of shenanigans in mind when they created the ‘Jack.

buying a bike in 2021

Now here’s an outlier: If my friend wants to keep it casual, maybe he doesn’t even need gears at all. Maybe he needs an overgrown BMX bike like the Kona Unit.

A singlespeed can do a lot. You can use it for coffeeshop runs … or you can race the hell out of it like I do with my Domahidy.

Plus, if he hates it, he can revel in using all the dick puns in his Craigslist ad.

But I’d predict that nobody can hate a singlespeed. They are versatile, capable and low-maintenance. I’ll also add that Kona has a knack for frame design and geometry. The Unit is also so cheap that he can slap a good suspension fork in it the very day he buys it — he might even be able to swing a good deal on that upgrade since he’s buying a bike, too. Can you imagine that bike with a new-generation Marzocchi fork on it?

I really wish State Bicycle Co. still offered their Pulsar model. That 29er would’ve been PERFECT for my friend.

What About the Co-Op DRT 2.2?

The Co-Op bike mentioned earlier doesn’t do much for me. I’ve not enjoyed riding a 26.5+ wheel/tire size at all. Those huge-volume tires can smoothly roll over a lot of stuff, but they are serious work to pedal. They also don’t like changing directions with near the agility of a non-plus tire. The components are decent SRAM NX stuff with Shimano brakes — an astute pairing. I’ve never had a problem with SRAM shifting, but I’ve never loved their disc brakes. I’ve always preferred the feel of Shimano disc brakes.

Going with Co-Op also men’s that REI is going to be your bike shop, which doesn’t sit well with me. Aside from a few flagship stores, the accessories and parts sold at most REI stores are substandard. You’re also going to find better mechanics at specialty bike shops. REI does sell Salsa at some of its stores. Again, though, REI just isn’t outstanding at bike stuff.

Random Observations

I’m not recommending “direct-to-customer” brands in this case. A new rider is going to wind up needed shop support. For best results, I recommend buying local from a shop that makes you feel welcome. You’re buying the shop just as much as you’re buying the bike.

It’s also important to budget for other stuff: hydration (pack, water bottles/cages or both), bike shorts, tools, etc. This can get in-depth, so I won’t cover to many of those variables here. I might actually have to do a “shit every new rider needs” sort of post.

What About the Big Brands?

You’ll also notice that I didn’t mention the big brands like Specialized, Trek, Giant or Cannondale here.

To me, they don’t offer near the bike for the money that these other brands do. Aside from the brands I’ve mentioned in this post, I’d also look at Marin, who has lately proven they know how to offer some real value.

Not only do I find the big guys a lesser value, I also just find them boring. As one of my friends observed long ago, a bike is like your personal X-Wing fighter. Go with something that offers some panache and individuality — and maybe support a company that has some spirit.

buying a bike in 2021
If you’re going used, be sure to get a second or third opinion.

The Used Bike Question

Buying used can get you some extra bike for the money. At least, most of the time. The bike industry is going through some serious supply chain issues right now, and used bike prices are higher than you might expect.

Also, buying used is a tricky proposition for someone who hasn’t spent a long time working on their own bikes. If you’re considering this route, it’s best to have a friend who’s a serious bike nut to help. This is also a good time to plug for a singlespeed — they just have fewer vectors for serious problems.

Final Thoughts on Buying a Bike in 2021

I’ve done the bike advice dance many times before. My friend probably didn’t expect this much of an info dump, and it will probably spawn follow-up questions. I’ll update here as the conversation evolves.

Knowing what I do at this moment, though, the bike I recommend is the Salsa Timberjack. It’s an excellent value from a reputable brand. The State gravel bike is a great value, but the handling qualities of a gravel bike present a steeper learning curve than a mountain bike like the ‘Jack.

Also to come in a future post — another buddy asked me about buying a full-suspension mountain bike. So we’ll break that down in the future.

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

The Black Shorts: The Review That Reveals All

Looking for a budget pair of cycling shorts? So was I. Here are some early thoughts on the Black Shorts brought to you by the Black Bibs people.

Black Shorts At a Glance

  • Decent price of $40.
  • The chamois reminds me of an old pair of Castellis I had 15 years ago.
  • The Black Shorts seem a bit itchy at first, with a more relaxed fit than my Assos and Bontrager shorts.
  • The first ride was OK, some chafing but nothing terrible. 
  • Time will tell. Watch for updates!

I’ve needed new bike shorts for a long time. Like, months.

Since the pandemic started, I’ve rendered a pair of Louis Garneaus and Primal Wears completely useless. There’s an ancient set of Pearl Izumi shorts around that not even a masochist would ride in, along with a pair of Fox baggies that I just don’t like at all.

So really, I only have two go-to pairs of shorts, which are made by Assos and Bontrager. Both are pricey – about $130 each.

My wife, who also rides and understands the value of good gear, discovered that these are pretty much the only shorts I wear. She low-key lectured me about not having enough shorts and not practicing what I preach about not being a cheapskate.

Enter the Black Shorts, made by the Black Bib people.

Huh? The Black Shorts?

It’s hard for me to buy bike shorts. I hate ordering shorts without seeing them unless they’re a brand I’m familiar with. But COVID has created quite a crunch for anything cycling related. And too many of my local stores focus too much on baggy stuff.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
How much more black could they be? The answer is none. None more black.

I did some online homework to find brands I hadn’t heard of before to see what’s new. I found the Black Shorts in some listicle. I ignored any article that mentioned the crotch-grater horror that is Bellwether (aka Ballwither) or Canari — you’re seriously better off riding in a Borat mankini.

The price seemed worth a shot, so I ordered a pair and waited. A few days later, they were here and ready to ride.

Are the Black Shorts Any Good?

So to a guy who relies on $130 shorts, can a $40 short be any good?

Well, the first impressions are that they’re OK. I’m planning to update this post as I continue riding the Black Shorts.

But let’s at least give a snapshot of where we are right now.

First, Here’s How I Ride

I split my time between an all-road bike and a singlespeed mountain bike. I rarely ride less than 30 miles, and I logged more than 3,600 miles in 2020.

I do the occasional long event or race, when COVID isn’t screwing the works up.

In the summer, I’ll use some sort of chamois cream to protect my goolies. Those long road rides and hot weather are a prescription for chapping your choad!

Back in Black Shorts

My first impression of the Black Shorts is that they looked a lot like Castellis I rode about 15 years ago, minus the graphics. That’s not a bad thing.

The chamois appears to be a decent quality, but nothing to stand against my Bontrager or Assos shorts. Definitely better than the Fox chamois, though.

When I put the Black Shorts on for my first ride, the material felt a bit prickly, almost a bit wooly. The sensation went away after a few moments, fortunately (I really, really, really hate wool).

A good pair of bike shorts shouldn’t impede your …

They felt a little less constricting around the meat whistle than my other shorts. The cuffs at the bottom of each leg are smaller, as is the waistband. The overall effect was that their fit is either more relaxed, or the material is stretchier.

My First Ride

I figured a quick 30-miler would give me an idea about these shorts.

For the most part of the ride, I forgot about them. That’s a pretty solid vote of confidence if it holds up.

It didn’t.

black shorts cheap bike shorts
The all-red chamois is the Black Shorts. Pink is Assos, gray and red is Bontrager.

By the end of the 30 miles, my undercarriage felt a bit more like I’d ridden at least 60 miles. There were definitely some abrasions forming, especially on the left side right where the leg turns into the crotch.

I also noticed that, when I first put the Black Shorts on, the chamois was much less flexible than the ones in my other shorts. There seemed to be a ridge right along the center that was a bit proctological for my tastes.

I still think these are a better low-budget short that many. I’m going to keep trying these, both with and without chamois cream to see how they hold up.

I’ll be back with my evaluation of whether YOU should buy the Black Shorts.

Forget the Tesla Killer. Which Electric SUVs are a Subaru Killer?

The current bunch of new and soon-to-be released electric SUVs are a weird crop. They look like SUVs, sure. But are they really just 21st Century station wagons?

When it comes to compact SUVs, I think of the Subaru Forester as a great example with plenty of internal space, plus the capability for moderate off-roading (if you prefer competing models from Toyota, Honda or Mazda, great — those are good for gasmobiles, too). I don’t see the same degree of capability from the electric compact SUVs that are on the market or coming soon.

This is a major miss, especially as it relates to Subaru.

You’ve probably heard that Subaru owners are a bit like cult members. But the brand’s hold over its flock is wavering. It’s badly misread its buyers, who largely skew toward environmental causes. Subaru is losing big points in its crowd by dragging its heels on electrification. This is largely based on my own conversations with other Subaru owners.

Add the lukewarm Continuous Variable Transmission to the equation, and the Forester looks particularly vulnerable to a similarly-featured electric SUV.

So why can’t any of the coming SUVs steal a huge chunk of Subaru Forester buyers?

Electric SUVs Need More Utility

They simply don’t have enough utility. Oh, they have sport-aplenty, which is all the press can babble about while overlooking utility at every turn. All the current and coming electric SUVs will demolish a Forester in performance — and in efficiency, too, because that’s just the nature of electric motors versus gas motors.

electric SUVs
I wonder how much the sloping roof on the Tesla Model Y cuts into the specs on its interior space versus a more traditional roof.

The lack of utility comes down to two important specs. The Forester, for all of its gas-powered flaws, is simply way better in these two areas: ground clearance and cargo space.

Ground Clearance is Critical to Beat The Subaru Forester

Look, a stock Subaru Forester is hardly a rock crawler. But it has a decent 8.7 inches of ground clearance.

How do the electric SUVs stack up? Poorly, with one exception.

  • Nissan Ariya: Not Available
  • VW ID4: 8.26 inches (this beats my 2006 Forester, which had 8.1 inches)
  • Model Y: 6.6 Inches
  • Ford Mach E: 5.7 inches

The Ford Mach E is by far the most putrid in the clearance department, with the VW ID4 coming in the closest to respectable.

Electric SUVs
The Ford Mach E lags in interior space and ground clearance. Kevauto, CC BY-SA 4.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0>, via Wikimedia Commons

When I go camping or just bouncing around the backroads, ground clearance matters. Nobody wants to beat up their undercarriage.

I’ll grant you that most Subaru owners probably don’t beat up on their vehicles as much as they’d like to. But it’s good to know they can handle it should the need arise.

Cargo Space Also Lags

I have a family of three. We do our camping in a 2017 Subaru Forester. It’s the latest in a line of Subaru vehicles for us, and it will likely be our last.

For now, my electric Toyota RAV4 handles all of our in-city family outings, with the Forester handling road trips. The RAV4 is actually laid out better internally, with rear seats the move fore and aft independently.

electric SUVs
Electric SUVs NEED to be able to do what this 2014 electric RAV4 can do.

Still, the Forester gives us about 76 cubic feet of cargo room with the seats folded down, and nearly 31 with the seats folded up. That’s by far the leader among the vehicles we’ve mentioned. Here are measurements for the other electric SUVs:

    • Nissan Ariya: 14.9 cubic feet behind the seats, total not listed
    • VW ID4 64.2, cubic feet with the seats folded down, 30.3. Behind the seats
    • Model Y: 68 cubic feet (no specs on just the rear cargo area, and I’m not sure whether this figure includes the frunk)
    • Ford Mach E: 54.7 cubic feet with the seats folded down.

Again, the Mach E stinks the place up. It’s like Ford isn’t even aiming to make this a useful electric car. The Model Y appears to come in a close second, but it would be nice to definitively answer the question about the frunk.

It’s also worth noting that these interior room specs are for all-wheel-drive versions of each model. For some reason, the feature eats into interior space.

Final Thoughts on an Electric Subaru Killer

Ford, VW and Tesla all have the tools to fire a serious broadside at the Subaru family of vehicles. They offer decent alternatives to maybe the Crosstrek, but the Forester and Outback offer utility that this bunch of electric SUVs just can’t match.

Why? Maybe they were gunning for efficiency.

It’s possible to solve the interior space issues by using a roof- or hitch-mounted cargo box. Sure, that adds some drag.

Unfortunately, the lack of ground clearance doesn’t seem as easy of a fix. These vehicles don’t look they’d readily accept a larger tire to improve ground clearance.

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car:

At a Glance

Here are the main ways to transport bikes safely on a car. This article will break them down in greater depth.

  • Hitch-Mount Racks
  • Roof-Mounted Bike Racks
  • One for the Pickup Drivers
  • For the Trunks and Hatchbacks
  • Going Rackless

When people start getting serious about cycling, the question of how to safely transport bikes on a car inevitably comes up.

Between being a cyclist for more than 20 years and working in a bike shop, you can bet that I’ve seen every method of lugging bikes around in and on cars. Let me tell you, some of them can be truly terrifying — especially the homemade contraptions made out of two-by-fours, carpet and PVC pipe.

So what’s actually the best way to safely transport bikes on cars and trucks? Let’s break them down. [For Context: I race occasionally, and the 6/12-hour formats I prefer often let riders set up a pit area. I like racks that are helpful for this option. I use my rack for cross-country mountain bikes and road/gravel bikes.]

How to Safely Transport Bikes on a Car

Hitch-Mount Bike Racks

If you have a receiver hitch, these racks slide into it nicely. There is a huge spectrum of pricing and features. I can say for certain that the Kuat NV is excellent. I’ve used one for more than 5 years.

I like its integrated cable for locking bikes to the rack; they’re not enough to stop a determined thief, but it makes them more likely to move to an easier target. The Kuat’s integrated bike stand is also very useful for repairs and quick tune-ups (especially at races). Another nice feature — the NV leans forward to get out of the way if you want to open your rear door/tailgate.

It’s a big, substantial rack, though. It can be a handful for smaller people to mount and remove from a vehicle.

People new to hitch mounts might also find some of the swaying a bit unnerving when they’re driving with a bike. The tolerances in a hitch just can’t be tight enough to remove all the sway. That’s just all there is to it. There’s also another issue: Hitch-mounted racks also cut visibility from your vehicle’s backup camera.

But here’s a good sign that hitch-mounted carriers are The Way: Go to your local bike shop. Look at the employees’ cars. You’ll notice that most of them opt for hitch-mounted.

If the Kuat NV is a bit bulky for you, the 1UP line of racks is extremely popular among people who know their stuff.

Roof-Mounted Bike Racks

how to safely transport bikes on a car
Roof-mounted bike carriers are a pile of NOPE.

Roof-mounted racks are not something I ever recommend when people ask me how to safely transport a bicycle on a car. They have absolutely zero redeeming qualities. They’re so bad that I’m going to have to give you a bulleted list.

    • Roof-mounted racks are tough for shorter people. I’m 6’2, so this doesn’t affect me. But I’m a Man of the (Short) People, too. With vehicles seemingly getting bigger all the time, this problem isn’t likely to get any better.
    • These racks are also a prescription for destroying bikes. You would not believe how many times I’ve had someone come in with a crumpled head tube and a sob story that starts with “I was just riding along – can you warranty this defective frame?” As if I wouldn’t notice the paint streaks and woodchips that are the telltale sign of a cyclist/driver pulling into their garage after completely forgetting they had a bike on their car’s roof.
    • The drag from roof-mounted bike racks will put your gas mileage in the shitter. Your bike will also get coated in squashed bugs. There are actually companies that make shields for this, which reeks of treating the symptoms instead of the disease.

I had one of these on my old Jeep, and I’m still thankful I never destroyed any bikes after a day at the races.

One for the Pickup Drivers

Drive a pickup? You can snag a pad that lets you haul your bike in the bed with the front wheel dangling over the tailgate. The pad prevents the bike and the truck from getting all scratched up.

I suppose this is an OK option. You definitely won’t want to linger over your post-ride pizza, of course.

It’s a relatively low-cost option, and it does take advantage of your vehicle’s attributes.

For the Trunks and Hatchbacks

This last option is for the cheapskate, I suppose. Don’t get mad at me — this describes me during my college and post-college years. I ran around with my bike(s) on my Chevy Celebrity station wagon.

I was not able to drive more than 427 feet without nervously looking in my rearview mirror to make sure that the straps hadn’t loosened and dumped my mighty Pro-Flex 855 onto the pavement to get squished by a Peterbilt.

I haven’t used one of these for years. The rack-mount option is just too good, so I’m not inclined to jack around with this. If you’re hauling cheap bikes, fine. But if your bike is at least as much as a good down payment on your vehicle, opt for something better. Hmmm, I better check my math – my Pro-Flex probably was nearly as much as my Chevy Celebrity!

A Final Way to Safely Transport a Bike on a Car

These days, I drive a weird Tesla-powered Toyota RAV4. It’s perfect for hitting all the local trails.

That’s because even my monstrously huge 29er hardtail fits right in the back. I just need to fold the seats down, and it’s a perfect fit. For races, I can slide a cooler, a repair stand, and all my other gear into it with room to spare.

how to safely transport bikes on a car
Throwing your entire bike inside the car is the safest, most-secure and most-aerodynamic option. But it doesn’t work for all circumstances.

It’s super-secure, doesn’t screw up your gas mileage and you’ll never ram your bike into the wall above your garage.

This doesn’t work if you ride with other people or your ride is part of a family road trip, of course. Unless, I suppose, you’re driving a Sport-Utility Hearse the size of an Imperial Star Destroyer.

Final Thoughts on Hauling Bikes

When it comes to how to safely transport bikes on a car, it’s obvious where I stand: Hitch mount or stuff it into a CUV or SUV.

I realize that this won’t work for everyone. But I’m still going to stand firm on my anti-roof rack stance. I’d go for the trunk/hitch mount any day. They just don’t have near the potential to turn a moment of inattention into a destroyed bike.

As you’ve noticed, I’ve barely mentioned brands here. There are too many out there to adequately cover, aside from those I’ve already mentioned. Yakima and Thule also have good reputations and are widely available. Just avoid the DIY variety made out of PVC pipe and duct tape, and the odds will be ever in your favor.

Who Makes the Best Cork Yoga Mat?

I’ve used a cork yoga mat since 2015. I bought it after being fed up with using regular mats in a hot yoga studio. Hot yoga people always have to use towels with a grippy back to avoid sliding all over the mat when things get sweaty.

As one of the sweatiest of the sweaty, this never worked for me. I did some reading and discovered Yoloha cork yoga mats. At $119, it was a pricey proposition.

But it worked. I didn’t slip and/or slide. It was by far better than the other mats I’ve used since started taking yoga classes in 1999.

Most yoga mats will make you slip and slide in a hot yoga class – unless you use a towel, which has its own drawbacks.

Just shortly before the pandemic kicked in, I did something stupid. I left my mat at the studio where it disappeared before I could return and bring it home.

Now, Yoloha was one of the first ones making a name in cork yoga mats back in 2015. I wondered if anyone else caught up.

Testing the VIRGIN PULP Best Cork Yoga Mat

I found a VIRGIN PULP Best Cork Yoga Mat on Amazon for about half the price of a Yoloha.

I also had some credit on Amazon, so it turned out to be pretty much free. There’s a character in one of my favorite movies who says “Anything free is worth saving up for.” That’s not so true in the case of this yoga mat.

best cork yoga mat
The close-up shows where the VIRGIN PULP cork yoga mat is shedding surface area.

I noticed when I got it that it was far lighter than my original Yoloha, and the grain of the cork was far smaller. It was also a far thinner cork surface. This worried me right from the get-go.

The VIRGIN PULP proved my instincts right. While it was decently grippy, the cork surface started to flake nearly immediately.
It was so bad that I took the rare step of writing an Amazon review to warn people away. Here’s what I had to say:

After only three uses, pieces of the cork are flaking to reveal the material underneath. That’s right – three hot yoga classes, and it’s already coming apart. See the gray areas in the photos.

Also, this mat is about four inches shorter than I’d prefer (I’m 6’2). It’s also very squishy and lightweight, so it tends to move around and even fold.

My last cork mat was from one of the more expensive brands. It lasted seven years, and the cork layer was far thicker. That made a more durable, stable cork mat.

On the plus side, this mat is very grippy when wet.

But wait, there’s more: The VIRGIN PULP mat doesn’t absorb water well. Sweat pools on the surface, which makes all manner of farty noises when you’re doing anything that involves being on your back. Look, I DON’T NEED MORE FARTY NOISES IN MY LIFE!

Back to the Original

My fury at the VIRGIN PULP mat did not go unnoticed. Since my birthday was coming up, my wife grabbed a Yoloha Original Air Cork yoga mat for me.

When I opened the box, I was a little concerned. It was way thinner and lighter than my old version of the same mat (seriously, that old mat was a TANK). It wasn’t much different in weight than the VIRGIN PULP disaster. One thing that gave me hope was that the cork grain seems much larger
and sturdier than the bargain-basement brand.

best cork yoga mat
Here you can see the difference in the grain size of the cork bits. Yoloha on top.

I managed to get in a few hot yoga sessions at Hot Yoga University before the COVID-19 pandemic shut everything down. They recently opened under new management – and with some awesome new practices that will be good even after the pandemic days.

It’s as grippy as the original, and not a single piece of the cork surface has flaked off. The grip is superior to the VIRGIN PULP cork yoga mat, but maybe not quite as grippy as the original. I wonder if this is because its thinner surface doesn’t absorb sweat quite as easily. Like the VIRGIN PULP mat, the current iteration of the Yoloha Original Air allows more sweat to pool. This again results in some questionable noises emanating from my mat; it’s not quite the beans/broccoli/eggs diet sound of the cheaper mat, but it farts noticeably.

Another nice feature: It’s a few inches longer than the VIRGIN PULP. Great for tall people!

The Verdict on the Best Cork Yoga Mat

The Yoloha Original Air Cork Yoga Mat is superior in quality to the cheaper alternative. My last Yoloha lasted years rather than weeks, so spending more is a wise decision.You’ll wind up keeping it far longer. And if you’re debating a cork yoga mat versus a regular matt and a quality yoga towel, the prices aren’t that different from each other.

That said, I’m open to anyone who wants me to put their cork yoga mat to the test. But if I’m spending my own money, I’m sticking with Yoloha at this point. It just seems to be the best cork yoga mat out there.

Steel Road Bikes for 2020 and Beyond

All of you people searching for info about the Lemond Zurich and various other steel road bikes have inspired me to give you something new to chew on. I already wrote about what were then “modern steel road bikes,” but things change.

Let’s have a look at what advice I’d give someone buying a steel road bike in 2020 – or a road plus bike or gravel bike.

What’s Changed About Steel Road Bikes?

A few months ago, I ran into a friend during one of my favorite road rides. These days, I ride a Lynskey Urbano. It’s a titanium cyclocross frame built up as a “road plus” bike.

My buddy was on a steel Bruce Gordon frame built up also as a road plus. Now, he and I often disagree on things. But we’re united in our belief that the road plus bike is the best damn thing to ever happen.

So what’s different about a road plus bike versus a typical road bike like my Lemond Zurich?

Huge Tire Clearance

These days, I roll on 32 or 38c tires. My buddy was on 40s, and we can both go even bigger. This tire clearance is the first feature that allows a bunch of other magic. A road plus bike can shape-shift from a fast roadie bike to — if you have enough braze-ons — a touring rig. And let me tell you, a fast downhill section on 38c tires at 60psi is so much more confident-handling than 25c at 110psi.

Disc Brakes

I love disc brakes, especially the hydraulic variety. The difference in stopping ability between my Lemond and Lynskey is astounding. This is great for handling everything from traffic to squirrely cyclists.

Thru-Axles

I’m sure I can find someone to argue with me about this – but I love thru-axles. It may seem like cork-sniffing to some, but I can definitely detect a more solid feel on thru-axles bikes. That’s especially true when I’m really stuffing the bike into a corner.

Relaxed Fit and Handling

I always loved the feel of my Zurich. It felt like a monorail. Then I put that Lynskey together. The angles are ever-so-slightly more relaxed than the Lemond. That means the Lynskey holds a line with even more confidence; I never feel like I’m fighting it. Still, it manages to go where I need it to, when I ask it to.

Big Head Tubes

My Lynskey has a tapered head tube versus the skinny, old-style 1-inch straight head tube of the Lemond. I can take this or leave it. I don’t detect a profound difference there — though I notice a big difference in stiffness between newer 31.8mm bars versus the old 25.6 (did I get that right?) of yore. The real factor here is that forks for tapered headtubes are far easier to replace. It’s not easy finding quality, reasonably priced stuff for the 1-inch steerer tube.

Got any Recommendations for Steel Bikes for 2020?

Look, if you’re looking for steel bikes, you probably already have some strong opinions. You might even know everything I’ve already mentioned. I’m really just hoping to reinforce what you’re thinking, and maybe introduce you to some stuff that flies slightly under the radar.

So you know that bikes from the afore-mentioned Bruce Gordon are gonna be pretty awesome. What if your wallet is somewhat less fat?

Here is what tops my list at the moment. I went for the more reasonably priced stuff because it’s easy to spend way too much money.

The All-City Cosmic Stallion

steel bikes for 2020
If this is your bike and photo, hit me up for a photo credit! (Found on Reddit)

All-City Cycles does something few bike brands do – they imbue their bikes with some personality. From names to color schemes, they pour some mojo into their bikes. That matters to me.

They make the Cosmic Stallion with SRAM or Shimano options.

It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything sort of bike with an MSRP of $2,700 for Shimano GRX, a carbon fork and tire clearance up to 47mm.

Fairdale Rockitship

steel road bikes for 2020
If this is your Fairdale photo, feel free to hit me up for a photo credit!

The Fairdale Rockitship is only available as a frame and fork, so how it takes shape is ultimately up to you. For $700, you’re off to a good start with a steel frame and an ENVE carbon fork.

You get massive tire clearance (at least 45mm) along with 12mm thru axles. It also has three water bottle mounts – a nice touch, for sure.

Coming Soon

When it comes to flying under the radar, Milwaukee Bicycle Company is practically Area 51. I wandered across them a few years ago, when I priced a steel 105 road plus/gravel build for about $3,000. That’s definitely a higher-end proposition than All-City or Fairdale, but these frames are built in the US.

You also get your choice of color, which is pretty rare these days. And I’m not just talking about a few colors. They have quite a smorgasbord.

Right now, it looks like the Milwaukee Bicycle Company website is under construction. If you’re buying a steel road bike (or road plus, or gravel or cyclocross or whatever), I recommend that you hang tight or give them a call to see what’s up.

Steel Road Bikes for 2020 — What Did I Miss?

So that’s what I have. Are there any cool, reasonably priced steel road bikes for 2020 that have you excited? Let me know about them. It’s always good to put the spotlight on the less-big brands.

(Thanks to Steven from the MeWe group “Let’s Ride” for the cover photo of the mud-crusted Breezer!)

8 Versatile Camping Essentials for New Campers

Camping Essentials at a Glance

  • Light sources
  • A decent fixed-blade knife
  • Tools for starting a fire
  • A way to carry and collect water
  • The super-versatile shemagh
  • Cordage
  • Carabiners
  • Cookwear

I don’t have the numbers to prove it, but I’ll bet COVID-19 has done wonders for camping. Without the option of easy air travel, my family looked close to home. And we set a record for camping this year.

And I’ve heard of a few new-to-camping who are wondering what they need to get started.

That’s a huge topic, especially because smart campers could write massic tomes about “shelter systems” (tents, to the layperson, and hammocks to the slightly-less-laypeople). I’ll get into selecting a hammock in a future post — I’ve been through the beginner learning curve, and I’d love to help some people flatten that curve so they can start hanging with confidence. (That sounded terrible, but there’s no way I’m deleting it.)

I’m going to focus this particular post on the type of stuff nobody really mentions, yet will still be incredibly handy.

Here is my list of items I consider camping essentials, and highly recommend for any camper who is doing some short-range backpacking or car camping. This isn’t for RV people.

Go to the Light

camping essentials
The MPOWERD Luci solar-powered camping lantern boggles my mind with awesomeness.

Campers absolutely need light. I recommend a minimum of two types: a head-mounted light that allows you to operate hands free, and a lantern of some sort.

I’m largely brand- and model-agnostic about head lights.

But I am a hardcore fan of the MPOWERD Luci solar-powered inflatable lantern. Stick it in the sun for 8 hours to get about 12 hours of charge out of it. Heck, hang it deflated on your backpack.

It’s waterproof, low-fuss gear that will not let you down. It’s also cheap, with models starting below $20.

Get an Edge on the Nature

A good knife is a camping essential. And no, I’m not talking about a Swiss Army knife. I don’t trust any folding knife at all. I’m also not talking about some stupid phallus extension straight out of a Rambo or Crocodile Dundee movie.

camping essentials
A camping knife doesn’t need to be big. The little ESEE Izula – the little green one – is among my favorite camping knives.

While my personal preference is a full-tang fixed blade like an ESEE-4, they can be a bit spendy. I also like the tiny little ESEE Izula.

For a new camper looking for a good deal, I recommend the Swedish Fireknife, a simple, low-cost, decent-quality knife with a firestarting flint built into the hilt. It’s made by Mora of Sweden, and you simply can’t go wrong with it.

You won’t feel guilty treating it mean, and you can do anything with it. Need to turn a biggish branch into small branches? You can use the FireKnife and another branch to baton that branch into a manageable size. It’s easy to sharpen, and it keeps its edge well.

Keep the Fire Burning (Carefully)

Making a fire (when conditions allow) is a huge part of the camping experience. From cooking your evening meal to simply keeping warm, this is an important skill you’ll need to master.

Good firemaking tools are next-level camping essentials. I mentioned the flint in the Swedish FireKnife, which is great for making fires with one caveat: You have to be skilled enough to make a tinder bundle and have the patience to get the whole thing going.

There’s also weather conditions to consider. Sometimes, it’s hard to use the flint in sloppy, wet conditions.

So I advise keeping a second way to start a fire. REI has all sorts of heavy-duty camp matches that come in sealed containers. If you really want to prepare, bring a few cotton balls and a tube of Vaseline. A dab of Vaseline on the cotton ball can get your tinder going quickly and easily.

An Even Better Way to Carry Water

Right now, I know most people prefer hydration packs for carrying water. Fair enough. They’re handy and hands-free.

But let’s say something pokes a hole in it. You’re in trouble.

camping essentials
This water-carrying setup is reliable and versatile – and uses many items on this list: Paracord, carabiner and water bottle.

Even if you carry a hydration pack, bring two 32-ounce Nalgene bottles with you. They are indestructible. It’s also far easier to refill them from streams and other sources – they also give you a very easy way to disinfect water – a few drops of 2% tincture of iodine (another overlooked camping item) in each bottle and a half hour of waiting is enough to disinfect water from many sources.

You can also get some other uses out of the bottle: If you use a bit of paracord secured to the bottle with duct tape, you have a way to carry extra duct tape for any of thousands of uses. Hang the whole setup from your backpack with a carabiner.

Keep Yourself Covered

Imagine a giant bandana that is software and more comfy than a bandana.

That’s a shemagh, a familiar sight to anyone who has seen news coverage from the Middle East. It is a tool of infinite use, and your creativity is its only limit.

You can turn it into a headwrap to keep the sun off your noggin. You can do an even fancier wrap to cover your face if you’re dealing with smoke or airborne dust. And it’s perfect for hauling a big bundle of pine cones for your fire.

A shemagh can even be a good way to filter water. One of the most-effective, low-cost camping essentials I can recommend.

Tie One On

Sometimes, you just need to tie something up. Like a shemagh, cordage of any kind is only limited by your creativity.

I’ve used it to string up a few LUCI lights to illuminate a campsite in areas with fire restrictions. It’s also helped me secure the ends of my hammock fly to the ground. That’s just to name a few.

Warning: Not all paracord is created equal. Here’s a nice guide to buying paracord.

Connecting Everything Together

“By golly, I brought too many carabiners,” said absolutely no camper ever.

I’ve already mentioned hanging water bottles from them. They’re also handy for hanging my hammock, storing gear inside my tent or hammock so I can find it quickly, keeping my keys where they belong, hanging my LUCI lights at night – you name it.

Be sure to get carabiners that are rated for climbing if you plan to use them for hanging a hammock or anything like that.

Considering that a decent Metolius carabiner is only a few bucks more than a light-duty one, it makes sense to simply go heavy for all of them.

How many do you need? Start with a 10. You won’t regret it.

Cooking Something Up

My home state of Arizona has been absolutely plagued with fires. That means fire restrictions.

That’s a bit of a bummer. But you can still cook with a decent camp stove. I use this
MSI Whisperlite setup along with one of their cookware sets. The cookware comes with collapsible utensils. Don’t rely on them. Get a set that’s more durable, even if they’re less convenient.

I’m also a bit brand and model-agnostic on camp stoves. This is the only one I’ve ever owned.

Go to your friendly outdoor outfitter. Get some advice and see what works for you.

Wrapping up the Camping Essentials List

I could probably go a lot further than this in listing some of my favorite camping essentials. Let me know if you want to know about anything not on this list.

But before I go – there’s one camping essential you can’t buy.

That’s knowledge.

All this gear is only as good as your ability to use it. Camp with people who are more experienced and can show you what works for them – in person! A blog post is great to get you started, but working with this stuff hands-on is the way to go.

To supplement the hands-on experience, I also recommend picking up a copy of Cody Lundin’s 98.6 Degrees: The Art of Keeping Your Ass Alive. It’s a survival book, and there’s admittedly a difference between camping and survival.

That said, his info on shelter, first-aid kits, selecting a knife, disinfecting water and even choosing clothing have a lot of overlap with camping comfortably and safely.

I also took the Provident Primitive class at his Aboriginal Living Skills School. Even though I’d been camping for decades, I still took away an amazing amount of new skills. And I had a stupid amount of fun.

Testing the SOS Hydration Mix

Hydration is the difference between a good ride and a low-down, cramp-filled, no-good sufferfest that will make you regret ever getting on a bicycle (or running, or kayaking, or whatever it is that you do). I largely have my regimen set, but I’m always on the lookout for the Next Big Thing. That’s why I was excited when SOS Hydration contacted me about testing their electrolyte mixes.

SOS Hydration sent me a sampler of two each of several of their flavors, including berry, citrus, mango, coconut and watermelon.

Putting SOS Hydration to the Test

I took a little time to crunch the numbers to try getting the liquid-to-’letctrolytes ratio just right.

My typical loadout for a hot summer ride is three bottles:

  • One 20-ounce one (exactly like the nice one SOS Hydration sent me) with a single Trace Minerals Magnesium tab in it. That 4-gram tablet contains 150mg of magnesium – which I’ve discovered is critical for me – along with 175 mg of sodium and not much else.
  • Two 25-ounce bottles each packing 1 Trace Minerals magnesium tablet and a Nuun Hydration Sport tablet.

To be somewhere in the ballpark with SOS Hydration, I’d need 1 5-gram sachet in the small bottle and two in each of the big bottles. Let’s break down the comparison between my two big bottles of Justin Formula versus the SOS Hydration bottles. Oh, and I’m also going to list my go-to Gnarly Hydration mix that I use for particularly hot days and races. All serving sizes are 10 grams. (I’m only hitting the electrolytes that are most-important to me rather than the whole laundry list. I also don’t really care about calories.)

Magnesium Sodium Potassium Sugar
Justin Formula 175 475 150 4
Gnarly 96.6 250 100 7
SOS Hydration 67.2* 660 190 3

*I calculated based on two things: The USRDA of magnesium for guys my age, which is 420mg, and the SOS Hydration label that said that each sachet has 8% of the USRDA of magnesium. That comes out to 67.2mg for two sachets, well short of the 100mg claimed on the comparison page of the SOS website.

 

That’s not the only discrepancy I noticed. It also appears that the SOS is comparing two servings/sachets of their mix to one Nuun tablet. I didn’t check the numbers on Skratch, which is the only other legit hydration mix for athletes in the table. Pedialyte, Gatorade and coconut water don’t belong, and I’ve never heard of WHO ORS.

My main takeaway from the chart is that SOS is really salty, and it lags in magnesium. Through trial and error, I’ve found that potassium isn’t a difference-maker for me.

So how would it perform?

Testing on the First Ride

I had my three bottles all frozen the day before the ride, and my plans to use my road-plus Lynskey Urbano for a 50-miler want to hell. It had to get some attention from the good people at Bicycle Haus.

That meant it was time for a summer mountain bike ride! Hot weather makes desert mountain biking a real bear, and I had a nasty sunny morning to deal with.

I headed to South Mountain since it had been awhile since I’d been there. Right from the get-go, I could tell this ride would be pretty tough.

Aside from the heat, there are no casual, easy rides on a singlespeed hardtail. They’re demanding bikes that flog their riders pretty hard.

sos hydration test
There’s never an easy ride on this thing.

And I just wasn’t feeling it after the first five miles.

I slugged generously from my icewater-filled Camelbak and my two bottles of SOS Hydration mix. My first impression was that this is some seriously salty stuff. There was more than a hint of the Dead Sea to it.

I’d planned to ride at least 25 miles. But I turned around about 13 miles into it to head back to my car. I stopped at a trailhead to drink the rest of my SOS mix, then I refilled them with the sachets I’d brought along.

My ass was well whooped after this short ride. It was a nasty day, to be sure.

So I had to give SOS a more regular test.

Round 2 – Apples to Apples

With my Lynskey back in action the next weekend, I set my course for San Juan Point, which is about a 53-mile jaunt from my house. It’s also a ride I do often, so I have plenty of data to compare SOS and look for any major observations in performance.

I still hadn’t acclimated to the saltiness of the SOS Hydration mix.  But I did find that I liked the coconut and watermelon flavors best. I wonder if I like the watermelon so much because real watermelon contains big amounts of magnesium, which makes this guy happy.
sos hydration test
I had a pretty solid ride that day, especially since I’d bumped up my tire size from 32C to 38C. The big tires cost me very little time, only about 8 seconds slower than my personal best on a 3.1-mile climb. The very next weekend, though, I set a new PR that was 20 seconds faster with my usual mix.

As per usual, I drained my three bottles (all filled with SOS) and had to refill. Those were the last of my sachets, so I finished my ride with a bit of Gnarly mix. By that time, though, all the serious work was over.

Wrapping Up the SOS Hydration Test

It appears that SOS works pretty well. Aside from that one especially unpleasant mountain bike ride, it wasn’t a liability.

Still, I’m not a fan of the taste and I’d like to see more magnesium in it along with less salt.

I think it would also be a good idea for SOS to double-check the numbers in its comparison chart to make sure they’re measuring similar serving sizes. They should also include more serious competitors, like Gnarly, EFS and CarboRocket Half-Evil. That’s serious stuff that you’ll see at the big races.

And that might be the problem with SOS: It positions itself not just for sports nutrition, but also for hangovers and illnesses. Casting a wide net might cause some of the finer points of more-athletic use to get overlooked.

There’s also something else to note: There is literally no one-size-fits-all formula for every bike racer, marathoner or (insert sport here). This makes me extremely skeptical of their research claims. I know I said this a few sentences earlier, but it bears repeating: The same formula will not work for every single person.

We’re all individuals, and the ratios in SOS Hydration might be exactly what you need. If it fits you and you like the taste, you’re good to go.

5 Tips for Buying a Titanium Bike

If you’re thinking about buying a titanium bike, I understand why. You’re probably after a combination of ride quality, cool factor and longevity.

People can debate the ride quality to death – there are plenty of variables that can impact this, especially tire pressure. Also, some people think the stealth fighter look of carbon fiber beats the Cold War jet fighter appearance of titanium.

But nobody is about to debate the longevity of titanium with you. It has impact resistance that you won’t find in carbon fiber bikes. If you can actually get a titanium frame to fail, it’s not going to crack into pieces. It can handle rock spray, hard impact, shitty weather and just about anything else you can throw at it.

As you’ve probably guessed, I’m a titanium bike fan.

I’ll also admit that buying a titanium bike isn’t easy. They’re more expensive and harder to come by than most steel, aluminum or carbon fiber bikes. That makes it imperative that you get the right one.

So here are a few tips for buying a titanium bike. Some are from my own experience, while others are from other titanium bike owners.

Avoid Buying Titanium Frames with Paint

I love my Domahidy titanium singlespeed. The designer conceived it from the ground up to have a Gates Carbon Drive system instead of a chain.

He made the bottom bracket area overbuilt to handle all the power output of someone cranking hard on a singlespeed. He got nearly everything perfect.

buying a titanium bike
Titanium ages better when left unfinished. Skip the paint!

Then he went and painted it.

Admittedly, it looked pretty for a long time. But mountain bikes go through a lot. And their paint gets ratty over time.

In retrospect, I should’ve had it stripped and buffed before hanging a single component on it.

Double-Check the Seatpost Size

If you’re buying a singlespeed, you’re certain to pour over plenty of specs. And you shouldn’t miss the humble seatpost diameter.

One of my fellow ti bike owners wound up with an oddball 28.6mm seatpost size; he’s having a hard time finding the right replacement seatpost.

He still loves the bike, but he’s less than thrilled with the scarcity of seatposts in that diameter.

Buying Used? Be Patient

Titanium’s longevity means that plenty of people are eager to get a hold of even older ti frames. Personally, I wouldn’t touch anything that doesn’t have disc brake tabs and thru-axles, both of which are relatively modern.

But some people love the classics. And it seems like they never sleep, constantly scanning and sniping on eBay, SteveBay, Craigslist, and anywhere else people post used bikes.

You might be tempted to settle for “close enough.” Don’t. The right deal will eventually come. If you settle, you’ll be the next person to list that titanium bike and hoping to break even.

Buy the Frame Builder, Not Just the Frame

When I bought my two titanium frames, I didn’t just click “Buy” and hope for the best. I emailed the frame builders and I asked questions.

Going full-custom and made-to-measure just isn’t an option for me.

buying a titanium bike
My first titanium bike. The company owner’s patience with all my questions won me over. 12/10, would buy from again.

I waited for good deals to appear, and then I started asking questions. In both cases, I got prompt, courteous replies. This told me that these were companies I wanted to support with my dollars.

They also gave me peace of mind that I was getting the right size and the right frame for my riding style.

Talk to Titanium Bike Owners

There’s no shortage of people who love titanium frames. Get in touch with them and see what their thoughts are on certain brands and models. Find out which ones are re-branded frames made overseas – and also find out which of those made overseas are better.

Along the same lines, there are plenty of American companies selling titanium bikes that don’t actually make those frames themselves. Find out who does.

Check Facebook for titanium bike owners groups to get started.

I also look to Spanner Bikes, which is chock-full of helpful titanium bike knowledge.

Wrapping up Tips For Buying a Titanium Bike

This is all pretty basic stuff that you could apply to buying any kind of bike frame — aside from maybe the part about paint.

But it’s always good to check your enthusiasm, especially when something looks like a great deal. Do your due diligence and get yourself a bike that will last the long haul.

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right For You?

Toyota is making headlines over its new RAV4 PHEV. What does that bunch of letters even mean? It’s easy – RAV4 is of course the name of its compact SUV or CUV or whatever you want to call it. The PHEV part is where it gets interesting: This stands for Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle.

That means the RAV4 PHEV, which is coming in 2021, has an electric motor, a traction battery AND a gas motor. You can drive on battery power alone for awhile (the battery size and range specs haven’t been released yet, so I don’t have numbers to provide -- but I will update when Toyota tells us more on Nov. 20) before the gas engine kicks in to drive the wheels. By way of comparison, this is the same technology as the current Prius Prime PHEV, which can go 25 miles before needing a charge or its gas engine kicks in. 

Sounds pretty cool, right? But is the Toyota RAV PHEV right for you? Is it better than an all-battery electric vehicle?

Why Do You Want a Plug-In Hybrid?

Figuring out whether the Toyota RAV PHEV is right for you involves figuring out exactly what you’re looking for. Here are some things to consider.

You Want to Create Less Pollution 

You’re definitely going to emit a lot less pollution with the RAV4 PHEV. There’s not going to be a huge difference in the emissions caused by building the RAV4 PHEV versus a conventional vehicle. 

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV right for you?
Toyota can’t seem to help itself from relying on old technology. The RAV4 PHEV will rely on the same principle as this Prius Prime.

And post-production emissions will be lower since you’re using less gas. I haven’t seen a cradle-to-grave analysis of PHEVs versus conventional engines. But the Union of Concerned Scientists analysis found that battery-electric vehicles will produce 25 percent fewer emissions over their lifetime than gas cars. That factor will increase as more utilities switch to renewable power – it also changes if your home has a solar array. 

You Want to Save Money

You won’t get quite the same return on your investment as you would with a pure battery-electric vehicle. There will still be emissions from the gas motor, and you can go a lot further on $3 of electricity than you can on $3 of gas. 

When charging from my house, $3 of electricity is about 160 miles of range. $3 of gas in the Prius Prime gets you about 50 miles. The RAV4 PHEV will get less because it’s bigger and heavier. Best case scenario splitting between gas and electric? It’s tough to say. I don’t see it being any more than 50 miles per $3 (nice measurement because it’s right around the current price of gas). 

You Want Less Maintenance?

Electric vehicle drivers love saying "see ya later" to maintenance. We don’t change oil, transmission fluid, differential fluid, serpentine belts, timing belts or any of that other outdated, old-timey, messy internal combustion engine nonsense. 

As it turns out, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV saddles you with an internal combustion engine that will need conventional maintenance. And it makes the vehicle heavier, which causes the efficiency of the electric motor to plummet. 

In this regard, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is the worst of both worlds.

Is the toyota RAV4 PHEV right for you?
Oddly enough, Toyota had a fully electric RAV4 from 2012-14. The PHEV is a step backward.

 You Want to Support Efforts to Reduce Emissions

If this is a factor for you, the Toyota RAV4 PHEV is a bad choice. It’s actually a step backward for Toyota. 

Toyota actually has TWO previous generations of fully electric RAV4s. The last one was a joint venture between Tesla and Toyota. From 2012-14, the joint venture produced an EV that could go 0-60 in less than 7 seconds, get about 140 miles to the charge (in my experience) and hold a ton of cargo and people in comfort.

Toyota is clearly dragging its feet in addressing emissions. Instead, it’s putting its eggs into the hydrogen-powered car effort. This technology is perpetually three years away. You’ll never be able to fill a hydrogen fuel cell vehicle at home. There’s far less infrastructure for fueling. It’s harder to deal with. It’s more complicated. 

So why is Toyota stuck on it? Who knows? My theory: They just don’t know how to let go of the past and modernize. 

Anyway, the company that deserves your money is Tesla. They single-handedly dragged legacy automakers into the battery-electric era.

You Want Performance

People are also switching to electric vehicles for push-you-back-in-your-seat acceleration. Everyone who takes a ride in my RAV EV is blown away by the acceleration. 

It’s very possible the RAV PHEV will have all the pep of its all-electric counterpart while in battery mode. We’ll have to see. I can confirm, though, that the 150-horsepower RAV4 EV is faster 0-60 than the current RAV4 hybrid.

Other Factors

When the RAV PHEV rolls out in 2021, what all-electric options will you have in the same size class? There’s the Tesla Model Y, but that will likely be significantly more expensive. Aside from that, I really don’t know what’s going to happen in this space.

A Toyota RAV4 PHEV could be right for a family of three that likes to hit the road. That’s pretty much my family. My wife, 4-year-old and myself could fit neatly in this vehicle, along with our camping gear and a bike rack. The Kia Soul, Kia Nero and Hyundai Kona EVs are all smaller. And who knows what VW will really come out with -- plus some people are furious with VW for its emissions cheating and wouldn’t give them a nickel at this point. 

one year with an electric vehicle
This is what a car of the future should look like.

Also, range anxiety is still a thing with people. A decently priced EV has about 240 miles of range right now. That freaks people out for some reason, even though they can charge to 80 percent in 15 minutes. 

Part of it is the old-school driving mentality: You drive your car until it’s almost out of gas, and you fill up. That’s not how you drive an EV. You drive someplace and plug in, constantly topping off. You rarely start recharging from anywhere near zero. Road trips are the only time that changes, and fast-charging infrastructure is improving all the time (and will be better by the time the Toyota RAV4 PHEV comes out). For most people who commute less than 40 miles a day, the range is a much smaller factor than they realize.

Is the Toyota RAV4 PHEV Right for You?

I hope this helps with your decision. For the TLDR version – it’s better than a conventional combustion engine, but nowhere near the equal of an EV in terms of convenience and operational cost. The Toyota RAV4 PHEV will have a relatively small battery that doesn’t require fast charging, which could be a huge bonus in areas that are actually lacking in charging infrastructure. If that sounds like, you might have a winner.

Do Bicycle Safety Cameras Really Help?

Bicycle safety cameras are a big deal right now. More cyclists are worried about getting run over by drivers. Some cyclists are abandoning road riding altogether, which contributes to the rise of gravel bikes (just look for threads about this in the SteveBay community on Facebook).

Some of us are stubborn, though. Instead of letting cars chase us off the roads, we’re gearing up to keep drivers honest and accountable. That means using high-powered flashing lights to mark our positions. And more riders are using bicycle safety cameras to provide evidence if there’s a crash.

The Cycliq Fly12 CE: The Standard in Bicycle Safety Cameras

The Cycliq Fly 12 CE from Australia is an established safety device. When I asked SteveBay members what they used, the Cycliq was the favorite. It’s a combination camera/light that’s packed with features that can even the odds when cyclists hit the roads. Unlike a GoPro, it’s purpose-built for safety rather than capturing thrills (not that there’s anything wrong with that). I’ve seen it on quite a few other bikes during my rides.

At $279.99, it’s hardly an inexpensive proposition. I’ll help you get an idea of what you’re getting for that money.

I’m hardly the first person to review the Cycliq Fly12 CE, so I won’t get too deep into what’s on the spec sheet. Instead, I’ll show what it’s like to ride with it and how it might make your ride safer.

Here’s What Makes the Cycliq Fly12 CE Different

The Fly12 CE has a long list of capabilities. It’s a 1080p action camera. It has a 600-lumen light that’s plenty powerful enough to let drivers see you from a good distance in broad daylight. It’s Bluetooth capable. It comes with the Cycliq desktop editing software. And, of course, there’s an app to control it. You can alter the strobe patterns and even set up a theft alert. That’s great for those mid-ride refueling stops. Certain wearables and bike computers will also let you control the Fly12 CE.

But here’s the really cool thing: You don’t have to worry about filling your media card up with footage. Your Fly12 CE will never stop recording because it simply records over old files -- with a huge and helpful exception: If anything triggers the Fly12 CE, it saves the closest files to the time of the triggering event. So if you crash (or someone crashes into you), the camera automatically stores the footage. You can also trigger manually, using a button on the Fly12 CE.

And that’s the real difference between a run-of-the-mill helmet camera and bicycle safety cameras.

The Fly12 CE is very similar in concept to the new breed of Artificial Intelligence-powered cameras used in fleet management (think big rigs, local delivery vehicles, etc.). They also loop, and automatically transmit triggering events. So cycling is essentially borrowing a very effective page from the fleet management playbook.

bicycle safety cameras
You can also get good stills from the Cycliq Fly 12 CE.

Cool Idea. Does it Make You Safer?

I’ve had numerous close calls with vehicles over the years. But I’ve never been hit. I can only comment on close calls. Since starting to ride with the Cycliq, I’ve had only one; you can see in the video that it’s just someone stopping in front of me at the intersection of a bike path and a neighborhood street. (By the way, I shot that video at 1920 by 1080 at 59.94 frames per second.)

I’m new to riding with bicycle safety cameras of any kind. But with the Fly12 CE, I’ve noticed that the flashing light draws drivers’ eyes. I’ve had quite a few who looked like they’d pull out in front of me. They saw the light, stopped short, and backed up to give room. And that’s a dangerous situation that I always dislike. The Fly12 CE definitely makes me feel safer.

It’s also a good alert for runners and other cyclists, too. That light definitely makes cyclists more noticeable.

What Else Should I Know?

Using both the camera and the light, the Cycliq Fly12 CE gives me about four hours of battery life. I use a 64-gig micro SD card (Class 10, of course).

For editing purposes – like finding interesting parts of a ride or minor annoyances – I wouldn’t mind shorter files: I’m thinking two minutes rather than 5. The Fly12 CE warns you if more than half your memory card is taken up by "protected" clips. Shorter clips could alleviate that a bit. The truck-driving cameras I mentioned earlier record 30 seconds before and after the "triggering event." (They also automatically transmit it to a remote server, which is incredibly cool.)

bicycle safety cameras
The Cycliq Fly12 CE – mounted and ready to go.

The automatic triggering makes the Fly12 CE less than ideal for mountain biking. There may be a way to shut that off so you could use it for recording your fun rides, but I’m still getting familiar with it.

I’ve had problems getting the desktop editing app to work, even with help from Cycliq tech support. It just won’t open on my Windows 10 computer. That’s a bummer because it has some cool features, like being able to have your Strava information overlay on the screen. This issue is still ongoing, and I hope I’ll be able to use the Cycliq editing software at some point. It would be cool to see some data from this ride popping up.

The Bottom Line on the Cycliq Fly12 CE

This is a great bicycle safety camera that gives you some features that regular cameras don’t. I know many cycling advocates are annoyed that riders bear the burden of using cameras, dressing in bright colors and wearing helmets to be seen as doing our part for safety -- while drivers do little to help. I get it. It’s annoying. But I’m up to seize any advantage to come back home in one piece when I ride.

Are there any questions about bike safety lights in general or the Cycliq Fly12 CE that I haven’t answered? Let me know in the comments!

AMain Cycling provided the Cycliq Fly12 CE for review. 

One Year With an Electric Car

I’ve now driven more than one year with an electric car. I want to share a few thoughts about what I’ve learned for people who are thinking about giving up their gas cars. I think you’ll be in for some surprises.

I live in the U.S., so some of this will vary according to where you live.

Using The Carpool Lane is Awesome, But …

One of the perks of driving an EV in Arizona is that you can use the carpool lane if you have the right license plate (you have to ask for it). The speeds in the carpool — or HOV Lane, if you like the bureaucratic version — stay a lot more consistent. When everyone slows down for whatever reason, the carpool lane mostly keeps humming.

There’s just one problem: Many people think the carpool lane is really the Drive as Fast as You Want Lane. This creates some dangerous situations. And many of these people don’t have the plates and are alone in their car and thus shouldn’t even be in the carpool lane anyway. I’m usually driving 70 in a 65, which is speeding. But these people don’t think I’m speeding enough. Things being what they are, they get away with driving 85mph+. Which is ridiculously stupid: It’s dangerous, obviously, and it turns their gas mileage to shit. And does it save much time? No, because they’ll still get stuck at traffic lights on surface streets.

You Don’t Need Charging Stations

For the first six months or so, I relied on charging at charging stations like ChargePoint, Blink, Volta and others. I favored the free ones, which are fairly plentiful (Blink is a huge rip off). I covered this adequately in an earlier post, so I recommend reading that post for more information, including my recent project to install a 240-volt line at my house.

Driving a Gas-Powered Car Will Suck

Sometimes, I have to drive my wife’s 2017 Subaru Forester. And boy, does it suck. Before getting my EV, I actually liked it.

But when I get into my EV and push the button, there’s no noise or vibration. There’s also no heat pouring off of it after I drive 20 miles. That noise, vibration and heat is inefficiency.

After a few months driving an EV, you’ll be disgusted by the lurching transmission shifts, the noise, the vibration and the slow acceleration.

I know car enthusiasts will argue this point with me. But here’s the thing: I’ve driven gasmobiles far more than they’ve driven electric cars. They have no frame of reference. They have never driven an electric car for months and gone back to their clunky gas jalopies.

Your Electric Car Will Save You Time

Think of all the time you’ve spent at gas stations and getting oil changes. Those days are over. It’s awesome to wake up or leave your desk in the evening to a "full tank."

Getting your juice will be as quick as plugging a cell phone into a wall. It’s weirdly liberating.

After one year of driving an electric car, all this time adds up.

You Can Do Anything You Want in an Electric Car

The top-of-the-line electric cars are getting around 300 miles per charge. The lesser ones get 150, but can re-charge to 80 percent pretty quickly. In the middle, you have some that are getting about 230 miles. That compares to my dear departed Subaru Forester, which got about 350 miles per tank.

one year with an electric vehicle
Great. She likes the Tesla Model X. Expensive taste …

But here’s the thing: How often do you drive that far? And how far do you ever drive without stopping to eat, drink or use a toilet?

My bet is about 100 miles or so. So the difference in miles traveled per tank or per charge is insignificant. The arguments against electric car range are for trips that constitute the tiniest portion of trips taken. Electric cars can more than handle your average daily commute, and many of the newer ones are great for road trips.

Still Good Reasons Not to Get an Electric Car

There are two things preventing most people from getting an electric car:

First is form factor. Americans love SUVs. And the only readily available electric SUV right now is the Tesla Model X. The Model Y will mark the beginning of the end of the gas engine, but it’s still a few years away. Toyota had a huge head start with its RAV4 EV collaboration with Tesla, and they squandered it in favor of hybrids and hydrogen fuel cells. Pair that with their deceptively advertised "self-charging hybrids," and you have a brand in decline. The other electric cars are sedans and smallish wagons. Nissan is clearly milking gas engines for all their worth while paying lip service to electric vehicles with the compromised LEAF. If they were serious, they’d already offer an electric version of the Murano (with active thermal management to preserve the batteries).

Second is cost. Brand-new EVs are still a bit more expensive. The brands that still qualify for the federal tax credit definitely lessen that burden. But in most cases, car buyers have to front the cost and get their money back in April when tax return season rolls around (I wonder how that skews the electric car sales data -- if I were buying a new qualifying vehicle, I’d wait until December for sure). Still, cost will decline as battery cost dives. Which it’s done consistently in recent years.

Even One EV in Your Household Helps

Since getting my EV, my wife drives a lot less. Her work commute is pretty short, and I handle all the weekend driving. We’ll use her Subaru for long trips; my early-generation EV isn’t suited for the long distances and off-roading.

But one year with an electric car has cut down on our collective gas use. And I don’t see any way that there will be another gas-powered vehicle in our house in the future. They’re just inferior. Even ignoring any concern for pollution, they’re more fun to drive and way less maintenance-intensive.

People Have No Idea About Electric Vehicles

After one year with an electric car, I constantly field the same questions. Let me recap them with some quick answers.

I hear Teslas don’t really work.

In what way? I don’t drive a Tesla, but it is the gold standard in EVs. The software is ridiculously advanced. They are also extremely efficient if you measure them by kilowatt-hours to the mile. Used correctly, the Autopilot feature is mind-blowing.

And no, they don’t catch on fire more than gas vehicles. But a Tesla on fire is considered newsworthy. A gas-powered car? It doesn’t get any press. Ask yourself why.

Electric vehicles use "rare earth" minerals/pollute more because of how they’re built/are powered by coal.

There’s a study by the Union of Concerned Scientists that debunks this all. It’s long, but well worth reading.

Global warming is a hoax.

OK. Let’s say it is. Forget global warming or climate change or whatever you want to call it. Think locally. What will happen if you have fewer tailpipes spewing emissions? How will that affect your local air quality? What if your streets become quieter because you don’t have a bunch of diesel trucks roaring? Does that sound bad in any way? What if you have fewer people going into a gas station and loading up on sugary snacks while paying for their gas? What if there are fewer tanker trucks on the roads bringing gas into your neighborhoods? What exactly sounds bad it this scenario?

Guayaki yerba mate chevy bolt
The Guayaki brand of yerba mate has its branding people cruising the streets in this Chevy Bolt. The driver loves it.

I just like the sound of an engine.

Surely there has to be better ways to get attention. I really don’t understand the fixation on noise. My EV makes enough noise to warn a pedestrian -- the sound is like listening to a taxiing jet fighter (but from a long distance).

Now, I know a lot of Americans don’t like to walk. But if you’re one of those people who walk, what would you think of a lot less engine noise? It sounds pretty nice.

Money is Behind the Anti-EV Rhetoric

The electric vehicle is upsetting a lot of corporate gravy trains. Dealerships won’t make as much money on maintenance. Oil companies will face falling demand for gasoline and diesel. And even convenience stores, like I mentioned: They’ll have fewer people making impulse buys while they put gas in their cars.

This is a huge shift. There’s still money to be made and jobs to be had with electric cars. They’re just going to be different. This happened before when we shifted from horses to electric cars. Not as many people need someone to shoe their horses? Hello, auto mechanic. This shift isn’t a problem: It’s an opportunity.

I can’t wait for a new generation of EV modders and mechanics to rise. It will be pretty cool to see how they innovate with a new platform!

Of course, the status quo doesn’t see it that way. They’d rather use their money to squash innovation. Just look at Chevrolet’s EV-1 debacle, and how they deliberately compromised the Bolt EV.

Wrapping Up One Year With an Electric Car

There’s just no going back for me. The smooth acceleration, low maintenance and cheap energy make me pity the poor gas engine. Its days are nearly over.

Reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2: Good News for Thrifty Riders

If you need a solid but relatively affordable mountain bike fork, you should be excited about the Marzocchi Bomber Z2. The original Z2 that came out in the late 90s was a huge step forward with its coil springs and open oil bath system.

The reborn Bomber Z2 has travel options ranging from 100 to 150 millimeters and a price of $499. But none of that matters if it doesn’t work well. And trust me, it will.

Why I’d bet on the Marzocchi Bomber Z2

A few years ago, I built a cool titanium hardtail. It’s a weird one with a singlespeed belt drive. So I had to be weird with the fork, too. I found a sweet deal on a Marzocchi 320 LR fork. That one leans a bit more cross-country in nature than the new Bomber Z-2.

But it was considerably better than the XFusion I used on a previous hardtail. It never bottoms out as harshly, it doesn’t hiss when compressed, it steers just slightly better (possibly because of its thru-axle). It held up beautifully during my first six-hour singlespeed race.

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
There’s my Marzocchi ready for action.

From what I understand, the new Marzocchi forks are built by Fox. That’s another point in its favor (though some people insist that Fox doesn’t make ’em like they used to).

Users on the MTBR forum also praise the 320 LR, which is a good sign for the Bomber Z2.

Wait for the Release Date

If you’re putting a bike together, it would be worth waiting for this fork. My experience with Marzocchi 320 LR gives me confidence that you’ll have a great fork for a good price. You’ll be able to choose between 27.5 and 29er versions, too.

You’ll also be able to get different fork rake options, so be sure you know your frame’s geometry before you buy: Your local bike shop will be able to help. If you’re a DIY type ordering online, you either know this or should at least ask a salesperson before you click "BUY."

Marzocchi Bomber Z2
A look at a for-real reborn Marzocchi Bomber Z2. (Found on the PinkBike website, likely from a Marzocchi press release)

What Other Options?

If you have about $500 to spend on a fork? What else can you get?

The Rock Shox Reba is always a competent option, especially if you prefer to stick with the bigger brands. If you’re more adventurous, you have other possibilities: The SR Suntour Epixcon (sometimes known as an Axon -- Suntour confuses me!) and the XFusion Slide are both easily available new in the price range. I haven’t ridden the Epixcon or Axon, so I can’t say much about them. You might also be able to dig up a Manitou Mattoc.

My X-Fusion Slide 29 is a good fork, but I like the Marzocchi 320 better. Again, my bet is on the Bomber Z2 to be a hit.

Bike Test: Electra Sprocket 1 and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

Here’s a long overdue discussion of the Electra Sprocket 1 bike and Giro Scamp MIPS helmet. We picked these items up as early birthday presents for our now-4-year-old daughter.

She warmed up to both nearly instantly, but then mysteriously stopped riding. She retreated to her balance bike, which she rode in the house and front driveway.

Just as mysteriously, she took to the Electra Sprocket 1 last week. She has logged at least three miles a day since then. She puts her helmet on, turns her bike lights on and hits the bike lanes and paths with us. (Shrugs) Kids are mysterious.

Introducing the Electra Sprocket 1 Bike and Giro Scamp MIPS Helmet

We bought the bike and helmet at REI. First off, we get member dividends. Second, they had them in stock. Two big points there.

REI offers no shortage of options for kids. Bike manufacturers largely put some aggressive gender markings on bikes. But Electra’s seafoam green looks a lot like the classic, classy Bianchi celeste green. It caught our little person’s eye, and it seemed to just fit her body. You’re looking at about $270 for an Electra Sprocket 1.

Giro is also kind enough to offer some neutral colors that don’t require us to completely pinkify our offspring. She likes a bit of color, but doesn’t go for the head-to-toe bubblegum look. The Scamp comes in a regular version, as well as a model upgraded with MIPS technology. This is supposed to be a safer helmet that protects from rotational stress to the head. It was only $40, so it was a no-brainer.

Spinning the Electra Sprocket 1

Our little person is about 40 inches tall. I can’t remember her weight. But whatever it is, she has more than enough muscle to handle the Electra Sprocket 1. She has already started hopping off curbs, riding up switchbacked access ramps and threading the needle through obstacles.

Electra Sprocket 1
Cleaning the switchbacks on the Electra Sprocket 1

She can also climb some steep grades, and is adept at standing up out of the saddle. The Sprocket 1 doesn’t hold her back.

What About That Lid?

Well, we haven’t had to put the Giro Scamp MIPS to the test. I’m OK with that. But she has no trouble putting it on. She could be a bit better with taking it off, though. The clasp is a bit of a challenge for small people still developing hand strength and coordination.

That will come soon, though. She has the rest of this bicycling thing well under control, so the clasp on her helmet won’t elude her for long.

 

5 Easy Tips to Eliminate Single-Use Plastic

I’m doing everything possible to kill single-use plastic water bottles since around 2010. During that time, I’ve used everything from the latest stainless-steel marvel to a gourd that I hollowed out myself during an Aboriginal Living Skills School course.

During that time — nearly 10 years — I’ve kept a considerable amount of stuff out of landfills. And I’d like to do even better. So I started thinking about ways to use fewer throwaway products.

single use plastics
Some of the reusable bottles I’ve tested over the years.

Wait: Does this even matter?

Before I go any further, I’m going to address a point people bring up: Does using less single-use plastic do any good? Well, every item you keep out of a landfill is one less thing someone needs to order and buy in the supply chain. That is a statement of intent and a data point to decision makers that says "Hey, people are using fewer disposable items. What should we do about that?" As an individual, you aren’t doing much. Collectively, you’re changing society’s habits.

It’s exactly like in the early 80s when a few people decided they would wear seatbelts or quit smoking. And see where seatbelts and smoking are today? Anyone who argues this point just doesn’t want to change their habits to do something beneficial. End of story.




OK, moving on: I’ve mentioned reusable bottles, tumblers and the like here so I won’t go into more details about that even though bottles are a huge step. But let’s have a look at the rest.

Plastic bags are inevitable. Just do more with them.

I know many of us love re-usable cloth shopping bags. But once in awhile, you’re going to forget them. I’ve given plastic shopping bags a second life by using them to scoop cat litter, transport wet gym clothes and line small trash cans.

Some people even use them as packing material when they need to ship something – a good one for you eBay/Etsy types.  

Reconsider the single-use plastic straw.

First, do you even need a straw? Probaby not. But if you do, skip the paper in addition to the single-use plastic. They get soggy in a hurry. So far, my favorite non-plastic straws have been made out of bamboo. If you want to try a bamboo straw, drop in at Peixoto Coffee in Chandler, Ariz. That’s where I saw one for the first time.

And seriously, is there anything bamboo can’t do? Straws, clothing, food for pandas, even bicycles!

Pack your own utensils.

As the dad of a 4-year-old, it’s never a bad idea for me to have a few utensils in my car. I’ve stashed a few items from REI in my backpack for spontaneous snacks and meals.

single-use plastic
Is there anything you CAN’T do with bamboo?

This is also a great habit for travel. You’ll get some good mileage from a titanium spork or even reusable plastic camp utensils. There are also plant-based alternatives out there made from corn and — of course — the wonder material that is bamboo.

Buy in bulk.

Hit the bulk foods aisle of your grocery store. Fill it up using the vessel of your choice — Tupperware, re-used shopping bags or a decent cloth bag. (NOTE: My wife is way better than this than I am, and I’m noting this to give proper credit.)

There’s a huge chunk of packing material you’ll keep out of the landfill. A helluva lot less plastic and paper.  

Go easy on yourself in reducing single-use plastic.

These are just a few options. And give yourself permission not to be perfect. You’ll run into all sorts of situations where you fall short for one reason or another. But try to have more wins than losses and you break the single-use plastic habit.

What would you add to the list?

How To: Choose A Cooler For The Outdoors 

If you are an outdoor type of person that loves going on trips, then you must have a cooler. If you don’t, then you are in big trouble! Fortunately for you, you still have time to solve this issue. In this article, you will read about backpack coolers and how they can change your traveler’s life. Just stick around and you will learn plenty of information about the world of outdoor cold storage.  

coolers
A look at one of the soft coolers available at bestcooler.reviews. (image courtesy of bestcooler.reviews)

How many types of outdoors coolers there are? 

Right now, there are three main types: basic, soft-side, and heavy-duty. You may find other types like disposable (Styrofoam boxes) and ice-less, but we will skip them because they are not useful at storing food and drinks at camp. Here is what you need to know about the basic three types:  

  1. Basic coolers: These have relatively minimal insulation and they only partially seal around the lid. Try not to tip them over as you will cause a mess. Also, these have a great price tag at most hardware stores.
  2. Soft-side coolers: These are a little more specialized for weight-conscious consumers but they tend to have a lesser insulation.
  3. Heavy-duty coolers: This is a freshly new category. They have very thick insulation, locking lids, and tight seals which makes them ideal for long trips and difficult conditions. However, they cost a lot more, too.

What uses can you give a cooler? 

This is a very important question to ask yourself when deciding which type of cooler you need. If you only go on long road trips a couple days each year and you might use it to store soda and beer for some birthday parties, there’s no reason to spend hundreds of dollars on a renowned cooler brand like YETI, Grizzly, or Coleman. However, bear in mind, that if you make regular long trips where you need ice for days, then you must buy a heavy-duty cooler. Furthermore, if all you need to pack for a campsite is your drinks, go for a soft-side cooler with good straps and handles. A cooler of some sort is also great for events like bike races, especially if they’re the 6, 12 or 24-hour brand of event where you need to refuel between laps.

Some coolers can get pretty fancy! (image courtesy of bestcooler.reviews)

What’s the price range like for coolers? 

Another important factor to take into consideration is your personal budget. There is marked cost difference between the three types. Basic coolers range from about $20 to $150 based on their size and features. Soft-side coolers range from an $8 insulated sack to a $400 backpack with dry bags and a flotation device that can keep its content cold for many days. Lastly, heavy-duty coolers start at $50 but they can go up to $1,300. 

Additionally, you need to add to that initial price, the cost of ice. Yes, ice doesn’t come by cheap! Especially during long trips when you may end up buying extra ice. If you have a heavy-duty cooler, you will just buy ice once during a trip. But if you get any of the other two, you might need to stop several times to get ice. 

Which is the best cooler size for outdoor trips? 

Last but not least, we need to discuss the size of the cooler. Even if you are going on a really long trip, you don’t need a 350-quart cooler. Just get a normal size cooler that can cope with your demands. For example, if you are carrying groceries and drinks with some ice, you’re looking for a cooler in the 20 to 50-quart range. When it comes to fishermen, you need a smaller cooler than that!  

cooler
Super-cool vintage cooler that’s probably way too big for outdoor use!

 The best way to determine the right size for your cooler is to plan the menu for one of your typical trips. Buy all the food and drinks, then stack it all and measure the pile. Calculate a ratio of 2:1 (food-ice) for trips longer than two days. Once you do the math, you know which size is better for you.   

Take a closer look at these tips when choosing your cooler. Remember that it is very important not to get carried away when buying a cooler. You really don’t want to buy a heavy duty when in fact you need a basic cooler. All considered, it is not worth it. Follow the instructions to determine which type of cooler will satisfy all your needs. 

 This is a contributed sponsored post that contains a link to bestcooler.reviews.